Hotel Africa Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Writer/Artist:Hee Jung Park
Translated by:Jihae Hong
Adapted by:Mark Ilvedson
What They Say
Alone, in the middle of the Utah desert, lies the Hotel Africa. Anything is possible here. A world of joy, heartache, and friendship has traveled through its doors. Follow along with Elvis, our narrator, as he brings the history of this desolate hotel to life, weaving tales of his widowed mother, an unlikely pair of vagabonds, and a strange hotel guest...
Hotel Africa's artistic promise is marred by dull storylines and an awkward English adaptation.
In exchange for a $3 higher MSRP compared to their typical paperback releases, Tokyopop has gone for a release that's larger in all three dimensions. The 8" x 6.5" form factor matches that of Tokyopop's recent Ultimate Edition omnibus line; and though this volume's solicited as 192 pages long, it's actually in the neighborhood of 250 pages. The softcover binding features a full-color portrait of Geo set against a desolate Utah landscape, with the standard publisher's blurb on the back.
There're no surprises with the black-and-white artwork; the printing's up to the normal standards for mass-market releases, with maybe fewer inconsistencies in black levels but nothing else noteworthy. Sixteen pages are printed in color and look equally good, with a somewhat-muted appearance that I'm assuming to be intentional. Excluding Park's one-page foreword, there are no extras.
Park's artwork tends to focus heavily on the characters, which is appropriate for such a character-driven plot. The character designs are attractive, and I never caught Park going off-model at any point in the story. Park tends to stick with simple backgrounds consisting of solid shades or simple patterns, but occasionally folds full-fledged landscape backdrops into the panel. This adds a nice atmospheric touch to the artwork, effectively capturing the desolation of the remote Utah desert where most of the story unfolds.
Unfortunately, Hotel Africa is a good demonstration of how important a smooth-reading English adaptation is to the reading experience, and why readers shouldn't take it for granted. The dialogue in Tokyopop's English translation is stilted and unnatural to the point of being distracting: all the characters, ranging from small children to the elderly, speak with consistently flat and overly formal mannerisms. It's all grammatically sound, but it sucks a lot of the individual personality out of the characters and flows very unnaturally at times. Reading the words coming out of the young Elvis's mouth can be just plain unnerving -- four-year-olds aren't supposed to speak with the vocabulary and sentence structures of an adult.
As awkward as the script may be, it's legibly printed. SFX are left in Korean without translation.
Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Hotel Africa splits its attention between two timeframes: the present day, where twenty-something roommates Ed and Elvis (no, not that Elvis) spend most of their time dealing with their cantankerous friend Jul; and flashbacks to Elvis's youth, spent mostly at his mother's titular Utah hotel. These latter flashback portions represent the majority of the page count, with present-day events spliced around them to motivate Elvis diving into his past. At first, these flashbacks focus on the backstory of Elvis's family, describing his interracial heritage and explaining how he was given his unusual name. After the premature death of Elvis's father, Elvis's mother settles down in the Utah desert and opens the Hotel Africa, with her family acting as the sole employees.
At this point, the flashbacks gradually shift their focus further and further away from Elvis and onto the various wanderers who make their way into the Hotel Africa. These later chapters are largely self-contained slice-of-life short stories, with the four-year-old Elvis popping up to narrate the stories from his point-of-view but not otherwise taking much of an active part in them. Nevertheless, the history of Elvis's family does slowly progress throughout these chapters, as a Native American man named Geo makes himself a permanent installment in the Hotel Africa and tries to win the reluctant heart of Elvis's mother.
The major thing that bothered me while reading Hotel Africa is that the short stories surrounding Elvis's childhood basically huddle around a single constant theme: redemption. The seemingly-universal search for redemption quickly goes beyond the realm of a simple motif, and nearly becomes the entirety of each story in and of itself: people wander into the Hotel Africa, make it excessively clear that they're emotionally damaged, come to terms with their problems, and move on to bigger and better things. There's only so many ways to spin this idea, and around the third or fourth chapter the whole thing starts feeling tired and repetitive. Hotel Africa's contemplative tone just compounds this problem; too often, it gives off an aura of profoundness that Park really hasn't earned.
Now, even if I didn't enjoy the volume as a whole, there're other aspects of Park's work here that I respect. For starters, Hotel Africa incorporates a racially diverse cast without (apart from one throwaway plot point) degenerating into an after-school special on tolerance. I also have to give Park credit for the way he handles the present-day storyline: though its main purpose in the plot is introducing the flashback segments, it never feels like flimsy scaffolding for scaffolding's sake. And despite the story's thematic missteps, there are a couple of standout chapters that I found fairly engaging. (I'll let the fact that both chapters were guest-written by other authors speak for itself.)
Ultimately, though, I can't say that these high points were enough to offset the volume's many bland moments. Readers interested mainly in the superb art and atmosphere might get more out of Hotel Africa than I did; but otherwise, I don't really recommend this release.
Mania Grade: C
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: D
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Left to Right
Series: Hotel Africa