Ares, a Manhwa Review
by McCamy Taylor
No, that is not a typo. It is spelled manhwa, and it is the Korean version of manga or “comics” as we call them in the U.S. Like American books, manhwa are read from left to right (manga are read from right to left). Since the ideal look for both men and women in Korea is tall, thin with lots and lots of hair, characters in manhwa may look extremely odd at first. They are implausible tall, with long, long sticks for legs and arms. Eyelashes are rendered in such detail that attractive men look a bit like drag queens -- and so do the women.
But this is not a review of Korean romance comics. Ares by Ryu Kum-chel is the story of a mythical land a lot like ancient Rome where war is a constant way of life -- and people wear modern Adidas sneakers. The hero, Ares is the son of a king. A botched assassination attempt robs him of his memory, but he is rescued by a master swordsman, who teaches him to fight. Years later, his now-blind master is struck down by a rival swordsman, who also takes one of Ares’ eyes. The now friendless boy is forced to join a band of mercenaries in order to eat. Having been taught well by his master, he becomes the most dangerous swordsman in the land -- but he never loses his boyish optimism or simplicity. Well, almost never. He bears a grudge against his master’s killer. And later, when one of his best friends betrays him, he realizes that life is not all sunshine -- something that the reader figures out right away. For in the imaginary world of Ares war is hell and war is everywhere and people -- even good people -- can be struck down for no reason at all without warning.
Unlike some mangas and manhwas of incredible length, the 26 volumes of Ares never get repetitive, and the story actually leads up to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. That takes planning and patience. Too bad no one planned ahead to start releasing this one in English as it was being released in Korea. Now that the series is done and the whole thing is online (thanks to unpaid translators), I suspect that the chances of it coming to the United States are almost as slim as the protagonist’s limbs. Too bad, too. We can always use another good “war is bad” story to remind us why negotiation is better than invasion.
© 2012 McCamy Taylor
Bio: If you don't know who McCamy Taylor is, you're really not paying attention. Aside from reviews like this one, many of her short stories and novellas have appeared in Aphelion and other print and online publications, and she is the reigning Aphelion Long Fiction editor. Her most recent fiction contribution to Aphelion is Baron Sabbath, another visit to the magical isle of Boymere, in this very issue.
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