It’s both surprising and unsurprising to realize that until this point in my life, I had never read a manhwa. Given my voracious appetite for manga, it seems natural that I would turn to Korea to satisfy my ravenous appetite for comics. But then my love of languages comes into play. A lot of the reading I do is studying. Although I am a translator, I haven’t spent much time reading translations in languages I don’t know. I should be out there supporting work in translation, I guess, but I only have so much time for reading, so I end up focusing my reading in the languages I speak. And Korean is not one of those. (Although I have been assured by many Koreans that it is an easy language. At least, they tell me, it’s easier than Japanese. And I tried to pick it up from the NHK Korean programs, but learning Korean through Japanese was even harder than learning Russian through Swedish, so I gave up on that pretty quickly.)
So my first manhwa! High fives to me! And to my iPod, handy little creature that it is! Ill-Fated Relationship is a webtoon that was apparently written specifically for the tiny screen, and that certainly seems to be true. No zooming required, each panel fills the screen perfectly, with some panels panning up and down with a tap of the screen. There’s a nice transition effect so moving to the next panel is a bit like flipping a page. And Hwang takes advantage of the colour screen to change the mood of the story to good effect, all blues and greys at the beginning, when we see Boy Killer wandering through town, hues deepening to oranges and reds as he gets to know Girl Killer.
Boy Killer doesn’t kill boys. Or at least, not only boys. He just doesn’t have a name, and he’s a boy who kills, hence Boy Killer. Similarly, Girl Killer. (Indulge me here.) Boy Killer stalks Girl Killer, thinking to murder her, but G.K.’s situation turns all that inside out, and he ends up helping her. They reveal their dark secrets to each other, with G.K. taking the lead and being the stronger one in a way. B.K. is more hesitant, more reluctant to take the plunge and trust, a nice contrast to G.K.’s more confident and unrepentant ways. For a tale of two serial killers, it is rather charming, even if it does strain credulity at times. And art-wise, Hwang gives the reader a simple style, smooth lines, sharp edges, and well-defined boundaries that play nicely against the haze of the flashbacks that pop up throughout.
And I get the feeling that I would have liked this book a lot better in Korean. I’m not sure if it was the translator or the editor that dropped the ball with this (and wondering about it gives me what my friend V. calls “translation anxiety disorder”: were the problems in the original and I’m blaming the messenger?), but the text is plagued with distracting errors. I am not immune to making such errors myself (critics noted an annoying [annoying to me in that I didn’t catch it before it went to press] inconsistency in one of my own recent translations), but I would be embarrassed to attach my name to this. One or two errors is par for the course, given the likely rushed nature of the production schedule. Page after page of awkward phrasing and typos is carelessness.
Everything moves along smoothly until about Chapter 8 or so when things start getting awkward and gems like “My fun activity became diluted” pop up. Or the way “it’s” and “its” get mixed up in consecutive sentences. Or “People love each other, commonly.” The more I read, the more these things distracted me from the story and the art. When, in the bonus parody chapter at the end, the character cries out “Delivery comes!” at the pizza guy ringing the doorbell, I actually had to just close the app before I tried to smash my iPod in irritation.
From what I understand, this was supposed to be a big splash for the iSeeToon app. The app itself is for the most part great (one bugaboo was the fact that there’s no sign of what chapter you’re on so if you exit to the main menu, you have to guess at where you stopped reading) (or maybe I just didn’t notice the sign of where I was?), but the translation/editing was so poor that I’d be reluctant to download another title for fear of more iPod rage. Maybe I’ll just try and get some more manhwa-knowledgeable friends to hook me up with awesome titles in print form. If you are manhwa-knowledgeable, tell me what to read next! (And you know, if you have non-manhwa suggestions, feel free to leave those too!)