Manga, Take 2... or... Manwha, Take 1

By | Monday, February 19, 2007 Leave a Comment
I was at the bookstore the other night and checked out their manga section to see if anything else appealed to me. My first foray wasn't entirely successful, so I thought I'd take another stab at it with something that might be a little more up my alley. The title of iD_eNTITY stood out on the shelf, and reading the back cover made it sound like something I could get behind.

The basic plot is that of three high schoolers who spend a lot of time in an online game called "Lost Saga." Most of the interaction occurs within the game itself, but there are periodic shifts to reality so that we see the characters in both their real-life and fictional personas. The blurb on the back of the book references that the main character accidentally finds a new login character that leads to some problems, but the first volume that I just read doesn't get that far.

So, first thing, this was in the manga section of the bookstore. It's clearly labeled "Manga" on the book itself. The actual book itself, though, is manwha. The basic difference is that manga are Japanese comics, and manwha are Korean comics. There's certainly going to be some similarities, given the physical proximity of the two areas, but there's also going to be some cultural differences behind the stories. So I have to say that, learning that the book was manwha after purchasing it was somewhat disappointing. (To be fair to publisher Tokyopop, the inside back cover clearly identifies the book properly and provides a brief description.)

That said, the story was actually fairly enjoyable. I liked the premise modern characters acting in a fantasy environment; it provided some intriguing analogies. For example, is that concept really any different than a traditional superhero with their alter ego? It also made for smoother dialogue, as everyone was talking in modern English (well, I'm sure the original was written in Korean, but the references and concepts were contemporary) and not a faux-Shakespearian dialect. Plus, the dialogue had an interesting mix of technological as well as fantasy references. (Characters would talk about login problems and connection speeds, as well as fighting werewolves and casting fireballs.) It also provided some interest in characters' thought-processes, as they were able to leave the game to find real-world solutions to in-game problems.

The book really defies classification, if you asked me. It's not really a fantasy book since all of the fantasy elements are fictional even within the context of the story. It's not really cyberpunk, as the elements within the story are more fantasy-based than technologically-based. It's not really sci-fi, as the technology isn't really that appreciably different from what's out there currently. It's not really a simple drama, since there's quite a lot of action. It's not really a simple action story, as there's some realistically quiet and important character moments.

The story itself is quite good, and the storytelling is strong throughout. Although it's not really the manga that I set out to find, I am pleased to see that the recent popularity of manga in America also includes manwha and manhua. I think I'll be trying to continue reading iD_eNTITY and seeing where the story takes me. Definitely worth a look-see!
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