Sweet & Sensitive vol. 1

Sweet & Sensitive vol. 1
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/artist: Park Eun-Ah
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.95

I’ve always been under the impression that Korean manhwa is the red-headed stepchild of the anime/manga hobby. Amidst all the talk about the latest and greatest titles funneling in from Japan, it seems Korea’s wares frequently get lost in the shuffle, if not outright dismissed by fans and press alike. I don’t really think it’s an issue of overall quality; I’ve never noticed a huge gap in quality between the average manga and average manwha. It could just be circumstance; until just recently very few manhwa titles were available, and most of them tended to group into certain genres, like sword & sorcery or whatever genre involves large numbers of vampires and Gothic Lolita androgynes. It could be that manhwa simply hasn’t come out with that “killer comic” or two that makes everyone sit up and pay attention. Or maybe it’s just that some fans seem to have a bizarre prejudice against any comic that doesn’t have to be read right-to-left. Whichever of these are true, there are a few very solid manhwa titles now surfacing on shelves to little fanfare, and Sweet & Sensitive is one of them.

Sweet & Sensitive follows the love and life trials of a girl named Ee-Ji, a normal, everyday girl with the requisite strange family. Upon entering high school, she and her bubbly, bizarre friend Do-Kyung are introduced to Ee-Ji’s childhood crush Han-Kyul and his cool, bad-boy friend Sae-Ryun. We quickly find all four of these characters embroiled in a love rectangle with each other. And…that’s about it. Nobody turns into an animal, vegetable, or mineral when hugged or splashed with water, or anything of that sort. This is a straight-up relationship romance comic that’s about as conceptually simple as these things get.

Sweet & Sensitive
Sweet & Sensitive‘s crowning strength is Ee-Ji’s character. Ee-Ji is a normal young girl, but she’s one of the more believable female characters I’ve seen in quite awhile. She’s sweet, sensitive, and charming, but she’s also sarcastic, gutsy, and three-dimensional enough to make her a convincing, likeable lead for the comic. Unfortunately, the supporting characters don’t quite fare so well. If Sweet & Sensitive has a strike against it, it’s that I personally don’t think any of the supporting characters have truly come into their own yet. I imagine they probably will as the story goes on, but so far Ee-Ji is the only character we’ve gotten to know on a somewhat intimate level. Han-Kyul in particular comes off as so cold and distant that I really don’t know what reason Ee-Ji has to be infatuated with him. I would hope this is all remedied quickly in coming volumes; because that’s the only real factor that’s keeping me from giving this comic a higher recommendation. It’s hard to make much of an emotional investment in stories like this if you’re only familiar with one of the characters.

The love rectangle in the comic is also off to a promising start. A badly constructed love triangle is absolute torture to witness: they lurch on for ages towards a conclusion that was more or less obvious from the get-go (Ranma ½, anyone?). Fortunately, in Sweet & Sensitive, Eun-Ah has everything set up to where any number of possible situations and outcomes are equally plausible. Hopefully she has some ideas for some dramatic scenarios in mind, because the potential for some major heart-wrenching moments is there. We haven’t really been treated to any extremely high-tension moments yet, but that could be because the story’s only really getting underway by the end of the first volume.

If nothing else, Sweet & Sensitive should be commended for staying true to its focus. It stays focused on Ee-Ji, her life with her family, and her relationships with her friends. It doesn’t get sidetracked by trying to follow every character or trying to insert any overreaching secondary storylines. It takes an honest, fairly realistic approach to its own subject matter that never gets bogged down in attempts to be super-wacky or overly dramatic. It’s actually pretty refreshing to see a romance comic that doesn’t have or need some kind of bizarre gimmick to keep it interesting. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with quirky plot devices, but it is nice to see a comic that can do well without having to use them as a crutch.

Sweet & Sensitive
Sweet & Sensitive‘s art style is very much an acquired taste. I must admit that, at first glance, I was rather horrified by the artwork. The characters looked horribly misproportioned, with gangly arms, long faces, and the occasional screwed-up perspective. However, once you become oriented to the artwork, the comic becomes much less of an eyesore. Eun-Ah has a very stylized way of drawing characters that’s difficult to get used to, and though the comic does have a handful of botched drawings, it can also look pretty good when it wants to. It’s the type of thing I imagine most people will either really like or really hate, but with time I learned to appreciate it.

There’s a lot to like about Sweet & Sensitive. It’s created an likeable main character, it’s setting up an interesting love-triangle situation, it’s well-written for the most part, and it has a very distinct visual look to it. This manhwa doesn’t really have any major strikes against it; the only reason it isn’t rated higher is that it’s getting off to a slow start and hasn’t yet become emotionally involving enough to have me turning the pages and gagging for more. But the comic is still young and shows a lot of promise, so time will tell if Sweet & Sensitive will become one of those “killer comics” I mentioned earlier. But even now, it makes as strong a case for manhwa as any I’ve seen so far.

Added:  Tuesday, December 21, 2004

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