When I think of my evolving relationship with Korean pop culture, I think I will remember 2019 fondly as the year I committed myself to Korean webtoons.
Webtoons are online-first original comics optimized for mobile consumption. (There’s an interesting article that came out earlier this year contrasting webtoons to Japan’s print-first manga culture.) A number of content platforms publish webtoons, but I’ve stuck exclusively with Naver, for no good reason except consistency; I’ve been using Naver for all Korean-related things (news, dictionaries, and its online translator, Papago) for years.
I was re-watching きみはペット (incidentally, one of my favorite Japanese dramas) and I confirmed a long-standing suspicion. A lot of Japanese people pronounce すみません as すいません.
For years I’ve thought my brain was somehow not computing the み sound correctly until I actually saw it spelled with い in a manga I was reading.
The general consensus from all the language forums I’ve combed through seems to be that すいません is a colloquial and more casual way of pronouncing すみません. The latter is always used when you’re being exceptionally apologetic (as opposed to simply trying to catch someone’s attention) and/or speaking formally to superior.
Probably because I don’t know the language that intimately, I’ve always assumed Japanese to be a really rigid language compared to Korean. There aren’t any complex pronunciation rules like in Korean, hiragana/katakana spelling is pretty much 100% phonetic, and verb conjugations are shockingly regular…. I guess that’s why this ‘mispronunciation’ surprised me so much.
I am getting to the point in Japanese where I’m finally starting to pick up on colloquialisms and slang, which is kind of cool. (The first bit of Japanese slang I picked up was the word 「ちょう」). At some point I should graduate from reading manga to actual novels so I don’t sound like a middle schooler the next time I’m in Japan.
On a related note, anime has been holding my attention far better than Korean dramas these days. (I couldn’t even make it past episode four of 마녀보감, the last drama I attempted to watch. Sigh.)
ReLIFE has been my favorite this season (definitely one of my favorites in the last couple years too). The story hits home–a 27-year old man, recently unemployed, gets the chance to participate in an experiment that lets him redo his senior year of high school. The webcomic is also available to read for free on comico! I know I’ve written a ton about webcomics/shows that I never actually finish (heh), but this one I can recommend wholeheartedly.
So I just finished reading season 1 of Cheese in the Trap, which is kind of a big accomplishment for me because I tend to drop webtoons pretty quickly. That, or I forget to check an update/ author goes on hiatus and it drops off my radar forever.
I like this one. I have no idea how close the author is to finishing it so the possibility may be high that I get caught up and it ends up dropping off my radar anyway, but hopefully not.
I think this is the first time I’ve read a webtoon where I actually really like the main character. Seol and I are actually very much alike. She’s smart but also hardworking, too busy to care about how she looks, struggles with her hair (see below), and is generally well-liked. There’s a part near the end of season 1 that I really identified with – Seol has to complete a big group assignment/presentation for one of her classes and all of her group members bail on her at the last minute. She ends up pulling an all-nighter and doing the whole thing herself… and still ends up failing the assignment.
Seol is very much a people-pleaser. She’s non-confrontational; so much so that even if she’s not okay with something, she stifles it until she explodes. She will go out of her way to check her own behavior and desires to put the other person(s) at ease. It’s part of what makes her so likable but it’s also to her own detriment. She’s very attuned to peoples’ reactions to her and to others. It’s a harsh kind of empathy that makes her question everything she does and says.
At the moment, I don’t really care for Jung. In the latter half of season 1 we get some insight into why he is the way he is. He’s from a really wealthy family; everyone is on their toes around them and for the sake of preserving the status quo, he has to be gracious at all times, even when he’s upset. When people upset him, he can only afford to get angry behind closed doors, so to speak; his comebacks have a particularly sadistic nuance to them.
Seriously, with friends like Jung who needs enemies? Luckily Seol has a wonderful group of friends. I freaking love Bora. When she overhears random guys “evaluating” how dateable Seol is, she completely flips out on them and then decides to set Seol up with the greatest guy in existence, Jung be damned!
I’m guessing there’s going to be an eventual romance between Jung and Seol? Jung definitely seems interested in her (whether that’s in a romantic sense or otherwise). Given the way season 1 ended, I have a feeling the happy times are coming to an end and the webtoon might turn rather dark, rather soon.
Overall I’m still having a ton of fun reading this. Onward to season 2!
Okay, so I am BLOGGGG-ing about Cheese in the Trap. Only the webtoon, though, not the drama.
(I’m feeling meh about dramas these days. I’m almost finished with 마을 아치아라의 비밀 – a drama that is seriously making me question my liking for Moon Geun-young and one that I would’ve given up if it weren’t so deliciously melodramatic. But I digress.)
So anyway, Cheese in the Trap.
We’re following the story of Hong Seol, a college student heading back to school after a long leave of absence. She’s pretty normal. She’s smart (though the circumstances behind which she received her full scholarship is one of the mysteries of the story) and has a decent social life with a tight-knit group of friends. Surprisingly she’s not dirt poor like most K-drama protagonists, but she’s trying her hardest to not burden her parents with tuition fees (there’s a story behind that too).
There’s one thorn in her side though – the campus Mr. Perfect, Yoo Jung, who happens to be the reason she ended up taking a break from school in the first place.
This dude is weird. Outwardly, he’s bizarrely perfect: good-looking, smart, polite, kind… all the girls love him and all the guys want to be him. Except Seol notices some inconsistencies in his behavior. Sometimes he’s nice, sometimes he seems cold and condescending, and sometimes he’s outright mean to Seol. I’m 30 chapters into the webtoon and I don’t know what this dude’s deal is. Seol thinks he’s playing mind games with her by orchestrating situations that make her highly uncomfortable. But she has no proof and sometimes she just thinks she’s being overly sensitive. That was a year ago. Now she’s back in school, and he seems like he’s trying really hard to be her friend for some weird reason….
So there are basically two different timelines being told in parallel – we’re privy to Seol’s flashbacks from one year prior ago as well as the present day storyline, so I don’t know (yet) what it was that made Seol quit school, but it definitely had something to do with Jung.
I’m still at the start of this series (about 75% of the way through part 1 of 3) but I’m enjoying it so far. There’s a touch of mystery, touch of comedy, touch of romance…. The characters are great, including Seol. She’s hilarious.
Also this random sunbae of hers. I don’t know if he’s going to play a bigger role later in the webtoon, but look at him. You can’t not like that face.
It seems like figuring out what the heck Jung’s deal is will be the focus of the bulk of the webtoon. My guess is that he’s the really sheltered son of a mafia boss who is on some kind of undercover mission at the university. Never mind, Jeannie tells me this isn’t true. I could’ve sworn… he’s so good at those arcade shooting games too!
I’ll probably blog on and off about the webtoon here. Is anyone else reading this or watching the drama? Let me know what you think (but no spoilers please).
And if you’re not comfortable with reading it in Korean, there’s an English translation too!
For lovers of Japanese fiction/non-fiction, there’s Kinokuniya. For lovers of manga, light novels, and anime merch, there’s Animate. And then, my friends, there is a store for those of us who like all of the above but are on a budget. That’s Mandarake.
Mandarake (まんだらけ) is a multi-story anime/manga media store found in a number of locations throughout Japan. The store is chock-full of anime CDs, DVDs, even VHS tapes (it’s true!), collectible figurines, cosplay gear, toys and cell phone charms, fan-made doujinshi and, best of all, a jaw-dropping quantity of used manga.
I went to two different Mandarake’s when I visited Japan: one in Akihabara (Tokyo) and one in Namba (Osaka). The photo above isn’t mine, but that’s the Namba branch of the store. And no, your eyes do not deceive you: Those are shelves of used manga literally chilling outside the building.
I very often delude myself into thinking I know Japanese better than I actually do, especially when it comes to reading. I’m horrible at reading Japanese. You’d be amazed how undeterred I am by that fact when I am in store such as Mandarake. One of the most difficult things about this store was actually navigating around and trying to find a specific title. The manga seemed to be classified by genre first, and then by the magazine it was serialized in, and then by author. So basically, I was wandering like a lost sheep most of the time, under the guise of “browsing” casually.
I did spot some familiar titles.
Throwback to early high school. You will not believe how emotionally invested in Marmalade Boy I was. Funnily enough, it’s one of Theo’s most memorable mangas too. We don’t overlap a ton in terms of what we’ve read or watched so that was pretty interesting to find out!
Believe it or not, it wasn’t too difficult to walk away empty-handed from normal bookstores like Kinokuniya. One tankoubon at Kinokuniya is $6.20 in the U.S. and roughly the same price in Japan; I wouldn’t save money by buying manga or novels in Japan. But used manga in Mandarake run as cheap as ¥200 (1.60 USD) and are in practically new condition. That was true temptation.
In the spirit of bonding over manga that we’ve both read, I picked up volume 1 of a couple of Theo’s favorites. Orange in particular was quite popular, probably because the final chapter release a few months ago. There’s apparently going to be a live action movie too, releasing in Japan this December.
Slowly, but surely, my Japanese bookshelf grows. One of these days I’ll actually finish somethingon it. My first ever Japanese novel was 告白 by Minato Kanae, the novel which gave rise to one of my all-time favorite movies. A friend gave me the novel… oh, three or so years ago. And I still can’t make it past the third sentence without stumbling across kanji that I can’t read.
*squeals* 桜蘭高校ホスト部 (Ouran High School Host Club) is one of my ALL-TIME favorite animes and mangas ever. It’s cute, funny, endearing, and not to mention the art is gorgeous. (It’s also the only anime I’ve ever watched both English-subbed and English-dubbed – and the dubbing is very impressive!) Now shoujo manga can be pretty ridiculous but one of the charms of OHSHC is that it makes fun of its own genre and tropes and doesn’t take itself too seriously. You have the typical shoujo setup: a cross-dressing(or is she?) female from a working-class family enters a private academy for the Incredibly Wealthy & Snooty and gets entangled in rich-kid shenanigans – but our heroine Haruhi is far from the typical Mary Sues of shoujo-verse (lookin’ at you, Honda Tohru). She’s sharp, resourceful, delightfully glib and her deadpan humor keeps readers laughing and rooting for her.
I’m not going to lie – reading this was (is) a very long and painful process. I’m amazed at how much Kanji I don’t know (heh), but in turn, I’m surprised at how much I do know. The grammar is very basic and easy to follow; I hardly need to look up anything, even with the mere year of beginning Japanese that I went through. And the Kanji really isn’t as awful as I make it out to be. I use the microscopic furigana over each character to get the pronunciation, and I have my Japanese dictionary app open to help with learning the meaning and stroke order. It works! I have a notebook that’s solely full of Kanji from this manga and I find myself getting better and better at remembering them without needing to make flashcards. Yay.
I’m taking just over a week off for winter break (so short *sob*), but hopefully I’ll get around to studying Japanese a little more very soon. For now, though, my days are consumed by experiments and labwork; I need to get tons of stuff done before Christmas. Wish me luck. Sigh.