Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Tarot Cafe" - vol. 1 - 6

It’s quite surreal to sit down and write a review that had to be posted in January this year. Yes, I have been slacking so long with this review and the story behind it is equally long. “Tarot Café” is both a Korean comic book series and a recent novel. I know the author behind the novel, so I requested a review copy, but I also was curious to see the original series, which is the basis for the novel. Finding the series, reading it and getting around to reviewing it has proven to be the hardest thing I ever attempted. The moment never seemed right, I had a huge problem with them being online and I couldn’t afford to get them as physical copies and then I couldn’t locate the last seventh volume. But I decided to bear with not knowing the ultimate end and just discuss the first six volumes and then review the novel before the year ends and my conscience commits seppuku as a sign that I have blown it big time. “Tarot Café” is a manhwa, which is the Korean equivalent for comic book and should not be confused with the Japanese manga. For starters although manga and manhwa both appear to have similar art styles, manhwa indulges too much into heads and facial features to be outside normal proportions, while the body figure seems relatively realistic. Then there is the major issue with how one should read them. Manga is read from right to left, while manhwa like regular comic books in the West is read left to right. “Tarot Café” has left me with mixed feelings about the art it provided. On one side the lines are clear, clean and when needed the pages blossom with details that are so miniscule one can wonder how they were added. On the other hand though, the characters seemed androgynous. If a woman were to be dressed with pants and had short hair you would need context to get the gender and sadly facially most characters had eerie resemblance, which further confused me as to who had a conversation with whom and who was saying what. Art aside, there’s much strength in the premise, in the format and in the execution. Tarot cards have been popular in fiction and in cinema, but we rarely get the in-depth exploration that I think they deserve. Park Sang-sun knows her tarot cards and each telling brings a new aspect to a card that we may know from the great Arcana or a totally new card. Then piecing their meanings in context to past and present to weave this tapestry that is the character’s life and tragedy is enchanting to watch. “Tarot Cafe” develops pardon the comparison, like a standard paranormal TV series as in Buffy or Supernatural. Barbara starts off with a lot of individual readings that don’t touch upon the main arc that is why Barbara wants to be mortal again, who is giving her that chance and who and why is trying to destroy her. This is pretty much Monster-of-the-Week episodes, where the setting is set and the viewers get to adjust to the frame, the characters and such. But reading by reading we dip into Barbara’s story, which is multi-layered, complex and quite compelling. Park has managed to interweave smaller arcs into bigger arcs, introduce new characters with their own troubles and joys. We see love, we see betrayal and torture, but also a speck of happiness here and there. Although the tone is serious and contemplative most of the time, since people don’t go to a seer, when everything in their life is fine and dandy, there is also quite a few slap stick moments, which are typical for the Asian comic book circles, and these moments have to do with the dynamics between Barbara and Belius, the demon, who has been there for Barbara for quite some time. In general, this is a good series to follow with a very intense build-up and a mystery about both Barbara and her quest for mortality, which I think people won’t see it coming. I can say for sure that I am not certain how it will end, though I would if I can find the last volume. For an even greater detailed review, then please visit my esteemed colleagues The Book Smugglers, who take a fantastic stab at it. [HERE]

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