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Replay is a three-volume manhwa, and was in fact the first manhwa I ever read.  I came across it a few years ago on onemanga (remember when that site was still around?), when I was in one of my rare moods for romance, and so was browsing the shoujo manga section (don’t judge me).  The title caught my eye, and so, I decided to give it a try.  I finished it, I enjoyed it, and while I quickly moved on to other titles and even other media (I was in the throes of a hardcore mood, is all I gotta say), the story stuck with me.  I forget why, exactly, but it popped into my head a couple days ago, and so I went searching the series out again, to give it a reread.  (And now I’m going to talk about it, in hopes that other people will give it a read, because it really is a special little story, that deserves a bit more attention, in my mind.)

So.  The summary.

Karam Yoon is your average high school student (aren’t they all, you cynically ask).  She’s not super-pretty, nor super-popular, but she’s cute enough and has a healthy amount of friends.  She bickers with her mother, squees over puppies, and in a refreshing change of pace, has no particular interest in romance at this point in her life.  She can be clumsy and loud-mouthed, but she also has a mature and responsible streak to her.  About the only truly remarkable thing about Karam is that every year, since she was five, she’s received a birthday gift from an anonymous benefactor.  At first this kind of weirded her out (because, yanno, kinda creepy), but since nothing bad ever happened, she’s since chalked it up as just someone being nice to her—sometimes she gets curious about who her “Daddy Long Legs” is, but good things are good things, right?  Karam isn’t going to be ungrateful for what is, by all evidence, just altruistic kindness.

Karam’s mother runs a boarding house, and it turns out that her latest tenant is also Karam’s new English teacher, Mr. Lee.  Mr. Lee is an enigmatic fellow—he’s young, tall, and good-looking, yet has no girlfriend in sight (a scenario incomprehensible to the teenage girls he teaches).  Karam attributes this to the fact that he comes off as very introverted, but then he makes some decidedly not introverted comments to her, and before long, it’s looking like Mr. Lee and Karam’s anonymous benefactor are in fact one and the same.  Awkward.  And more than a little unsettling.  And what is up with Mr. Lee’s apparent grudge towards Naru Song, the handsome, popular boy with whom Karam has struck up a friendship?

Thar be major spoilers under here. )

Anyway, what I like about Replay is that, while it starts off looking like a typical shoujo high school romance/love-triangle, it progressively takes a turn for the dark and tragic (and supernatural).  Shit hits the fan, and there's angst, and obsession, and people make mistakes, and it's all very tragic without becoming melodramatic or soap-operatic.  A particularly refreshing aspect about it is that it doesn’t romanticize stalking nor student/teacher relationships.  And what I really noticed and appreciated this time around is just how very nuanced and three-dimensional these characters are.  There are no mustache-twirling villains, nor any knights in shining armor to be found here—just human beings, with all the flaws and virtues that entails.  They have their petty and vengeful and misguided moments, but they also have their brave and compassionate and selfless moments, too.  They’re very real in their actions and motivations, and very sympathetic because of that.  Karam, especially, is a very likable heroine, I feel.

Not to say that Replay is a perfect read, because it isn’t.  The scanlation is good from what I can tell (never having seen the original, and being unable to read Korean anyway), though occasionally things are worded a little awkwardly, and I caught a couple typos and/or forgotten words.  But the actual editing and layout is very professional and easy to digest.  As for the story itself, while it’s nice that it doesn’t go on for a hundred-some chapters, I do think it could have benefited from being stretched out just a little more than it was.  (I don’t need everything tied up with a neat bow of explanations, but I would have liked to have seen certain aspects expanded upon/explored a bit more than they were.  A couple more chapters, maybe even enough to stretch it to four volumes, would have been nice.)  The art style is generally very good, though occasionally a little…“flat,” is the word that comes to mind.  Just a little, sometimes in the action or expressions.  (And it probably sounds incredibly superficial, but I'm not too fond of the super-pointed chins everyone seems to sport.  It’s like everyone has a really weak chin, and just once I’d like to see a big, square jaw pop up, just to even things out a bit.)

But those are minor complaints in the long run, and I think the unusual story, the darker take on the student/teacher romance, and the characters, themselves, outweigh the flaws it has.  I would love to own an actual hard copy of the series, but alas, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to get an official English release anytime soon, if in fact ever.  As it is, the scanlation can be found online in various places (I reread it here, on mangafox).  At only three volumes, it’s a quick enough read, and can easily be finished in one sitting.  So go check it out!


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June 2017

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