I picked up the first couple of volumes remaindered from a discount bookstore, and got the last four through interlibrary loan. (Best invention ever. Ask your librarian!)
Yes, particularly for fans of supernatural manga (Saiyuki fans would like this, I think).
“A grudge is a sentiment that is chained down and cannot move. That fixed sentiment becomes sadness, and when that sadness remains chained with no escape…it becomes hostile…” Baek-On and Ho-Yeon are exorcists-for-hire, traveling throughout the country in search of grudges and ghosts. Each encounter reveals a story of tragedy and loss, sentiments they are all too familiar with themselves. But sometimes the violence of the most murderous spirits is nothing compared to the cruelty of the living. Brush sleeves with death in this beautifully-illustrated collection of ghost stories.
First off, let’s talk art. This art is absolutely gorgeous. Detailed, elegant, ephemeral, wonderfully researched and with just the right edge to it – these are ghost stories, after all. The artist says she set the story in this period (which, forgive me, I did not write down and cannot find a reference to) solely because she wanted to draw the gorgeous clothes, and she does a wonderful job. All the characters are distinct and easy to identify, which is key in a series like this where the dialogue and naming conventions are not always the same as you’d expect. (Read the helpful cultural notes in the back of the book, as usual.)
I did have a couple of technical issues with the series. First, I am just not used to manga reading left to right anymore. Really, Yen Press? Second, the fight scenes. Now I readily admit that I am not a huge fan of fight scenes in any kind of comics, and that manga fight scenes tend to confuse me even more, and with a Korean manhwa I really shouldn’t have been surprised that I was totally lost – but I think that’s also partially due to the artist’s skill, because I felt that the later action scenes were much better than the earlier ones.
Anyone who’s familiar with Japanese horror movies will be familiar with this type of ghost story – a ghost is someone with a grudge against the living, sometimes one person in particular but sometimes just living people in general. There are quite a few other elements of Asian mythology as well – a number of fox demons make their terrifying appearance, and in volume six there’s a particularly nasty retelling of the Crane Wife story (which you might recall from the Decemberists album of the same name).
There are two kinds of stories in Time and Again, really – stories featuring individual one-off characters or, sometimes, Ho-Yeon and his personal history, and stories featuring Baek-On. The difference between them, basically, is that Baek-On is an ass. I find him hilarious, but if you don’t find a hard-drinking, self-obsessed, terminally lazy exorcist to be an ideal interface with the world of terrifying Korean ghosts, you might not like him as much as I do. Baek-On’s backstory, finally presented in volume six, has a little less of his general assholishness – but really, his disdain for the stupid things humans do gives me endless entertainment.
The balance of humor and creepiness in the series is just right for me: the humor takes the sting away from the horror, but not so much that you won’t find these ghosts creeping up on you in the middle of the night. I got attached to the main characters and some of the demons, and I wanted to learn more about the mythology these stories were based on. I couldn’t ask more from a book I picked up on a whim.
In a Sentence:
Beautifully executed horror stories with a funny twist and one of the best jerks I’ve read about in a long time.