Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Tarot Cafe (manhwa, vol. 5) by Sang-Sun Park

Pamela and Belus make sure that everything works out all right for the young singer who was going to have to pay for a magical contract with his life. Afterwards, Pamela lets her friends know that she's decided to take a trip to Scotland by herself. Belus and Ash are already not getting along well (they are both apparently attracted to Pamela, and she seems to be attracted to them both as well), but Belus is also suspicious that Ash has something bad planned for Pamela in Scotland. Belus and Ash both follow Pamela when she leaves for her trip. Pamela ends up following a mysterious man in a robe, who turns out to be Victor, the monk who tried to kill Ash and Pamela long ago.

Belus was right to be suspicious of Ash, as Ash's plan is now put into effect - Pamela gets exposed to a perfume that causes a person to fall into a dream, from which they cannot awaken, of their most painful memory of the past. Pamela dreams of the monk, of everything falling apart with Ash, and of Ash's apparent death. The person who made the perfume for Ash has plans of his own (I think this person is a guy, but I'm not sure...) - he needs the life-strength of an immortal being like Pamela to create a perfume that will restore his youth and beauty. He does manage to create a perfume, but Belus replaced one of the ingredients with poison, and the man dies. Belus wakes Pamela up in the only possible way, by letting her hurt him so that she can taste his heart's blood. Although things appear grim, when Belus next appears he's bandaged up and nearly good as new. In the last part of the volume, Pamela's store is visited by an old man who's trying to help his only friend, a young boy who is repeatedly abused by his father. The man, who is actually an old tree, gives up his trunk so that the boy can live and grow up to be a great and kind man.

It's been a while since I've read the earlier volumes in this series, so I had a little bit of a problem following what was going on and remembering who all the characters are - although there's a "story so far" page, it's incredibly unhelpful. The relationship between Pamela and Ash is particularly confusing to me. She loves him, or did love him at one point, but he wants to punish her for some reason. Perhaps he blames her for his supposed death so long ago? One scene from Pamela's past also seems to indicate that at one point Ash actually told Pamela that he could never love her - did she blank that memory out, or was she so in love with him that she couldn't believe he could possibly mean what he'd said?

Unlike Ash, Belus seems to genuinely like (maybe even love?) Pamela. He was certainly willing to risk dying in order to wake her up. I'm not sure how great his risk of death was, since I think he's nearly as difficult to kill as Pamela (who is immortal). Pamela still seems determined to believe that their relationship is entirely based on the contract that they have with each other, rather than any deeper feelings, but I wonder how long that's going to last.

The final part of the volume was a bit jarring, since it was such a sudden departure from the overarching storyline involving Pamela and her past, but it was still a sweet story. It was kind of cliched, though, and I'm sure I've seen stories like it before, where some ancient tree or something gives up its life for the human being it cares for.

As far as extras go, there's a several page long preview of the first volume of Sang-Sun Park's Ark Angels, in which a trio of sisters from the future try to rescue animals on the brink of extinction. In this preview, the girls are trying to save one of the last Guam Fruit Bats. It's a bit goofy, which, in my opinion, doesn't really fit Park's art style.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP; Xxxholic (anime TV series) - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. Like much of The Tarot Cafe, this series has lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her specials skills and knowledge. Those who'd like another series with a similar mix of humor and seriousness, along with a supernatural shop owner, may want to try this manga.
  • Alichino (manga) by Kouyu Shurei - This fantasy series revolves around Alichino, beautiful creatures that appear human and will grant any wish at a huge price, and a beautiful boy named Tsugiri, who has a terrible past. Overall, this series is darker and more serious than The Tarot Cafe. Those who'd like another story with somewhat similar artwork and beautiful and androgynous (yet somehow still sexy) men might enjoy this manga. Unfortunately, although it's only one volume away from being concluded, it's unclear when and if the final volume will ever be released.
  • Seeker: The Tarot Unveiled (non-fiction book) by Rachel Pollack - This is a good book for beginners who'd like to know more about the Tarot. The Tarot Cafe's Pamela often uses Tarot cards, and those who find this aspect of the series particularly interesting may enjoy this book.
  • Pet Shop of Horrors (manga) by Matsuri Akino; Pet Shop of Horrors (anime TV series) - Count D is a mysterious pet shop owner whose pets aren't the sort you could find anywhere else. When cared for properly, these pets can bring their owners contentment and companionship like no ordinary pet ever could. However, there are potentially horrific consequences when Count D's pet care instructions are not followed. Officer Orcot, an American policeman, goes to Count D's shop to investigate after the strange and unexplained deaths of several of Count D's former customers. Like much of The Tarot Cafe, this series tends to be pretty episodic - a customer with a need comes in, Count D provides them with a pet that fulfills that need, and things either end well or badly for the customer, depending on his or her situation and how he or she treats the pet. Those who'd like another story starring a mysterious shop owner who's a bit supernatural might enjoy this series.
  • Yume Kira Dream Shoppe (manga) by Aqua Mizuto - The only characters that show up on a regular basis are Rin, the owner of the Yume Kira Dream Shoppe, and Alpha, Rin's helper at the shop. Rin and Alpha use the magical items at the shop to make people's desires a reality, at a cost. Similar to The Tarot Cafe, this single-volume manga is episodic - each chapter is a standalone story. Some of the stories are sweet and happy, while others are more bittersweet. Those who'd like another story starring a mysterious shop owner who uses his/her powers to help customers might enjoy this.

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