Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Tarot Cafe (manhwa, vol. 7) by Sang-Sun Park

This is the final volume of The Tarot Cafe. Nebiros offers to take Pamela to Hell to see Belial (she wants to do what she can for Belus, who is still badly hurt - Nebiros, on the other hand, has other motivations). Meanwhile, Belial instructs his people to treat Pamela with respect and kindness when she arrives. During her journey to see Belial, Pamela encounters many dangers and even a warning from her dead mother that she can't quite decipher. When the danger Pamela's in seems to be at its greatest, Belus miraculously swoops in to save her, and she and Belus finally admit their feelings for each other and have sex (and here I thought Park would just keep the tension between the two of them going forever).

Unfortunately, Pamela's world is turned upside down when Belus reveals that he is and has always been Belial. Not only that, Belial was the one behind everything that eventually resulted in Pamela's immortality - it enabled him to enjoy her for a longer period of time. If Pamela wants to die like a normal human, she has to kill Ash - the real Ash this time, not the fake one - to acquire the final gem for Belial. Belial has the real Ash right there, but Pamela can't bring herself to kill him. All of a sudden, all kinds of beings Pamela's helped over the years start appearing around Ash and repay their debts by helping Pamela get away from Pandemonium, Belial's home.

The story jumps forward 60 years, with Pamela still reading cards at the Tarot Cafe. Nebiros visits her and takes her to see Aaron, who is now an old bedridden man. Before he dies, Aaron gives Pamela some advice about forgiveness. Later, Nebiros tells Belial a few things he doesn't want to hear, namely that Belial's feelings for Pamela were less of a game than he thought they were. Belial isn't pining because he lost the necklace, but rather because he lost Pamela. After Belial gets over his anger a bit, he gives Pamela a visit and offers her a new contract, but she knows better - if he's lonely and needs a friend, that's what she wants him to say. The series ends with the two of them sitting companionably side-by-side at the cafe.

I have to say, I really liked this volume. Maybe I would've guessed Belus' true identity sooner if the gaps between my readings of the volumes hadn't been so great, but I'm glad I didn't really get a chance to guess sooner. Being shocked at his identity myself made me feel Pamela's shock and betrayal even more than I might otherwise have. The "we're all here for you and want to repay our debts" ending was a bit more fluffy than I expected, but I'm glad that the series didn't end with death and destruction - some people may find happy endings to be too Hollywood, but I like it when my entertainment doesn't make me depressed.

The 60-year jump into the future was a bit odd, but I thought it, too, was nice. Sixty years is enough time for everyone involved in the final showdown to have gotten a little emotional perspective - I'm not sure that Belial, especially, could've gone to Pamela the way he did in the last couple pages without 60 years to think about things. A part of me had expected Aaron to be as immortal as everyone else, so it was odd trying to see how his usual babyface had turned into the well-wrinkled face of an old man. I liked Aaron, but the way Park did his death, as a sad but natural thing, made it surprisingly painless, for me anyway - not sure how other readers felt about it. The little appearance by Ash seemed a little tacked on. He obviously doesn't remember Pamela, although something about her caught his attention and maybe stirred up a ghost of a memory. He's still as young as he was 60 years ago in Pandemonium - did Belial not release him for a few more decades, or does he not age? Maybe this is the next generation of reborn Ash, but that seems off to me, too.

Despite some of the really nasty things Belial has done to Pamela in the past, I'm glad that they at least decided to be friends by the end of the series. It's almost like Belial has a split personality - the nasty demon part of him that likes messing with people, and the nice, protective part of him that loves Pamela. Hopefully, he'll work at letting the nice part of himself dominate.

As far as extras go, there's excerpts from The Tarot Cafe: The Novel and Bizenghast: The Novel. I skimmed the excerpt from the Tarot Cafe novel - it looks like it's set before volume 7 of the manhwa, since Aaron is there, but it's possible that it could be set sometime during volume 7's 60-year time jump. I didn't read either excerpt in full because novels based on manga or manhwa, with few exceptions, don't generally interest me.

  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. Despite this, several of the stories in this series involve the blending of reality and dreams. Morpheus' various siblings make the occasional appearance, and they're fascinating as well. Those who found Pamela's journey to Hell interesting may enjoy this series, which often deals with Heaven and Hell in a way that (to me, at least) is similar stylistically and in tone.
  • 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.
  • Wish (manga) by CLAMP - One night, a man named Shuichiro untangles an angel from a tree branch. In gratitude, Kohaku, the angel, offers to grant him a wish, but Shuichiro can't think of a single wish he needs granted. Kohaku is nothing if not persistent and refuses to leave his side until Shuichiro discovers some need that he can't meet on his own. This short series is gentler and more romantic than The Tarot Cafe, but the two titles have a similar bittersweet feel at times. In addition, Wish, like The Tarot Cafe, jumps forward in time quite a bit by the end, with similar happy/peaceful results.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - Kyrian is a Dark-Hunter, someone who's given up his soul to the goddess Artemis in order to be able to exact vengeance after death. Part of the price he must pay is that he must continue to fight for Artemis, battling Daimons (a bit like vampires, only their main goal is to consume the souls of their victims). Kyrian meets Amanda after the two are attacked and handcuffed together. Amanda's never been one to believe in the supernatural, but seeing Kyrian fight Daimons shakes her world view up a bit. Along the way, Kyrian and Amanda fall in love, but they're going to have to get Kyrian's soul back from Artemis if they want to have any kind of a life together. All (or almost all) of Kenyon's Dark-Hunter books deal with love and betrayal, so if you enjoyed that aspect of The Tarot Cafe this book or one of the others in her Dark-Hunter series may appeal to you.
  • Demon Diary (manhwa) by Lee-Hyung Lee (script, vol. 2+), Lee Chi Hyong (story), and Kara (art) - Lord Raenef is supposed to be a Demon Lord, the reincarnation of one of the most powerful ones in existence. Unfortunately, even with an exasperated and frustrated Eclipse tutoring him, he's less powerful and terrible and more cute and cuddly. Even if he does become a better Demon Lord, do Eclipse and Raenef's friends really want him to be that way? Similar to The Tarot Cafe, the characters in this series eventually have to make some tough and painful decisions and somehow deal with their pasts. Plus, there's several pretty-boy male characters.

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