Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Milkyway Hitchhiking (manhwa, vol. 1) by Sirial, translated by HyeYoung Im

Milkyway Hitchhiking is an episodic manhwa (Korean graphic novel) that's hard to assign to any one genre, since it changes a bit from one story to the next. It's licensed by Yen Press.

I won't be including any read-alikes with this. Also, be aware that some of the things in this review could be considered spoilers.


Milkyway Hitchhiking is composed of 11 short stories and one bit that I suppose could be called an interlude. Milkyway, a cat named for the gorgeous star-like pattern on her back, is the only thing most of the stories have in common.

I picked this volume up primarily because I loved the cover. Luckily, this is one of those cases where the artwork on the cover gives you a good idea of what to expect in the volume as a whole. All the artwork is in color, except for one story that purposely starts out in shades of gray. Sirial's style has a dreamlike quality to it, and I found myself repeatedly thinking that a Sirial-illustrated picture book would be an absolutely wonderful thing.

The artwork definitely did not disappoint, but what about the stories? That's where things got a bit more “meh.” I did enjoy them, but at one point I put the volume down and didn't pick it up again for months – in fact, I waited so long that I decided to just start over from the beginning when I picked it up again.

A big part of the problem, I think, was that there wasn't much there to grab my attention and keep it from one story to the next. Just as I started to get to know one character, Milkyway moved on, and even Milkyway herself wasn't that intriguing. I got the feeling that Sirial couldn't really decide what to do with her and how far to go. For example, in the very first story, Milkyway demonstrated magical abilities by changing a cat into a human for a few hours, so that he could give the human who saved him and took him in a gift. There were also signs that Milkyway had lived for hundreds (or even thousands?) of years. In many of the stories, however, she seemed like an ordinary, non-magical cat who just happened to be hanging around a different human or two.

I'd say that I really enjoyed the stories in about half the volume and felt so-so about or slightly disliked the stories in the other half. The stories I liked the least tended to be ones that felt somewhat pointless, such as the second story, in which Milkyway traveled with the Star Traveler. The artwork was beautiful, no doubt, but the story didn't grab me at all. Same with the story (which I don't think had enough to it to qualify as a story) about Milkyway's first owner/traveling partner, a shepherd. Then there was the story about the robotic cat, which started out fabulously (I loved the cat's creepy-cute attempt to imitate a real cat's cuteness) and then stumbled into an ending that was a weird mix of tragic and happy. It felt like Sirial couldn't quite bear to commit to a tragic ending, but had already gone to far to bring it back to something happier.

I absolutely loved the story about the 15-year-old shoemaker and 15-year-old gisaeng, even though I knew intellectually that their budding romance probably wouldn't turn out well. Although the interlude was a bit odd, set in a sort of alternate universe convenience store featuring all the characters from the previous stories, I liked that it gave the shoemaker and the gisaeng the kind of life that would allow them to go on an adorable first date.

There were quite a few cute stories: the awkward, shy boy who Milkyway taught to play cello (one of those things you just have to accept, and try not to think about too hard); the two broke guys who ended up trapped because they couldn't bear to step out the door over a sleeping Milkyway, in case they accidentally woke her up; and the cat who desperately wanted to give his human a gift but had no clue what sorts of things humans like (hint: dead bugs don't make good gifts). I liked that Sirial didn't go 100% for the “cats are standoffish” stereotype.

The story that seemed to fit the volume the least was the one about the cruel king, the awesome lady knight, and the white “animal” the king sent the knight to find. It had the least connection to Milkyway, and it was the closest Sirial came to writing something truly dark, with people dying and getting body parts lopped off. And even then, Sirial kept coming back to those characters and trying to write them a happier alternate life.

I'm still debating whether to buy the second volume or just check it out from the library.

Additional Comments:

I can't believe I almost forgot to mention this. For those sensitive about cat deaths: one story includes a cat that dies as a result of being hit by a car. It comes back as a ghost in order to try to comfort the person who attempted to help it.

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