Sunday, December 11, 2016

REVIEW: Aron's Absurd Armada (manhwa, vol. 1) by MiSun Kim, translated by Jackie Oh

Aron's Absurd Armada is a humorous Korean manhwa.


Aron is a nobleman who decided (with encouragement from his mother) to go off and become a pirate. He was bored and thought it might be fun. Since he's his family's heir, he's accompanied by a bodyguard named Robin. Robin only cares about money and is kind of pissed that this job isn't as cushy and simple as it originally sounded like it would be.

Along the way they're joined by several new crew members: Ronnie, a girl who instantly falls in love with Robin because he's good-looking, and who everyone on the ship thinks is really a gay guy; Anton and Gilbert, two ordinary pirates who join Anton in order to avoid being killed by Robin; Mercedes, who specializes in magical makeovers and who is either a transwoman or a cross-dresser (I'm not sure the author thought about it very deeply, but I suspect the answer is “cross-dresser”); and Vincent, a man who looks like a dangerous pirate but who is actually an incredibly terrible chef.

Other characters occasionally join the story: the King, who is gentle, generous, and may have psychic powers; Aron's incredibly mismatched parents; Luther Nelson, Aron's childhood friend and occasional enemy; Admiral Nelson, Luther's father and Aron's mother's enemy; and Dorothy Nelson, Luther's niece and also the one he secretly loves. Yeah, you read that right – Luther's brother is only his half-brother, and also old enough that Luther and Dorothy are about the same age, which is how Luther justifies his incestuous feelings for her.

This was one of my used bookstore finds, and it was a disappointment. Unfortunately, I also have the second volume. I hope that one's better than this one, but I doubt it.

The best thing about this series is the artwork. Yen Press released this in full-color, and it looks great. Most of the pages loosely follow the 4-panel gag strip format, although there are occasional multi-page interludes for things like backstories and slightly more serious moments (although even those moments are never serious for long).

Unfortunately, the story, characters, and humor weren't nearly as appealing as the artwork. There was a plot, sort of, but it meandered a lot. Also, since characters rarely seemed to be emotionally affected by what was going on around them, and because so many breaks were taken for purely humorous moments, it tended to be hard to remember what was supposed to be going on. For example, at one point Luther attacked Aron's ship because he had been ordered to by his father. In theory, this should have been a deeply emotional moment, since Luther and Aron were technically childhood friends (sort of – Aron mostly just made Luther do the things he didn't want to do himself). However, the next few pages were all about how Ronnie was emotionally devastated because Robin said he hated her for lying. By the time Gilbert and Anton started going over the way people with different blood types react to being stranded on a deserted island, I'd forgotten why everyone was even stranded. Then they all took over Luther's conveniently abandoned ship.

The characters were extremely one-note and not always particularly likable. Aron was childish and didn't seem to care about anyone – even Robin was more a tool to help him keep from being bored than a true friend. Robin only protected Aron for the money, not that I really blamed him. Still, money was literally all he cared about. If he'd been offered more pay to wipe out the whole crew, he probably would have. Ronnie was mostly just an annoying excuse for gay jokes, and Anton and Gilbert were the ones usually responsible for making those jokes.

Which brings me to the humor. There were a lot of jokes about characters' lack of common sense, gay jokes, trans jokes, sexist jokes, and a few jokes that relied on anachronistic details like cell phones and even an air conditioner. It didn't work for me, and I got especially tired of the gay and trans jokes. They just would not stop.

The most similar series I can think of right now, in terms of overall style, is Hetalia: Axis Powers. For some reason that series worked much better for me. This was just an annoying and tiresome slog.

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