Thursday, December 29, 2022

REVIEW: True Beauty (manhwa, vol. 1) by Yaongyi

True Beauty is (I think) a romantic comedy manhwa. It was originally a webtoon. I bought my copy of this volume brand new.


In middle school, Jugyeong Lim didn't wear any makeup and only cared about listening to whatever music she liked and watching her favorite cartoons and movies. She and a good-looking guy bonded over music, and she found herself wondering if maybe he was interested in her. Then she learned that he'd started dating one of the pretty girls who bullied her. Depressed, she decided that the problem was that she wasn't good-looking enough, so she dedicated herself to learning how to use makeup. It wasn't easy, but with lots of practice and advice from online strangers, she learned how to transform herself into a flawless beauty, just in time for high school.

Because she begins attending a school that's farther away, she doesn't run into any old classmates and is able to completely reinvent herself as one of the popular and pretty girls. Of course, it's all a lie, but Jugyeong doesn't see a problem with that...until she meets Suho Lee. He's hot, but also a complete jerk. And, horror of horrors, he has discovered her secret. Can she keep him from revealing the truth about her appearance and ruining her high school life?

Yeesh, the bulk of this was excruciating. Just about everyone was incredibly shallow, and I'd hope that it was all a setup for Jugyeong to eventually discover that turning herself into a completely different person wasn't worth it, except that the volume started with a glimpse of her at age 21, still basking in the attention her perfect looks and social media presence gave her while relaxing and being herself only while at home.

The sad thing is, I can't say that Jugyeong was overreacting when she worried that all her friends and admirers would ditch her if they knew what she really looked like. Literally everything about her was a lie - she even lied about her personal tastes to fit in with whatever her supposed friends approved of. Even if they were fine with her real appearance, the person they'd become friends with didn't really exist. But if they ditched her after her secret got out, Jugyeong would almost certainly think it was solely due to her ugly appearance rather than the giant web of lies that was her public life.

Anyway, Suho is good-looking, seems to be rich, and enjoys the same books and movies Jugyeong does. He's also rude and insulting, but he's equally so whether she is or isn't wearing makeup, and he occasionally does nice things out of the blue. He's clearly who Jugyeong is going to end up with, but first we must have a rocky road featuring a scheming ex (possibly - at the very least Sujin Kang doesn't seem happy that Suho is paying attention to someone who isn't her) and a gross player who is naive Jugyeong's first date (a setup arranged by Sujin, of course).

There was nothing about Jugyeong's natural appearance that she liked - her makeup wasn't about enhancing her best features, but rather completely changing herself. Her makeup routine and eyelid glue/tape routine were depicted in detail multiple times. The eyelid glue/tape application scenes (for creating a double eyelid), in particular, felt like a how-to for readers. It left me feeling uncomfortable, and I'm really not sure what this series is aiming for. Oddly, Jugyeong was able to see a chef with large burn scars as pretty, just not herself.

Subtle this series is not, and the way most of the cast is focused on physical appearance to the exclusion of everything else made me grit my teeth. So why am I still considering continuing on with this? There are some decently funny moments and great facial expressions (Yaongyi's use of "ugly facial expressions" to humorous effect reminds me of Gintama or GTO). Also, the drama has the potential to be addictive, if cliche.

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