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Review: Very! Very! Sweet vol. 1-5

Tsuyoshi is a spoiled middle-school boy from a wealthy Japanese family. When his strict grandfather gets tired of Tsuyoshi’s playboy ways, he tells the boy the family’s dark secret–they’re actually Korean! Well, 400 years ago. But that’s enough of a family tie for Tsuyoshi’s grandfather to decide to ship him off to Korea to learn to be a man. Things do not go smoothly, though, when Tsuyoshi meets his new next-door neighbor: the practical, plainspoken, middle-school girl named Be-Ri. The two of them might just hate each other enough to spark off a new Japanese-Korean war!

Very! Very! Sweet vol. 1-5
JiSang Shin and Geo
Age Rating: "T" for language
Yen Press, Pub date: July 2008 (1), Nov. 2008 (2), March 2009 (3), July 2009 (4), Nov. 2009 (5)
ISBN: 978-0-7595-2865-9 (vol. 1), 978-0-7595-2866-6 (vol. 2), 
978-0-7595-2867-3 (vol. 3), 978-0-7595-3146-8 (vol. 4), 978-0-7595-3148-2 (vol. 5)
~176 pages/each, $10.99/each

I am a HUGE, rabid fan of JiSang Shin and Geo’s manhwa series Chocolat (also published by Yen Press), but it is unfortunately having Korean publishing issues, so I can’t get my regular Chocolat fix. Luckily, Yen has also been releasing Very! Very! Sweet, a series which has all of the elements I love about Shin and Geo’s work: funny stories, convoluted romantic entanglements, plucky heroines, and surprisingly deep moments. And since many of the deep moments in this series are related to cultural stereotypes and how they affect the way people interact with one another, Very! Very! Sweet has a welcome timeliness to it.

Westerners may not know a lot about the long history of strife between Korea and Japan, going back through many years of war and occupation, but one thing I love about reading comics from other cultures is that I get to learn things and have fun while doing it. Shin and Geo don’t shove a lot of details down readers’ throats, but they do present problems that are still present in the way people from Korea and Japan relate to one another (problems that are universal to all cultures). Tsukoshi doesn’t pick up Korean quickly, so he causes problems because he can’t understand or be understood. Be-Ri’s grandmother, however, speaks perfect Japanese because she was forced to learn it during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), so her reaction to hearing it coming from Be-Ri’s new next-door neighbors is less than neighborly. Other cultural details are scattered throughout the plot, but Yen Press helpfully offers translation notes in the back.

Luckily, the cultural details and deep moments are lightened by frequent comedic moments. Be-Ri and Tsukoshi’s first meeting–where they end up spitting on each other–is very funny and it is only one of many such moments. The plot does bog down a little in volumes four and five as Shin and Geo are developing the many love relationships. They also tackle a few too many plot details when they begin to show the complex past of Tsukoshi’s family, but their hearts are obviously in the right place, so readers will still be eager for the next volumes. For manga fans who love learning about Japanese culture through comics, this series can be a fun way to introduce them to Korean culture.

Shin and Geo’s art is as enjoyable as their story. They think nothing of making a pretty boy look like an idiot or an ordinary girl look suddenly adorable, so their work should appeal to girls looking for romantic comedies. Luckily romance isn’t the only focus of the story. There’s enough about family, culture, and friendship to engage boy readers willing to pick up a girly-looking title. There is some language (mostly Tsukoshi’s favorite word: "bastard"), some kissing, and a lot of very pretty boys wearing very odd outfits, but nothing terribly inappropriate for a middle-school setting. At a total of eight volumes, which should be out by the end of 2010 (vol. 6 comes out in March and vol. 7 in June), Very! Very! Sweet is a lot of fun in a not-too-large package.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Yen Press.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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