Duty After School (2012) – Unidentified Flying Orbs

To quote Private Joker’s last line in “Full Metal Jacket” directed by Stanley Kubrick: “My thoughts drift back to erect nipple wet dreams about Mary Jane Rotencrotch and the Great Homecoming F*ck fantasy. I’m so happy that I’m alive, in one piece and short. I’m in a world of sh*t, yes. But I’m alive. And I am not afraid.” “Duty After School” is an anti-war manhwa, where I love to say this as an anti-war, about a group of high school students have to reserve to a battleground against the unidentified creatures. These unidentified creatures are purple orbs-like, different from slime, where they have the same brain as humans but have a thorn. They are able to kill humans quickly with just their giant thorns in their bodies.

They aren’t against humans, aren’t against terrorists, but they are against something that readers don’t know what they really are. It just drags them long and long with more dangerous situations. At first, they all didn’t accept why they had to go into battle. However, the time has come, an apocalypse. They realize that this war is nothing but not against humans in general. As long as they get along while seeing many of their friends die, they just realize that this is still not much. They have to deal with themselves, the psychology within themselves until stab each other in the back.

I love “Annarasumanara” and when I finish reading, I want to find another Ha Il-kwon works. I mean, I just realized that this is the same writer who also wrote “God of Bath”. Well-played but “Duty After School” is darker than any both works I’ve read from the author. The fact that it’s hard to find war manga (I’m talking about reality), applies also to anime and manga, is just makes me crazy. But, I really, really expect a lot from this manhwa. Apparently, Il-kwon fulfilled my expectations and maybe this is one of the best.

I can take you from an hour, I can say a lot about this manhwa for a day, I want to find more similar works to this. I can combine every anti-war movie I’ve watched such as “The Deer Hunter“, “Apocalypse Now”, “Platoon”, “Full Metal Jacket”, and “Jarhead“. But, there is one thing I was speechless when I finished reading this manhwa and that’s the ending. The ending reminds me of “Come and See” where both of them end tragically in self-awareness. The main characters were aware of what they have witnessed. And I’m still thinking about it, I can’t get rid of that image anymore even though I’m trying to find another Webtoon; especially comedy.

“Duty After School” starts with this bunch of high schools, talks about their future and their dream of universities after graduation. Then, it straightforward with this documentary format where one character interviews each character. There is no main character because it doesn’t just focus on one character. There is so many to recognize. The story tells through this documentary, each character tells how they felt when they went through training, killed their first cells, and watched their friend die.

Each character has its own characterization, issue, and plot where it connects to the entire setting: the war. There is so much jarring where I can’t see it in several chapters. You sometimes get other sub-plots too like romance but it adds many subtle hints, foreshadowing, and irony into the story. You have to get used to the environment, characters, and experience to get to know them all. The only way was just to keep going, push yourselves, and you start to kind of notice it one by one.

It’s hard to say that this is an action whatsoever. Wrong, even though you got a little action, but this is not the case. “Duty After School” is a character study, similar to “The Deer Hunter”. Both of them show three separate events namely before the war, the war, and the post-war. I don’t care where these cells came from because this is not a survival game story or Independence Day-alike. I also like how the author depicts all these characters from their perspective. The author uses high school students as the scapegoat in a realistic way.

Every character changes and is impossible if nothing changes or develops. You got this innocent guy who seems just fun but he just witnessed the beginning. There is a plot about a misunderstanding where the character gradually changes into a psycho and tries to kill his friends. There are plots about suicide and other twists. Just hard to recognize all of them at first and the art is still one of the author trademarks. At first, most of the interview scene doesn’t show the name of each character. But, I like that the author seems to notice it. The art is black and white, similar to “Annarasumanara”, for some neutral design characters, but it adds random details into its background and so on.

“Duty After School” is an anti-war manhwa about character study, psychology, with so many interactions and connections between characters. It deals with pain, reality, personal feeling, real life, and many more. The art is great but a little bit messy, the tone is dark, everything in this manhwa is dark. I really like how this manhwa doesn’t end with a happy ending and I love that. But, this is not for everyone. I guess.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Annarasumanara (2010) – Do You Believe in Magic?

“All grown-ups were once children but only a few of them remember it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in “The Little Prince“. “Annarasumanara” is a manhwa about… everything. It’s about reality, grown-up, adulthood, dreams, disbelief, memories, happiness, society, creativity, I mean… everything. It’s not like I never read manhwa at all because, in fact, this is not the first manhwa I’ve ever read. Sung Sang-Young’s “The Gamer” was my first manhwa. It loosely based on a fantasy pop culture and RPG video games. But, I always want to find something new, something not only written or created with passion or love. It has to be impressed works. And this is the one, especially when talking about manhwa.

“Annarasumanara”, if you’re curious, means “abracadabra” in Korean, an incantation used as a magic word in stage magic tricks. But, this sentence, along with the times, began to shift. The sentence, on the other hand, can be interpreted as healing powers inscribed on an amulet. From this definition, this manhwa tells about magic and “healing power” on the basis of modern psychology and era. The story is straightforward but it captures all of its mysterious and aspects into one of the most beautiful writing.

Simply put, “Annarasumanara” is about magic but not about supernatural, superpower, or something like which. It’s a beautiful, charming, heartwarming tale about what it really means to be an adult. It’s about a lost memory, about a society that’s slowly killing one’s creativity. Yet, the manhwa tackles so many things, something we often encounter in our daily lives. They are socialism, parental pressure, understanding yourself, the meaning of life, and bullying. It’s about growing up, stop playing around and start participating in society even if you don’t accept the fact you would never be happy.

The story is about Ah-ee Yoon, a smart girl in her class but doesn’t have any friends. All she needs is simple: grow up quickly, have a family, and participate in society. When she met with Lee Eul, it was rumored there was an insane young man. He often asking strangers if they believed in magic. Even though Ah-ee thinks it’s just something small but childish, there is something that makes her amazed. Lee Eul understands her feelings deeply, about something he wanted since childhood.

Thus, Lee Eul is different from other characters and Ah-ee. Society isolates himself because he doesn’t want to be an “adult”. However, there is a reason why he is in the first place. Lee Eul and Ah-ee Yoon are like a coin from a different perspective but sharing one reflection with each other. As a child, Ah-ee struggles to find a comfortable place in herself and as part of the community. She tries to find happiness in this cruel world but also difficult to make decisions.

On the other hand, Lee Eul is just a kid who is stuck in an adult body. He finds what he really wants, what he really makes him happy. But, of course, society still considers him a crazy person. Strangely, what does this really mean? “Annarasumanara” is a tragedy. This manhwa is just deep, emotional, a gripping dark story, a depressing story about truth. But, Ha Il-kwon, the author, never answers the tragedy and problems in this work. He makes this ambiguously as possible, emphasizes what we have left in the first place. You cry but don’t know why. You want to just end this but still, you wonder if there is light at the end of the tunnel. The answer is no, it’s very ambiguous but we all know the real answer.

“Do you believe in magic?” asked Lee Eul to all of the characters to even readers. In this case, the author doesn’t provide a definitive answer about what exactly is “magic”. Is it about creativity? Beauty? Happiness? Wealth? Intelligence? Past? Is this just magic as we know it today or about how the horror of reality and society? Is Lee Eul just a shadow of a supernatural thing in this manhwa? Well, I like it better if this manhwa never answers it. That’s the best thing we have got.

Basically, we don’t really have many characters. There are just at least three main characters: Ah-ee Yoon, Lee Eul, and Il-Deung Na. Il-Deung is Ah-ee’s classmate, having something missing as well after meeting with Lee Eul. His plot consists of how he was considered a genius by his teachers, his parents, and other students. He seems like he exists but he is just a character with a ridiculous design of all characters. Yet, there is a reason why.

All of these three characters are just so realistic in their own way. They have shared the same problem, related in such a way, and we easily connect and root to them. How come I want to be an architect when I was a child, but as we grow up, everything is just meaningless? The art is just amazingly magnificent although it’s hard to describe how. It’s simply a black-and-white, mostly, but there is one part I love the most. It’s the transition when Ah-ee hears a rumor about Lee Eul from his friends but Il-Deung’s character slowly faded appears next to her. The expression, the background, they are all just mesmerizing. There are lots of beautiful details on it.

I read this manhwa in one night and I absolutely enjoy this. “Annarasumanara” is definitely one of the best manhwas from its plot, characters, art, everything. There is a reason why we are still stuck in the past because all we have to think from now on is the future. But, we still want to go back to the past, still enjoy those old-days, remember how you are now not what you used to be. Just thanks for the greatest piece. And for now, I believe what the meaning of “magic” really is.

5 out of 5 stars.