Our Happy Hours by Gong Ji-young, Sahara Mizu: review

Watashitachi no Shiawase na JikanOur Happy Hours by Gong Ji-young, Sahara Mizu (art)
Stand Alone
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Age Group: Adult/Mature Young Adult
Genre: Josei, Seinen, Romance
Release Date: First Pub. 2007
Synopsis: “I have something I don’t want to lose—
So much so that these terrible feelings have grown.”

A pianist who attempted suicide 3 times, Juri, is taken to help her aunt at a prison where murderers who killed indiscriminately are sentenced to death. There, she meets a man named Yuu who took the lives of 3 people. A mother’s antagonism–a brother’s death… Together they embrace the violent rebellion in their hearts caused by the large, deep scars they carry. However, before long, they both embrace an earnest hope in their hearts. “I want to live”…

An adaptation of a novel by South Korea’s most popular female novelist, Gong Ji-Young.

My Thoughts:

Our Happy Hours. I don’t think that there could be any other name more fitting. From the very beginning I knew deep inside how the story was going to end. All I had to hold on to were the fulfilling, happy hours that Juri, a former pianist that has attempted suicide three times, and Yuu, a man on death row who killed three people, spend together. And when it all ended, I was just left remembering the moments they had together.

I do admit that the premise can cause eyebrows to be raised. A story about a depressed woman spending time with a murderer every Thursday is not a story that many people would call sweet, romantic, or, in fact, normal. But in reality, this story is sweet, in its own tender way, and romantic, in its own hopeful way, and, for some odd reason, the story does feel a bit normal when one actually reads it. And to top it all off, there is a very apparent sense of standing in the rain-like sadness and melancholy lingering in the atmosphere of Our Happy Hours that one can not just shake off. It isn’t the in-your-face kind of sadness as you can put up a little umbrella made out of the happy hours…

It’s just that sometimes I don’t like an umbrella being in the way!

Juri and Yuu are both characters that are hard to write and pull off. Juri mainly because of her depression, which is a condition that takes research and understanding to effectively write. Yuu because, well, he had killed people before. And even though he regrets it enough to actually long for death, his actions are still almost impossible to forgive. But even so, Gong Ji-young writes these characters in a masterfully skillful and sensitive way.

Gong Ji-young really shows how fragile and vulnerable these two characters are. I had this extreme wanting to protect Juri and Yuu, though I knew that it was impossible since I am kind of in a different world than them. Their development, growth, and healing are painful and inspiring at the same time. Seriously, the two leads’ characterization is simply breathtaking.

The flow of the story isn’t slow yet it isn’t fast. It takes its time presenting the characters, their emotions, conflicts, and wants before letting everything take off. I actually wish that the pacing was slower so it would have taken less time to get to the ending.

Let me explain. The ending is painfully sad. The kind of sad that might make you cry, your tears streaming down your face and ruining your makeup. I knew all along that it was coming but it still hit me hard and devastating me. I didn’t even have a tissue box available! It was a perfect ending with notes from the piano and love , but still painful.

Christianity does have a role in Our Happy Hours. Juri’s aunt is part of the clergy and Yuu does study to get his Christian name. I don’t think that this caused the manga to be preachy in at all. In fact, the manga shows the flaws of the people in the clergy (without making an offensive portrayal, of course) and there were some underlying messages that a person, Christian or not, could listen to and learn from.

The art, awhile not the most fantastic thing about Our Happy Hours, flawlessly fits into the mood of the story as a whole. The delicate character designs and carefully drawn backgrounds make the art something really pleasant on the eyes to look at.

Our Happy Hours is an absolutely lovely manga that deserves to have its large audience. It is rare to encounter such a beautifully bittersweet story. I will be cherishing Our Happy Hours for years to come.

Note: I have recently learned that Our Happy Hours is an adaption of a novel by Gong Ji-Young, an author who is considered one of the most popular female novelist in South Korea. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book, and am not sure if I ever will be able to, but I believe that the manga is a fantastic manga in its own right.

Chihayafuru Vol. 1 by Yuki Suetsugu: review

Chihayafuru, Vol. 1 (Chihayafuru, #1)

Chihayafuru Vol. 1 by Yuki Suetsugu

Series: Chihayafuru #1

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Genre: Sports, Josei

Release Date: May 13th 2008

Synopsis: All her life, Chihaya’s dream was to see her model sister become Japan’s best… That is, until a quiet, unassuming transfer student named Arata tells her otherwise. A dream, he explains to her, is something she needs to work at herself. Arata plays a competitive version of a traditional Japanese card game–known as Hyakunin Isshu–in a way Chihaya has never seen before. After taking Arata’s place in a game, Chihaya discovers she has a passion for it. Now Chihaya wants to become number one in the world, the Queen of Karuta. Chihayafuru won the 2nd Manga Taisho Award. Winner of the 35th annual Kodansha Manga Award for Best Shoujo

My thoughts: I loved this manga. I really did. It was touching, humourous, and has some good messages weaved in the story. There is really nothing wrong with this manga so far although it is still very early in the series. I have high hopes for Chihayafuru‘s next volumes! Sadly, this manga has not been licensed in english so I won’t be able to buy physical copies of the Chihayafuru series but there are always the lovely fan translators!

Chiyhaya is a girl who always says what is on her mind. And she also has a dream: to see her sister become Japan’s best model. Well, that was her dream until Arata, a transfer student tells her that a dream is something that she needs to work at herself. She later finds out that Arata plays a Japanese card game known as Hyakunin Isshu. Chiyhaya is fascinated at the way he plays the game. One day she has to take Arata’s place in a game and finds out that she has a passion for it. Chihaya now knows what her dream is: to become the Queen of Karuta.

I have never read a manga with a story liked this. Suetsugu masterfully intertwines the game of Karuta with a sweet story of finding out what one desires. The story glued me into my seat, making me read nonstop until I got to the end of the volume.

This is a character driven story in which we meet an outspoken girl who is always living in the shadow of her beautiful sister named Chihaya (she is what many would call the glue that keeps the group of characters together), a quiet boy named Arata who has a passion and talent for the game of Karuta, and Taichi, a boy who is a genuinely nice person on the inside but is driven to do mean things because of the pressure his parents give him. These characters have a bond with each other and I loved reading about it. Awhile they do work well together they still have those times where they want to be better than one another (even when they are on the same team). Their friendship is very real. It has the sweet moments, the sad moments, the whole bit.

I never knew that Karuta was such an exhilarating game until I read this manga. Karuta requires the player to become “friends” with the poems that are printed on the cards. Karuta requires the player to have quick hands. I don’t think I would be able to do half as much as the group of characters in this manga are able to do.

Chihayafuru is a beautiful drawn manga that I cannot take my eyes off of. I will certainly be reading the next volumes. I want to learn how Chihaya’s story ends.