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The manhwa Sugarholic only looks like a pink-plastered romance. In reality, the “heroine” of comic is so unconventional that she makes traditional courtship rituals seem like pure madness.
Sugarholic, by Goong GooGoo, opens when 20 year old Jae-Jyu is kicked out of her grandmother’s house for being lazy and useless. By some quirk of fate she has yet to have acquired one skill worth having in all her years on earth. Grandma ships Jae-Jyu off to join her brother in the big city with no plan, no job, and a distinct lack of street smarts. She’s not five seconds off the bus before she’s earned what should be the eternal enmity of a handsome, elite young man by embarrassing him in at least 3 different and oddly spectacular ways in less than 10 minutes. If this is supposed to a “meet cute” it could not have been more awkward, although she and the rich jerk, Whie-Whan, seem destined to cross paths, each torturing the other by the simple fact of their mismatched personalities. Although Whie-Whan has status, wealth and a big chip on his shoulder (as per leading man regulations in romance comics), Jae-Jyu often overwhelms his plotting because strategy is no match against her special brand of crazy.
Jae-Jyu is loud, boyish, and just about the most uncouth person you’ll probably ever see in a romance comic. She’s a messy drunk and is prone to accidentally destroying pretty much anything that requires an ounce of special care or consideration. It is almost impossible to imagine her falling in love, much less anyone falling in love with her. In a very strange turn, the comic pulls out the old cliche of a pretend relationship — Whie-Whan wants to pay Jae-Jyu to “date” him to keep his domineering father off his back. This actually works because there is a kind of logic to this decision — after all, if there’s any girl Whie-Whan would assume is attraction-proof it would certainly be Jae-Jyu.
In addition to that plot line, there is a parallel romance not progressing on the side. Jae-Jyu is being actively pursued by a childhood friend who has loved her from afar for years (one assumes that only distance would actually make the heart grow fonder in Jae-Jyu’s case). Jae-Jyu believes that this young man only wants revenge for all the bullying he put up with from her when they were kids. This makes for some exasperating, although amusing scenes, where his romantic overtures make her treat him like a serial killer. If even there’s no real reason he should love Jae-Jyu, the poor kid deserves a medal for trying to reach her with his feelings when she’s constantly running out on him in abject, yet very loudly articulated, terror.
The end result is that while there are plenty of romance cliches at work in this title, they always seem to be intentionally unconvincing thanks to the challenge Jae-Jyu poses to normal human interactions. The girl is a true magnet for trouble and I found it rather amusing that she somehow manages to squirm out of difficult situations thanks to her strange brand of innocent thick headed-ness. It is true that by the third volume the series she starts to evolve as a character and actually learn to communicate with other human beings, but she is still a very long way from being able to maintain a romantic bond.
I find Sugarholic strangely compelling, in part because the heroine clearly fell out of a gag comic into this romance tale. While her prospective partners appear to be routine cliches you might see in any number of manga or manhwa oriented toward a young adult female audience, their undeniable attraction to the human tornado that is Jae-Jyu — a girl who can barely function for five entire minutes in “polite” society — only reinforces their own special brand of weirdness. While I would not argue the comic undermines the cliches of the genre, I do find that the antics of the main cast makes me not mind the creator’s reliance upon those cliches a bit.
Review copies of volumes 2 and 3 were provided by Yen Press.
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