Sun-Ken Rock Volume 1 Manga Review
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: Ken is a young high school student in Japan madly in love with his classmate, Yumi. When he confesses to her, she rejects him revealing that she is actually Korean, her real name is Yumin and she intends to move back to Korea to become a police officer and thus cannot enter into a relationship with him. Spurred by his feelings, Ken too moves to Korea and tries to join the police force in an attempt to woo her. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go the way you want it and Ken suddenly finds himself the head of a local Korean gang, on the wrong side of the law and nowhere close to winning over the love of his life.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Don’t be fooled by Sun-Ken Rock’s serious preview images. The story starts off extremely silly and comedic as we watch Ken’s early high school life and his relocation to Korea. Despite a cover art that screams brutal action, the first few chapters have an extremely silly vibe with characters often bursting into over the top expressions, and the story itself focusing more on pulling off gags and jokes rather than highlighting cool combat scenes. In fact, they might make the reader feel misled in the first chapter as we watch Ken spend all his time just being an unemployed shut in and a complete and total loser, enough to make you cringe and wonder how and why this story has such a bad ass looking cover and preview art page. That said, comedy fans should have fun with this chapter and several more as volume 1 has a lot of silly sequences that seem to dominate the overall vibe and even some of the serious scenes. The jokes are often punctuated with goofy reaction faces and at the beginning, usually revolve around someone’s (in particular, Ken’s) bad luck and misfortune.
What makes Sun-Ken’s comedy work is Ken himself. He’s made to be likeable enough, a bit of a punk because of circumstances, not necessarily evil, and desperate to win over the only person who matters to him after having lost everyone else in his life. Even if the reader doesn’t immediately empathize for him, you might find yourself atleast sympathizing with him when you see how badly life knocks him down after his move to Korea. Watching him react to the events happening to him is one of the main sources of comedy in the early pages and the art helps to really sell his goofy facial expressions. The story has a few somewhat implausible parts done solely for the sake of comedy/plot point, like how Yumin is able to join the police force right after dropping out of high school, yet Ken isn’t allowed to because apparently he is underage, making you wonder if someone lied about their age..or the story failed to explain that Yumin was much older than Ken. But as this is a comedy so unless you’re a stickler for logic, it’s probably best and easy to move on from these little inconsistencies.
If you think that things start to get serious once the local mafia gangs make an appearance, you are both right and wrong. While the interactions between Ken and opposing gangs are usually brutal and bloody, his own recruitment into becoming the boss of a particular Korean gang is a laugh riot. Not only is the entire procedure somewhat silly, his new underlings are all goofy in their own right. They’ll leave you shaking your head in disbelief as they all break out into a choreographed group dance to celebrate getting Ken fitted into a designer suit after getting him to accept the boss position.
Being based in Korea, there are definitely some portions of the story that feel like they got lost in translation. While the story does explain every Korean centric term that pops up in the dialogues and story, the translations aren’t always enough to help you grasp the point the author is trying to make. This happens in certain cases where the translation and explanation itself seems to have a very particular Asian/Korean connotation and sensibility that might be completely foreign to a non Asian reader unfamiliar with the culture. For example, when Ken manages to invite Yumin to have a cup of coffee with him, the reader is informed that he ends up taking her to a dabang. Here is the explanation given for what a dabang is “*Dabang – A type of cafe specialized in Korea. The common stereotype image is of a woman making coffee next to a middle aged (and up) man who’s drinking tea with a raw egg yolk inside of it.” If that explanation left you more confused than before, you might understand why I worry that parts of this story might not land as well with a foreign audience. The good news though is that so far, the instances of such culture specific incidents are few and far in between and that, for the curious, this might be a fun way to learn about the nuances of other cultures.
This doesn’t mean Sun-Ken Rock would be very difficult to enjoy for western/other audiences. Its comedy and its characters all display characteristics that would appeal to almost anyone. Besides that one ‘dabang; incident, the only other major caution I could offer about the story is the presence of some sexual violence. There’s an instance of attempted rape in Volume 1 and when I skimmed through Volume 2, there was a somewhat graphic implication of a woman being sexually abused and tortured. If these things make you extremely uncomfortable, it would be better to avoid reading this story or have someone skim and bookmark the pages so you can avoid or rush through them. But on a less violent note, there are also some two page spreads that feature scantily clad women and a scene where a grateful woman tries to repay Ken with sex which means this story in general has some sexual notes throughout so you definitely do not want to be reading it in a public place.
Though Sun-Ken Rock has a lot of comedy starting off and spread throughout most of its first volume, things get a lot more serious and dark as it continues, and most specifically in the final chapter of volume 1. Despite all the kindness and compassion displayed not only by Ken but to him by some of the Korean locals down on their luck, Sun-Ken Rock is often quick to remind us that life is no fairy tale. Good people get the short end of the stick all the time and there is no magic wand fix to a lot of life’s problems. For example, in Chapter 1, Ken is treated to a free meal by a kindly old food vendor. When the vendor is then attacked by some local thugs for being unable to pay their extortion fees, Ken comes to his rescue by beating the thugs up and chasing them off. However, in the last chapter, we find out that all Ken did was prevent the thugs from killing the old man that day. The old vendor has now lost his cart, having had to abandon it for fear of the thugs returning and the readers are given a sharp reminder that one single victory does nothing to fix some problems, and in some cases, might even make things worse.
If you’re okay with/can stomach some sexual violence, and like stories that feature a mix of comedy, action and drama, Sun-Ken Rock is a pretty enjoyable lead despite a cover art style that clashes heavily with its comedy. Once you read more or most of volume 1, the art style will make sense but there’s no denying it can cause some confusion as you read the beginning parts of the extremely silly introductory chapter. The story being set in Korea adds to the story’s charm and uniqueness as the author does make an attempt to integrate some Korean aspect to events, locations and even language. In fact, the volume even features an afterword from the author talking about his efforts to get the location art right and all the troubles he and his team went through to capture photographs to use as art sources. In conclusion, if you like the sound of a comedic but also dark mafia story based in Korea, Sun-ken Rock could definitely earn itself a worthy spot on your reading list.