Entry #4: The Stories of Those Around Me (SoM 2018)

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When I said Summer of Manga, I never specified whether or not Manwha counted. The answer to this question, which I only just asked myself about a day ago—halfway through this story—is revealed by the creation of this post. The Summer shall expand to other parts of Asia!

I will be upfront when I say that I had some expectations going into this story. While I had never heard of it before reading it, its ratings on MyAnimeList were respectable and its synopsis left room for a more mature look into lives of ordinary people. Y’know how people always go gaga over slice-of-life shows involving teenage girls in high school or in a club or something? This is my cup of Afterschool Teatime: a slice-of-life involving adults in the real world. I see lots of people praise the authenticity of shows such as K-On! or Lucky Star for being so realistic, but they really aren’t that realistic. They’re just cute and entertaining; reality isn’t that important to the show. The Stories of Those Around Me holds true to that sort of entertaining disclosure, however the characters are among the most genuinely relatable subjects I’ve ever seen in this part of the pond. Ever.

Holding itself accountable for the unlikeliness of the events that transpire in the story is placed right in the manga. Don’t be fooled by that, though. It’s not as though the events that take place here are like miracles gifted by God or something. They’re unlikely, but not impossible. It’s the characters that make these situations more plausible… and speaking of characters…

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Give a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen, because this story, starring three main female characters, has succeeded in making me love all three of them. I seriously considered adding two of the three to my favorite characters list on MAL just for the hell of it! The relatability factor when looking through life with these three women struck such a huge cord with me that I was practically glued to the situations that took place throughout. One of those rare cases where I’ll set a limit to the number of chapters I’ll read in one sitting only to break it by six or seven (or more) chapters. The three characters consist of the unfocused and cheerful Han Yeo-Reum, who hasn’t the motivation to find a long-term future (Relatable), the calm and inexpressive (Relatable) Lee Jung-ah, and the cynically anxious Jang Mira, who hasn’t seen love since high school (Relatable). These three friends connect and bond through one another’s pursuits as only humans can, creating a world filled with ambition, self-reflection, and love. Seriously, lots of love to be found in this story.

Hence comes my first major criticism of this piece: There’s too much love. While sub-plots persist throughout, the major arcs for each character regard love in some form or fashion, with two of the three being the main component for the characters’ struggles. I get that love is love and it’s what gets people to read things and live and hunger for it to the point where they can’t live for themselves… I’ll stop there. Along with this, the arcs are set up in a way where it’s almost like playing a visual novel with a set kinetic story. It begins with Jang Mira’s arc, then Lee Jung-ah’s, then Han Yeo-Reum, and then the manwha ends. It doesn’t do much for re-readability and makes the story feel a tad too constricted to exude more of how real it tries to make itself seem. Almost like a fairy tale, though it might take credit for having that atmosphere without me saying.

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But the characters; oh, the characters! It’s so strange to see characters in a manga/manwha not speak those typical, cliché lines associated with character archetypes designated to attract particular demographics. It’s so, so refreshing to see characters actually talk, think, and interact with others like human beings, like they have been on this planet for more than a month and are capable of expressing themselves without having to consist of unwarranted insults to hide their genuine appreciation. The awkwardness here isn’t because it feels too fake, but because it feels too real. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been anxious to see someone they’ve become interested in through a fateful encounter, or awaiting a text message from someone special or potentially special. I know people who struggle through the drawbacks of not being able to express themselves normally, and those who find themselves comparing themselves to those they’re closest to. And I swear, not all of those are me. Best of all, the events that transpire are not always rose-colored. Sometimes the mood is bittersweet, reflecting that life won’t ever give happiness without also giving some hardship. It’s what makes life living, to understand that to feel is to accept the good with the bad.

I believe this was in some way a webtoon, though I won’t pretend I have any idea what constitutes the title or what that details, but the aesthetic of the manwha reflects that somewhat. Two major differences being that the dialogue is read left to right and the pages are fully colored. It was surprisingly easy to get used to this, as well as the scale of the mangaka’s art style, which, like Pupa, isn’t that great. Though here I find it a tad more excusable because while Pupa tried to make everything feel grandiose and disturbing through graphic imagery, The Stories of Those Around Me is almost too simple. Trading grotesque monsters for emoticons at the end of characters’ dialogue bubbles. Falling back to chibi faces more times than I can count. Both a blessing and a curse, this is. It’s by no means beautiful, but I think it comes across more smoothly due to the lack of expectations with the events of the story. It’s supposed to be ordinary, and maybe somewhat magical (hipster?). Beautiful characters on every page would be a plus; what’s given to the audience is good enough. Plus, all the characters look different, especially the three women. Love when that happens.

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An early leader for Summer MVP. I didn’t think I’d like this story nearly as much as I did, but I ended up being enraptured by just how real and relatable the characters and their situations were. Art is generally cute and light with the situations being a lot more mature than most other drama series I’ve read. The Stories of Those Around Me is a strong recommendation to any manga/manwha reader, especially those interested in people specifically. Sometimes the most interesting things in the world are those who inhabit it.

Final Score: 8/10

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

To see the ratings for all entries in this Summer and all others, check out the Summer of Anime Archive!

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