Annarasumnara is a dream-like manhwa created by Il-Kwon Ha and is one of the finest examples in the use of colour and play upon the long webtoon strips. With complex art and use of mixed media, this is undoubtedly a rare and unique find!
The main character Yun Ai is a high school student who used to dream of being a magician when she was little. Her mother left them early on and 6 months ago, even her father abandoned the two sisters. Now Ai doesn’t have enough money to even mend her stockings. She works part-time, runs from debt collectors and studies diligently to maintain her good grades. But one day she meets an ‘insane’ magician at the abandoned fair and things slowly begin to change. The title is the Korean equivalent of ‘Abracadabra’.
Unlike usual webtoons, Annarasumanara is done in shades and blacks and greys with the occasional splash of colour that makes even regular objects seem that much more ethereal in the usual jaded background of the novel. It is a reminder of how Schindler’s List used the same ploy effectively. Small things like coins on a table, Ai’s lips, leaves on a tree are in colour. A rose, the night sky, a garden of sunflowers. This setting gives way to one of the most memorable scenes in the webtoon is when the magician L asks Ai the important question that pervades throughout the work:
“Do you believe in magic?”L.
Ai runs away before answering, but before she can leave, L lights up the entire amusement park. It is the first time we get a glimpse of the precinct. It is the first time the page is lit up in neon pink and it is something neither the reader nor Ai will ever forget.
The main characters are all high school students weighed down by the expectations of parents and society. Not everyone can handle it well. One may initially find the artwork strange and the side characters weird. The case in point is Il-Deung Na. But there is a reason why they are so. The art is a simple reflection of the personalities of these people. Il-Deung Na’s art is a direct reflection of someone with ‘a head full of pride’.
Everyone has trivial and materialistic problems of their own. These are not exaggerated upon, but they exist, weighing down upon a person’s ability to achieve success or happiness. We are introduced to L as the only character with no societal pressure building on him. However, the ending only reveals what we suspected from the very beginning.
We know so little about L, the insane magician appearing only at a fair, we are prone to believing he is just a vision. His character is well-defined with so many facets – he revives in Ai a hope to rekindle her childhood passion. But in a world run by capitalist entrepreneurs, is there place for a girl to pursue magic? We’re doubtful if he is influencing Ai in a better path of following her dreams, or sending her in for a downward spiral where the only ending could be poverty and disillusion. L isn’t good or bad, but simply an illusion. We are warned that he is insane, but once the webtoon starts off, we ask ourselves, “Are we insane for not believing in magic?” There are intangible questions floating all around and like Ai, we’re unsure if L can be trusted. He also has a parrot named Kim Minyeo who provides comic relief in this otherwise metaphor-heavy work.
Dialogues are little, but impactful. It adds to the dream-like quality of the work. Despite a cynical start, Annarasumnara does not aim to be a manga about the hopelessness of society. Neither is it a patronising work cheering you to hold on to hope amidst dire circumstances. It is simply an event in the life of a high school girl which for 28 chapters make you question reality. It has all the essence of a Ghibli movie mixed with the sad longing every Makoto Shinkai movie makes you feel. The entire manga makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a Japanese Garden in the rain (cue: Garden of Words), with day-to-day problems waiting for you just beyond the periphery of sight.
The central theme is Ai trying to hold on to her childhood (signified by the magician) while trying to become an earning adult as soon as possible to support her younger sister. Ah-hee is also the Korean word for ‘child’.
The ending is one of bittersweet nostalgia. Perhaps the spell is finally broken and Ai must look at life without the rosy glasses L had afforded her, but perhaps she doesn’t need them anymore. We see all characters make an effort to improve their lives, to find their calling and subsequently their character art also changes. Much is left ambiguous but enough hints are provided as to the real identity of L and what happened to him. Whether we chose to recognise the intimation or not is up to us. Do we want to break free from the spell?
The ending doesn’t result in Ai realising she actually wants to pursue her childhood dreams. Rather, since the beginning she realises that education is the only way out of poverty and continues to follow it. Il-Deung Na also doesn’t break free from his parents’ expectations and continues down on the ‘asphalt road’, but he is more understanding and he learns to stand up for himself. In fact, in the entire story, L is the only one who chose to follow his dreams of magic. The author despite rooting for his break-away, does not paint it in glorified colours. It is rather a juxtaposition of two very different paths taken by people who handled pressure differently.
There is no doubt this is one of the best and most unique art styles I have ever come across. The use of selective colour isn’t new but Il-Kwon Ha uses it to the best advantage. The long strips have also been used to draw a reader into scrolling. It is one of the few times I’ve seen an author take advantage of the medium presented. There are also several other mediums other than graphic drawings. Magazine cut-outs and three dimensional photography is also incorporated. In a sense it reminds us that the issues the characters face are very common and exist in this plane too. There is little romance, but that isn’t the point of this work.
Overall, at Foxy Turnips, we think Annarasumanara deserves 9 Turnips out of 10! We recommend this to anyone irrespective of their genre preferences since this is once coming-of-age work of art that anyone can connect with. If not, you can always enjoy the art. Leaving you with a quote that followed another cinematic experience on paper:
“When I wear this cape and do a spell, it suddenly starts to snow. Snow that falls in the summer. But you know what’s surprising? It’s not snowing outside. It only snows inside this magic tent. And when the snowflakes touch the ground, they disappear without a trace. It’s a little sad…”Ryu
Annarasumanara is available for reading on MangaRock and has been ranked.
It is also available on Webtoons.
Myanimelist.net has rated it 8.51/10 with over 17,000 ratings.
Disclaimer: Foxyturnip gets a small commission when you click on ads or buy products from the links listed which helps run the site.