The Legend of Chun Hyang
新・春香伝 (Shin Shunkaden)
Shoujo – Historical, action, fantasy, adventure
1 Volume (complete)
A village is ruled by a cruel Yang Ban who raises taxes and terrorizes the people who live there. Chun Hyang, a strong, spunky girl, uses her strength to defend the townspeople. One day, she meets a stranger, but Chun Hyang has a bigger problem: the Yang Ban has his sights set on her mother, the town apothecary.
The story starts out pretty good, but the series was dropped and not given a proper conclusion.
This manga is based on a Korean legend, but, as the text says, “This Chun Hyang is a little different.” The titular character in CLAMP’s version is an energetic tomboy who loves her mother, the town doctor, dearly. However, Chun Hyang is forced to leave the town with the stranger, Mong Ryong. What starts out as a big adventure to make the country a better place fizzles when the manga ends after its second chapter. The pair visit one location, but the end of the chapter only resolves that town’s problem, not any storyline involving the two of them. There is a bonus story featuring a young Chun Hyang. It does explain and partly hint at a couple of the open plot points, but manga veterans will likely have an inkling before the manga explains them. In addition, since the chapter is a prequel, it does not add much — if anything — to the end of the main storyline.
It’s really too bad, as this series had a lot of potential. With the list of potential locations numbering 300, The Legend of Chun Hyang could have gone on for several years. The series could have stuck to the basic plot of “visit a town and check on its status”, but since CLAMP wrote it, who knows what other twists Ohkawa (the writer) could have introduced. I’m sure Chun Hyang’s background would have played a part. Regardless, the series has quite the mature streak. The manga proves it is closer to Tokyo Babylon rather than Cardcaptor Sakura in the very first chapter.
The series also has fantasy elements. Unfortunately, in the two and a half chapters presented here, magic is not explained at all. In fact, unless you pay close attention to the art, it is easy to miss the early signs of Chun Hyang using her powers. They’re seemingly random. While the story goes to great length to explain the political situation in the country, CLAMP does not cover the supernatural elements. Readers are left to infer how people can use their special abilities, but there just isn’t much to draw a conclusion with.
Chun Hyang herself is a strong, capable heroine, and she’s different from the “loves everyone, but a bit clueless” leads in Magic Knight Rayearth and Cardcaptor Sakura. She acts like many modern leads in that she has some tsundere traits toward Mong Ryong. He is generally the sillier one, but he is quite kind to Chun Hyang. Chun Hyang’s mother Wol Mae is kind and much beloved, the type of character similar to Sakura’s mother in Cardcaptor Sakura. The antagonists all desire something (or someone), but with so few characters, they neither develop nor are their motives shocking.
The art is done in the older CLAMP style. The visual tone of the manga is quite dark. Pages are heavily inked, and the art is very detailed. Outfits show off the story’s Korean influences. After getting used to the group’s modern style, I forgot at how much intensity their characters’ expressions can have. I’m not hating on their current artstyle, but there’s something extra in their old works. As this is a shoujo series, quite a few closeups are included. Very few SD characters or comedic visual quirks are included, but otherwise this is very 90s shoujo.
Korean honorifics are used. Any buyer of Tokyopop manga will know what to expect here. A speech bubble is missing its dialogue, and some dialogue is switched. Translation notes about the Korean words are included. Quite frankly, the story too short to really notice the strengths or flaws.
It really isn’t worth Dark Horse (who has picked up most of CLAMP’s back catalog) reissuing the series. If you found it cheap somewhere, The Legend of Chun Hyang might be worth it to complete your CLAMP collection. Otherwise, this is a series that showed a lot of promise, but it never took off. I do see some similarities between this manga and Gate 7, but that series is on indefinite hiatus.
CLAMP is a group that has released many titles, most of which was released here. Tokyopop published the majority of their titles, and Dark Horse has rescued the group’s major hits. Kodansha Comics (previously Del Rey) has released/is releasing Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic, and their sequels.