Neck and Neck Vol. 1
What's this? Ah. A romance where a girl transfers schools to be with the guy that she has a crush on, only to find out that a childhood friend who is now a mortal enemy also attends the same school. Ten bucks says that their initial rivalry will develop into a relationship where opposites really do attract.
Most comics possess something that I like to call the x-factor. The x-factor is the random element that sets a given series apart from similar titles. Some stories have more than one. For example, in Ranma 1/2, the title character would change into a girl whenever he was doused with cold water. To make matters even more interesting, he was already betrothed to Akane - a girl he barely knew, but quickly irritated.
And don't let me get started on the other characters (similarly cursed) introduced as the story got more and more complex. People could become anything in the series. You name it: ducks, pigs, cats, pandas - anything went in Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma 1/2.
So, what's the x-factor here? It's not enough that Dabin Choi finds her estranged childhood friend, Shihu Myoung at her new school. It's not even enough that the reason she transferred - an attractive boy named Eugene - has nothing beyond an infuriatingly platonic interest in her.
The most significant (and the tastiest) random ingredient for the stew that is Neck and Neck would be the fact that Dabin is the daughter of the leader of a major crime syndicate in Seoul -- and her acquaintance, Shihu is the son of the head of a rival gang.
The two fathers have been feuding since the main characters were children, though the exact cause of the spat has not yet been revealed.
Thus the Romeo and Juliet parallels are firmly established, though there's more humor here than drama -- and I don't see the two of them ending their lives in a fit of lovers' suicide anytime soon. At this point in the game, they're more likely to kill each other, not themselves.
Dabin is an over-achiever in many ways. She's intelligent, athletic, and while she has the spoiled rich-girl attitude of always getting what she wants, she typically earns what she wants, thanks to her iron will, her rock-headed stubbornness, and blind determination.
It's Dabin's blind determination to get into school on time that inspires her to use the back of Shihu as a stepping stone to jump over the gates surrounding the school's grounds -- an event that quickly pits the two against each other.
The mafia-laden background story doesn't really break into the events of the first volume of Neck and Neck. Luckily, instead of relying on the power of this book's x-factor, Lee Sun-Hee has crafted some interesting multi-dimensional characters that are worth reading, no matter the situation that they're in.
Sun-Hee's artwork is reminiscent of Miwa Ueda's work in Peach Girl -- large, expressive eyes, slim character designs, and generally attractive characters that make the visuals of this book stand out as particularly appealing. There is a lot of action in the manhwa, mostly depicting Dabin trying to one-up Shihu, and it's presented with energy and excitement.
Given the incredible pile of new comic book released each month -- most of which seem to be high school romances (or is it just me who feels that way?) -- Neck and Neck runs a high risk of going unnoticed in today's manga market. It might not get more than a few weeks of shelf time in a given store, which would be a shame, as this is a lively and entertaining romantic comedy so far, and it's certainly worth reading.
If you can't get enough humorous romantic tales, then do yourself a favor and try something a little different. The translation/adaptation works all right, the original Korean sound effects haven't been messed with, and this is a fun book to boot. And don't worry about reading from left to right -- that's the way they do it in Korea.