Callum Waterhouse ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Welcome back to Emertainment Monthly’s ongoing series on popular webtoons. For those who are unfamiliar, webtoons are a type of webcomic that originated in Korea. This week, Emertainment Monthly will be looking at a webtoon entitled Yumi’s Cells, a comic which promises a peek into the head of the average Korean working woman—quite literally!
Yumi’s Cells (story and art by Donggun Lee) tells the story of an office worker named Yumi. Having recently turned thirty, Yumi is less than pleased at the fact that she is still single and working an unideal job. Although Yumi is ostensibly the main character, she is not the one who drives the plot for the most part. That task falls to her brain cells.
In the world of Yumi’s Cells, every character is controlled by a town of brain cells, each one representing an anthropomorphized version of an aspect of the character’s life or personality. There is a Polite Cell, a Rational Cell, and even a Naughty Cell. However, the cells that live in “Yumi Town” are a bit of a mess. They were left leaderless three years prior, when a bad breakup caused Yumi’s Love Cell to fall into a coma.
Many readers have noted that this storyline sounds like a certain Pixar movie. In fact, it would not be inaccurate to call Yumi’s Cells a grown-up version of Inside Out—a comparison meant to be of the highest of compliments.
Like Inside Out, both the humor and heart of this comic come from its keen insight into humanity. As one reads about the goofy situations the cells put themselves in, and follow how they drive Yumi’s life, one cannot help but chuckle and think “So that is how that works,” or “That has happened to me.” The compressed world of the cells transforms the mundane and familiar into wild cartoon antics, which are a delight to behold.
The humor helps readers relate to Yumi, and develop an attachment to her and the various quirky personalities that keep her mind working. Because readers become attached to her, when the drama hits hard, it feels real and immediate. Creator Donggun Lee is never one for cheap emotional manipulation. Yumi’s Cells is impactful because Lee understands that loving, and wanting to be loved, is a funny, painful, and thoroughly absurd process.
It would take hours to pick apart the nuances and various emotional intricacies that make Lee’s writing work. Fortunately, it will take considerably less time to explain why his art is brilliant; the art does exactly what it needs to do, and nothing more.
Structurally, the art of Yumi’s Cells is very simple. Backgrounds are often minimal, sometimes to the point of being nonexistent. Characters are drawn using only a few simple shapes, and often lack any color shading. However, categorizing the art as simple should mistake it for being crude or unskilled—indeed, the comedic timing of most of the pages shows that Lee is a master of his craft. Rather, the simple design of the comic seems a deliberate stylistic approach. This is not a comic that needs intricately detailed pages. Since most of the humor is dialogue- or situation-based, more intricate and attention-garnering art would only distract the reader from what should actually be making them laugh.
Yumi’s Cells is not a comic that fashions itself to be about the fate of the world or the lives of a nation. It does not have to. This is a story about the ups and downs of one person’s life. By narrowing its focus to such a degree, this comic manages to encompass more types of stories than its more grandiose contemporaries.
Sometimes, reading Yumi’s Cells means diving into a slapstick comedy. Sometimes, it means reading heartfelt drama about pain and depression. Sometimes, it is a sweet love story, and at other times a bitter one. What Yumi’s Cells never manages to be is dull, and for that reason alone, it is well worth a reader’s time.