Story and Art by Yongseok Jo
Callum Waterhouse ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
This week, Emertainment Monthly returns to our series of reviews of popular webtoons, a special form of webcomic that originated in South Korea. In our last review — which you can view here — we looked at a webtoon by an American cartoonist. This week, we are reviewing a webtoon called Wind Breaker by Yongseok Jo, and this comic is about as thoroughly Korean as honey butter bread dessert.
Wind Breaker follows the story of the unlikely friendship that forms between socially withdrawn Korean high school student, Jay, and his outgoing classmate Minu. The two are drawn together by their love of cycling and eventually form a bicycle racing team with their friends.
In terms of structure and character dynamics, Wind Breaker rigidly follows the tropes and conventions of Japanese team sports manga, such as Haikyuu and Kuroko no Basuke. If you are at all familiar with any series of a similar vein, than the story beats should play out exactly as expected; gathering the reluctant teammates, rivals turned friends, competing as underdogs, terminology lessons, tragic backstories, etc. etc. If you already like these types of series and enjoy the tropes, than you will likely enjoy Wind Breaker. However, if you dislike the formula of sports manga, you will probably hate this comic from the very start.
Actually, even if you do not mind the rigid formula at play, Wind Breaker will probably have a hard time winning you over in its early moments — and the main character, Jay, will probably be the reason. Jay is not actually a bad character, writing wise. His main problems stem from the fact that he is withdrawn, cold and generally comes across as a much more unpleasant person than he means to. Most of his character development is spent learning how to overcome these flaws and be a better friend. Unfortunately, before that character development starts to take hold, he can be fairly hard to identify with, and this can make the first few chapters seem to drag considerably.
It also does not help that the webtoon’s opening storyline, involving Jay helping his classmates with a back-alley rally race, is fairly weak compared to the rest of the series. For a series that advertises itself to be all about speed, you could be forgiven for wanting to call it quits after such a slow start.
This would be a shame, because once this comic picks up speed, it takes off and never lets you go. Part of the reason for Jo’s success is that he understands, as with any sports manga, our investment in the competition is tied directly into our investment in the characters. And while it takes some time to get to know them, there are some phenomenal characters in Wind Breaker.
Of course, the really impactful character beats would not have worked nearly as well if Jo was not also a skilled draftsman. It feels appropriate to compare this webtoon to Space Boy, as this is another example of a work that just could not have succeeded in another medium. While Space Boy took advantage of the longer pages to make longer tableaus, Wind Breaker prefers to keep the individual panels small and compact. The comic uses the extra length to create more drawn out setups for the series’ emotional gut-punch moments.
There are several moments like this that will stand out in your memory, helped by the fact that Jo uses a trick of cutting out all the color of one panel when the drama reaches its apogee. Its a flashy trick, but it is used sparingly enough to avoid becoming distracting.
Wind Breaker is a competently crafted series, but one’s enjoyment of it will come down to personal preference. Not to imply that one has to be particularly interested in competitive cycling to enjoy this comic. Far from it. The main thrust of the story is not racing, but melodrama, and if you are the kind of reader who enjoys deep but occasionally bombastic teen melodramas, than Wind Breaker is going to be a wild ride that sends you along at top speed the whole way.