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Shin Angyo Onshi
by Unproductive on March 26th, 2007, 6:47am

Rating - 9.6 / 10.0

User rating of this review - 4.5 out of 5
Story/Plot - 4.5 out of 5
Characters - 5 out of 5
Drawing Style - 5 out of 5
Enjoyment - 4.5 out of 5
Overall - 5 out of 5

Click here for series information

Shin Angyo Onshi (SAO) is the brainchild of a Korean manhwa duo, In-Wan Youn – author and Gyung-Il Yang (FYI: correct romanization is not Kyung) – artist, who wanted to introduce ancient Korean culture to Japan. The manhwa is set in Jushin, a mysterious empire of the Far East, where monsters, magic, and the supernatural are not uncommon. Meanwhile, the West is in the midst of its Industrial Revolution, and their technology has made gunpowder-based weapons available to those in positions of power in Jushin. In this mixed world of magic and technology, we, the readers, are introduced to the Angyo Onshi (Amen Osa), the secret emissaries of the King of Jushin, upholders of justice, protectors of the people, etc – all the self-righteous details. And in the ruins of Jushin, after the fall of the empire, where chaos and suffering now reign, we find one Angyo Onshi still wandering...

Character Development
The series features a most intricate development of its most unique main character. At the beginning, Munsu is introduced as the weathered hero with years of experience under his belt. Cynical, cunning, and unapologetic, he will use any tactic to defeat his foes and achieve his goals, and in victory he is utterly merciless. His outlook towards allies is completely utilitarian, caring only for how helpful they might be to his purpose. But as the series progresses, more and more of Munsu’s true personality and background are exposed. We are shown that he is afflicted with some mysterious curse, that perhaps he is only a shadow of his former self, and that his outlook on life might be born out of self-preservation and tragedy rather than cruel insensitivity or ill will.

SAO has realistic and genuine interactions between its characters, especially during moments of tension and seriousness. However, characters behave surprisingly in character even during its lighter moments. The most elaborate and interesting interaction exists beween Munsu and his bodyguard, Sando. The relationship itself is a curious one since Sando is the complete opposite of her master. Sando is a young, stunningly beautiful, and relatively inexperienced warrior with great ability and even greater potential. Idealistic, naïve, meek, and so very innocent, Sando once saves her enemy from interfering hazards in the middle of battle – twice! And her reason was that she wanted to win the battle fairly and honorably. Munsu is most infuriatingly cruel when he lectures Sando about the insignificance of honor compared to victory. (Please don’t cry, Sando!!!)

The character development is not limited to Munsu and Sando. Other major characters like Bangja, Won Sul, Won Shil, Mito-san, Ajitae, and Pyeong Gang, as well as characters that are featured in single arcs are have personality, too. They all feel very much alive – few if any are one-dimensional – and they really draw the reader into the story. This is the best part of SAO, the characters.

The story feeds upon the on liveliness of the characters. At times, the two are inseparable. The characters help drive the story forward at a rapid pace, and the story in turn helps to expose more and more about the characters. Along with an almost seamless adaption of Korean classics, the core of the story is masterfully crafted, but occasionally rough at the edges.

For the very beginning, the author sets up a powerful theme. One always has to look beneath the surface to find the truth, or as Munsu might say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Later on, this theme provides a power sensation when new characters are introduced. All that appears pure and innocent take on a sinister aura of depravity, and all that is outwardly evil or criminal take on a sense of redemption and righteousness.
At first, it is difficult to like Munsu. He comes off as arrogant and insensitive. To slowly dispel this first impression, the story uses to comedic relief to paint him in a less flattering and more comical light so that we may rethink our opinion of him. The short dreams and flashbacks make it seem like the past is constantly haunting, reminding him of his failings and guilt, even as he continues in his struggle to redeem himself and defeat his mortal enemy.

There are few flaws to point out, and here are two examples. First, Munsu didn’t know anything about Mito-san. That wasn’t very realistic – even Munsu puzzled over it – and it was even harder to believe when the identity of Mito-san was later revealed. Second, the extended flashback is a depiction of what actually happened in the past, whereas it should have been the past seen through the prism of Munsu’s memory. They are forgivable, tiny bumps in the overall story. In fact I almost didn’t notice them the first time I read the series. Nonetheless, it would have been best to not have to suspend disbelief.

Art and Style
The art is magnificently detailed and a tremendous draw. In fact this is one of those series that is worth buying for the art alone. One could complain that the series is excessive in its violence and SMBD outfits. The artist Yang Gyung-Il doesn’t refrain from depicting decapitations, dismemberment, blood sprays, and all other aspects of wholesale butchering in its full gory detail or from drawing Sando and various other summoned monsters in revealing SMBD outfits. (Excuse me while I gawk at Sando for a bit.)
Ignoring that, the style and design of SAO is clearly far superior to that of its peers. Backgrounds, cityscapes, the ruins of civilization are gorgeously depicted with a gloomy aura befitting of the setting. Fighting in the series is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to follow – for the most part involving swords, guns, and bombs. The most outstanding feature is sharp facial expressions. They match the mood and the dialogue perfectly, and when words fail the characters, the art takes over. At his best, Yang Gyung-Il will make the emotions drip off the page and leave a lasting impression of the fear, happiness, despair, or anguish that the characters are experiencing.

SAO is published in monthly parts that are usually 40-50 pages in length. These parts are then organized into classics which describes a section of Munsu’s journey. Classics can vary in size from a single part to more than a dozen. All classics are essential in character development or progress in the story, and the absence of filler makes all of them enjoyable reads.
Actually enjoyable isn’t the correct word. SAO will instill feelings of sadness more often than happiness, and frustration more often than excitement. In the longer classics, these emotions will build up to dizzying heights. The anticipation will be unbearable and readers will yearn for additional chapters like crazed addicts.

SAO only needs one last thing to become a classic in the manhwa world. The series needs closure, a strong ending to clean up the tension and tie up the loose ends that have been building up until this point. If SAO continues onward for many more volumes, I can only hope that the story will sustain the current level of intensity. But ultimately all good stories come to an end, and only the best of endings will do the series justice. Will the series eventually get a proper ending? I sincerely hope so, but until then there is only painful anticipation and uncertainty.

Beyond the Manhwa
If intricate characters, fast moving story, and magnificent art are insufficient, SAO explores various philosophies and provides insights into an outlook on life. You will find this part of SAO will be applicable long after you finish this manhwa. If you would like to discover this for yourself, skip over the next three paragraphs.

Any romantics reading the series surely would have died of a broken heart before the end of Volume 5. The princess and the knight in shining armor have no place in Jushin. The knight would have been devoured by the devious demons crawling around Jushin long before he reached the princess he is suppose to save. And as for the princess, Munsu would have killed her for being a coward afraid of taking the initiative to save herself.
Yet, cynicism is not the answer, either. Despite all of Munsu’s efforts to protect himself inside a shell of cynicism, he is no cynic. He wants to dream but is afraid to do so. In Volume 5, SAO begins a flirtation with nihilism, but ultimately this philosophy receives the strongest rejection of all. Good is NOT evil, black is NOT white, and hope is NOT despair.
There is only one philosophy for Munsu to embrace in his quest for redemption. It is the combination of two types of courage: the courage to see the world as it really is, without ignoring inconvenient facts, without distortion, without self-delusion, and the courage to fight for one’s goals and dreams and maintain supreme confidence even in the face of the most daunting challenges and adversities. This is a powerful outlook towards life, perhaps the definition of true strength.

Post Script and (Random) Comments
To fully enjoy the series, I recommend reading it as slowly as you possibly can. Enjoy the art, understand the intricate character development, and allow yourself time to appreciate the mood of the story. If possible read the Japanese or Korean versions. As a translator of the series, I notice when anything gets lost in the translation, and this is one series that such slight differences have an impact.

This series is still in progress, and the review is through the end of volume 15. I spent too much time writing this review, and of course, nakanaide, Sando!!! (Don’t cry, Sando!!!)
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One of the best reviews by RilleL on August 6th, 2007, 7:58am Rating: 5

Very nicely done, this is one of the best reviews i've read (in MU).
It's obviously written by a fan and yet it stays objective. Truly deserves a perfect score for the review.
~ by EvilTomte on April 11th, 2007, 2:15pm Rating: 4.5

I agree with most things said here, I guess. But despite "flaws" the manhwa would get straight 5's, since it's by far one of the better manhwas around. Easily comparable to Berserk in quality of story and character development.

And I sincerely do NOT hope for an ending to come soon as the author of this review wants. The "painful anticipation and uncertainty" is what makes these types of manga good and exciting.
Would an easily foreseeable ending be better? I say no, you might say yes. To each his own.
Agreed by AuraBlaze on March 30th, 2007, 8:32am Rating: 4.5

There are a few reasons I could think that sando would wear a SM outfit related to character and freedom of movement. Anyways good review and reminds me to read it more slowly. Sometimes, more often than not, I find myself rushing.
Sando by ProdigyX on March 28th, 2007, 4:10pm Rating: 4

Personally I think this manga lose some serious points by having Sando in her SM outfit throughout. I'd admit that it's good fanservice but it doesn't make any sense why she'd wear that. Apart from that, I'd say this is a pretty good manga and this is a fair review.
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