The mysterious shop is one of my favorite tropes in manhwa and manga. When done well, it’s a setup that lends itself to interestingly episodic storytelling. I hadn’t read Antique Gift Shop before receiving a review copy of volume 9 in the mail, but once it arrived, I was curious to see what Lee Eun was doing with this familiar premise.This manhwa proves to be difficult one to join late in the series. As the second-to-last volume in this series, volume 9 delves deep into one character’s past, presumably building upon hints and flashbacks from other volumes. Before it gets there, however, it gives us the conclusion of a slightly twisted retelling of the Little Mermaid fairytale. I was initially confused by the jump from this story-within-the-story to our protagonist, Bun-nyuh, though I suspect that would not be an issue for anyone who had read the first eight volumes.
The second half of the volume, which focuses on Bun-nyuh, is much stronger than the first. Bun-nyuh runs from her responsibilities at the gift shop, only to encounter some of the harder truths of her past. The lines between past and present are constantly blurred as Bun-nyuh makes her journey, both literal and emotional, to her hometown. As a newcomer to the series, I wasn’t always entirely sure what was happening to Bun-nyuh, but I appreciated the atmosphere that Lee creates with her dreamlike imagery. A hand reaches out of thin air; a character’s clothing shifts from modern to traditional beneath the sweep of his long hair. Lee’s art isn’t necessarily prettier than that found in other sunjeong manhwa–it’s very much drawn in the style you find in a lot of licensed manhwa–but she does a good job of using the art to highlight the big emotional moments.
Bun-nyuh herself is impulsive and more than a little self-absorbed. It’s hard not to be impatient with her at times, even if this volume is intent on putting her through the wringer. This might be irritating over the course of the entire series–that would depend on how much the focus is on Bun-nyuh in other volumes–but here I was willing to make some allowances for her given the circumstances. As for Mr. Yang, he only makes a few appearances in this volume, some of which might be imagined, but his absence is almost more significant than his presence could be.
I wouldn’t recommend starting at volume 9 of Antique Gift Shop to any reader, but others with a fondness for this particular trope may want to check out the series from volume 1.
Review copy provided by Yen Press.
Review previously published at MangaLife.com.