It's time to take another look at one of CLAMP's many unfinished one-shots, and this one is truthfully one of the better ones of that lot.
THE LEGEND OF CHUN HYANG (Shin Shunka-den), by CLAMP. First published in 1992 and first published in North America in 2004.
In the land of Koriyo lived the young girl Chun Hyang. She lives with her beautiful mother Wall Mae, a powerful magician and healer and she spends her days defending her mother and her fellow villagers from their corrupt leader and his spoiled son. When Chun's efforts are not enough to save her mother, she decides to team up with a lecherous wanderer named Rong Myong so take down all the corrupt leaders one at a time.
Chun Hyang is a notable Korean legend, but it's not necessarily one that you would think could inspire a manga. It's mostly about a beautiful woman who marries a noble, is separated from him by a villain, and maintains her virtue the whole time until they are reunited. It certainly doesn't bear much resemblance to what CLAMP came up with. If anything, the legend is little more than set dressing for what is a basic but satisfying shoujo action piece.
It's weird that I found this story so entertaining despite the fact that the characters are all so stereotypical. Chun is very much in the spunky vein of your standard shoujo heroine, Rong is the goofy lech who is secretly a badass, the villains are one-dimensional tyrants, and everyone on the sides is too good and pure to be believed. In spite of all that, I found myself not minding all that much. I suspect that it was mostly due to the fact that I liked Chun so much that I was willing to overlook the rest. She strikes a good balance between the tendencies of a shoujo heroine and a hero of justice. Best of all, no one ever tells her not to do these things or that she can't do these things simply being a girl. We even get a flashback to her (UTTERLY ADORABLE) 6-year-old self to demonstrate that this is simply who Chun is and always has been. She's fierce, just, loyal and very endearing.
Unfortunately, like so many of CLAMP's short works, this series was cut short by the fact that its magazine was cancelled. It was so sudden that CLAMP didn't even have time to fake an ending, leaving this manga forever unfinished. It's a real shame as it feels like that the story is starting to find its footing by volume's end. We're only just seeing the beginning of how Chun and Mong can work together as a sort of crime-fighting team and there are loads of plot threads that will forever remained dropped. The three adventures we do get with them are fun but it's hard to not look at this volume and wonder what might have been .
Like with so many early CLAMP works, the artwork is where this series truly shines. The characters are all drawn in the lushly inked style of CLAMP's early days, but this one has a slightly unique edge in that they used ink and brush in the early chapters. It was meant to capture a certain old-fashioned quality, although in practice it's mostly pretty subtle outside of the action scenes. Apparently they abandoned it for more conventional methods in the later chapters for the sake of saving time, but it's a shame since it was pretty and just unusual enough to make Chun Hyang visually distinct. I suspect that they might have dropped it as it allowed them to clean up the panels a little, as they can get a bit busy from time to time. They are often full of swooshes of swinging weapons, bursts of flowers, and swirls of magic and the characters and panels alike are often layered in a wily-nily fashion. The panels only really open up for the odd vista or particularly dramatic moment. You can argue amongst yourself as to whether Chun Hyang's artwork has aged well or not, but it does manage to distinguish itself visually from its light and frothy contemporaries.
It might be built out of a lot of familiar elements but The Legend of Chun Hyang manages to coast by on the charm of its heroine and the prettiness of its art. It'll never be finished and it's far from an essential CLAMP work, but fans should at least give this one a look.
This volume was published by Tokyopop. It is currently out of print