Imitation Volume 1 Review

Maha Lee is a member of the Korean pop idol group Tea Party and dreams of becoming a superstar one day. Her group is just starting out however, and their manager is doing everything to get them to the top, including re-mortgaging his home. On a Teen Idol Sports Day event, she accidently hurts a member of a very popular male idol group, and when she goes on national TV to apologise, she only ends up embarrassing herself even further! On one hand, she gets on the bad side of Ryoc Kwon, a very popular member of the idol group SHAX, but on the other, Maha’s bad publicity opens doors for more opportunities than ever. But with the industry being so cutthroat, and other idols having the stink eye for Maha, can she still make her superstar dreams come true? Or has she already had her five minutes of fame?

Imitation started off as a Korean webtoon, eventually adapted into a Korean TV series (which you can watch for free on Rakuten) and making its way into manhwa volumes. KyungRan Park started off as an artist, working on series such as M.A.X. before making her first original work, Imitation, in 2014. The original webtoon has received praise and been translated into many languages, but this is the first English print release, and according to the author’s notes at the back of the book, it was a story she drafted years earlier that was darker and more serious but was abandoned before being adapted into the lighter, romance manhwa we have today. But is this version of the story any good?

If you’re riding off the high of [Oshi No Ko] and want to dig into another series that looks into the darker side of the entertainment industry, then Imitation MAY tickle that itch, but it’s nowhere near as deep or as cynical. Imitation however does have two viewpoints in the series that help bulk out the intrigue. We have Maha, who only debuted one year before the story starts, so is still finding her way around the politics and such of the industry. Then we have Ryoc Kwon, who is not only in a very popular boy group before the story begins, but his group had a ‘scandal’ (which could have been a career ender) yet made it through to the other side, so he knows how merciless the industry can be. It’s the duality of both viewpoints as well as genders that helps flesh out the intrigue of the idol industry; there’s a lot of awful back-stabbing and on-set bullying that Maha is supposed to just ‘accept’ as the norm, with others saying she’s not going to make it if she doesn’t, which of course upsets her. Ryoc, at first, is one of the voices saying the same thing, but eventually realises that a lot of the rumours he’s heard about Maha are either from third parties that have a grudge against her or are simply because of management telling her to do anything to get to the top. So rather than criticising the whole industry, it’s a more intimate investigation of how being told to do one thing and having everyone else judge you for it can affect your psyche and how you view yourself, despite opportunities for pop groups, TV series, etc that may come your way. It’s not a perfect examination, but it’s interesting and I hope it will be explored more in future volumes.

Imitation is apparently KyungRan Park’s first attempt at writing her own series, and I cannot find any sources that state whether she made any other series after this. If she did, it would be interesting to see if any storytelling improvements were made, because from this volume you can really tell it’s KyungRan Park’s first attempt at writing. The main error that prevented me from really getting into this story is the context establishment, as in there isn’t any. The story jumps right into the idol sports day, and very haphazardly tries to swiftly explain the different idol groups we follow across the story (Tea Party and SHAX, plus one solo singer) but it really fails to properly set up the groundwork of who these characters are and why the reader should care. There is a character sheet on the first pages of the book but it throws so much useless information at you (their weight, height, birthday, etc) that I absorbed none of it; it did not help me distinguish between the large cast of characters and where they are in their idol careers. There’s one egregious attempt at information dumping on the reader just a few pages into the book, poorly explaining the SHAX scandalous background on one page, with a drawing of the love interest Ryoc in a sexy pose, but it doesn’t hide the fact that the background story dump is done poorly, rather than woven into the narrative naturally. I had to double-check multiple times that I was, in fact, reading Volume 1 of this series, because I kept thinking that I must have missed a volume somewhere.

The lack of establishing context also applies to the art; about a third into the story, Maha is sitting outside waiting for a ride home, very down on herself, when Ryoc arrives, sees her by herself, and wonders whether to comfort her or not. I got that set-up from the text only, because the art does not show them together on the same platform, it doesn’t even have an ‘establishing shot’ of where the characters even are; at first I thought Maha was sitting underneath a set of stairs! The backgrounds are like that across the board; we get generic studio sets and grassy plains when the panels require it, but the story jumps around so much, and the art does not transition smoothly from one set-piece to another, so that events blur together after a while. The character designs, however, are pretty, and the water colour style of the colouring helps with the ‘romance’ side of the story.

Speaking of romance, I personally didn’t really get invested in it as the male lead leans too hard into the ‘bad boy’ side of the ‘broody male love interest’ and comes across as a bully. I know that’s supposed to be the point, with him changing his mind about Maha because of his actions, but with the narrative of the first volume leaning so heavily on HIS feelings and less on Maha’s side of the romance as it develops, I couldn’t get past his attitude for this romance to work for me. Again, this may improve in future volumes, but in the first book which leans heavily into building this relationship, it’s a very rocky start.

There is no name noted down for the translator, only the company C&C Revolutions, who have translated a ton of other manhwa. I will say that the translation was easy to read, and the sound effects were translated too, keeping the dynamic flow of the story. I also appreciated the translated notes at the back, as I’m less familiar with Korean than I am with Japanese.

Imitation has the potential for a good idol-based comedy series, and maybe the romance will work for others better than myself, but the lack of setting the groundwork for the story – telling us who’s who and the world they inhabit – makes this a frustrating rather than engaging read. Maybe future volumes will pick up? It’s super popular in Korea for a reason, but for a debut volume it has more potential to be good than actual good content in it.

Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK. 

6 / 10


By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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