Manhwa Webcomic “Ensemble”
Ensemble (앙쌍블) is a Manhwa webcomic by the artist Yubi. I figured I’d talk about it here because, though I honestly doubt it’ll turn out to be explicitly BL, it has a lot of fujoshi-centered elements between the two main male characters. Also, sorry if I mess up with any names. Unlike with Japanese I’m completely new to Korean, and the translation I read kept changing the way the names were spelled.
Anyway, Ensemble is about a young man named Mahnsu who’s taken in by the witness protection program. He’s disguised as a girl and shoved into the hands of detective Ghim, told that he’ll masquarade as part of their family until the coast is clear. Enter Bohm, detective Ghim’s teenage son. There’s a girl in his life he’s currently missing, and she just happens to look exactly like the disguised Mahnsu.
I went into this manhwa with a lot of preconcieved notions. First, the fact that it’s a webcomic and I generally consider webcomics to be a waste of my time (unless they’re Hetalia). Also that it was supposedly about a boy who dresses as a girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love some good crossdressing as much as the next person. But there have been many times where a girl claims to be a boy who dresses as a girl, when in reality it’s just a girl and it turns into your generic heterosexual shoujo or shounen romance and everything ends happily ever after. This is why I almost never trust or read genderbenders. Because the way I see it, a manga or manhwa that starts out as not shounen ai will likely never suddenly turn shounen ai if only because the author probably knows full well that s/he would lose a percentage of the fanbase that didn’t like this new, homosexual turn of events.
But, shockingly, I pretty much fell head-over-heels in love with Ensemble. It’s a cute, quirky mix of Korean manhwa style and culture with elements of Japanese and American comic humor. The characters are all interesting and likable, the relationships are relatable, and absolutely nothing is taken too seriously. However, there’s no skipping out on the plot. While I’d consider this manhwa more of a ‘slice of life’ than I would ‘drama’ it never tosses out its main plot in favor of fanservice or fun. Every time, just when you let your guard down and start enjoying Mahnsu and Bohm’s day-to-day life with their friends, something has to happen to throw a wrench between the gears.
There were times where I laughed ridiculously hard, times where I cried (like the time when Bohm actually cried for Mahnsu, oh god), and times where I had my teeth clenched in anxiety of what was going to happen next. It’s truly a fabulous story.
Anyway, on to the reason I considered writing this article for my BL-centric blog: Mahnsu and Bohm’s relationship.
Bohm starts out hating Mahnsu. Well, he hates Mahnsu the second he figures out it’s a boy. Here’s the catch: Bohm seems to fall in love (or at least ‘interest’) at first sight with Mahnsu because Mahnsu, dressed in complete wig and sailor uniform, looks like his sister who supposedly died in a crash a few years back. His sister (Yuhrhm) was seemingly the only important thing in his life. However, Bohm realizes Mahnsu is nothing like his sister (far from it, considering the existing penis and lack of boobs) and instead decides he wants nothing to do with Mahnsu’s plight—especially if it means Mahnsu will be joining their family and becoming a daily annoyance.
Going to school together, living together—of course, at some point Bohm comes around (after much pissing and moaning on his part) to the idea of Mahnsu being his ‘brother’. Which is good for Mahnsu, because this means he’ll finally have the sense of family he always longed for as an orphan child. As time passes, Bohm grows more and more attached to Mahnsu. At the point they’re at now (past chapter 64) I can probably say Mahnsu has replaced Bohm’s sister as his Most Important Person. Which isn’t necessarily BL-like unless you consider certain factors.
Bohm blushes a lot where Mahnsu is concerned. He gets flustered very easily when Mahnsu wants to do nice things for him, and feels embarrassed when he relents and does nice things for Mahnsu. Though this isn’t necessarily that big a deal considering Bohm is really just quite uncomfortable with the notion of affection, it’s something that has to be stated.
Then there’s the fact that Bohm doesn’t really have a love interest, and his only potential (female) love interest at this point has pretty much been spoken for by his best friend. Mahnsu is really the only one who can affect Bohm in practically any way. Almost all other people are treated with an odd sense of confusion and detachment. The only time he treats another person with true affection is when Mahnsu has been taken away back to the police station and Bohm subconsciously uses Ji-Mhan (a fellow student who is in love with Bohm and has been since middle school) as a substitute—going so far as to wrap his arm around Ji-Mhan’s shoulders and hold him a bit close.
Then there is, of course, Mahnsu’s general dedication to Bohm. I personally see this as more of a sibling attachment—Bohm is truly the family Mahnsu always wanted and never had—but such an attachment can easily be construed as a detatched sort of romantic affection. And if it’s not romantic yet, it can easily be turned romantic. A very good portion of Mahnsu and Bohm’s interactions could also be seen as lovers, they’re so close.
All these, combined with the fact that Ensemble never really makes a joke out of homosexuality. Ji-Mhan is gay, but instead of using that as a set-up for humor it’s just part of who he is. Even when he’s getting picked on for being in love with Bohm, Bohm comes to his rescue and it ends there. And it’s not just hinted at—it’s stated and quite obvious that Ji-Mhan is in love with Bohm (to the point where he tries to hit Mahnsu with a shovel as he thinks (female) Mahnsu and Bohm are dating). Santa also states that he ‘has no interest in women’—though that could be because he has no romantic inclinations, so it doesn’t necessarily means he prefers men. But the lack of animosty toward obvious existing homosexuality in a manhwa that is centered around the relationship between two boys leaves you a bit hopeful.
Not to mention even detective Ghim showed interest in Mahnsu, and not just when he was dressed as a girl. It’s pretty much a fact at this point that Mahnsu is so cute that even men can fall for him.
Anway, I suppose at this point we’ll just have to sit back and see. Would I be happy if there were any explicit romantic inclinations between Bohm and Mahnsu? Of course! However, it’s such a good manhwa that it doesn’t really matter either way. Like I said before, it’s rare to find a story that does actually change into a romantic BL relationship halfway through. But then again, most of what I’m comparing this to is Japanese manga—perhaps in Manhwa, I can expect the unexpected.
If you can read the original Korean language version, Ensemble can be found here! Otherwise, it’s currently being translated by Nolja! at wordpress.