Mangaka: Sahara Mizu (artist), Gong Ji-Young (original author)
Years running: 2008
Genre: Drama, Psychological, Romance, Music, Slice of Life
Cheapest to Buy (New Copy): Amazon.com
Cheapest to Buy (Used Copy): ebay.com
Every year, my university has Mental Health Awareness Week and seeing all the promotion reminded me of this title which I finished reading not too long ago.
This manga is adapted from a Korean novel of the same name by Gong Ji-Young. I haven’t read the novel yet but I do plan to once I have the time, maybe I’ll put an edit in this post once I’ve finished reading the novel and add some words to express my thoughts.
This title isn’t like some of the big names in the manga world. It’s actually very obscure and short in comparison to the manga I have reviewed previously. It is only 8 chapters long but a lot can be packed into such a small package. The story is a lot to take in but it is a really rewarding experience should you choose to read this beautiful piece of work.
Trigger warning: This manga does talk a lot about suicide and rape. You have been warned.
Mutou Juri is a former talented pianist who has recently failed in her latest attempt to commit suicide. Her family is no help to her as it is only just her mother and she harbours a not-so-secret hate for her daughter so it is no surprise that she wouldn’t care if her daughter lived or died.
Juri’s aunt Monica, in comparison to the rest of her family, is a more sympathetic soul and convinces Juri to accompany her on her charitable trips to the prison to visit inmates on death row. Juri meets Yuu, a prisoner on death row for murdering three people and they find out that they have a lot of more in common than either realise — mainly, their desire to end their lives because life has been cruel to them.
Juri and Yuu become really close as they open up about their feelings and why they’re so angry at the world. But time isn’t kind as the day of Yuu’s execution draws near. Even though both Yuu and Juri wish to live and find their purpose in life, this story does not have such a happy ending.
This is Actually A Romance Manga
It’s really hard to see it that way when you have such a depressing premise but it really is. Juri and Yuu do fall for each other but it’s not such a dramatic love that you see in Shoujo or even Josei. In fact, when I was reading the manga, I didn’t think that both of them had feelings for each other. Perhaps I am a little dense or maybe it was deliberately subtle because the focus isn’t the romance even though it IS a romantic manga.
This kind of romantic writing is rarely executed successfully because there is a tendency for the romance to be really lacking as we readers expect to be told that ‘character A and character B like each other’. However, with Our Happy Times, the romance is really welcomed if anything because the manga is just so damn depressing.
I wouldn’t peg this series as a romantic must-read but I give it credit for the execution of a subtle romance that is really heartwarming.
Crime and Punishment
Since this manga is about someone visiting a prisoner on death row, I cannot not talk about it. Not the book obviously but I do recommend reading it. It’s a fascinating read.
Some of my readers may think that killing 3 people is a bit much to be put on death row. Heck, some of my readers may come from places where death row isn’t a punishment at all and may feel that it is a bit too much.
If you’re feeling sympathetic, you’re not the only one who feels this way. Juri also questions the idea of putting Yuu on death row simply because he suffered so much. She even tries to see if she can get his conviction overturned but to no avail.
Yuu’s warden who guards him in the days to his execution also cares for Yuu very much but understands that he is a criminal and punishment only awaits those who commit crimes. He even told Juri as much, ‘How can we [overturn his conviction] when he has been given [the sentence] so long ago?’
I think the Gong Ji-Young wanted us to see that we often see prisoners as ‘not human’ but once we get to know them, they become so human that we think that they never deserved their punishment in the first place. That’s just my opinion though, I haven’t read the novel and see the exact words for myself so I can’t say my interpretation is accurate. However, there is no doubt that Our Happy Times aims to get us, readers, to see crime and punishment in a new light.
Forgiveness is the Key to Moving On
This theme is very poignant in this title. Juri struggles with moving on and the hatred she harbours towards her mother and former piano teacher due to the pain they both have caused her.
Talking to Yuu really helped Juri understand that she does indeed want to be happy and play the piano like she used to but how could she with all this baggage on her shoulders?
Gong Ji-Young’s answer? Accept the things that occurred in your life and forgive the ones who wronged you.
It is a very interesting perspective to handling trauma and pain and I like the way that the series presents it to us as the readers. Juri plays the piano for Yuu right before he is taken to be executed and when she sees his tears, she knows that it was worth overcoming all the pain.
4.6 out of 5 mangabooks
First, my general review:
A story about love and forgiveness, Our Happy Times is a manga that gives us time to reflect on the idea of recovering from deep wounds that may hurt so bad that you wouldn’t feel like living. Though adapted from a novel, the manga has thoroughly shown us what the author was trying to say with stunning expressions and backgrounds. A wonderful read that will leave you heartbroken but liberated.
Next, my personal review:
Admittedly, this review has fewer elements to talk about than my usual manga. This is mainly because this manga only has 8 chapters so there isn’t a lot of themes to cover but also because I would really like you all to read the manga and come to your own conclusions regarding the meaning of the various themes presented to you.
This title talks about something really sensitive and it wouldn’t do much justice if I just came on here and said, “I totally understand what the author/mangaka is trying to say”. Even the mangaka herself said in her footnotes that she didn’t do the original novel justice and hopes that Gong Ji-Young’s message has been adequately passed on through her work.
I personally like the way that the story flows in Our Happy Times. It is not simply a story about overcoming one’s demons to be a better person and appreciate life more. It is a story about reflection. It is also a story about humanising those who have wronged society by showing their backstory, even though I do agree that not all those incarcerated are such tragic people.
This work is one of the most depressing yet beautiful pieces I have read and I cannot say that I totally understand where Gong Ji-Young is coming from because I haven’t read the novel but I will say that if you are interested and want to read something really reflective, I highly suggest you read Our Happy Times today by buying the copy on Amazon.com.
As always, if you have anything to say about my review, feel free to drop a comment down below, I’d love to hear it 🙂