Joel is miserable in Korea. He hates the food, he’s bored with teaching English, and he’s tired of the crowds and the strange culture. But just when he has decided to not renew his contract so that he can return home to Canada, Joel finds something he does like about Korea: Hana, the new secretary at the school. Is a possibly one-sided crush enough to keep him in Korea for another year? Torres’ Love as a Foreign Language is a cute series that is a perfect read for anyone who’s ever wondered if they would like living in another country. Torres starts off by defining culture shock and how it affects people in stages. These stages—honeymoon/amorous, horror/appalled, humor/amused, and home/adapted—set the pace for Joel’s story. He’s moved firmly into the horror/appalled stage and sees nothing that can convince him to move out. Torres sets up Joel’s attitude so that we are as frustrated with and annoyed by him as his coworkers are. It is when he meets Hana that he finally begins to change, to mature. His cluelessness can be grating at times, especially when it comes to how he reacts to one of his female coworkers, but it is real and completely believable.
The nice part of Torres’ story is that Hana is equally realistic. To Joel she’s the most beautiful, perfect person in the world, but we see that she’s just a nice, kind of shy, rather pretty young woman. She’s not portrayed as a raging beauty or an amazing genius. She’s a real person, which makes Joel’s crush on her even more touching. The people who surround Joel and Hana are equally realistic. They are a mix of Koreans and Westerners who teach at the school and we’re given enough details about each of them to make them seem like our friends as well. It is details like this that make a story come alive.
Kim does art duties in this series and his Western manga style is a perfect fit. He’s got a good eye for humor and pacing. The cockroach scene in the first volume is a classic bit of wordless humor. The story is paced nicely so that humorous scenes and romantic scenes are given their full opportunity to catch the reader. Everyone in the story has their own distinct look, so they are easy to keep straight. And while he uses a lot of screentones, the ones he chooses are subtle enough to give the story the right soft, romantic feeling without overwhelming the tale.
If you’re looking for something with an Asian flavor to it, but nicely fused with Western culture, Love as a Foreign Language might just fit the bill. It’s a cute little romantic comedy with only one small fault—there isn’t a third volume. But, just like with romantic comedy movies, there’s still a happy ending, so readers come away satisfied.
Reviewed by Snow Wildsmith on July 10, 2012