Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid by Na Yoonhee reimagines Hans Anderson’s The Little Mermaid as a story about loyalty to a nation or cause and the sacrifices made to maintain or evade that devotion.
Su-a Heo, a handmaiden to a family who works for the Japanese, one day encounters a wounded Uihyeon Kang at the beach and cares for him. Uihyeon eventually reveals that he’s a member of the Korean independence movement, and Su-a’s association with him leads to a botched attempt on her life. Now she’s lost her voice, and the loss of the lady she’s worked for since a child gives her no choice but to travel to Gyeongseong (Seoul). While she intends to seek revenge for the wrong done to her, Su-a finds herself immersed in a world where loyalty and devotion can cost the lives of loved ones.
Reader Warning: Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid contains discussions and fictional depictions of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know that there is help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. International readers can look up hotlines from their country or region here.
The exciting part about adapting a fairy tale or myth is exploring interesting or eye-opening angles and perspectives. No doubt you’re familiar with The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson, the story about a mermaid who gives up her voice and fins for a human prince only to endure seeing him marry someone else. Na Yoonhee reimagines the Danish fairytale in Japanese occupied Joseon (Korea). Taking place in 1926, the story follows an unrequited love story, characters with strong intangible desires, and the price of imperialism and complicity.
Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid also navigates the question of devoting yourself to a cause over your loved ones. The sacrifices someone makes to prove their love for their country. Su-ha’s narrative arc centers on her willingness to thrive after losing her voice and then her lady. She finds herself falling for Uihyeon although he’s willing to sacrifice love to save Korea from the Japanese. As she strives to live her own life one day, she becomes witness to a movement that would kill them if it means freeing Korea.
This webcomic brims with clever narrative turning points, memorable characterization, and overall breathtaking storytelling. There’s so much, from its unflinching depiction of colonial violence to its subtle imagery, to unpack here, but Whale Star: The Gyeongseong Mermaid is worth more than checking out.
For more great webcomic recommendations, check out our Wednesday Webcomics archives!
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) currently lives in Virginia.
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