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The Tarot Cafe, Volumes 1-3

Review

The Tarot Cafe, Volumes 1-3

written and illustrated by Sang-Sun Park

There are plenty of things to praise about The Tarot Café --- like its moody atmosphere, its fairy tale elements, its mythological references. But its most impressive feature is, hands down, its exquisite artwork. While manhwa in general is praised for its art, The Tarot Café is breathtaking. Sometimes it’s difficult to actually read the story because you’re so busy admiring the details of people’s hair or eyes. The cover art gives no justice to what wonders you’re going to find inside.

Our main character is Pamela, who was born in Medieval Scotland and had psychic powers even then. At the time, this was very dangerous, and she almost got burned at the stake as a witch. She did manage to escape, though her mother was killed for witchcraft. Haunted but not beaten by these early days, she’s been reading tarot cards for centuries. In fact, she’s so good at her job that she doesn’t just have regular humans coming in as customers. She’s more likely to attract a clientele of vampires, werewolves and the like.

As clients come in, Pamela reads their cards and the audience learns a story behind the client. Oftentimes, the stories have to do with difficulty in love, only with twists. For instance, an alchemist comes in for help because he created a living, breathing, talking doll (who looks like a teenage boy) to entertain the woman he thinks he loves. However, he soon realizes the woman is cruel, and that the doll has emotions and feelings, despite being manmade. He falls in love with the doll instead. And what should be done in a situation like this? He wants to know if Pamela’s tarot cards can help him.

At first, it may feel as if The Tarot Café is a series of short stories. This is entertaining enough, and the stories all have an atmospheric, moody air. Nevertheless, a plot going through the series does become apparent. It has to do with Pamela, of course, and the long life she’s lived. Flashbacks show up now and then.

There’s a hypnotic quality to reading this series. For one thing, the mystical stories read like new, numinous takes on old fairy tales and legends. The symbolism of the tarot adds ambiance and allegories. And the artwork, of course, takes the cake, causing everything to work so well together. In an introduction, Sang-Sun Park admits she’s always liked to draw, and it really looks as if she lovingly created every image with the utmost respect and finesse. She’s extraordinarily talented. The Tarot Café is recommended for its many strengths, and most especially its art. Seeing Park’s drawings can make the whole world seem beautiful.

Reviewed by Danica Davidson on March 8, 2008

The Tarot Cafe, Volumes 1-3
written and illustrated by Sang-Sun Park

  • Publication Date: March 8, 2005
  • Genres: Manga
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: TokyoPop
  • ISBN-10: 1595325557
  • ISBN-13: 9781595325556