Tarot Cafe Volume 5

Written by Sang-Sun Park
Illustrated by Sang-Sun Park

I haven't caught up with this series in awhile because the library didn't have anything past volume 4 for the longest time. This was really annoying because the previous edition ended in a cliffhanger, but I didn't like this series enough to want to own it.

This time around, Pamela and her friends help a musician out of a bad deal that may have taken others who were famous beyond belief but died young...or at least appeared to.

Helping is good, especially when you have problems of your own, but Pamela incurs the wrath of the thwarted dealmaker, and soon her life is in danger as she's thrown into a magical loop of remembering one of her most horrible life experiences. Can her friends save her in time? (Well, there's a volume 6, if that helps answer the question...)

This story takes up the bulk of the trade this time, and while it's exciting because Park really does make it seem like Pamela is doomed (no easy feat for any writer with a protagonist in danger), I have to admit to being a bit confused as to the proceedings, as they flip back and forth from past to present to nightmare just a bit too much for my taste. That's one flaw this series has that I wish it would correct. It needs some kind of device to help make sure we know when and where we are. I've seen other manga use darker page borders when we're going though a character's memories. It really helped me a lot and I wish Park did the same thing.

Our final story features a mysterious man who sits in a park and has a love for a child he barely knows. He wishes to know the child's fortune, because he can tell the kid is having a hard time of it. For while strangers usually mean danger, in this case the devil of a father he knows is far worse. Armed with her help, the man takes matters into his own hands and we get a nice happy ending, which is a refreshing change from the bittersweet victories that have been prevalent lately in Tarot Cafe.

Now that I'm back to reading Tarot Cafe, I remember why I liked it but didn't love it as a series. Park's art is stunning at times, and the stories not directly involving Pamela (such as the man and the boy) are very good. But I thought Pamela worked better as a framing device than a character in her own story, and as we go along, she's a big part of each volume. Her past is just too much of a muddle for me to really care about her. I wish Park was a little less obtuse about things in relation to Pamela. A mystery isn't a mystery if the reader is too confused to care.

That may just be me, however, so take that for what it's worth. I still like Tarot Cafe, and I'd recommend it to those looking for a book that uses a framing device to tell short stories. (I am a big fan of that style, as you may have noticed.) However, if you're looking for a clear-cut narrative, it's probably best to start elsewhere. And make sure you read from volume one--this is not a manga that's friendly for someone coming in at the middle. I will definitely keep with this one, if only to see what the future holds for the cast.