“Wind Breaker” – Let’s race!!
Wind Breaker has it all! Yeah, that pretty much sums up this awesome cycling manhwa. Its riveting sports-action scenes will flood your body with adrenaline. Yet, parts of the story are so heartrending that they will make you bawl your eyes out. Among the various romantic relationships, you’ll certainly find one that sets your heart aflutter. A word of advice: don’t read this manhwa in a public place because you might disturb your surroundings when you burst out laughing at its hilarious jokes. There is also a rich amount of violence and strong language, so be prepared for blood, bruises, and heaps of $we@r!#g. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’d better tell you what the story is about first.
A Love For Bikes
I’ve already read a good part of this manhwa, but I re-read part one, which makes up volumes one to four in the printed edition, for this review. Wind Breaker starts with a flashforward in episode zero, and looking at the images in this very short prologue, I involuntarily let out a nostalgic sigh. So much has happened up to the point shown in this scene. But let’s start at the actual beginning, with episode one, in which we get to know the protagonist—or rather, one of the protagonists—Jay Jo.
Jay is a top student at an academically renowned high school, Sunny High, and is drilled by his parents to focus all of his energy on studying, and he does so fervently. His face is constantly buried in a book, or his body hunched over his desk at school, scribbling into his notes. Despite being pressured by his parents, it seems that he likes studying and going to school. However, there is one thing that he loves even more: his bike. Thus, Jay isn’t only the number one student at school but also an ace cyclist. Already in the first episode, we receive a demonstration of his expert skidding during a downhill descent. His mastery was also witnessed by members of the Zephyrus bike crew, who were very much in awe.
One of these members is Minu, who also happens to go to Sunny High. Minu is blown away by Jay’s skill and invites him into his crew. Unfortunately, Jay’s undying love for his fixed gear bike is contrasted by his standoffish (not to say cold-hearted) behavior towards any kind of living being, in particular birds, cats, and humans. Disinterested in human contact, Jay bluntly refuses Minu’s offer… until Minu informs him that TJ, another member of the Zephyrus crew, said unkind things about his bike. Unwilling to let such an insult slide, Jay decided to join a nightly race to put the trash-talker in his place.
The Race Of Races
The race starts in episode four with a captivating, tilted scrolling panel, for which you can either tilt your head to the side yourself or turn your screen-locked reading device. There are several of these in the manhwa, mainly during the races, and I love every one of them. In a way, they function like a ‘pause’ button. At times, the action and tension were so intense that I was scrolling in a frenzy to keep up with the cyclists, racing and skidding in blurred vision across my screen. My heart thumping speedily to match the furious pedaling, I couldn’t help but hurry on to see what was going to happen at the next turn of the road... when suddenly a tilted panel appeared and stopped me in my tracks. Capturing an important part of a race, I had no choice but to slow down my scrolling pace to get a proper look at the image. Partly because, annoyingly so, they don’t fit on the screen as a whole. Admittedly, that’s also what makes these panels so impressive and effective. Wanting to grasp the full extent of the situation presented in these elongated panels, I had to scroll back and forth several times before taking a deep breath and throwing myself back into the racing action.
Back on the track, speed lines rushed past my eyes as I followed the two combatants, Jay and TJ, battling for victory. Wheels were smoking and tires were screeching as they jumped over obstacles and skidded through curves, trying to outdo each other. The adrenaline rush of this very first race got me hooked, and I knew that if the story continues like this, I’m going to love this manhwa. And I wasn’t the only one. There are readers who felt the same, not only about the first but also about the subsequent races.
But it wasn’t just us readers! Jay, too, was intrigued by the emotions that stirred within him during this race: “Strange. I’ve never felt something like this before...” And thus, this race set things into motion that influenced the further course of the story. As the threads of the individual lives burdened by the shadows of the past crossed paths in the present, rivalries were renewed and unexpected friendships were formed. The author and artist, Yongseok Jo, cunningly spins a web of interconnected incidents that drives the plot towards one specific event: the race of races, the League of Street.
A Thorough Introduction
The League of Street, where most of the awesome racing action takes place, starts in part two of the manhwa and is therefore not part of this review. However, you can only appreciate the rush and exhilaration of this tournament once you have gotten to know all the characters, their rough pasts, hopes and desires, and their reasons for wanting to win it. The author is in no hurry and spends a good amount of time with the characters’ introduction. Only after we’ve got a good grip on Jay’s serious as well as his passionate side (which he only displays when riding his bike), he dwindles into the background for a time and lets other characters take center stage. We find out why Minu’s and Jay’s friend, Dom, is irrevocably in love with his classmate, Yuna, or why Vinny, a former member of the Zephyrus crew, grew up into a ‘lunatic.’ Verbal arguments, heartbreak, and plenty of brawls accompany the in-depth presentation of the characters and their relationships with each other. Even though this part of the story didn’t feel long-winded, it still caused a ‘cycling drought,’ which didn’t go unnoticed by some readers—me included—who came for the sports action.
I’m a big fan of breathtaking action; lengthy scenes where characters’ feelings for one another are analyzed to death will soon have me looking for other reading material. So, I was very surprised that I made it through this cycling drought without taking my eyes off the screen. I wondered why. Maybe it was because Yongseok relied on his images to convey emotions rather than a thousand words. Or because the development of the characters is as convincing as the chemistry between the young men and women was palpable. In any case, there was still plenty of action (though not the cycling kind), and the jokes always hit their mark. And so, episode after episode, I found myself bursting out laughing, gasping in shock, or rubbing dust out of my eyes. Having completed my journey through part one, there isn’t a single character in this manhwa who doesn’t elicit an emotional reaction from me. Some I love, some I hate, some annoy me, and others put a smile on my face whenever they appear on the screen.
Getting Better And Better
Yongseok knows how to portray character development by letting his visuals speak. What I found equally fascinating, though, was his own development as an artist. As the series progressed, the visualizations of the characters and action scenes got increasingly better. Reading the first episodes, I was taken aback by some of the depictions in comic relief scenes, but he definitely enhanced his drawing style in this regard. For June, Minu’s friend and member of the Zephyrus crew, biking was certainly rejuvenating because he is ‘Benjamin Buttoning’ somewhat in the course of the series, meaning he looks younger later on than in the beginning.
The only thing that really irritated me was the lettering of the sound effects in the translated version, which repeatedly blocked my view of the drawings in the most annoying way instead of flowing elegantly around the images. Should there ever be a printed version in English, I do hope that this will be adjusted.
An Otaku’s Work?
Reading the comment section after each episode was almost as entertaining as reading the manhwa itself, but it was also informative. This webtoon is a treasure trove of references to all kinds of popular culture products: series, movies, games, and anime. Some of these I only saw when I read the story for the second time; others I would have missed completely if it weren’t for the comments by dedicated co-readers. There were, in fact, so many that I made a separate list not to lose track of them. From Breaking Bad to One Piece, from Naruto to League of Legends. I’m proud to say that I caught sight of Jay jumping (flying?) through the nightly sky with the glowing moon behind him like E.T. And even though I’m not a gamer, I recognized the little mushroom from Super Mario. Embarrassingly so, I would have missed a lot of the One Piece references if they weren’t pointed out in the comment section. My advice should you decide to read Wind Breaker: don’t let yourself get swept away by the excitement, but look at each panel thoroughly. Some references are so well hidden, it’s like a treasure hunt.
Hoisting The Sails
Ahem… I guess I should also share with you what many readers wrote about the male cast, which was that they are ‘hot.’ Admittedly, all of the male teenagers (they are still in high school) are attractive, with lean, flawless bodies and handsome faces. This goes for the girls too, by the way. Where attractive characters abound, a port isn’t far off. So, despite being a sports manhwa, a majority of the comments revolved around the various shipping combinations. Actually, as soon as a race was over and the story focused on the characters, a shipping frenzy erupted. No possible combination was left out, and neither boy nor girl could escape the readers’ enthusiastic matchmaking. Certainly, I was swept along with the current, and I hereby announce that my favorite ship was the one carrying Jay and his bike. Read the series, and you’ll know that this is true love!
How To Ride A Bike
Let’s get back to the sports part of the story: the cycling. Almost everyone in the main cast, which is predominantly male, can ride a bike. And by that, I don’t mean a relaxed Sunday ride along a riverbank, listening to birds chirping in the trees. No, these guys, and later on also girls, bend the bikes to their will. They perform feats that only expert cyclists are able to accomplish, at times insanely dangerous ones. Well, these teens have been glued to their bikes since they were kids, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that they can master named and unnamed skills. Jay’s suicidal jump off a wall belonged to the latter category. Other skills and tricks were not only specified but also explained. As I had no prior knowledge of cycling jargon, I’m very grateful for these explanations. Now, I know what a ‘rock walk’ is or what the great thing about ‘slipstreaming’ is.
From Digital to Physical
In general, I don’t care if I read a digital or printed version of a comic, manga, or manhwa. Wind Breaker was the first comic where I decided that I’d immediately buy all volumes, should they ever be released in printed form in English. The future publisher will have to do some catching up, though, as there are already 22 volumes out in Korean (as far as I found). The latest volume was released this year in February. With similar ratings as The Boxer, I’m surprised that it hasn’t found its way to an English-language publisher. Could the excessive swearing and the explicit depictions of bullying and violence be the reason? On the other hand, The Boxer also contains several scenes of bullying and violence, particularly at the beginning of the story. Physical release or not, the manhwa might still lead to an increase in bike sales wherever its readers reside.
There’s also a health benefit to it: cycling is a physical exercise that’s good for your body and mind. So, getting a bike and taking it out for a ride is profitable for everyone involved. That is, if you don’t get ahead of yourself and try the crazy stunts performed by the expert cyclists in the series. So please heed the author’s advice, which he gives at the beginning of each episode: “Always wear a helmet when you ride a bike, and make sure the brakes work for safe riding!”
All that’s left now is to give in to the urge to ‘coincidentally’ stroll past your nearest bicycle shop and have a quick peek inside, just in case it has an awesome Wind Breaker-bike.
More on Wind Breaker: Wind Breaker Wiki