A Webcomic Review of “Garden Club Detective Squad”:
Oh God Oh Fuck did someone just die?
“Gardening and solving crime aren’t what straight-A student Yeon Han thought she would be focusing on at her new school. But when she discovers a notebook that contains clues to a 15-year-old murder mystery, she and the other members of her new gardening club realize the murderer not only has access to the school -- they probably work for the school. Can the gardening club squad figure out who committed the murder even though the principal and their teachers seem desperate to cover it up?”
Now, this description is quite detailed, maybe a bit too detailed.
This comes down to personal preference, but personally, I don’t like seeing the plot in thorough detail before reading the story, especially if it is a mystery.
If it were me, I would write the description as:
“In her attempt to not become a backwater girl, Yeon Han eventually decides to become the President of the Gardening Club. But she’ll soon realize that maybe she might have bitten off more than she could chew”
This description may be a bit rudimentary, but it shows an idea of what my ideal description for this webtoon would be.
It says just enough about the story while also leaving enough to imagination. But the current description at present shows what the first 3-4 chapters are. Had the description not even mentioned the teachers, I probably wouldn’t have considered they were trying to cover anything up to begin with.
That being said, I did read chapters 1-3 of the webtoon blind. And I have to say, I didn’t expect the unassuming colorful cover of this Webtoon to show such menacing and dark panel off-rip.
(A panel from the first scene in Chapter 1)
But, let us familiarize ourselves with the cast, shall we?
Yeon Han - The Brain:
Yeon is an honor student who moved outside of Seoul, presumably due to not having enough money to stay. Despite this turn of events, she doesn’t want to become a “backwater girl”. For the sake of her academic record, she decides to settle on becoming the class president. But her peers are just amused at how cocky she was despite being new to the school.
(A panel in the middle of Chapter 2 ^)
When that fails, she decides to settle on becoming the president of an after school club. But forget becoming president, they wouldn’t even allow her to join on the basis that she is too qualified. BRO, THE LITERATURE DISCUSSION CLUB HAS THREE MEMBERS. ONE INCLUDING A BODYPILLOW FOR FUCK SAKES. Part of me wanted to laugh but part of me also felt insulted for her.
I expected her character to be the “genius that finds a niche that she enjoys compared to other activities they would usually dominate at”, but she is already fed up with how hard gardening actually is. Not to mention the amount of faculty and students who ask favours from her.
It was a very pleasant surprise, because now I can rightfully assume that while she works on her cases, she might pick up skills from the gardening club. Dare I say, she actually comes to appreciate and enjoy it as a hobby? I guess only time will tell, as this is still a very new Webtoon, with 12 Chapters out as of this review’s conception.
The one thing I have on my mind at the moment, is if her range of skills she currently has will be useful when tackling the murder case.
Whether or not that is the case, I have high hopes for her as a character.
Mirim Shin - The Spiritual:
Although I said I have high hopes for Yeon, I think Mirim is my favorite character. As the daughter of a priest, she is in tune with her spirituality on a whole other level compared to her club mates.
An interesting tidbit about her is that she decided to practice all forms of faith before her baptism. I can only assume it’s so she could have an idea of what could have been, before deciding to lock in on one specific faith.
Honestly, I genuinely didn’t expect for her to say something like this, not because it sounded ridiculous, but because up until that point, it felt like her spirituality was just a running gag that came with her character.
It was nice to see her character expanded upon, and I hope the other characters get the same treatment, even if it is only brief.
Baekji Kang - The Muscle
Then there's Baekji, who easily wins in cool factor.
I can’t say much other than that in addition to being a part of the garden club, she is also in the Judo club. Although the story doesn’t technically address it, I feel like she fills the role of pseudo-leader / Vice-President of the club.
Saessak - The Green Thumb’d Romantic?:
Ssaesak is a soft-spoken girl who attends to the garden's needs as one of the two members of the garden club.
She is unexpectedly a romantic, being interested in bad boys.
I only found her annoying for a brief moment because it seemed like she was going to hold back information on her latest crush, Hyeonsu Jeong (the lunch guy), before finally finding the resolve to give a possibly game changing piece of evidence to Yeon.
Despite the mostly positive things I have said in this review, my first impressions of Garden Club Detective Squad were more negative in comparison to the opinions I shared at present.
When I read Wizard of Arsenia, I had overblown expectations because my editor Nen had already recommended God of Bath, a webtoon I have now come to really appreciate. I assumed I would love it in the same way.
My expectations were what held me back from what I usually do best: Sit down and just enjoy the show. Granted, I still hold opinions about it that I believe hold back the story, but the opinions were way fairer than what I could have said.
This time around, I made a similar mistake.
I decided on my own to read Garden Club Detective Squad for this review, and held expectations for the mystery element of the Webtoon, which was reinforced by the first panel I showed in the review. Thankfully, even if the webtoon didn’t live up to whatever expectation I had, I know that I could still appreciate it for what it was because I just went with the flow. At worst, the mystery could come across as contrived.
(A panel from the first scene in Chapter 1)
That being said, somehow, I was disappointed. Even a bit annoyed 5-7 chapters in. Disappointment is one thing, but why was I annoyed?
At first, I was thinking it was because the story had a problem with how it presented tension. After all, the webtoon is categorized as a mystery, so I criticized it as such.
In my original draft, I wrote the following:
“The webtoon is categorized under mystery, but I don’t really feel the urgency of the case whatsoever. I feel like I am getting whiplash between moments that I feel are supposed to be serious and moments that are just ‘slice of life’ hijinks.”
I hadn’t taken into account that, although it was a “mystery”, it functioned more like a “comedy”, like God of Bath.
I feel as though the Webtoon was miscategorized. I use God of Bath as an example because it could have easily been categorized under “Action”, because of the Ttaemiri battles. But despite these battles, because of the way dialogue is presented, it is understandably under the comedy genre. Moreover, the action was more of a vehicle to tell the stories and values of the characters themselves. In other words, even if you were to take out these action elements, God of Bath would be fundamentally the same.
But according to my logic, does this mean that if this webtoon didn’t have mystery elements, it would be fundamentally the same?
No, and I do not think it would be the same if the webtoon didn’t have the comedy elements either.
To be perfectly clear, just because I think Garden Club Detective Squad is a comedy, it doesn’t mean that I think it shouldn’t present mystery elements, or vice-versa. But I wish Webtoon could at the very least categorize it as both a “mystery” and “comedy”.
Who knows, maybe my opinion will change as more and more chapters get uploaded. Or rather, I hope it does.
Personally, despite my position towards the webtoon being a comedy, it isn’t all that funny.
And as of the currently uploaded chapters, I think the mystery is all right.
In my opinion, what makes a good mystery is having all the clues presented to the characters and the reader to be able to solve the case. To understand 52chu’s take on mystery, I’ll break down the first suspect, Hyeongsu. Take this scene the beginning of episode 6 for example:
This scene is trying to insinuate that Hyeongsu is the killer. The dramatic irony of this scene, Saessak’s photo of Hyeongsu dumping bones in the garden, and the story deliberately pointing out that there are no cameras in the cafeteria/garden area are the three pieces of information the story provides to help the indirect claim.
(A panel from Episode 8 ^)
(A Panel from Episode 9 ^)
(A panel from episode 8 ^)
But it was all a misunderstanding. Whoops, my bad. “I was just trying to help you all”.
(A panel from episode 9 ^)
It's almost comical how much the plot just wanted to frame Hyeongsu, I can’t help but laugh.
All forms of evidence lead to Hyeongsu, except the fact that the bones were the remnants of ribs from past cafeteria specials:
(Panel from episode 9 ^)
(Panel from episode 9 ^)
If you were able to pick up the possibility, then great. But somehow, Hyeongsu’s mini-arc just fell flat for me. Whether you knew this one detail or not, it feels like I’m going to be dragged from suspect to suspect in the future. Everyone one of them will be the “killer” except for that one contrivance that makes them innocent. Honestly, I firmly believe that it isn’t any of the faculty.
You know what, here's my Trademark 8Requiems theory. The culprit is Chair Juyeong.
(A panel from Episode 6 ^)
I don’t mind the club reaching dead ends, but if there aren’t elements that could at least help me identify who the real culprit is, I doubt I could enjoy it as much as I’d like to.
Reading and understanding this Webtoon has been somewhat of a ride. Although it is still ongoing, I have mixed feelings on whether or not I want to continue reading. But despite the gripes that I have with it at the moment, I think I will continue reading it just to see where 52chu takes the story.
You will likely enjoy this Webtoon if you like stories where the plot focuses on the reader having fun with the misadventures of the cast.
But what do you guys think? Do you think my criticism was unfounded? Do you think it really *IS* a mystery, and that I am looking at this Webtoon in the wrong light? Talk about it in the comments below.
And as always,
Arrivederci Brothers. May you attain your grain.
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