Everyone has had a bad friend in their life. Maybe that friend stabbed you in the back, or maybe they were a bad influence. In BAD FRIEND, by Ancco and translated by Janet Hong, the story highlights how female friendships help women endure difficult situations. The story also questions what makes a friend bad.
Pearl is a young girl in a difficult situation. She endures physical abuse and sexual harassment day in and day out. It isn’t until she meets Jeong-Ae that things become almost bearable for her. Although their situations are similar, both of these women end up in completely different places. By the end of the story, we question who the bad friend is: Jeong-Ae or Pearl.
What Makes a BAD FRIEND?
The story is broken up into different times during Pearl’s life. We get the narrative in hindsight, with Pearl retrospectively looking at her life. As a high schooler, she was the neighborhood punching back. It wasn’t just the kids at her school that did this either. Her father, her teachers, just about her entire family took their frustrations out on her. She’d be beaten over small things, too. She would endure punishment over smoking, coming home late, or running away. Her mother and sister begged Pearl to do better so her father would stop beating her. But much of what Pearl endured isn’t her fault.
However, things change slightly for Pearl when she meets Jeong-Ae. Jeong-Ae comes from a similar familial situation. Her father is a washed-up thug who got violent any time he was drinking. Jeong-Ae is also a big influence on Pearl, convincing Pearl to do things like beat up the younger girls at school. However, Pearl and Jeong-Ae build a friendship that help the two survive their personal situations. The pair decides to run away together, having had enough of the abuse. However, the life they find outside of their home is just as abusive and dark.
The story focuses on these two women and how their lives are parallel. Both girls have similar home situations but the overall outcome for each adult woman is dramatically different.
Female Driven Story
Jeong-Ae and Pearl have lives that are similar to one another. Everything down to their upbringing seems to run parallel. We get a well-rounded view of their home, school, and romantic life which all run strikingly similar. However, both women don’t leave their situations without scars. This leaves both characters to end up with completely different life endings.
Ancco does an amazing job bringing Jeong-Ae and Pearl to life. The girls are believably innocent. Although the two women end up in the red light district, neither of them fully comprehend the situation they’ve put themselves into. This is highlighted in a moment where an (assumed) brother owner asks if the girls are minors. Neither of them knows what a minor is, which left them unable to answer. This just emphasizes how young they really are.
Even the side characters seem to have traumatic backstories. In an instance where a bunch of girls are hanging out at Jeong-Ae’s house, they exchange stories of their home life. One girl relates a story about her father dating a woman who is 12 years older than herself. Pearl highlights that Jeong-Ae’s house made her feel “ashamed of her normal family.” However, Pearl’s family is far from normal.
The character’s feelings and reactions to these situations are absolutely fitting. It gives us a sense of who each person is, although we never really know their names. But it identifies why the girls around Pearl act the way they do.
Art that Drags You in
The story for BAD FRIENDS is beautifully matched with the art. The bleak art emphasizes the hardest times of Pearl’s life. When experiencing abuse, the skies or walls are black. Using charcoal, Ancco manages to make the reader feel just how bleak and dismal Pearl’s life can be. However, Ancco balances the darkness with light. When Pearl is enjoying time with Jeong-Ae, the black seems to subside. This gives way to white walls and skies, creating a lighter environment.
Ancco also has an interesting way of drawing faces. Each face is a little unsettling, which makes it a little tougher for readers to relate to the characters. However, this unsettling look is necessary. Not everyone in Pearl’s life is to be trusted. Even the people in her family have shown that Pearl cannot trust everyone. By creating a look that does not necessarily sit right with readers emphasizes the fact that we don’t know who to trust. It makes us more leery of trusting the other characters.
Although the art feels grim, it’s a perfect match for this story. Every time you think things may get a little bit better for Pearl, a terrible situation will rear its ugly head. This keeps reader on their toes and on the edge of their seats.
Final Thoughts on BAD FRIENDS
This story is wonderful if you’re into darker works. I would not recommend this story to a friend who is easily triggered or friends that don’t like depressing stories. However, this story cuts straight to the heart, reminding us that not everyone’s childhood is good. But it also gives us hope that maybe the friendships we create around us can help.
Ancco does a phenomenal job with BAD FRIENDS. She questions what really makes a bad friend, whether they’re a bad influence or if they don’t speak up to you. Although this story may be difficult to read, it’s a story you definitely don’t want to miss.