THE SHORT VERDICT:
Show’s pretty ambitious, in that, not only is this story about plausibly real magic, this is also quite possibly Dramaland’s first attempt at an actual musical drama (versus dramas that have musical numbers in them).
As with all first attempts, there are things that Show does well, and things which Show could have improved on, in the interest of being better and more cohesive, overall.
Choi Sung Eun is excellent as the heart of this story, and the rest of the cast puts in brave and reasonably strong performances as well, but I do think that both the story and the music could have been better managed.
Not amazing, but not bad, overall.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Maybe I should start listening to my gut more.
When this show was first announced, my gut instinct told me that I most likely wouldn’t love it, but with all the hype and excitement around this one, when it was getting ready to premiere, I couldn’t help but want to give it a look.
..And now that I’ve emerged on the other side, I realize that while Show works out to be better than I’d feared, it really didn’t rock my world, after all.
Still, I applaud the brave effort, coz a musical drama is a TALL order, after all.
And, I’m hopeful that this review will help you to, 1, figure out whether this one’s for you, and 2, adjust your expectations accordingly, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch.
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
I generally found the music in this show very pleasant to listen to.
However, I can’t quite pick a favorite song, because I didn’t find that any particular track left a deeper impression on me than the others, which I’ll talk more about, later in this review.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things that I think would be useful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. Our story is a slow burn
I did not know this, going in, and on hindsight, I feel like this could have helped me enjoy my watch more, which is why I’m mentioning it here.
This story does come together eventually, but it really takes its time about it.
What I mean is, even at the episode 5 mark (out of Show’s total of 6 episodes), I wasn’t sure if Show was going to stick the landing in a reasonably satisfying manner.
It does pull it together decently well, however, so hang in there.
2. Don’t expect a lot of depth in our story
Show keeps the story pretty streamlined and simple, and I think that this is to make room for the magic and music, within its relatively short running time.
Which is not a bad thing, to be clear. It’s just helpful to figure that out upfront, to avoid disappointment with the plot.
3. A manhwa lens
At around the episode 2 mark, it occurred to me that a manhwa lens would work really nicely, for this show.
First, there’s the school itself, which looks gorgeous in a surreal, manhwa sort of way.
And then there’s the quick character development, which works kinda as narrative shorthand.
Our characters develop feelings and reach conclusions fast, and, some of them feel like broad caricatures, like our resident snooty bully. It doesn’t feel like there are a lot of layers here, particularly for our secondary characters.
Add on the magic and the music, and I feel like I’m watching a live-action manhwa with music, on my screen.
STUFF I LIKED
Choi Sung Eun as Ah Yi
Choi Sung Eun does an excellent job of delivering Ah Yi, in all of her different facets.
To be honest, I feel that Show lays on Ah Yi’s suffering with a pretty heavy hand, right from episode 1. We see her go through so much, in just the first hour.
She’s trying to make rent, while taking care of her little sister Yoo Yi (Hong Jung Min), because her dad’s (Jo Han Chul) on the run from creditors; she’s trying to put food on the table, but doesn’t have any money; she’s on the verge of being evicted from her home, because the landlady is running out of goodwill and patience.
She’s trying to keep up her grades at school, on top it all, but gets looked down on by her teacher, and bullied by her classmates.
It’s too much, really. I had to grit my teeth to keep going, because it all felt quite heavy-handed.
I had to remind myself that Show had to do this, because it needs to get our set-up done efficiently, in order to maximize its short 6 hours of screen time.
To that end, I do think that Show is effective and efficient about it, because I got the idea very quickly, that Ah Yi is good-hearted and earnest, and also, dealing with a heckuva lot of trying, stressful stuff.
I think Choi Sung Eun deserves a bunch of credit, for not making Ah Yi come across as a cliché, particularly in a drama landscape where we’ve seen way too many long-suffering heroines go through the wringer.
In Choi Sung Eun’s hands, Ah Yi gives off an interesting mix of fragility and steeliness, which I think works really well.
She’s working hard to be strong – and she is strong – but she’s also very much affected by everything that she’s going through. She’s just trying to not let it get to her, as hard as she’s trying not to show how much she’s struggling.
Kudos to Choi Sung Eun; all of that comes through, even though Ah Yi often doesn’t say very much.
Yes, I might feel like the story development leans a bit convenient and skimpy, but Choi Sung Eun gives Ah Yi’s emotions so much depth, that I can’t help but believe that her feelings are real, and in turn, that helps this story world to all feel a bit more real, too.
Through everything, it’s Choi Sung Eun’s delivery of Ah Yi’s emotions, that grounds this entire story.
E2. I feel so bad for Ah Yi, when we see during that flashback, that her mom (Go Ae Ri) hadn’t died. Mom had abandoned her when leaving the house, and Ah Yi’s chosen to believe that Mom had died, because that hurt less.
Oof. That’s really harsh, particularly for someone so young.
And yet, instead of blaming Mom for leaving, Ah Yi’s messages have been upbeat and cheerful, and even as she thinks about Mom, she wonders if she’s ever texted Mom that she loves her.
Aw. That’s so pure, isn’t it? 🥺
E3. In terms of our story, Ah Yi’s still the one grounding the emotion for me.
From the moment Il Deung (Hwang In Yeop) offers her money to sabotage her own math exam, to the moment she makes the decision to accept his proposition, for her sister’s sake, I felt tuned in to her feelings and thoughts.
The shock of receiving the offer in the first place; the struggle to let go of her pride and dignity; the acceptance that this is the only way for her to make money right now; the determination that she’ll make up for this, with her future success.
I felt let in, into all of that, and I really am rooting for Ah Yi to experience a breakthrough in her life, where she doesn’t have to struggle so much.
E4. This episode, it’s really sucks, that Ah Yi confessing that she’d had a deal with Il Deung simply leads to a big cover-up, in order to protect Il Deung’s reputation as the school’s golden boy. Just, wow.
Dad coming home for a while and promising to go to Ah Yi’s school – and then breaking that promise, WHILE STEALING ALL THE MONEY, sucks even more. Ugh.
It’s only credit to Jo Han Chul’s delivery, that I found Dad to be pitiful and pathetic, rather than horrible and hateful.
Seriously, though, what kind of father takes his daughters’ living expenses and absconds with it during the night? How does he expect them to pay for food, now?
*Breathes* Manhwa lens. I think it’s the manhwa lens that makes this slightly easier to accept.
I can totally understand Ah Yi’s decision to stop learning magic, so that she can use that time to pick up more part-time shifts. I mean, she seriously needs the money, after all.
The main bright spot of the episode, for me, is when Ah Yi meets her younger self, and encourages her younger self that she’s not alone, and not to give up. That was poignant and sweet.
That was a very nice gift from Lee Eul (Ji Chang Wook), I have to admit.
Ji Chang Wook as Lee Eul
In principle, I do like Lee Eul as a character, and the way Ji Chang Wook plays him.
I also think it’s kind of fun that Lee Eul is pronounced “Ri Eul” instead of the more typical “Yi Eul,” and which therefore is a direct romanization of the word “Real.” It’s a nice touch, and adds a little something, to Lee Eul’s repeated earnest declaration, that his magic is real.
However, I do think that the way Show keeps him mysterious almost all the way through, until we get into our finale, gets in the way of my feeling connected with Lee Eul as a character.
It’s just the nature of the beast, I guess. It’s just hard to feel connected to a character whom you don’t know anything much about, and whom you’re not sure whether is good or bad.
I think that’s the trade-off, of Show keeping Lee Eul as mysterious as it did.
On the upside, this is the first time in a long time, that I’m finally finding Ji Chang Wook interesting in a role again, after Healer (review is here, and Open Threads are listed here), which makes me wonder if he’s just better suited for loner types in possession of some kind of superpower-esque skill, ha. 😅
Basically, to my eyes, it kinda-sorta feels like Healer went and got a second career as a magician, and now likes hanging out at abandoned amusement parks, instead of rooftops. 😂
Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because I like Ji Chang Wook best, as Healer.
I don’t have a spoiler section for Lee Eul because, well, through almost the entirety of my watch, all I had in terms of reactions to Lee Eul, were questions.
Is his magic real? Is it not real? Is he a force for good? Or is he possibly a murderer..?
Show is blithe in serving up these questions, but is slow to reveal the answers.
I get that this is to keep us curious, but this approach to storytelling and character development does have its downsides, which I’ll talk more about later.
Hwang In Youp as Il Deung
I’ve got Il Deung in this section, mainly because I have an affection for Hwang In Yeop, and not so much because I feel like Il Deung is such a well-drawn character.
Like I’ve alluded to earlier in this review, fleshing out our characters in a meaningful way, is just not one of Show’s strengths.
And therefore, Il Deung feels a lot like a stereotype, to my eyes.
On the upside, Hwang In Yeop does reasonably well with what he’s given, although, for the record, I do think that now is about the perfect time for him to stop playing high-schoolers.
E1. The fact that Il Deung suddenly feels drawn to Ah Yi, at the sight of her napping at her desk, is quite sudden and tropey, but I’ll give it to Show, that this is likely a decision that was made to maximize limited screen time.
The sooner we can establish that Il Deung is drawn to Ah Yi, the more Show gets to play with the possible hijinks and other developments that come out of it, I suppose.
E5. Interestingly, we spend a large chunk of this episode’s screen time on Il Deung and his struggle to stay on the path that his parents want for him.
I do feel sorry for Il Deung, coz those headaches cum anxiety attacks don’t look like fun, and it looks like he’s in legit pain.
How horrible, that he feels so helpless, and also, that when he tries to tell his parents how he feels, he essentially gets ignored, when he indicates that he may not want to continue on the path that they’ve prepared for him.
That dream that he experiences, while passed out on Lee Eul’s floor, shows how much he’s yearning to break free and do something that he feels will actually make him happy, like running in a field of flowers.
On a side note, I am appreciative of this dream sequence, because for the first time, I’m getting to see Hwang In Yeop in a sharp suit instead of a school uniform.
And my conclusion is, he actually looks better in the suit. It’s time to let the man grow up and act his age, Dramaland! 😜
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Lee Eul’s connection with Ah Yi
I think that this connection between Lee Eul and Ah Yi is designed to be pretty key to our story, but while I liked it in principle, I have to confess that in execution, this was just ok, for me.
Mainly, I think I just might be too practical for the idea that Show’s trying to serve up, that a little magic is what Ah Yi needs, in her life. 😅
E3. Lee Eul and his offer to teach Ah Yi magic feels well-meaning, but also, not super practical, if we’re thinking about her real-world struggles.
I appreciate the sentiment, that he feels she ought to allow herself to do the things she wants to do, at least as much as she forces herself to do the things she doesn’t want to do.
But.. so far, this foray into magic feels like so little, in the face of so much. Because, our girl needs rent and food money, and these magic lessons are taking away time, without seeming to actually help her, all that much.
For this reason, I find myself struggling to really engage with the relationship between Lee Eul and Ah Yi.
Maybe I’m just too practical for my own good, ha. 🙈
Il Deung’s connection with Ah Yi
I’m mildly amused by Il Deung and his clumsy yet focused courtship of Ah Yi, and I feel for Ah Yi, who seems to think that she has no choice but to turn him down, because of her personal situation, but all in all, this personal connection was just ok for me, as well.
It’s possibly the fault of the narrative shorthand, which has Il Deung developing feelings for Ah Yi in what feels like a random and tropey manner.
I also feel like perhaps Show keeps their relationship undefined on purpose, in order to further our story, but somehow, I still felt like there was something lacking in their connection.
My reflex is to blame it on the short running time of our story, but I also feel like there’s something lacking in the writing, because shorter shows have managed to tease out interpersonal connections better.
E2. I’m not sure what Il Deung’s thinking, asking Ah Yi to fail the math exam in exchange for money.
I know he’s under pressure from his parents to do well, but this feels more.. personal, somehow. Like he’s asking Ah Yi this, as a way of testing her.
Because Ah Yi has so few people on her side, I’m actually hoping that Il Deung will figure out that Ah Yi absolutely does not have some kind of weird relationship with Lee Eul, and also, learn to trust her.
I just.. want someone in Ah Yi’s corner, y’know? Poor girl’s facing so many problems; she could really use a friend. And I’d like Il Deung to be that friend, right now.
E3. I know that Il Deung is just trying to find excuses to talk to Ah Yi can get close to her, but man, he sure is going about it in all the wrong ways.
He’s got Ah Yi pegged all wrong, if he thinks that offering her money like this, and trampling all over her dignity, is going to help him get closer to her.
I do like the fact that he’s getting involved in Ah Yi’s magic lessons with Lee Eul, because, as successful as he looks on the surface, he’s living in a prison of sorts too, and could use the same sort of release that Lee Eul’s offering Ah Yi, via those magic lessons.
E3. I really liked that scene where Ah Yi tells Il Deung that she’s having regrets over accepting money from him, and wants to return it all, and he tells her that they should just forget about it.
It’s a warm moment, which hints of new beginnings.
It’s just too bad, that the lid then gets blown off their secret – as I’d had an inkling that it would – and Ah Yi (and soon Il Deung too, I’m sure) gets put on the spot about that picture of Il Deung handing her a wad of cash.
The magic aspect of this show
I came into this show without a clue of what to expect, really, because there are a number of unfamiliar elements to this, which are foundational to this story, including the magic.
Show dances between telling us that Lee Eul’s magic is real, and hinting that maybe it’s not so real after all, and that worked out to be just ok, for me.
Because, if his magic was real, I’d want him to use it in practical ways to help Ah Yi, like making Ah Yi’s lecherous boss (Yoon Gyung Ho) disappear, literally, in episode 1, rather than in fireworks.
Again, this is my over-practical side talking.
I’m trying to tell myself that the little, whimsical joys of magic are important too, but somehow, it’s just not landing for me, very well. 😅
Overall, Show indicates that some of the magic is real, and some of it isn’t, and that it’s important to believe that it’s possible to have a bit of magic in your life.
Which is a rather pleasant sentiment, I suppose.
I think I was too perplexed by Show’s slow burn approach to its story (which I’ll talk more about shortly), to truly appreciate its more whimsical ideas, unfortunately.
That said, I did think the whole flying horse sequence in episode 3 was pretty cool. That did feel magical and special, for Ah Yi. And it did give me some Aladdin vibes, somehow.
The musical aspect of this show
This show is touted to be a musical drama, and I realize that I don’t really know what to expect, from a musical drama.
I’m thinking back on the handful of musicals I’ve actually seen, and I realize that it’s quite possible for there to be not much story, where everything barely hinges together, all for the sake of showcasing the music and visuals. Like Cats, for example.
For something like that to be successful, however, the music and visuals have to be especially outstanding, I think, in order to warrant it being the primary focus, over any sort of story.
In this case, I feel like there isn’t a whole lot of story, although I’d say that there’s more story here than in Cats, which, if memory serves, had basically almost zero story.
At the same time, I feel like the music isn’t quite at that “nothing else matters” sort of level.
The music is pleasant to listen to, and the songs are well-delivered, and the lyrics are suited to the scenes at hand.
BUT. There’s no real earwormy sort of effect; there’s nothing that makes any of these songs stay in my head, beyond the few minutes that they’re being performed on my screen.
I don’t know if they took that into consideration when composing these songs.. it’s turning out to be quite an important missing piece, for this musical drama, at least for me.
Coz, if you’re going to be a musical drama, you should have memorable, ear-wormy, “I can’t get you outta my head” sort of music. And this isn’t that, for me, unfortunately.
I literally can’t hum any chorus from this show, on demand, and that’s rather disappointing.
So overall, the music in this was just ok, for me.
The use of narrative shorthand
I’ve kind of already made mention of this several times in this review, but I thought I’d just put it here, in its own section, for the record.
In principle, I understand why Show would reach for all the tropes and stereotypes – what I like to call narrative shorthand, when grouped together – in order to create its story world and establish its characters.
After all, Show’s only got 6 episodes of screen time, in order to tell its story.
My problem, however, is that I felt like Show didn’t do a lot more, beyond using narrative shorthand to create its characters.
Meaning, through most of this story, I still felt like Ah Yi and Il Deung were stereotypical characters, generally speaking. If anything, it was Choi Sung Eun’s and Hwang In Yeop’s delivery, that maybe lifted the characters slightly above mere stereotypes.
This eventually wore on me, and I felt rather disappointed overall, by Show’s handling of characters.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
Ji Hye Won as Ha Na
Speaking of stereotypical characters, I did not enjoy Ha Na as a character, at all.
Ok, granted, I don’t think I was supposed to enjoy her character anyway.
My point is, though, that Ha Na as a character is so stereotypical, that I found it hard to believe that she was real in any sense of the word.
My best defense was to use the manhwa lens as proactively, and with as much vigor as possible, and even then, I found Ha Na’s attitude and behavior hard to reconcile, a lot of the time.
For example, I found Ha Na’s repeated invasion of Lee Eul’s personal space, with no qualms whatsoever, really perplexing.
I just found it really weird, impudent and disrespectful of other people’s privacy.
And she does that, even when Lee Eul’s right there, watching her. Just, who does that??
It feels like a logic stretch to me, that a real person would be so rude and so presumptuous, particularly with someone they don’t know, especially when that someone has a bit of a scary reputation, of maybe-possibly being a murderer.
The slow burn approach of our story
If I had to pick one single thing that I think works against Show the most, it would be its slow burn approach to telling its story.
Because, when I break it down, Show basically keeps its characters more or less in the same space for 5 episodes, before tying everything together, in its finale.
If you know this going in, it helps – which is why I mentioned this early, in my review.
But if you don’t know this going in, it makes the watch experience feel quite pointless, for about 85% of your watch.
For example, I kept waiting – and waiting! – for Ah Yi’s situation to improve, during our first 5 episodes, but it just wasn’t happening. If anything, her situation just gets worse.
And that’s just very perplexing, when she’s your protagonist, and you’re rooting for her to see better days, y’know? 😅
What this meant, was that by the time I hit the halfway mark of our story, I found myself wanting more from this story, and faster and sooner, if possible.
Which means that I felt impatient rather than delighted, when our characters started singing their feelings, because I preferred that they not sing, and spend the time furthering our story. Which I’m very sure that wasn’t the intention there, oops. 😅
Altogether, I think I was just very antsy and disgruntled, because it didn’t feel like we were making any progress with Ah Yi’s story, and we were steadily running out of screen time.
I think this slow-burn approach matters less, if your story has more meat to it – enough to keep audiences coming back all on its own. But, without much meat on its bones, I feel that the slow burn approach hurt this story, rather than helped it.
Honestly, the only reason I stuck with this one to the end, was because I had just enough curiosity, to want to see where Show was going.
Despite my perplexed state of mind, I had a small sliver of hope, that Show would pull a big “ta-da!!” moment, and everything would fall into place, like a magic trick of some sort.
And thankfully, it does (which I’ll talk about next). Phew.
My point is, though, this slow burn approach was not helpful.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Well, whaddya know, Show DID manage to pull a bit of a magic trick in this finale, and pull everything together in a way that makes sense.
AND, WE HAVE CLOSURE, EVEN. HUZZAH!!
That’s so much more than I’d been expecting, that I’m feeling quite grateful to Show, for giving us a solid ending with solid answers – or, well, enough answers to give us a reasonable sense of closure, while leaving enough open, for us to imagine the future.
We learn that Lee Eul had been a bright and promising young student, until he’d appeared to succumb to stress, and had ended up in a mental hospital, after walking off the top of a building.
Ahhh. No wonder Show’s been focusing so much on Il Deung’s story, of late.
There’s a potential parallel here, between him and Lee Eul. There’s a danger that if Il Deung doesn’t make any meaningful changes, he might end up hurting himself, too.
Although it’s a very unconventional decision, I do feel like Il Deung’s decision to drop out of school, is the healthier choice, for him.
He might’ve well lost his mind, if he’d continued to push himself the way his parents wanted him to.
And, there’s value in finding out what it’s like to truly stand on your own two feet, without having to depend on your parents.
Like Il Deung puts it so eloquently, “flowers don’t bloom on smooth asphalt but on bumpy dirt.”
We also see that Lecherous Boss had been purposefully impersonating Lee Eul, and committing crimes, to frame him, as revenge for pushing him over the railing previously. Well, that explains all the suspicious reports about Lee Eul.
And, it really isn’t surprising, after all, when we see how missing classmate Seo Ha Yoon had tried to blackmail Lecherous Boss with the video footage of him trying to take advantage of her, and he’d killed her, to silence her.
Well, at least Lecherous Boss is consistent..?
As for Lee Eul, it feels fitting, that in the most important moments, his magic is real.
Like when he disappears out of the interrogation room, or like when Ah Yi throws that tablecloth over him and invites him to affirm that he believes in magic.
And also, when he’d given Ah Yi that grand display, to show her that magic is real – and that magic had caused the broken CCTV cameras to work, for just long enough, to capture video evidence of Lecherous Boss murdering Seo Ha Yoon.
I like that, time-skip later, we get to see Ah Yi doing decently well with her family (finally, Dad’s got a job and isn’t on the run!).
It’s also nice to see that she still thinks of Lee Eul, and writes him letters via the magic mailbox, from time to time.
I’m slightly disappointed that we don’t get to see how Il Deung’s doing, on the bumpy dirt road that he’s chosen for himself, but I’m not disappointed that we don’t get to see Lee Eul.
It feels quite fitting, really, that his disappearance should remain mysterious and magical.
And somehow, it’s quite enough, to see that the legacy that he’s left Ah Yi, continues to be part of her life; to always believe that she can impart a little bit of magic, to the people around her.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
An uneven, slow burn, but works out to be pretty solid, overall.
FINAL GRADE: B
The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The Sound Of Magic, is Why Her?. I’ve taken an initial look, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this one. My E1 notes on Why Her? can be found here.
Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!
Foundation Tier (US$1): Yumi’s Cells 2 (coming soon!) + k-ent tidbits + E1 notes of all shows covered on Patreon
Early Access (US$5): +Our Blues
Early Access Plus (US$10): +Why Her?
VIP (US$15): +Bloody Heart
VVIP (US$20): +My Liberation Notes
Ultimate (US$25): +Love All Play