Warning! Spoilers ahead for Jungle Juice chapter 3!
The Korean manga Jungle Juice introduces a world where people are ashamed of and try to rid themselves of bug body parts that grew on their bodies as a result of the series’ eponymous insect repellent. The most moving of these struggles comes from the series’ main character Jang Su who sprouts dragonfly wings after trying to kill that particular insect with the aforementioned bug spray.
Rather than embrace this sudden development, Jang Su is so terrified that someone will notice (and maybe experiment on) him that he actively tries to hide his wings. He eventually comes up with the idea of folding his wings like Origami and covering them with masking tape. His fear of being found out and viewed as a monster reaches its apex during a date with a girl at a movie theater. The romance is short-lived, however. During their romantic rendezvous, another person who has been affected by the same Jungle Juice spray appears, but he’s not shy about brandishing his insect-like body parts and he not only possesses the pincers of a praying mantis, but he also acquired the insect’s voracious appetite for dragonflies.
Jang Su is so afraid of revealing he’s some sort of dragonfly mutant that when the praying mantis throws his date out of a high-story building, he actually pauses and reflects on whether or not he should save her and risk losing his anonymity. Of course, he dives to her rescue at the last moment, but, ironically, the girl is so disgusted by him that when Jang Su visits her at the hospital, she calls him a monster, justifying his fear. After almost attempting suicide, he soon meets another, friendlier Jungle Juice victim who introduces him to a sanctuary aptly called Nest for those like him. This is the moment when the manga reader learns of the many other bug mutants who also wish to rid themselves of their insect appendages. Those who enroll and become the top student in the sanctuary’s school can receive the antidote, of which there’s only a limited supply, hence why the competition is so difficult.
Jungle Juice shares many similarities with Western comics such as Marvel’s X-Men, which explores the struggle of mutants wanting to coexist with a humankind that fears them. What sets this apart though is the dramatic irony behind how bug mutants can become normal. Having bug appendages can certainly be viewed as a hindrance, but it’s impossible not to recognize how useful they could be, such a Jang Su’s ability to fly. The Nest’s school is cognizant of this as well but all of the courses offered there teach students how best to utilize their abilities to become the most effective mutant. It’s ironic because the student who is the best at using their bug parts is rewarded by losing them.
Of course, the main objective of the school could be to convince students who have mastered their mutation to see the benefits of their insect appendages and hopefully turn down the antidote. Yet, Jungle Juice shows images of top students receiving the antidote happily. Regardless, the concept of attending a school to lose the powers you’re learning about there is an original, almost oxymoronic concept that definitely flips one of Shonen manga’s most prominent themes upside-down: The hero’s journey and obsession with becoming the very best. And although some of the ways in which the early chapters explored how Jang Su actively hid and tried to blend in with society were both stressful and adorable, especially when his wannabe girlfriend finds him in compromising positions much to Jang Su’s horror, this new focus is welcome, even if school manga is a bit overdone.