There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Why Ophelia Couldn't Leave.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to murder, poisoning, pseudo-incest, and blood as it appears in the manhwa.
Ophelia has lived a tragic life. She was the child of her mother's love affair with a mercenary who helped rescue her from her poor life in the countryside. Unfortunately, their relationship soured and ultimately ended in tragedy as Ophelia's father died on the battlefield. Ophelia's mother moved on fairly quickly to a knight, who also ended up dying an untimely death due to disease. Then, she meets a baron whose wife is frail, and Ophelia and her mother end up living with them for a time. Once the baroness passes, Ophelia's mother marries the baron, only for him to pass away from illness as well. Finally, after the funeral of her husband, Ophelia's mother meets and soon marries the Duke of Arpad, where Ophelia meets her new stepbrother, Alexander.
The two don't hit it off right away, but after the unfortunate carriage incident that takes the lives of both Alexander's father and Ophelia's mother, they are soon intrinsically tied together until Alexander comes of age and is able to take over the dukedom. Ophelia attempts to leave after the funeral, but Alexander begs her to stay, at least until he becomes an adult. Then, she can leave whenever she wishes. So, Ophelia stays, but as time goes on, the question of whether or not the carriage accident was truly just an accident comes back to haunt the family of two, and the undercurrent of Alexander's taboo affection for Ophelia steadily grows. Will Ophelia be able to make it until Alexander's coming of age? Or will she be swept away by the mysterious circumstances of her place in Arpad manor?
The art is very hit-or-miss for me. Sometimes, it is stunning beyond belief, but then other times, they look like baby dolls (oversized heads and foreheads with low, small eyes), which is not my preferred art style. I think the style fits the narrative, though, as it is very reminiscent of a gothic style, but it's not my preferred style. However, I do love Alexander's design. Something about his pitch-black hair and his silver/white eyes is such a winning combination to me, and he looks the most consistent in this art style compared to Ophelia.
It tries to be cute and funny from time to time with cute little chibified versions of the characters or humorous facial expressions, but it feels a bit out of place in the overall tone of the series. This is meant to be a series of murder mysteries with the undercurrent of the taboo love and obsession from Ophelia's stepbrother, Alexander. The random little chibi panels and funny expressions just feel awkward, which is the opposite of what you want for any attempt at humor. I would have much rather it lean into the gritty darkness that it seems to want to showcase, but the attempts at humor really hurt the gothic atmosphere it seems to be trying to achieve.
I also find it hilarious how hypocritical Ophelia is. She suspects Alexander might be the one behind the death of her mother and his father, only to discover he actually thought she was behind it. Yet, she gets upset with him over his suspicion of her when she has just been suspecting him. Of course, Ophelia is not the most mentally stable individual due to her history and trauma, but the way she flip-flops with Alexander is beyond frustrating. It is especially so when they've finally confessed their feelings for each other, and then Henrietta dies. She immediately suspects Alexander, which didn't feel realistic to me. I wish they had hidden the fact that Henrietta was a culprit of their parent's murder from us, the readers, as I think that would have helped make Alexander feel more like a possible villain, but unfortunately, we know what he knows and it's hard for me to understand why Ophelia suspects him, especially when it is later revealed that she is the one who killed their parents, which makes all of her suspicion toward Alexander even more unbelievable since she was the actual murderer.
Then there is the actual big bad who killed Henrietta and tried to murder Ophelia. I feel like his reveal was lackluster, at best. It almost feels like this story is all in the wrong order. It is revealed that Cain, the fraud investigator, is actually the final big bad, and his motivation is that he hates Ophelia because she lived happily after his father was murdered. It feels like a superficial reason, especially since we don't even know who this person is until after he is caught and revealed. I wish we had gotten some of his background with Ophelia before his first introduction, as I think it would have helped establish his motive and would have given Ophelia more character development before all of this wildness began.
Ultimately, I feel like this wanted to be a lot of things. It wanted to be dark and gritty, but it also wanted to be fluffy and funny, but those two things just couldn't seem to mesh. It probably could have been done, and probably has been done in other series, but this one was just not successful. Plus, I don't feel it was that good of a mystery since most of the clues for the big bad were hidden away until after he was revealed. If this had some timeline changes, I think this could've been a much more successful series. Would I recommend giving this a read? Probably not. It wasn't terrible by any means, but I think there are series worth your coin over this.
Have you read Why Ophelia Couldn't Leave? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!