PG-16/18 for sexuality, violence and sexual violence, language, and torture; official series website
This manhwa is about a teenage gang leader named Dai who changes whatever world he steps into. He’s beautiful, dangerous, quiet, and unpredictable. He also has the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old, and I don’t mean that in a manchild sort of way – I mean that he literally thinks about things the way a 6-year-old thinks about things. He hits people when he’s upset, he leaves conversations halfway through, he expresses his sexuality through touching and kissing and absolutely nothing else. He beats his classmates half to death and then plays video games or rubs up against love interests instead of trying to have sex with them. He’s wholly deranged and impossible to ignore. People love Dai or they hate Dai – there’s nothing in-between.
That type of character is almost impossible to write, as Mars displayed – a sexy crazy boy is usually really gimmicky and unbelievable. But Dai is confusing and terrifying and really, really interesting. He’s appealing in a completely unsettling sort of way. In other words, the manhwaka did exactly what she meant to do – she wrote a boy who gets under your skin. Firstly, I’ll give her credit for that.
Secondly, I’ll give her credit for her interesting set-up: the comic isn’t so much about Dai as it’s about the people around him and how he changes them. It’s a really, really dark shoujo. It’s not full of goth gimmicks and melodrama, it’s just really f’ing dark. There’s rape, torture, and suicide, and people who love each other still hurt each other – usually worse than the people who hate each other, actually. The point of view is cycled among half a dozen characters or so: the teenage boy who pursues a gay relationship with Dai while waxing poetic and vomiting whenever he’s upset, the girlfriend who rejects her femininity after she’s been gang-raped, the best friend who bandages his enemies even after he’s been beaten senseless because he refuses to release his idealism. The only character who rarely (if ever) takes control of the narrative is Dai, so it’s almost impossible to know what he’s thinking. I love that. I love that hard. What a perfect way to structure a story about a life-altering boy. I also really like the way age is reflected in the characters: high schoolers really sound like high schoolers, college kids like college kids, and adults like adults. That sort of realism really drives the darkness of this comic home and makes it even more disturbing. I love it. More!
Be warned that this comic has one of the worst English adaptations you’ll ever read until about volume 7, and that can make the changing perspectives difficult to understand at times. But there are visual payoffs, at the very least, as the manwhaka draws some of the best faces I’ve ever seen.
Update: If you’re following the series online at the official site (netcomics.com), the final chapter came out yesterday. The conclusion is thoroughly bizarre. I’m sure it will divide people, but regardless – this series is absolutely worth reading to its end because of all of its successes throughout. This is a manhwa that exists in its own plane of reality but still manages to hit so close to home that it hurts. The narrative is unusual and thus the beginning can be difficult to get into, so give it a few volumes. Like many before you, you probably won’t be able to put it down.
Educated impression: This is one of the most intense character dramas you’ll ever read. If you’re old enough and you want something emotional and disturbing, this manhwa does stuff most shoujo wouldn’t dare to. It haunts me…in a good way. (Lianne)