‘Sundome’ (すんドめ) means ‘Stopping the moment before (doing something)’. Now, dear reader, if you ever planned to read a manga which is Borderline H, contains Female Dominance, Sadomasochism, and other very gross things, then, by all means, continue reading; otherwise, respectfully ‘sundome’.
Sundome, a manga by Kazuto Okada, seems typical at first glance. Its plot too seems albeit cliché; a mysterious transfer student joins the school, takes an interest in the protagonist, joins his club. But all that changes, when the mysterious transfer student Kurumi Sahana, declares to the protagonist Hideo Aiba, “Even if we are the last two persons in this world, I would never have sex with you.”
(Hey, it’s not a spoiler if it’s in the blurb.)
In the manga, Hideo is the newly-appointed president of the Roman Club, and a ‘loser’ (duh). Despite the name, the club actually deals with any and every kind of supernatural phenomena i.e. conspiracy theories. It is supposed to be a club where every member needs to take a vow of chastity (not that they can get laid anyway); and upon the completion of their high school life, if they are still a virgin, they will get a scholarship from the alumni of the Roman Club. Now, Hideo’s boring life takes a surprising turn, when the transfer student decides to enter their ‘virgin’ club, and after taking an interest in him, makes an unusual request. And the rest is … ‘Bizarre’, if you really need one word.
On a birds-eye view, Sundome is a manga depicting the hilarious everyday life of the members of the ROMAN club. But it has other, more important themes, some of which I’ve already accounted at first. But, despite the initial ‘Eww’ reaction, if you delve just a little further, this manga is tremendously subtle.
As you go through some panels of the manga, it will seem that it’s just another comedy manga about a peculiar club, with a bunch of unfunny Japanese puns. But when the two of them become alone, the art of the manga surprisingly sharpens, along with its spirit.
The relationship between Hideo and Kurumi is the focus of this manga, but oh, believe me, you’ve never seen another ‘relationship’ like this. It might seem peculiar at first (I admit, it has its fair share of awkward boners) when Hideo has virtually no importance to Kurumi, and she makes her disinterest painstakingly clear, through the mentioned quote.
But Hideo doesn’t seem to mind at all, even when it is clear he is just being used for her amusement. His whole-hearted submission to Kurumi brings him pleasure, and that is all he craves; not sex. Here his ‘lust’ for Kurumi is his ‘love’ for her; there’s no dispute between the carnal pleasure and sensual pleasure.
Even if the initial reactions of their intimate scenes are ‘WTF’, the more the manga progresses, the more they find a life of their own. All the sexual fetishes depicted slowly turn into art, into something dark, sinister; into something pleasurable. The grosser the panels seem, the more depth they have; it’s not fanservice just for the sake of fanservice.
All throughout the manga, Hideo grows; not in height, but in character. Who was once a shy, awkward kid, grows up to be someone who believes in himself. The ‘female interest’, Kurumi, is also not any kind of stereotype; her actions are far from predictable. When characters as captivating as these two collaborate, some of the greatest panels of any manga are born.
Yes, their collaboration of the lead couple is ‘unnatural’, but it’s unique and complex.
As I said, the focus of this manga is the ‘relationship’ between Hideo and Kurumi; that is probably the reason why despite getting ample screens, the rest of the characters remain somewhat one-dimensional. The ROMAN club serves as the backdrop of most of the scenes, yet it doesn’t become a scene which forms a connection with us. Kyoko works great as some regular fanservice, and the others make you chuckle once or twice, but that’s all they provide.
There’s a backstory of Kyoko too, and there are some fun bits when they explore some apparently ‘haunted’ locations. But the more we connect to the story of Hideo and Kurumi, the more we lose interest about the rest of them. But ultimately, there’s no cause for complaint; without them, there would be no ‘Sundome’.
The art of the manga is dull at parts, where the story needs to progress through interaction between the ROMAN club members. Otherwise, it’s normal; not too good, not too bad either. But whenever the mangaka Okada focuses on a particular character, it becomes almost human; the detailing increases marginally, and those panels captivate us with subtle, yet vivid imagery.
The ending of the manga is predictable, yet unpredictable. Personally, it hit hard; enough to leave a stinging sensation. Yes, there is an attempt of closure, but it falls short; as there is still a sense of longing in my heart, which I don’t think will melt anytime soon.
This ‘erocom’ (erotic comedy) is not like other manga of the genre. It is sometimes funny and light-hearted, sometimes sad and grim; but not cheesy, not pretentious, and never a story about sex. It brings something new to the table; depth. As for the ‘how’, you’ll need to see for yourself.
P.S When everything’s said and done,