Sundome is the story of an apathetic young man whose dull existence is forever changed when an assertive young woman wants to join the same after-school club in which he is a member. If only all after-school clubs were as hands on as this!
So on the Richter scale of humanity, if 1 is the antithesis of emotion and 10 is bawling my fucking eyes out, this is probably a 9.9 because it's physically impossible to bawl your fucking eyes out. I've never read a graphic novel that made me so sad. Like, come *on*, industry. This is only porn.
That brings me to my first warning - Sundome is for all you deviants out there. If you can't deal with piss, snot, saliva, and post-climactic messes, then don't read because that makes up at least half of all the sexual content in this manga. The other 49% of it
involves self-stimulation of some kind. And yes, I left out 1% on purpose...
Story - 8
Sundome means "stopping the moment before" (according to Wikipedia). This is the main, and only, solid plot device. The rest of it revolves around an amalgam of school clubs, ghost hunting, virginity, and one-sided breast popularity contests. Yeah, it gets kind of bizarre. It's a bit confusing and scattered. Some of the sideplot is rather lighthearted, involving UFO summoning and voodoo doll catfights, some of it is very moralistic and dark. But the crankshaft in this whole story - Kurumi's relationship with Hideo Aiba - is beautifully executed. It's hilarious and depressing and wonderful and deliciously multi-layered like a chocolate cheesecake.
Art - 7
Maybe I'm being generous here. This is obviously the weakest point of Sundome. The art is very, very cartoonish, and sometimes it almost feels sloppy. It works for our Roman Club neo-maxi-zoom-dweebies, but it kind of makes the MCs less attractive than they should be. And it makes the sexy scenes... well, less sexy. But - before I sound any more elitist - I'd like to say that, for me personally, it worked. It's not commercialized-ecchi grade, but it gives a very edgy, underground feeling to the story. Kurumi isn't like your conventional purple-haired talking tits hentai girl. She's almost sickly-thin, long-legged, and blue-eyed. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Kyouko, a self-proclaimed "masturbation idol," whose nips are permahard. Corny, but it fits. She also sports a cheap fake tan and a limp, blonde mop for hair; none of that ridiculous Lady Oscar weave crap. One guy has lips twice the size of Lana del Rey's. It's actually great.
Characters - 10
So good. Soooo good. At first glance, Aiba seems to be your prototype horny loser. Kurumi is the A-cup goddess of thirst. Coming here from Onani Master Kurosawa and Watamote, you know I already love flat-chested MCs and loners, but these two flip the whole tired setup on its head. For me, the girls + Aiba rule the show, but the male Roman club members (who serve as comic relief throughout the whole emotional ordeal), have their own multi-dimensional charms. Every single member of our main cast is fleshed out and easy to sympathize with, possibly excepting that one candyass motherfucker with the doll waifu.
Enjoyment - 10
What else am I supposed to say? I love Sundome. It made me laugh and cry. Like, physically. The ending is ambiguous, and it kind of leaves you with an empty hole in your heart yearning to be filled by... something. Something beautiful. Something life-changing. Go outside for a run. Donate to charity. Fall in love. Have a baby. Invent the next LSD. I dunno, do something amazing. You owe it to this manga.
When I first came across this manga, I didn't expect much. Even though the tags included "psychological", the ecchi elements of the first few chapters made me believe that it would just be a run-of-the-mill, borderline hentai manga with a few unique twists.
Oh, how wrong I was.
The story of a young, nerdy loser hooking up with a cute girl is pretty standard in ecchi manga. It has been recycled time and time again without fail, and for many people, reading one is like reading all of them. However, Sundome is different. Rather than using sexuality as
a way to tantalize male (and female) readers, this manga explores sexuality in order to make a greater statement about the human condition. While there is plenty of fanservice throughout the story, much of it is used to heighten the raw emotions and carnal desire expressed throughout this manga. And rather than attempting to go for cheap panty shots and breast grabs, Sundome is not afraid to explore several darker sexual fetishes such as erotic asphyxiation. Much of the story plays on the dirty, gritty, and creepy side of sexual fetishes, but oddly it does this in a way that makes the romance between the two protagonists more believable.
The ending of Sundome can be seen as controversial for some, but I felt that it was the only "true" ending a story like this could have. Although the title, Sundome refers to stopping right before orgasm in a sexual act, the story itself becomes less about sex and more about love, and loss.
The art style for Sundome tends to fluctuate at certain intervals throughout the manga, which can be jarring for some. During the slice-of-life school scenes, the art is much simpler, without much shading or detail to body contours. But in the scenes depicting sexual acts and various perversions, the art is much more fluid and detailed. Obviously, due to the nature of this manga this change is to be expected, so I had no problem with it. Overall, the art conveys the story properly and I don't have too much to say about it.
This is where Sundome shines. Our protagonist, Hideo Aiba starts out as a shy, awkward, nerdy high school kid with no plans for the future besides the porn magazine he's planning on masturbating to tomorrow night. When he meets Sahana Kurumi, the "female love interest", it's love at first sight and his entire life is changed. Except...it's not actually that simple. Sahana turns out to be much darker than your average shounen romance female lead. She's not a tsundere, kuudere, or any type of dere, which was immensely refreshing. Although she's cute and upbeat at school, her darker side is only shown when she spends time with Aiba. Speaking of whom, Aiba also grows throughout the series, becoming much stronger and a better person. It was interesting to see his devolution into basically a sexual deviant, while at the same time becoming more assertive and responsible. The amount of character development seen in this manga is just amazing, as even two of the side characters grow into an interesting relationship. All in all, the characters in Sundome were portrayed very realistically, albeit with all the sexual tension. It's rare to see this amount of psychological character development in an ecchi series, and Love Hina this definitely is not.
I enjoyed Sundome immensely, despite being a girl and being bombarded with tons of fanservice. This manga is proof that a manga based on sexual themes can be very dark, thought-provoking, and almost tragic. Although the middle sections may have dragged a bit, Sundome was overall a very enjoyable and emotional read.
Sundome is a manga I would recommend to anyone who isn't too grossed out by sexual perversions. Obviously, readers need to be mature enough to handle certain themes for this manga, but as long as that's not a problem, Sundome is a great read. There's something for the ecchi lovers, but there's also plenty of character development and dark romance for fans of those.
Sundome definitely left an impression on me, and it will surely do the same for you.
After reading Onani Master I learned to not judge mangas by their cover, premise or art and thanks to that I was able to dive into Sundome and I can say I was pleased with what I've read.
A warning though, this manga doesn't censure itself, it contains heavy and sexual themes, and it does show them. Things like masturbation, licking each other and even drinking pee is all in here. If you don't think you can handle that, then by all means, skip this one.
If you do, however, this is one fine manga that manages to blend perfectly comedy, romance and drama.
Most of the plot events come from the Roman Group both main characters are members of, as they go on adventures to find UFOs and other paranormal activities. While two of the characters play a major role in the story, the entire group is fun to see, and all have their roles in the story. Besides those characters though, you won't find many more characters in the manga, and that's alright. Focusing just on six or seven people is enough, and you can remember everyone.
The manga is divided between funny and lighthearted, mostly when the group is together, to heavy and grim, when the main characters are left alone. Weirdly enough, even when shifting suddenly from one to another, it never feels forced and it flows pretty well. You'll find yourself laughing with them and crying with them, and, in the end, that's what makes a good manga.
There's only one problem I have with this manga, and it's the art. Most of the times it does work. It's not good, not by any means, but it does it's job and never falls into the "bad" category. Sadly there are times where it fails to fit the tone of the moment. Still, it's a minor rant, has it doesn't happen THAT often.
The ending is also slightly confusing, but talking more about it would be major spoilers.
All in all, it's an enjoyable manga that is recommendable to every romance-drama fan. Just be ready for the sexual theme and visuals.
It’s been many years since I have written a review for a piece of fiction so I’m afraid that my writing skills are bit rusty. If you happen to find a factual error, want to discuss/dispute an argument I made, suggest improvements or discuss something else please feel free to drop me a private message any time. Alternatively I've added a corresponding blog post (anyone know how to link to specific blog posts?) :-) I'll probably work on the wording and sentence structure in the next few days to make it more bearable. Any changes to the actual content will be documented in a changelog
4. May 2012: Added alternative explanation for the beach scene in the last chapter.
Spoiler-free TL;DR version:
Sundome is at its core a touching coming of age story for an adult audience which features a surprisingly complex relationship between the main characters but is somewhat marred by pacing problems, uneven art and a slightly rushed ending.
FROM THIS POINT ON THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!
Let's get the most obvious thing out of the way first. The manga has no lack of very graphic sex scenes. While you'll never see full-frontal shots of exposed genitalia (but a lot of barely covered ones) and everything involving them (penetration shots, blowjobs, etc.) the art and composition of the panels leaves very little to the imagination of the reader. That's why this review will often come back to mentioning sex because there's effectively so much of it and it is heavily used to portray the story and character development. Now I don't mind sex in manga. To the contrary, I find most manga, especially those dealing with romance, frustratingly sterile and detached from reality because they usually portray a world and humans which don't exist in the world in which I happen to live. Here people beginning from their early to mid teenage years have all kinds of sexual experiences and don't become hand-waving, stuttering morons just because they’ve slightly touched each other's hand (well, maybe on the first date) and are waiting to reach some level kind of pure love ideal before they get down and dirty (if ever). It doesn't work like this anymore and I'm not sure it ever has. So it was rather refreshing that Sundome gets down to business from the get-go. Effectively it reverses the usual relationship progression: Instead of the protagonists slowly building up a bond before even considering sexual contact, in Sundome they start out with sex and develop the emotional relationship afterwards as time goes by. And the sex in this manga is most effective when it is used to portray the evolving relationship between the protagonists. Unfortunately the manga also all too often lowers itself to the level of mere hentai with crotch shots (including swollen vaginas), unnecessary cleavage shots (including nipple flashes) and bad sexual innuendo. It serves little purpose other than to arouse the reader in a clunky way which cheapens the aforementioned better usage in other parts which are integral to the plot.
The story is mostly told from the perspective of a male teenage character with short interludes to the other cast members. Another similarity to hentai (other than misuse of female characters) is the initial setting of the manga. So we have a wimp (Aiba Hideo) who is an outsider in his own class and hangs around with other wimps as part of an after-school club. Being the collection of outcasts that they are, they twisted the interpretation of their involuntary situation (seemingly not having any hope of getting into a relationship) into a commendable trait which is to be sustained in order to concentrate on a successful feature. Well, unsurprisingly most humans will try to have the best outlook on their current situation, especially if they are under the impression that it is not in their ability to change it. So one day there's this new transfer student who happens to be a cute and sociable girl and for some inexplicable reason develops a strong sexual affection for the main character (out of all people) and even joins the club of dorks. While the manga provides some rationalization for this unlikely event you'll still have to pretty much accept this plot contrivance. The second protagonist is the transfer student, a girl called Sahana Kurumi. I'll retain the name usage of the manga and refer to the characters as they referred to each other most of the time. Anyway, Aiba and Kurumi develop a partly very bizarre relationship which has very strong S/M undertones where our male lead gets to be the submissive part. Surprisingly the mangaka uses this often quite effectively to portray the growing trust and affection between the protagonists. As the intensity and location of their games changes it requires them to reveal quite a bit about themselves in the process.
The manga differentiates between sex and intimacy which do not necessarily coincide. Intimacy requires a certain amount of trust. That's why prostitution is lacking any kind of intimacy because while the people involved may exchange body fluids they are not opening up to each other. This is the reason why the first kiss between Aiba and Kurumi, long after they have gone through various stages of groping, is nevertheless far more intensive than any preceding, more explicit stuff because it elevates their relationship emotionally and shows their deepening bond. But the growing intimacy in the manga doesn't stop at the sexual level. It's also expressed by having the characters expose their emotional ("weak") side to their loved one and not being afraid of each other in situations of distress and hurt (to a certain extent as explained later).
Aiba is an interesting but somewhat problematic character. Over the course of the manga you get a strong impression of him being a rather self-centered individual which made him somewhat difficult to like at times. He is mostly concerned with the immediate satisfaction of his sexual desires. He tends to interpret situations in a way that they revolve around him (i.e. he doesn’t consider that he might not be the at the center of the happenings). In other cases he’ll choose the explanation which is least likely to interfere with getting dirty with Kurumi. The manga constantly foreshadows that Kurumi is suffering from a terminal illness and Aiba gets several hints repeatedly toward the fact that something is seriously wrong with her health yet for most of the time he outright chooses to ignore the unpleasant realities. Take Kurumi's doctor, for instance, who is a character intended to lay a false trail for the reader (but at about the middle of the manga it becomes evident that he serves another purpose). Aiba never considers that the middle-aged man might not be some kind of sugar daddy because otherwise he'd have to face the unpleasant truth. Even in situations where Kurumi is hurt, shows him genuine affection or shares her sentiments with him his thoughts always quickly return to his libido and disregarding other the person's feelings in the process. He’s making up questionable rationalizations that not pressing any issues is an expression of trust towards Kurumi but there is a point where his behavior is more like willingly looking the other way for the sake of convenience. I’ve even had the slight suspicion that the few times that he tried to talk about possible problems he was conscious of the fact that Kurumi would try to change the topic by any means possible (including sexual favors). Now I'm not solely blaming him for his behavior because he *is* a boy in the prime of his puberty after all who is experiencing his first sexual acts with a girl. Additionally this is also the kind of relationship Kurumi fostered herself and it was their way of expressing feelings but nevertheless that does not completely excuse him for being times and again rather egoistic and insensitive. In the end though it’s hard to dislike Aiba. Similar to how a touching story is buried under a pile of sex scenes in Sundome, I believe that there’s also a core of genuine love for his girlfriend behind all his selfish acts which is repeatedly and prominently displayed in certain key scenes where his affection for her overcomes him.
As previously mentioned Kurumi is the female protagonist of the manga. The plot makes no big secret of the fact that she is destined to die rather sooner than later due to some unspecified illness. And she knows it from the very beginning. Yet one could ask why would this girl, who knows that her remaining time is very limited, go to school regularly and even start a strange relationship with one of her classmates? It’s because she yearns for normality and control. Everyday school life provides a diversion from her ever progressing illness and Aiba allows her to exert control again, which at the same time she is slowly losing over her own body. It’s a sentiment that I’ve read repeatedly being expressed by cancer patients: The unnerving feeling that your body betrays you and you are powerless to do anything about it. Indirectly she regains some degree of control by controlling the sexual urges of her boyfriend. At the same time she makes sure that after her passing there would be someone left to remember her. It’s a very basic yet powerful sentiment and it’s enforced in the ending scene and the various flashbacks from Aiba throughout the manga when he mentions his pleasant memories of her. She is also the origin of the manga’s title “Sundome” which according to Wikipedia means “stopping the moment before”. At first this only seems to refer to their arrangement she imposed on their relationship that she’ll never have intercourse with him or get him off directly (though she allows and encourages more and more intimate sexual games as their bond deepens), but this restriction also extends to their relationship as a whole. They get increasingly close to each other over time but shortly before opening up fully to him (about her illness and her fears) she stops and refuses let their intimacy grow to this point. After all, allowing someone to accompany your last part of life when you are most vulnerable is one of the ultimate expressions of trust and intimacy. To be honest her motivations for this remained unclear to me. Why did she close off that part of her life from Aiba? Why did she not clear up the obvious misunderstanding about her doctor? Was it because she wanted to enjoy normality as long as possible? Was it because she didn’t want to be confronted with her past which is hinted to be marked by a tragedy? Was it because it threatened the arrangement in their relationship in which she was the dominant part? The character of Kurumi remains delightfully mysterious even after the last chapter and allows the reader for some healthy speculation.
Besides the two main characters there are several minor characters which appear in most chapters. They are members of the same after-school club Aiba and Kurumi belong to. Unlike the protagonists they are far less developed and act mostly as comic relief with their strange fetishes, looks and behaviors. At one point the manga makes a feeble attempt to flesh out some characters like Kyouko, the only other regular female who is quite good-looking and a non-official member of the club (and constantly reminds me Aisha ClanClan from Outlaw Star). A possible explanation is provided why she hangs out with a bunch of dorks in the first place but this endeavor remains woefully underdeveloped (although it is hinted that Kyouko is more perceptive than initially assumed as it is indicated that she knows of Aiba’s and Kurumi’s secret relationship). While I have grown fond of the side characters after an initial dislike due to an overload of overdone comedy they remain one of the weakest parts of the manga because their shallowness is in stark contrast with the well-developed protagonists and this again is often at odds with the tragic undertones of the story. The mangaka also uses them far too often to set up a rather formulaic chapter/plot structure where the club would decide on some activity which would lead to sexual escapades and some light humor. While initially fun it grows tiresome after it has been repeated a dozen times.
Which brings me to the general problem of pacing. The initial third of the manga has great forward momentum and the relationship of the characters is constantly evolving which is refreshing compared to many other romance mangas which suffer from an eternal status quo where nothing ever seems to have a lasting effect and all characters at the end of a chapter are the same as at the beginning. The beginning is not without its own faults, especially the first couple of chapters, which mainly deal with the strange after-school club but a combination of apparent chemistry between the main characters and a fascination for the weird fetishes presented from early on is enough to get through the beginning. Some routine creeps into the manga in the middle part caused by recurrent plots which seldom add anything valuable to the overall story or the individual characters. Worse, it also extends to the main characters to a certain extent in which they and the reader are trapped in a routine without their relationship progressing meaningfully. The manga picks up momentum again at the end as Kurumi’s illness becomes more apparent but even then there are still too many goofy comedy and wank chapters and not in the tragicomedy kind of way but the mood-destroying, distracting one. This is in stark contrast with the increasing gravity of the situation and the genuine concern which I developed for the main characters at this point.
This brings me to the end scene at the beach. I had to read it several times and inspect the panels carefully to make sure that I was not misinterpreting the situation. I was not. Unfortunately. WTF NECROPHILIA?! Now, this manga has its fair share of strange fetishes but this one was a level above the other stuff. Whatever you might think of their sexual preferences at least it was all clearly consensual. The rape of her lifeless body was not since he clearly violated the condition she imposed on him: “Let’s have sex once I wake up.” which she never did being dead and all. I think I know what the mangaka intended with the scene: Portraying that in the end the sundome part of the relationship was kept intact until the bitter end and he only got the chance to finally have “normal” sex with her after her demise but COME ON, a less creepy way wouldn’t have lowered the quality of the plot in the slightest (rather the contrary!) and it damages Aiba as a character by having him blatantly ignore Kurumi's wishes which up to this point he (mostly) adhered to. In general I wish there would have been an emotionally more satisfying end to the story like a classical conversation between those two for once without the constant sexual undertones where they articulate their relationship in words. The last few chapters seemed rushed and brought the story to an end rather abruptly. I do not expect every detail to be presented on a silver plate but I wish that at least the aftermath of the tragic ending would some shed some more light about Kurumi’s past and how the members of the club fared in the future in more detail to provide a better sense of closure.
[04.05.2012] Yet something has been bothering me about the composition of the scene since I've finished the manga (well, something besides the necrophilia aspect) and I think I have a clearer picture of what it is now: The position of her right arm seems rather unnatural if you start with the assumption that she was already dead when Aiba started having intercourse with her. I'd rather expect that the arm would be closer to the body and not bend behind the head unless Aiba positioned the arm himself and there's little reason why he should do it in the first place. So let's change the assumption to Kurumi being alive at the beginning of the intercourse and that she died in the process. That would offer a better explanation for the position of the arm. Maybe she caressed Aiba's face and it came to rest there when her life faded away or she used it to stabilize her head. Another advantage of this explanation is that it is not so damaging to Aiba's character as he wouldn't have disregarded Kurumi's wishes in the end by raping her lifeless body while still keeping the sundome aspect intact (he didn't come while she was alive after all). I don't think it's a problem that she said she wouldn't have ever sex with him as she made the proclamation at the very beginning of their relationship, long before they developed their deep bond, so it's only natural that her opinion might have changed, especially at the end of her life (if it ever was serious in the first place and not only used to tease him).[/04.05.2012]
The art is a mixed bag. As with the rest of the manga I’m not very fond of the comedy parts and this extends to the art which ranges from stylized (comedy) to highly detailed and realistic (serious business). There’s a correlation between the emotional intensity of individual scenes and the artwork. The sexual scenes are usually kept in a realistic style (with exceptions where the inappropriate humor sneaks in) and some of the most intense scenes are also the best drawn ones with imaginative and dramatic panel layouts and content. This is probably partly owned to the fact that realistically drawn sex scenes sell better but it also helps to connect with the characters. Which in turn the overuse of the comedy styles often makes it more difficult. In general the art is nothing to write about but serviceable.
While reading I had this general impression of duality regarding many aspects of the manga including the characters, the art and the pacing. Moments of seriousness and genuine affection between characters take quick turns with utterly silly scenes including sudden changes of the general art, often even within the same scene. This makes reading kinda jarring at times because there are touching scenes with a carefully build up mood which is destroyed in an instant when we suddenly switch to humor mode. The manga is at its best when it resists the urge to change moods suddenly but maintains it for the whole scene. Alas, more often than not it feels like two different mangas were forced into one setting. Humor and serious scenes do not exclude each other automatically but it takes a very good writer to pull this off and unfortunately Okada Kazuto is not one of those. In my opinion he would have done himself a favor by separating these two aspects more clearly and maybe even tone down the humor towards the end as the tragic aspects of the story become more apparent.
Can I recommend the manga? Yes, with reservations. If you can stomach the bad parts and some lame filler content and extract the good parts while reading then a rather fascinating story with interesting characters awaits you. Oh, and you should not be put off by strange fetishes obviously.