Sundome, by Kazuto Okada, is a manga about extremes.
The first extreme begins when Hideo Aiba, the main character, falls intensely in love with the new transfer student, Kurumi Sahana, and gets a hard on within five minutes of meeting her. It’s made clear that Hideo is shunned as a perverted otaku, so it seems even more unlikely that Kurumi becomes interested in Hideo’s club, the extremely weird Roman Club. (An occult club that requires its members to remain virgins until graduating high school and whose alumni will actively attempt to deflower the all-male members.) Despite the fact that the members of the Roman Club are so outwardly perverted, Kurumi joins as an unofficial member.
In case you’re thinking Sundome will run off into wacky high school romantic comedy territory and Hideo will spend the next three or so years pining after Kurumi, it will, but not in the way you think. The second extreme is that Kurumi doesn’t just join the club, but that she also makes Hideo her sex slave on her first day. Unfortunately for Hideo, she’ll never let him actually have sex with her (even if they were the last two people on Earth,) nor will she ever let him come (no matter how much he cries and begs for her.) And Hideo is apparently just fine with that because, before she even offers him the job, he nearly stabs his urethra with a nail because she wants him to.
Are you sufficiently creeped out by Sundome yet? Good, it’s a creepy manga.
Sundome is a hard read, while many parts of the manga actually go into the normal spectrum of “wacky high school comedy,” the sexual adventures of Kurumi and Hideo are the main focal point and they can make you feel very squicky. Every outing to an abandoned building or cursed shrine that the Roman Club takes is a set up for sexual experimentation between the two. After getting about half way through the series, you realize that, like Hideo, this manga has no shame whatsoever.
I picked up Sundome after Ed Sizemore spoke about it on his Manga Out Loud podcast, which somehow piqued my curiosity about this intensely sexual series. I have to say that reading it makes me wonder if I’m now in possession of child pornography, but no matter how you put it, the manga is about a really twisted love story hidden under a journey of sexual experimentation. It’s the thing that kept me reading Sundome, actually.
Yes, deep down under all the touching, teasing and peeing, Hideo really does love Kurumi. He adores her to no end and is genuinely happy to be with Kurumi in whatever way she lets him. Kurumi, despite the fact that she’s got something suspicious going on the side, really seems to love Hideo too. It’s very sweet when you think about all the depraved stuff they do together and once you reach this though, you realize this part of Sundome is actually cute.
The squick factor, admittedly, mostly comes from the art. There are panty shots, camel toes and nipples peaking out through shirts every where you go, especially after the big-breasted Kyouko is introduced to the club. The way Kurumi is drawn is particularly sexual and she often looks malnourished due to all the shadowy lighting Okada prefers. But her almost grotesque, lolita-like body does tie into her story, which I won’t go into detail here. Liquids also abound, especially in the sexual scenes, and Okada does not shy away from showing Hideo’s frequent boners either.
Getting away from the sexual aspect of the art, I do like the way the characters’ faces are depicted, as the art often goes into deformed modes during the more humorous scenes. Each character in the Roman Club has a distinct, cartoon-like face that you easily recognize, even as the characters make some crazy expressions. You can also recognize most of the characters by their haircuts, which is sometimes hard to do in other manga.
In the end, Sundome is a manga about a subject I think a lot of people want to avoid: teens having sexual encounters with other teens. But, let’s face it, it happens whether we like it or not. If you didn’t have sexual encounters in high school yourself, you probably knew people who did or people who really wanted to. Personally, I have no moral conflicts with the idea of teens practicing (hopefully) safe sex with other teens. It’s teens having sex with adults that is more of a concern for me. (And Sundome seems to hint at that too.)
Sexual awakening in high school is a pretty common thing and so it’s not the idea of teens having sex that bothers me in Sundome so much as the hardcore fetishes that are put on display in the manga. Perhaps if Kurumi and Hideo didn’t have a dominatrix/slave relationship or if there were fewer golden showers, it might be an easier manga to read, but that would kill the whole point of Sundome- shocking the readers with the extreme lengths their relationship goes to.
If this isn’t the manga for you, it’s perfectly understandable. Since my work sometimes revolves around graphic manga such as this, I have built up some tolerance for it. But even so, I don’t find the idea of the manga to be squicky, just the things that I’m not sexually attracted to. (And to each their own.)
If you do find your curiosity piqued by this review or Ed’s podcast, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This is a solid manga that uses all the details to tell its story. Even the fanservice.
All eight volumes of Sundome have been released by Yen Press. Good luck finding this manga anywhere but online. (The only bookstore I’ve seen it at is Borders & they’re gone now.)