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Title: Sundome Format: Manga (8 volumes)
Writer/Artist: Kazuto Okada Licensed by: Yen Press
Genre: Drama, Erotica, Ecchi, Psychological, Comedy
SUNDOME (pronunciation: “suhn-doh-may”) Sundome literally means “stopping right before,” and considering the content of story, it refers to being stopped just before cumming or ejaculating.
That is the first thing listed in the translation notes of Sundome, and if that’s off-putting to you, then you’re probably going to have a lot of difficulty getting into this manga. However, if you have an open mind, or are just the right kind of kinky, and are able to look past all the fetishism, then Sundome offers one of the most psychologically complicated and stimulating erotic manga experiences available.
Hideo Aiba is a freshman high school student, social failure, and disappointment to his family. What has he done to deserve all this? Well, besides simply being a little awkward and not having any self-confidence, Hideo is a member of the Roman Club, a small but enduring school club dedicated to the study of the supernatural and inexplicable.
What’s special about the Roman Club is the interest their alumni take in new members. Club graduates have gone on to big places in politics, business, science, and seemingly every other field, and they use their influence to help new graduates reach their goals. But there’s a catch. If a member loses their virginity before they graduate, they’re kicked out of club. And the Alumni don’t make it easy, even sending “assassins” after members to seduce them.
Enter Kurumi Sahana, a popular new transfer student who Hideo falls in love with at first sight. And who’s into some kinky stuff. While everyone else see Kurumi as a paragon of purity, Hideo gets to be the only one who knows she’s a bit of a freak. And to his good fortune, she takes an interest in him too.
Kurumi joins the Roman club, and when she and Hideo are alone together, she asks him to show her how he masturbates. Helplessly infatuated with her, and devastated by the possibility of her rejection, he agrees. Let the erotica begin.
There are rules to their relationship. Kurumi warns Hideo that she will never have sex with him, and never let him come. When Hideo is obedient and good to her, she rewards him with things like her underwear or the opportunity to nibble her collarbone. And eventually he agrees to let her say when he can and cannot masturbate.
For Hideo, it means getting noticed by Kurumi, to exist in her eyes. For Kurumi, she finds Hideo fun and likes teasing him. And as the story progresses their odd relationship grows along a series of increasingly intimate and fetishistic scenarios, and Kurumi’s curiosities become Hideo’s fascinations and turn-ons. Through it all, Kurumi seems to remain true to her word and always stops just before.
So let’s get into the critique, and on the story, there’s not a whole lot of it. Obviously this seems like a very divisive premise. Either you’re into sadomasochistic, female dominate sexual relations between Japanese highschoolers, or you’re already calling the cops. But, as someone who’s only mildly interested in some of Sundome’s kinks, I was still able to get deeply invested in the limited amount of story, the characters, and even Hideo and Kurumi’s relationship. My experience of the kinky stuff was never sexually gratifying, but psychologically interesting. The relationship dynamic, and the affect it has on Hideo is confusing in a way that makes you try to think about it a lot.
There’s a line that appears in the series, “I can only feel my existence when you’re with me.” That’s said by Hideo, but it applies to both him and Kurumi. Despite the asymmetry in their relationship, there is mutual dependence between them, and it’s the slow burn of discovering how that works that makes Sundome interesting.
Now, I say slow burn, emphasis on the “slow”. While Sundome certainly shouldn’t have been made too much shorter than it is, if you’re not reading it for the sex stuff, it drags on a bit at volumes 5-7, and overall feels like it could have been about two volumes shorter. It’s not a big issue, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be tasked with choosing which chapters to cut out, but Sundome is best read binge-reading, and an eight volume run of a fairly text-heavy series can make that a little hard. But, if you get hard from its content, it will be your pleasure.
Now let’s talk about the characters, starting with Kurumi, because while Hideo is the main character, not much can be said about him until we talk about Kurumi. We don’t get a lot of context for her character outside of her interactions with Hideo. She seems to be kind of popular, easy going, and all-around unremarkable. It’s only when she’s with Hideo, or alone, that her true character comes out.
A lot of readers will find her unlikable early on, and while labelling a character “unlikable” is cheap pseudo-criticism, in a romance story where the audience has to understand why the lead characters like each other, it can be hurdle. In the early chapters, Kurumi’s teasing of Hideo is very sadistic. Like, she has him break his arm for her entertainment. But it gets better.
Over the first few volumes Kurumi’s character is retroactively rewritten into a decent human being. Her interest in teasing Hideo becomes less about his suffering, and more about seeing how he will react to things and just how far he will go to impress her. In later chapters she will even say things like, “I wouldn’t do that to you,” or, “I’m not a monster, you know,” when Hideo assumes the worst. It’s a noticeable but forgivable change in vision for her character, and her stone-faced demeanour makes it hard to actually enjoy Kurumi as a character until you’ve fallen deeply into the series.
On the bright side, once you can enjoy her, she is great. She does progressively treat Hideo as less of a play thing and more as a friend, and even boyfriend. They still have an asymmetrical sexual relationship, but she’s not abusive and is shown to care. In fact, while Hideo is always the masochist in their relationship, over time he also becomes the dominant. Kurumi makes a very cuet submissive dominatrix.
It’s hard to get into why Kurumi is the way she is, but it’s obvious from early on that she does have secrets, and it’s often hard to tell the difference between the truth and a lie from her. In one instance she drops a massive relationship bomb on Hideo, only to casually admit in the next chapter that it was a lie to get him to masturbate less. Other times she’ll say something and it’ll be teased out for several volumes without letting you know if it was true or not. If you know your anime romance tropes, you’ll probably get a good idea where her story is going, but you probably won’t be prepared for the emotional hurricane that comes with it. I’m still trying to hold the tears back.
Kurumi’s biggest redeeming feature, if you have issues liking her, is her effect on Hideo. It is because of her that he grows. She motivates him.
At the beginning, Hideo is a loser. Lovable loser. But total, grade A loser. And there’s nothing really wrong with him, except that he’s a little awkward, very shy, and a member of the Roman club, which is basically a shortcut to a terrible reputation.
Once Kurumi shows up, he slowly discovers a new strength inside of himself. He improves his physique so he can bike home with her, speaks more confidently to impress and sometimes protect her, and eventually gets a part-time job. The job is very significant because it’s not for her directly. It’s to pay a “friend” of hers back for dinner. It was his own move towards become a responsible, more adult person.
Even in the context of their own relationship, he grows. He starts off spineless. A pet to follow her every whim, and too scared to make the first move. But as time goes on, he becomes a somewhat less obedient pet, and is able to tease her back.
Sundome has a very small supporting cast, with just four other significant characters. Two of them are only really plot gears and comedy, while the other two are almost as charming as Kurumi and Hideo.
Plot Gear 1 is the Ex-president. He’s the oldest character, at 17, and used to be the president of the Roman club before he was seduced by an “assassin”. He still hangs around anyway because he’s probably got nothing better to do. He likes anal, and doesn’t seem to care if it’s from a guy or girl. His main job is to make bad “butt” puns, and occasionally use his elder wisdom to explain things about the Roman club that the younger members don’t know about.
Plot Gear 2 is Tatsuya Yatsu, a coward who’s obsessed with a doll named Aimu. He really has no place in the story. Like, none at all. Most of the time he runs home at the start of any new event because he’s scared. Later chapters try to include him a bit more, but it’s always as an extension to other characters, and those other characters always overshadow him.
Then there’s Katsu Toshitsuku, the closest to “normal” of the Roman club members. He likes UFOs, and wants to graduate from the Roman club to get funding for Law School tuition from the Alumni, because apparently being a lawyer is the best way to prove aliens exist (and he’s supposed to be the smart one). For most of the series, all that really makes him stand out is that he’s not quite as weird as the Ex-president or Tatsuya, and seems to be a better friend to Hideo. He becomes more significant with the arrival of our last character, Kyouko.
Kyouko is the black-sheep of the Roman club, and in fact, like the Ex-president, isn’t technically a member because she’s had plenty of sex. A popular, big-boobed, ganguro girl, Kyouko starts hanging out with Kurumi at the Roman club after being dumped by her jerk boyfriend. She’s stupid, emotionally a little unstable, has a terrible temper and affinity for ¥1,000 bills, and brings some much needed energy to the bunch of Roman club geeks starting in volume 2.
As for the art, it’s rare that you can go through an entire manga without ever thinking about the quality and consistency of the art, and the unity of art style. But when it does happen, the artist has done something very good. The type of contrast and “lighting” used for particularly erotic and intimate moments really brings them out in a way that helps even those who can’t sympathize with the couples particular choices of sexual activities understand their emotions in the moment. The shock, anticipation, and anxiety of each new form of play has impact. That’s all I have to say on the art.
Sundome is a great erotic romance manga, if you give it the time it needs and aren’t turned off by golden showers. It consistently holds the protagonist’s, and the reader’s, ontological security on edge in trying to figure out how Kurumi feels, and accompanies it with a more traditional vanilla romance between two supporting characters. It drags on a bit in the latter volumes, but the emotional payoff of the finale is grad, and the whole of volume 8 will take you on an emotional rollercoaster back to earth. I strongly recommend at least giving Sundome a look to anyone who wasn’t thrown into a moral outrage over the premise.
Don’t Lose Your Way