I like Sundome.
It’s not the same as other people saying ‘I like ice cream.’ Most people like ice cream, and the statement does not come out as something definitive: it’s merely a weak affirmation of what most people believe in anyway. Liking Sundome is as different from raising your hand in a wave of raised hands: liking Sundome has to be a strong opinion, because there will most probably be little support coming from one’s peers. It is a polarizing, complex work that (I believe) has evolved from a manga about sex play into something much more. Liking it is akin to breaking the anonymity of silence and emptiness in a room of quietude: liking it is a statement.
The premise of the manga is extremely interesting: ‘I will not let you come.’ It’s essentially a series of psychological bondage that has its roots on weakness (for the guy) and desperation (for the girl). A girl transfers into a school and catches the eye of a pushover. She allures him because she is his ideal girl. She plays with his heart, and ultimately joins his club to continue their sexual games. Her final words during their first meeting was ‘I will not let you come.’
The manga has probably been treated by most as softcore hentai. It probably is, for the most part. But as the story progresses we learn that the sexual games by Kurumi is actually her own twisted way of forcing Aiba to grow up into something more manly. While she probably started the manipulation just because it feels good to dominate something or someone, she kept on doing it because it gave her a sense of purpose. It was eerily obvious that there was something insidious bothering Kurumi: all Aiba could do was keep on trusting her. For his part, Aiba, who was once a pushover, slowly became stronger physically and mentally because of the tortures and the twisted reward system that Kurumi implemented in their sex games.
While it was alluded early on that she had sex with different men, it was made more obvious later on that she was suffering from a chronic disease that debilitated her a lot of days in school. As time passed it was also made more evident to her that beyond the master-servant relationship, Aiba really cared a lot of Kurumi despite his perversions, and also acted accordingly. Like the telling sex scenes in Lust, Caution, the subtle evolution of their relationship from people who used each other to people who actually cared for one another despite their circumstances was something that I delighted in. I thought that the final act of Kurumi breaking her promise to have sex with Aiba in the place she wanted to be was something sad but not heartbreaking: I think it was a triumph for both of them to have become meaningful people despite their limitations. Aiba learned the pain and pleasure of love, and Kurumi found meaning in her short time with Hideo. It’s a dynamic that is better portrayed by pictures than words, but it’s a dynamic that’s wonderful to watch so long as one is open-minded enough.
Quoting Tatami Galaxy,
Watashi: ‘Why do you haunt me so?’
Ozu: ‘It’s how I show my love.’
Aiba and Kurumi were both Watashi and Ozu at some points in the series. But as the ending suggests, it was undeniable that they loved each other in their own twisted ways. It’s a great manga, but it’s something that has to be experienced rather than recommended. People may see me as perverted otherwise.