“How do you determine that they’re actually the one?” Arthit, confiding in his friend Tum. “What if you can never go back to the way you were before?”
It’s been a long and taxing induction into freshman life for the new engineering students, especially given the exhausting programme of physical and intellectual challenges they’ve had to undergo, set by head hazer Arthit and his fellow upperclassmen. But, encouraged by determined and charismatic Kongpob, his fellow first year students have gained their ‘gears’ and feel they’re fully fledged members of the engineering department. For Arthit and the other upperclassmen, it’s time to look ahead to when they’ll have graduated – and in spite of the number of times he’s clashed with Kongpob, there’s no denying that the two rivals have grown much closer. So why are they going out shopping together? Is it a date? And when they get back to their university dorm, only to learn that Arthit’s room has been flooded by a broken pipe, it’s only natural that Kongpob should offer his upperclassman to share his room while the damage is fixed – isn’t it? This classic cliché of romance fiction, ‘only one bed’ doesn’t lead to the usual expected outcome, however, even though, when challenged by Arthit, Kongpob can’t help but confess that he loves him. If anything, it puts a much greater distance between them. Confused, Arthit becomes unavailable. And poor Kongpob, having been honest, doesn’t know what to do. And with a wedding upcoming for their friends, Fon and Tum, it’s yet another reminder that others are moving on with their lives and (by inference, how much easier it still is for a heterosexual couple to openly celebrate their love).
It’s taken three volumes, but the eventual pay-off will reward readers who’ve followed Kongpob and Arthit from their early head-on clashes through all the hazing trials and misunderstandings. And it’s been well worth the wait, because this is a really sweet, tender-hearted story about two students who find it difficult to find a way to confess how much they’ve come to care for each other. If the storytelling is a little different, I’m guessing it’s because of its origins in BitterSweet’s original (Thai) novel of 2014 and the live action TV series (also Thai) that preceded this reinvention as a manga with Kei’s attractive illustrations (they’re especially good at facial reactions). By different, I mean that some of the dialogue between the students can be a little stilted (it’s often used to explain the rules of whatever contest/trial the poor freshmen are being made to compete in). And although experienced translator Leighann Harvey does their absolute best to make it flow, sometimes the original material just is what it is. But this is the third and final volume, the emphasis has moved away from hazing to focus on the main characters and given the way the story unfolds, it’s impossible not to root for the impulsive Kongpob to get his feelings across to the wary, proud Arthit.
There’s also a nice colour page at the beginning, and on the inside of the cover, a black-and-white drawing of the Rama VIII Bridge in Bangkok, scene of a life-changing night-time conversation between Arthit and Kongpob (an apt place for two engineers to have a discussion).
Yen Press have given this final volume a Mature rating (it’s shrink-wrapped) but there’s very little in the way of scenes of a sexual nature to merit the Parental Warning on the cover – and what there is is consensual, loving and feels earned. Arthit and Kongpob have come a long way from their first negative impressions of each other, and even if it’s not all plain-sailing yet, you can feel a real warmth between the two (and this isn’t so often the case in BL manga). So, this one comes recommended as a slice-of-life BL manga that doesn’t rely on angst to keep the reader turning the pages but succeeds in portraying a believable relationship.
Oh – and check near the end for an alternative reading of the title: SOTUS!
Our review copy from Yen Press was provided by Diamond Book Distributors UK.
Afternote: The brief synopsis for the Thai TV series is: A confident gay freshman at an engineering school relentlessly seduces the closeted mentoring junior who bullies him.
I haven’t watched the TV series, but this implies it offers a completely different view of Kongpob to the one presented in the manga! If you’re looking for relentless seduction, you might be disappointed.