Pharm is a freshman, eager to start his new life studying economics as a college student. With his two new friends Team and Manaow, he’s ready to choose a club. Team is a keen swimmer but when Dean, the charismatic captain of the swimming club, gives a presentation to the new students, his eyes meet Pharm’s – and Pharm is horrified to find himself tearing up. He’s never seen Dean before in his life, so why has his presence affected him so strongly? Whisked away by his two friends, Pharm soon cheers up as he tells them that he’s decided to join the Thai Dessert Club. His family owns a Thai restaurant and he loves cooking! There’s something else he confesses to: he’s badly affected by sudden loud noises (his neighbour has a habit of slamming the front door which doesn’t do much for his sleep). His sleep is also affected by vivid dreams in which a couple of young men make a promise to search for each other, no matter what may happen…
Because Team is a good swimmer, he soon is admitted to the university swimming club. In the meantime, Pharm is busy making sweets at his club and sharing them around, even giving some to Team to share with the swimming club – which is how Dean first gets to eat Pharm’s cooking. Yet Pharm, flustered, tries to keep his distance and it’s not till some days later when he’s out shopping in the supermarket that he encounters Dean, and this time it’s a lot harder to make himself scarce.
The Red Thread is a manga by Hibiko Haruyama, based on the 2018 Thai Boys’ Love novel by Lazysheep (which has also been adapted into a live-action TV drama called Until We Meet Again). Although the manga has a 16+ Older Teen rating from Yen Press, it begins with a shocking and violent scene (at some time in the past) depicting the double suicide of two young men, Korn and In, whose relationship is forbidden by their respective families. So, as this is a really distressing scene, it might very well put some readers off going any further. However, due to Hibiko Haruyama’s way of presenting Pharm’s story and Pharm himself, what follows is a sweet and really well-told manga of two people finding each other (due to the red thread of fate?) and falling in love. I am (as I said in my recent review of what I felt was a far less successful BL reincarnation novel, You Can Have My Back) a sucker for reincarnation stories and this one works really well, thus far. Pharm is an endearing viewpoint character and Dean (although we see less from his point of view at first) comes across as a likable and stoical young man, bewildered by the fact that he’s drawn so strongly to Pharm yet unable to stay away. Haruyama’s graphic style helps here; it’s slightly retro (some of the ‘expression’ faces are reminiscent of mangaka like Toriyama) but that’s not a criticism, as it’s rather charming and nostalgic. Above all, she knows how to tell the story clearly from panel to panel, sometimes using smartphone texts to move things along, but always keeping the main storyline and characters’ reactions centre-stage.
Of course, with reincarnation/red-thread love stories, the fact that two people are thrown together by fate and are destined, pre-destined to fall in love, doesn’t appeal to everyone; soulmate omegaverse stories have a very similar trajectory.
And then there are the Thai sweets and desserts which Pharm is so skilled at making. Thanks to Emma Schumacker’s helpful translation notes and little hints in the text, we get to learn all about Khanom Chan, Luk Chup, Sankaya Faktong (and several other delicious-sounding treats) which just adds to the story’s charm.
The translation for Yen Press is by the ever-reliable Emma Schumacker with lettering by Chi Bui and contains a colour illustration at the front. This seems to be the first of the mangaka’s works to be published in an English translation; the second volume is due out in January 2024 and the series is ongoing in Asuka CIEL. And I’m really interested in seeing where Lazysheep takes Pharm and Dean next (there’s a cute ‘original story special chapter adaptation’ at the end of this volume called Nostalgic Times about In and Korn getting to know each other better at an amusement park). The Red Thread is a definite ‘recommended’ new BL title from Yen Press!
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.