U Don’t Know Me | By Rakun | Published by NETCOMICS – “I realized that the reason the two of us couldn’t stand forever in the same place wasn’t just because I couldn’t keep up with his height–a height, by the way, which began outgrowing my own little by little.” – Prologue, U Don’t Know Me
Seyun and Yoojin have been close since childhood, raised like brothers by their parents who were best friends–so much so that when Seyun’s father made the decision to take on the debt left by his own father, Yoojin’s parents offered to take Seyun in as their own child to ease his burden. Though Seyun’s father refused the offer and moved his family to a cheaper neighborhood to tough it out, Seyun and Yoojin remained friends, despite the distance and their ever-shifting lives. One shift that Seyun did not expect was that he would begin feeling sexually attracted to Yoojin, and though he’s tried to find ways to bring out the same feelings in his friend, Yoojin seems to be completely oblivious to everything he does, until one evening when he unexpectedly bursts in on Seyun at home and forces himself on him. It’s a moment of deep conflict for Seyun who is reluctant to refuse him since it’s something he’s wanted for so long, and in the end he lets Yoojin do what he wants though it is much rougher than he’s comfortable with. Unfortunately, when Yoojin finally confesses his own feelings for Seyun, the confession is tainted by the fact that he acted in anger over an unfounded rumor regarding Seyun’s supposed promiscuity with boys from his school.
Thankfully Yoojin recognizes just how horrifying his actions were–even if the rumor had been true–and the two of them are able to get past the violent beginning of their sexual relationship and enjoy loving each other openly for the first time in their lives. Unfortunately, real love affairs don’t end with a fade into the sunset and as the volume continues, Seyun and Yoojin must confront some uncomfortable truths about their lives and what their relationship means for them as they face their adulthood (and their fears) head-on.
I originally read this manhwa online at NETCOMICS.com. When I got a copy of the print version I decided to re-read it for review, and I was surprised to find I liked it even better on the second read. It is honestly stunning how much complexity Rakun is able to bring to these characters and their lives in a single volume, and to such great effect. U Don’t Know Me takes just about every cringe-worthy yaoi cliche in the book–schoolboys, rape, sex between brothers (almost), even the whole seme/uke business–and makes it actually a rich, real part of the story. Even the explicit sex scenes (and there are quite a lot of them) are an essential part of the story’s emotional fabric and it’s pretty difficult to imagine it being effectively told without them. When, late in the volume, Seyun finally decides that true love is a risk worth taking–facing his deepest fears by offering Yoojin more than just his body (which he had been so certain was all he had to give), it means so much more when we’ve taken the full journey with him. I think, too, it’s worth mentioning that just as in real life, fictional sex is more satisfying when it’s got some real substance behind it.
Seyun is really the heart of this story. Though Yoojin is the foundation–stalwart and true, despite his early difficulties with jealousy–it is Seyun whose delicate warmth wins our hearts as he slowly breaks through his carefully constructed barriers in order to let himself be part of someone else’s life. Yet, part of what is so likable about him is that he actually isn’t delicate at all. Cool-headed, tough, and lethal in a fight, Seyun’s soft touch is only for Yoojin, though he’s also a loyal friend who takes care of his own. Actually, his relationship with his school friends is one of the nicest aspects of the book–especially his friendship with an openly gay schoolmate (to whom he bears a strong physical resemblance, making way for the mistaken identity issue responsible for the false rumors early in the story) who gives him advice on how to handle his relationship with Yoojin. Even this common theme–boys giving each other sex advice–becomes something much richer in this story, and there is a scene featuring the two of them late in the volume that is one of my favorites in the whole book.
Something that’s particularly refreshing about U Don’t Know Me is that it goes far beyond the easy thrills of new love and into the inevitable difficulties that follow, even addressing how the characters deal with their families’ discovery of their relationship and how it messes with everyone’s preconceptions about life. And if they never quite say the word “gay,” and perhaps some things seem to work out more easily than they might in other households, it’s a testament to how well even the supporting characters are written that these potential questions never distract from the story as told. This may not be able to serve as everyone’s story, but it is absolutely the story of these characters and that is never once in doubt. U Don’t Know Me declines to be a typical coming-out story just as it declines to be typical in any other way, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Honestly, this story has so many particular charms, it is impossible to talk about them all. One especially poignant moment is a painful one for Seyun, as he listens to Yoojin’s mother talk to him about the kind of wife she would love to see for her son (fretting over whether or not her desires are too old-fashioned). The scene is really so well done and it’s impossible to feel anything but sympathy for both characters–Yoojin’s mom who so earnestly loves both Yoojin and Seyun, whom she sees as a second son, and Seyun who can’t bear to cause her pain or disappointment. Yoojin’s father is adorable too, as he reprimands his son for being too rough with poor, delicate Seyun. There is also a subplot involving a small-time local gangster who tries to use Seyun’s financial situation to lure him into his organization for spectacularly unsavory purposes which is awesome mainly because he, like everyone, underestimates Seyun’s strength.
“Rakun” is the pen name used by Yeri Na, author of Do Whatever You Want, for her donginji (dounjinshi) titles released in English. It’s easy to see the visual resemblance between the two stories, and considering how effective the writing is in this single volume, it only makes me more interested in continuing with the rest of Do Whatever You Want. Also, though their sensibilities are quite different, the length of this story is the kind of thing I’ve longed to see from someone like est em, especially now that it’s been made clear just how rich a single volume yaoi title can be. Where Rakun also shines is in the humor department, and I can honestly say that her extra pages at the end (what is the equivalent of omake in Korean?) are the funniest and smartest I’ve seen in a boys’ love title. I’d say she almost gives Hiromu Arakawa a run for her money in that arena, and that’s quite a feat.
Both genuinely sexy and emotionally resonant, U Don’t Know Me succeeds on every level, setting itself a good cut above much of its genre.
Review copy provided by the publisher.