Do Whatever You Want, Vol. 1 | By Yeri Na | Published by NETCOMICS – Jiwon and Hosoo are best friends dreaming of musical stardom which they’ve sworn to pursue together to the exclusion of all else, including girls. Their friendship is so close that rumors persist that they are involved with each other romantically, but though Hosoo appears to appears to view Jiwon in much the same way as he does a pretty girl (and Jiwon has examined his own feelings for Hosoo with some concern as well), both of them are too focused on family problems and career goals to dwell too much on questioning the nature of their relationship. Things are further complicated by the introduction of Soomin, a tough girl with a talent for art who begins to become friendly with Hosoo, and Dana, a shy girl with a past who attracts the attention of Jiwan. Meanwhile, an old friend of Jiwon’s is working to get him involved in an up-and-coming boy band and Hosoo’s brother is being drafted into the military, creating situations that threaten to interfere with the boys’ shared dream.
What’s refreshing about this story is that though it is clearly relationship-driven, it is not obvious at this point that the story is headed toward any particular romantic pairing. Fans of boys’ love will certainly look to Jiwon and Hosoo (and to be fair, their relationship is quite wonderfully romantic in the best sense of the word), but there is so much potential involving Soomin, Dana, and even Jiwon’s middle-school friend, Iljae, whose intense jealousy towards Hosoo is dramatic enough to raise question about his true feelings for Jiwon, the romance could spin in any number of directions. Refreshing, too, is that each of the characters is distinctive, complicated, and realistically and sympathetically portrayed, even the girls, which is just short of a miracle in any series that smacks of boys’ love. Even the boys’ good looks is played for realism considering the industry they intend to become a part of.
One of the most compelling elements of this story is the two protagonists’ family situations which will undoubtedly influence the story greatly down the line. Both Jiwon and Hosoo live with their older brothers, though their circumstances are very different from each other. Jiwon stays with his brother to be closer to school and to better avoid scrutiny from his overbearing, status-conscious mother (she disapproves of Hosoo as being below her son’s “level”) and his controlling oldest brother. Hosoo, on the other hand, seems really to have nowhere else to be and when his brother is drafted, he is left with no one to watch over him other than his brother’s girlfriend. How these circumstances may impact the boys’ friendship as well as their dreams is something I’m looking forward to seeing more of.
Beyond this, the story has two great draws for me. First of all, Jiwon and Hosoo’s friendship is something truly special to behold. There is a scene midway through in which a troubled Hosoo calls Jiwon out of the blue, needing a friend but unable to talk about why. Jiwon, sensing this, invites him over and though the two don’t discuss Hosoo’s problems at all, it is clear that Jiwon is providing what he needs. “Next time when I’m having a crappy day, I’ll call you out of the blue just like you did today,” Jiwon thinks to himself as Hosoo finally heads home. “And when we meet, I’ll pretend as if nothing’s wrong and laugh and chat with you and then I’ll bid you goodnight with a smile on my face… but you’re going to need to promise me you won’t ask any questions and just pretend you don’t notice my troubles.”
Secondly, I’m really intrigued by the girls, Soomin and Dana. Their stories have only just begun to be told by the end of the first volume but both of them are already women I care about and want to know better, and it seems clear that not only will they be involved in the futures of the two male protagonists but that they will also be a great influence on each other. It’s depressingly unusual to encounter strong female friendships in stories like this but this one seems inevitable and I have a feeling it’s going to be very satisfying to watch it play out.
The only real snag in this first volume is the awkwardness of the initial exposition. Though the visual storytelling is very strong in the second half of the volume, the first few chapters make too much use of narration and flashbacks to introduce the characters and their relationships with each other–things that really could have been more organically integrated into the story with the kind of skill displayed later on in the volume. Fortunately, this is easily forgiven so early on and I look forward to seeing the manhwa-ga’s expressive, easy-going style evolve further as the series continues.
Don’t be fooled by this book’s cover. Despite its pretty boys, Do Whatever You Want is much, much more than a stylish boys’ love romp or a romance story of any kind, and in fact promises neither. What it does promise is a thoughtful story about friendship and ambition, with an appealing cast of complex young characters searching for their place in the world and with each other. I very much hope it makes good on that promise.