Sundome Book 1

Review by Ed Sizemore

Hideo Aiba is a 15 year-old high school student and social misfit. Kurumi Sahana is a new transfer student. She is attractive and instantly becomes popular with other students. She is seated next to Hideo and shares his textbooks on her first day. While seated together in class, Hideo’s desire for Sahana becomes, let’s politely say, obvious. Sahana notices and later that same day she decides to test how far she can manipulate him. Turns out he is willing to do anything she asks, even if it means self injury.

Once she has established her dominance over Hideo, she then lays down the rules of their relationship. Sahana tells him that she will never have sex with him, even if they are the last two people on earth. Hideo accepts this and tells the reader, “I put on a collar. But, I still thought the day when she and I would become one was yet to come.” (Actually, the way the second sentence is phrased makes me think the author is telling us not to expect them to end up as lovers in the end.) To emphasize the master/pet (slave) nature of the relation, the text is divided into collars instead of chapters and Hideo answers all commands by saying, “Woof!”

Sundome Book 1 cover
Sundome Book 1
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Honestly, I’m completely torn in my feelings toward this book. I got disgusted watching Hideo complacently following Sahana’s orders and getting himself hurt. In one chapter he gets his arm broken, in another he is almost robbed by a school bully, and he nearly drowns himself after that. Hideo constantly debases himself out of some perverse misunderstanding of love.

To further my frustration, we don’t get a look inside the mind of Sahana. She is always simply this attractive girl taking merciless advantage of Hideo. What’s Sahana’s motivation in all this? Does she think she is helping him become more of a man or is she simply a sadist? If she doesn’t really care about Hideo, then why does spent so much time around him? Because Hideo doesn’t have the courage to really get to know Sahana, she remains a cipher to him and the reader.

However, each time I was ready to quit reading and write off the book, small amazing moments happened. There are moments of both brutal honesty and emotional intimacy. The author teases us by suggesting that under the surface of this twisted relationship, genuine fondness is beginning to develop.

What got to me to rethink the book was the final chapter. Hideo is skipping class to get Sahana a bottle of water, on what he thinks is another test of his obedience. Hideo imagines what reward he wants for this service, and he thinks he should ask for a fifty-fifty relationship. Shortly after that, he feels resentment for being forced to do things he’s uncomfortable with. Finally, Hideo was showing some self respect. It took him 184 pages, but he is on the path to being a real person and not just someone’s pet.

As usual though, Hideo’s timing sucks. It looks like this was a request made from an actual need and not just another way to pull his strings. Hideo gets back to school to find that Sahana has passed out and is in the nurse’s office. I was shocked as Sahana began to realize that their relationship objectified and dehumanized her as much as him. She finally gets sick of being treated like a vending machine of sexual favors and wants a relationship built on authentic care and affection. They have a brief verbal spat, and the manga ends with Sahana leaving to go to the hospital.

When I finished my first reading of the book, I was both repulsed and fascinated. Theirs is a sick relationship, and it’s hard to sit back and watch it all. But I was shocked that I was actually interested in what happened next to both Hideo and Sahana by the end of the book. I really wanted them to heal the damage they’ve done to themselves and each other. In the epiphanies of those final pages, there is a hope that this demented relationship can become a real friendship. It’s this potential for the change that attracts me, and I want to read the next volume to find out if they truly can become friends.

I do have a few complaints about the translation. First, I’m not familiar enough with Japanese names to know which of the names given for the main characters, or the author for that matter, is the first name. The main characters are addressed by both names frequently enough that it never becomes clear. It would have been nice to know whether they were following the Japanese custom of listing family names first or the American custom of listing given names first. Second, there were a few places where a translation note was needed. The best example is page 105. I would like to know what a Yakiniko shop is and how the reference to hormone-injected food is connected.

Third, honorifics (-chan, -san, -sempai, etc.) show up sporadically in the text. I assume they are only included in the translation when needed to make the underlying connotation of the dialogue clearer. But it reads oddly to have characters talk to each other for several pages without honorifics and then have one just randomly appear in the text. If the Japanese text uses them sparingly and the translation is simply following suit, then that needs to be explained. If, as I suspect, they are regularly used in the original text, then please use them regularly in the translation. Or, if the translation is going to drop them, then drop them completely and find another way to make any implied meaning clear to the American audience. To be fair, though, this book does an excellent job of translating and explaining all the sound effects used.

The artwork is well done. Where it really stands out is in the emotionally (sexual or otherwise) intense moments. Here Okada uses true blacks and darker greys to really contrast these panels with the normal narrative panels. It’s an effective device that intuitively lets the reader know something significant is happening. Also, Okada is an excellent cheesecake artist. This is best seen in those moments when Hideo is awash in desire as he is looking at Sahana. Okada draws her in such a way that we can feel his desire as well.

I really can’t recommend the series one way or the other until I see how the second volume turns out. The best I can say at the moment is that this book is both a frustrating and intriguing portrayal of a warped relationship.


  1. I know you can’t judge a book by the cover, but geez, I really can’t get past it to be honest…Kudos to you for reviewing it despite being torn, Ed.

  2. […] Ed Sizemore on the first volume of Kazuto Okada’s […]

  3. A yakiniku restaurant is one that serves meat (usually beef) which you grill yourself at the table.

    I’d also expect characters’ use of honorifics to be consistent in the original Japanese.

    And put me down as not being able to get past the cover, either.

  4. Let’s say the cover was the focus of more than one joke at my LCS. I would have preferred a more demure design myself.

    James thanks for the information.

  5. […] of Hikaru no Go at Soliloquy in Blue. At Comics Worth Reading Ed Sizemore has mixed feelings about vol. 1 of Sundome: he’s both frustrated and intrigued, and he does a good job of articulating exactly why. At […]

  6. Hi, Ed. This is Christine Schilling, the translator for Sundome. I’m so glad you read the book and enjoyed it — though I can understand your simultaneous emotional disturbance from it. Sundome is good at doing that. ^_-
    I really appreciated your thorough review and thought I could take this opportunity to address the questions you had about the translation. Regarding the name order, I followed the Western pattern of first-name first, last-name last. So Hideo’s family name is Aiba. This pattern is Yen Press’s standard, and from my experience, a standard for most manga publishers in the USA. Hopefully that can clear up your confusion for this and future manga you enjoy. ^^
    As for the seeming multitude of names characters were referred by, familiarity is the main factor there. As a general rule of thumb, Hideo’s buddies would call him by his first name, and acquaintances not yet close to him call him by his last name “Aiba.”
    Tied into this, the honorifics may have seemed random, but I included them in my translation only where they appeared in the original text. I did not add any on my own, nor take any out. There are two explanations as to their occasional “sudden appearances.” The first explanation is that multiple characters — of varying degrees of familiarity to the character in question — were speaking. In one scene, Hideo may be referring to Kurumi by the more polite form of “Sahana-kun” while Kyouko will feel more buddy-buddy with her and call her “Kurumi” or “Kurumi-chan.” The second explanation — and that is if you feel that one character was referring to the same person by two different names — is that depending on the situation or who’s around, the speaker may choose to show more respect so as to not come off as insolent/disrespectful, and thereby use honorific endings like “-san.”
    I hope that this cleared up some of your confusion, and keep your eyes peeled for volume 2 ^_- I’m sure you will enjoy it just as much, if not more, now that you have a better grasp on the delicate relationship-patterns at play between our characters…and watch as they take whole new exciting turns. ^^

  7. Thank you very much for your explanation, Christine! I appreciate you stopping by to share it.

  8. Christine, I second Johanna’s thanks. That helps sort things out for me. The use of names reminded me of Kare Kano, where you again had a web of complex relationships and it was hard to keep track of how names and honorifics were being used. When I read this volume again, I will make sure to pay closer attention to the names and under what circumstances they are used.

    On a side note, I just finished another of your translations (Manga Sutra).

  9. I for one got past the cover and was quite delighted at the story within. However, I felt that this was a bit of a gamble on my part as the back cover has an extremely brief description of the story within and the volume was sealed in plastic, common for Borders’ policy with most Mature rated titles.
    If I’m not able to take a look inside nor able to flip through some pages (or have a sampler attached to the back -uncommon for releases outside of Japan) it felt like quite the plunge to buy a $13 volume based solely on a 3 sentence description and the sparse front/back cover art.
    All in all a good read and a gutsy move to release what is essentially an ecchi title amongst a sea of adolescent series.

    I wait anxiously for the next title, this has me quite hooked.

  10. I’ll wholeheartedly agree, that this was a very gutsy title to release, which makes me very excited about the publisher. This really is the first break away from the mainstream and more into the heart of the otaku sub-culture. I picked the book up on whim, and purchased it, the description was brief, but the cover page was mysterious, I really had no clue this would be an ecchi but was completely delighted by the story. My only complaint is this…

    I have to wait till April for the next one, and even longer for book three. Book three, being the one I desire most, it looks like it has a twist, but I can’t read Japanese so I can’t comment.

  11. Just finished reading vol 1-4 and after all that, I must say that if there is anything this book will have in the future – it’s not a “happy ending”, it can really leave a nasty after-taste. And after you get tired of all that “echiness” and craziness ,It really leaves you down in the mud feeling. Kudos for the mangaka for this emotionally disturbing work, I’m gonna be having a trouble removing this this one from my memory.

  12. Wert, thanks for the heads up. I don’t mind a sad ending. I’m just not a
    fan of the nihilism that seems to creep into a lot of modern tragedies.
    I’m hoping this doesn’t end with the message that we’re all sick, twisted
    people who hurt and use those around us. At best, all we can do is
    minimize the amount of damage we do to each other. If Sundome ends with
    that kind of message, then I won’t bother with the rest of the series.

  13. I am currently up to volume 3 and I am very satisfied with this manga. At volume 3 the story takes a turn and more of Sahana Kurumi is revealed. I am starting to believe that she actually likes Hideo more than I expected. I have volume 4 in my hand but I dont dare to read it becoz if I read it I would have nothing left but waiting.

    Seriously, I think the manga is a tier higher than most others in terms of addicting and character designing.

    As for the ending thing… I dont expect the mangaka to make it a sad ending, judging from he’s previous work (in fact I hv only read 1, thats “Not in the text books!”)

  14. CyberNoa, Thanks for your take on the series. I’m very interested to see what volume two holds.

  15. I’ve only just completed volume 1, but wanted to add a few thoughts.

    Taken at face value, Sundome seems a rather prurient take on the inequalities of power within relationships.

    But as I read further, I began to change my opinion. Hideo seems almost a stereotpye of the so-called “shut-in:” He cannot function in society: Hides in corners and/or clubrooms, doesn’t participate in or with his class, can’t swim, can’t or won’t fight for himself, won’t talk to girls, etc.

    While Sahana clearly manipulates him, she also appears to be slowly liberating him from his hikikomori, or isolation in its broadest meaning.

    From my perspective, Hideo grows significantly from start to finish. I like him better as a character at the end than I did at the beginning.

    There are those who will argue that Sahana endangered him in the process, and thus plays an extremely negative role. I can’t argue with this. It’s definitely a strange dynamic, but not necessarily baleful.

    I can’t help but feel the opposite. But maybe that’s because, like Hideo, I’m blinded by my attraction to the rather enigmatic, yet charismatic, character of Sahana.

  16. Teiresias, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. It’ll be interesting to see what volume 2 reveals.

  17. I’m a fan of the “Tortured Male Lead” idea. A lot of my personal novels, none of which I’ve finished, involves some poor guy who snaps, and the girl has to go and save him, usually out of love, although I constantly put it in question whether or it it’s really just guilt. Maybe it’s because of my personal experiences…

    Anyway, I wish I could buy this book, but the rating means I need a parent to get it for me, and the covers aren’t exactly… Y’know. Anyway, I have yet to read the second one, but I predicted most of what was left in the review.

    Mind you, I have no qualms in knowing what happens in a book before I read it. It’s different hearing it from someone else and actually reading it, so I don’t mind previewing it. Anyway, it was really annoying remembering the title because you don’t see it plastered on the shelves.

    I do agree with Teirasias in that there will be a slow and gradual move to a likable ending. I also feel the ending will be “happy”, or at least the horror Kurumi has planned will make us feel the ending is “happy”, like putting your hands in freezing water and slowly raising the temperature, just fast enough so we can tell until it’s a few ten degrees higher, but still really cold. It feels warmer, so we’re happier with it.

  18. someonenearyou

    I remember reading this volume awhile back. I must say that I was actually more fascinated than revolted by their relationship in this story and not once did I ever feel the need to describe it as “warped.” I felt there was a certain level of intimacy I began to pick up on from chapter (collar) 2 onwards, and I began to feel like I understood Sahana, and thus their relationship, a little more clearly because of that. Sahana never defined the terms of their relationship out of amusement; everything she asks for caters to some strong need she possesses that no one else can fulfill, and the fact that she even made those terms with him suggests that she knew he could fulfill them. She torments him, but she also looks after him in many unconventional ways that, upon further look, are her attempts at reciprocating the relationship. There’s also the idea that he does not mind this relationship, even though he struggles with it, that suggests that he is her perfect partner. Ignoring the terms of their relationship, the things you described as her “suddenly wanting real affection” are not so sudden. It is clear that she takes sexual pleasure in his torment, and it is clear that he opens himself up to new forms of release by dealing with her so in a way, that is the “sex” of their relationship as defined by her, and her irritation with his one-track approach to her via favors suggests that she wants more than just the “sex,” and perhaps she was expecting that sort of fulfillment from the start. It’s very complicated, but if you treat it as something twisted, you won’t notice the parallels that this relationship has compared to, say, a “normal” relationship.

    I really enjoyed the first two volumes of this, and I’m hoping to find the next few volumes sometime this millennium.

  19. Motoko Kusanagi

    To Rubedo: (if you come back to look at this) If you’re still interested in Sundome, and you happen to have a debit or credit card, Amazon is a great way to avoid the age requirement. Before I turned 18 (on Sunday actually) I was able to purchase this book. You could also always just try purchasing it in the store. There have been quite a few times where I was under the age requirements for video games and movies (as well as Ghost in the Shell on Saturday)and the cashiers didn’t bother checking ID.

    In response to the actual book, I’ve read the first volume and have no clue why one would find the extremeties of Sahana’s demands and Hideo’s tortures so repulsive and distasteful. Personally, I found the whole thing infinitely hilarious (not laugh out loud like, but many a smile). Of course Sahana seems quite cruel at times, but she is giving Hideo some experiences I’ve never had, but wish I could have. I mean, if I loved a girl as much as he does, hell yeah I’d have my arm broken, if that’s what it took to…
    The only thing I’m kind of concerned about is Hideo being let down in the end. If that ends up happening I’ll be extremely upset. That would make the author quite malevolent in my eyes. A little disappointment here and there, paired with a lot of sexual teasing is what makes this series entertaining.

  20. I really love this series, as much as a gree with you! Throughout the entire first book I kept feeling like it was disgusting, but then there is a little sprig of storyline, and I’m hooked! There are actually points when I have CRIED reading these books (I’ve read to three, I’m not sure when four comes out).

    I agree with you, though. I really would like to know what’s going on in Sahana’s mind, but that’s part of the mystery that makes to story so alluring. I’m still not even sure if she’s seriously ill or just animic, let alone who those shoes belong too! (Won’t say much else so I don’t spoil it)

    As far as the age limits… I bought number one when I was sixteen and at Borders no one cared. I’ve bought tons of books with the warning sticker on them. I’m actually amazed you couldn’t.

    It’s definatly a perverse book, more so then simple ‘hentai’, but with enought plot and emotion that kept me hooked through the whole thing. And so much so that I forced my best friend to read it!

    Her reaction was the same as mine. She called me when she was only half-way in, and said it was SO yucky. So I told her “No, no wait. Read the LAST chapter, then tell me what you think.”

    She came to school the next day, handed it back to me, and asked me when the next one came out. XD It was great.

  21. Brianne,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  22. the manga stopped at volume 4.. still waiting.. its already half year until now the volume 5 still no one to translate T_T… i saw the Amazon japan already selling at September 2008.

    BTW i read chinese ^^

    i highly recommended this manga.. The plot is very very very intresting..

    i still feel sad now.. Need volume 5 to get better now ^^

    someone above is right.. it really needs take sometime to forget it. So long i haven’t got this sad feeling. About ten years ago i did cried at Final Fantasy 7 abt Aeris.. i think japan stil the best at anime and comic.

    btw, u guys should check out Sundome real action movie.. i watched until 2.. start getting better at 2. Plot starting to change at 2.

  23. […] own dysfunctional relationship with this series continues. I’ve previously reviewed volumes one and two. Volume three represents the series’ pinnacle of nudity and sexual content, although […]

  24. […] news! At the NY Con today, according to MangaBlog, Yen Press (publishers of With the Light, Sundome, and the monthly anthology Yen+, among others) announced that they would be publishing […]

  25. Kesha (anime addict)

    i like sundome it not bad at all. accualy i learned a lot from it. it a cool book. and if you guys read the cover you would see that it was sayin that it is Sexually explicit material. so i don’t see what the problem is. anyway i’m trying to be rude but you guy might make the author look bad if you know what i mean.

  26. Kesha (anime addict)

    sorry i meant i am NOT tryin to be rude

    i wish they have the video now that would be sick!!!

  27. […] in this series, I can’t recommend it, even though I continue to read it. You can read my previous reviews to see why. […]

  28. […] Book 1 […]

  29. […] far as Kurumi’s and Hideo’s relationship go, volumes 6 and 7 offer more of the same from the first five volumes. What is captivating in these two volumes is watching the relationship between […]

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