There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Aporia.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to BDSM (safe and unsafe practices depicted, forced and consensual), self-immolation, self-harm, mentions of suicide, stalking, violence, blood, PTSD, assault, gossiping, manipulation, homomisia, mentions of arranged marriage, obsession, social gap, toxic family dynamics, excessive drinking, child labor/child acting, self-hatred, overwork, possibly disordered eating, mental illness, privacy invasion, improper use of medication, sextortion/blackmail, child neglect, harassment, and body-shaming (frequent comments on being too skinny), as it appears in the manhwa.
Goo Ja-wook is hopelessly in love with the infamous Yoon Gyum. Their relationship began by pure chance. Ja-wook just happened to be scoping out the exclusive club for BDSM enthusiasts, not because he was interested in BDSM, but because his company was being hired to design the space for an upcoming renovation and subsequent event. Ja-wook innocently took a seat at the bar to take down notes and sketch up plans when he was approached by none other than Gyum. Gyum was immediately smitten with Ja-wook, assuming he was a club patron as well, and intent on finding out how compatible they are in the bedroom, invited Ja-wook up to his room. Far too enraptured by Gyum to realize what he's walking into, Ja-wook happily agrees.
After a steamy night, Ja-wook wants nothing more than to be with Gyum, but rather than be asked out officially, Gyum has a different arrangement in mind. Gyum intends to form a dom-sub relationship with Ja-wook. The main stipulation? They never pry into the other's personal lives. What Gyum doesn't realize is that Ja-wook has no interest in being a sub, much less a masochist, but he does have a vested interest in Gyum. Ja-wook agrees for no other reason than that he wants to be with Gyum in any way he can, even if at the risk of his pride and health.
So begins Ja-wook's nosedive into the world of BDSM.
The art in this is very distinct. It's very sketchy and inconsistent. The body proportions are all over the place, with hands being far too big at times, fingers reminiscent of ET, limbs being far too long, and the facial features vary from panel to panel. In any other story, I probably would very much dislike this art style, but with the darker, colder, more painful storyline, I think it really works. This less-than-pristine style also lends itself well to the more romantic and fluffy moments with shockingly stunning panels that just come out of nowhere. It's really entrancing watching a sketchy and inconsistent style develop into something beautiful. The growth in the art is a narrative all in itself.
Something that really makes this series so great, though, is the BDSM. If you liked Alien in My Wardrobe, turn that up by 1000 when it comes to the sexy consensual BDSM. We have safewords, safety signals, contracts, education, constant checking-in, and training. This has everything. What's even better, though, is how the unsafe and nonconsensual (not noncon play, but true noncon) BDSM is depicted. It isn't romanticized at all, and it is routinely put down as being a negative thing, as it is. Just to be transparent, I am someone who typically likes dubcon and noncon. However, even with my own preferences in mind, seeing how heavily consent is emphasized and how much the opposite is criticized is so sexy. It's refreshing, as there is far more unsafe and nonconsenting BDSM content out there than the opposite. Gyum is a doting, safe consent king, and we love him for that. And there are so many different forms of play in this, like using sleeping pills to give yourself over entirely, neglect play, breath play, and all manner of bondage. This series is a BDSM paradise, and it's worth seeing for that alone.
On that same token, it's very interesting to see manipulation happening from the sub and bottom's side of the relationship. Regarding manhwa, it's common for the top or dom to be manipulative and more of a red flag. In this case, Ja-wook is actually the manipulator, and he does so by pretending to be a masochist. This isn't as forward or forthright of a betrayal, but it is still a betrayal, especially for Gyum, who emphasizes honesty and consent in his relationships. By lying about his preferences, Ja-wook sets up Gyum to be a torturer without his consent or knowledge. It's interesting to see this form of lying, as most people probably wouldn't see it as such. Of course, it would hurt Gyum, especially when taking into consideration the traumatic past he has with partners manipulating him. By hiding his preferences, Ja-wook took away Gyum's ability to create an equal and satisfying partnership with him. It's just a refreshing method of creating conflict and strain in the relationship, and I really enjoyed the angle of it and how it helps Ja-wook grow into someone who is willing to be honest and open, even at the risk of being rejected.
As much as I loved pretty much everything about this, I have to say that I hate the side couple. They just don't feel like they have any chemistry or that they even like each other. Yuda is just so cagey and flippant about things, then pair that with Soo-eon, who is cold and distant, and these two just come off as a frigid couple. I know part of it is because Yuda is trying to separate his feelings for Soo-eon from his want for BDSM. Similarly, Soo-eon is trying to prove that Yuda likes him, not just being dominated by someone, but it just doesn't feel believable due to their lack of chemistry. It was a slog rereading their portions of the story, but that made Ja-wook's and Gyum's sections so warm and a breath of fresh air. Seeing how bad the side couple is ended up really bolstering the strength and chemistry in our main couple, which is a good thing in the end, I suppose. I would have rather just not have a side couple, but here we are. I will say the side story with Yuda and Soo-eon was fun. That was probably the most chemistry they have throughout the entire series, but they have developed into very different people by then too, which is probably why. I wish we had seen this side of them earlier on, but it's nice to see their development later rather than never.
I love this. I am a sucker for BDSM, and this has such a refreshing take on the world of BDSM and its practices (particularly with our king Gyum) that it is impossible not to love. I love writing BDSM myself, and I long to one day write a dom as sensual and attractive as Gyum. I can dream. It's not perfect by any means, but it's almost better because of those imperfections. If you want some really good BDSM smut, it doesn't get much better than this. This is an instant favorite for me.
Have you read Aporia? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!