There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Cover-up.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to scars, mafia/gang activity, obsession, violence, assault, blood, abuse, rape, death, torture, kidnapping, confinement, suicide, sex work, controlling relationship, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, as it appears in the manhwa.
Yeon Geum-hwa is a tattoo artist and a highly sought-after one at that. Unfortunately, he learned his craft from his ex-boyfriend, an obsessive and controlling man whom Geum-hwa would love nothing more than to escape from. That opportunity arises when he gets a call about a potential client in Japan. They want to fly Geum-hwa out there to perform a cover-up for someone. While it's not explicitly stated, it's not hard to figure out that this client is part of a gang or yakuza.
It's a dangerous prospect, but if it will free Geum-hwa from his ex's influence, the danger is well worth it. So, after designing the tattoo, Geum-hwa is flown out to Japan, where he meets his client, Katamoto Seung-jae, the second son of the Katamoto family's head. Geum-hwa inadvertently ends up in the middle of a power struggle between the first son and the second son, being used as leverage by the first son when Geum-hwa and Seung-jae begin a physical relationship. While he's no longer any safer in Japan than he would be at home, Geum-hwa is hopelessly in love with Seung-jae, and while Seung-jae feels the same, he isn't willing to risk Geum-hwa's life.
Even though Geum-hwa is willing to risk everything to be with Seung-jae, Seung-jae feels compelled to let him go. Will Seung-jae be able to follow through, or will he be unable to let Geum-hwa go?
Just like with the other work I've reviewed by this same creator (I'm Yours, Blood and Soul), the art in this is super inconsistent and sometimes just plain ugly. Our antagonist top, Minwook, looks like a square mushroom the first time we see him. Seung-jae doesn't look that much better, being just as square a lot of the time. Geum-hwa is the nicest-looking one and the most consistent of the three, which seems to be the standard. This artist does feminine characters very well and is the most consistent. That doesn't mean those are the only issues. We still see the whites of the eyes just being the skin color, which looks odd, too. I wouldn't say this style is the worst I've ever seen. It's just not as clean and consistent as I would like.
Story-wise, the foundation of the story is really nice. I love that our main character is a tattoo artist, traveling to cover up a scar for a yakuza member with a tattoo. There's something so attractive and intimate about a tattooist and the person he is tattooing, which is really emphasized in this. Unfortunately, while the story's foundation is super intimate and sexy, the story built on top of it doesn't feel as thoroughly explored as it could be. This seems to be the standard for this author, creating works with really fun or interesting concepts but without much substance to go along with that. We get some in-depth background for Geum-hwa and his relationship with Minwook, but Seung-jae remains a mystery, which is unfortunate since he is probably the most interesting character. Don't get me wrong, we get some background, but it's rather vague without explaining why they think he is cursed, why the tattoo he had before it was burned off was a symbol of the curse, etc. The ending also feels somewhat lacking, especially when it seems to introduce a possible secondary couple that never goes beyond that suggestion. It just left me wanting more, but not in a good way.
I do adore the title of this piece, though. It has so many meanings in its simplicity that I just adore it. I'm upset that I didn't write something with this title myself. It starts with the obvious meaning: Seung-jae getting a cover-up for his scar. But it also speaks to Minwook, trying to cover up his insecurities in his abusive relationship with Geum-hwa with violence. It also speaks to Geum-hwa covering up his own trauma and pain with the relationship he had with Minwook, to begin with. Then, it comes back to Seung-jae covering up his feelings for Geum-hwa by claiming it is unsafe for Geum-hwa to be with him. There is also the moment when Geum-hwa scars up the tattoo Minwook put on him, a much more permanent cover-up than even another tattoo could be, which now ties him to Seung-jae, both having scars. This is a multi-layered title, and I adore it.
Something interesting that isn't necessarily part of the main story but is mentioned by the author in the author's note is that this was initially meant to be a GL title. My experience with GL is pretty limited, though I have a nice backlog of titles I plan to read through one day. Since I don't have an extensive background in GL, it's interesting to imagine how the dynamics might change with the switch in gender. I almost feel like, in many ways, this might have been more interesting with women than it is with men. Women are often depicted as being soft and gentle in media, so to have this with women filling the roles of the controlling and cruel ex and the love interest trying to solidify her position as heir to her mafia family sounds so interesting. I also find the character sketches of the women to be more satisfying than we get for our two tops, which shocked me. If nothing else, this has spurned me to read some of the GL waiting in my backlog.
This was fine. I loved the concept so much, which is probably why this felt so disappointing in the end. I loved Geum-hwa as a character, which is super biased on my front since I love a good, strong-willed sex worker type (I mean, I wrote some myself with Marble, Warm Under My Fingertips and Dominate Me). He was really well-developed, but everyone else wasn't, which made the entire story feel so lacking and, in turn, made the ending feel lackluster at best. I wouldn't say it's terrible, but it just needs more. It's super short, so if you need a quick bite of BL, this is a fine option. Just don't expect a super fleshed-out story.
Have you read Cover-up? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!