There will be spoilers for the manhwa series The Black Mirror.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to child abuse, choking/breath play, murder, violence, and gore, as it appears in the manhwa.
Tae-jun spends every day trying his best not to rock the boat. He does his best to make everyone like him, to make the best grades possible, and to make his caregiver proud, all at the expense of any of his wants or needs. Tae-jun is whoever he needs to be to survive; that is all he can hope for. This all started because Tae-jun lost all of his memories after a traumatic accident during his childhood. The accident also had a lasting effect of strange hallucinations, which, as a child, made it hard for Tae-jun to fit in. So, to protect himself and fit in with a world that couldn't understand him, Tae-jun changed himself to fit in.
All of his careful crafting of this perfect personality begins to crack when he encounters Yeon-woo. Yeon-woo recognizes Tae-jun immediately, but Tae-jun doesn't remember Yeon-woo, much to Tae-jun's despair. Nevertheless, Tae-jun is drawn to Yeon-woo, desperate to understand their history and see if Yeon-woo knows anything about the accident that caused him to forget his childhood memories. Yeon-woo is more than eager to let Tae-jun into his life and to help explore their past, but as they get deeper and deeper into their shared history, the hallucinations that have haunted the edges of Tae-jun's life grow ever closer. The safe life Tae-jun has built for himself is about to fall apart, but he can't seem to shake himself away from the cause: Yeon-woo.
The cover art is a bit deceiving, in my opinion. It makes it seem like it's going to be super clean when, in reality, it is anything but that. It's very sketchy, with little to no shading or highlighting and flat coloring throughout, but I think it works for the subject matter. It gives everything an eerie feeling and really helps set the tone for the horror and gore that abound. However, the facial expressions aren't always the nicest to look at. Their side profiles don't always look right and can look severely out of proportion, but the story really helps carry the weaker segments of the art.
Now, one of the prettiest panels in this whole thing is the choking scene. There is choking/breath play in this, and it is not safe (no nonverbal safe words, sometimes it is performed solo), which doesn't bother me, but I want to mention it in case it bothers anyone. However, as a fan of choking and breath play, I might be a bit biased when I say my favorite panel is of our main character, Tae-jun, asking to be choked during sex with Yeon-woo. Tae-jun is beautiful in his weakness and his wanting state. Yet, he is still so trusting of Yeon-woo and is willing to ask for something like that. It's incredibly sexy but also a pivotal moment for the narrative.
Since Tae-jun has spent his entire life acquiescing to others to keep himself safe, this is the first time he has asked for something, something that is odd and kinky that might turn others away. It also shows how much he trusts Yeon-woo, even though Yeon-woo hasn't given him much reason to trust him. It creates this intangible connection between these two that just can't be explained and might be misunderstood by others looking in, which is the entire basis for the narrative. They are all each other has, and in more ways than one, Tae-jun's life is in Yeon-woo's hands. It's really nice to see sex be used as more than just sex (nothing wrong with that, of course; I love my smut) and as a narrative device.
Finally, let's talk about the overall narrative. This does a really great job of building up the tension and the mystery. However, it doesn't do a great job of explaining what's going on. I don't mind narratives that leave questions unanswered, especially in the horror genre. I think it works exceptionally well in horror because sometimes the scariest things are the unknown. This one, though, tries to explain this phenomenon as “malice” that turns people into Takers. It gives individuals at the end of their rope the ability to take happiness from others. I don't feel like it explained things very well, and I almost wish it hadn't explained anything at all because I think it would have been more successful on the horror front. It's an interesting idea, though. I just wish it had either been more fleshed out through the course of the narrative so it didn't feel like a weird info dump at the end, or I wish it hadn't been explained and let us create the answers ourselves.
I am glad I read this. I've seen this title touted as a must-read for a while, and while I find it interesting, I don't feel it necessarily lives up to the hype. I wish the art had been a little better just for my aesthetic preferences, and I wish the story had been crafted with a little more care toward the end, but it was a fun ride. I don't get to read much horror since I read romance exclusively, and those two genres don't cross paths often, so this was a really nice change of pace. If you want to read smut, I think this is probably worth it, but if you're looking for well-crafted horror and romance, this is probably a pass.
Have you read The Black Mirror? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!