I decided at about mid way last month that all the reviews I posted this pride month on Yaoi Playground would only be titles with good LGBTQ+ representation and when I finally finished reading BJ Alex a few weeks ago by the end I came to an amazing conclusion. This is a hardcore boys love title that shows a very realistic romance between its leads as well as realistic social commentary of the ‘gay experience’ in the modern age. This alone takes this from an amazing title to a modern masterpiece in my opinion when it comes to boys love. Though sex comes quickly in this story and it is the hot scenes that will draw you in, it is the growing romance and character development throughout the series that will keep you coming back for more.
The opening chapters of this manhwa almost feel like a cautionary tale of never meeting your idols, because reality can never live up to the fantasy we have in our head, and in a way this theme continues throughout the entire series. Reality can be harsh and cruel and so can love. First love can be even more complicated when we are still learning about ourselves and who we are and this is certainly true for Nam Dong-Gyun. When it comes to sex he is very naïve at the beginning of the story, but also quietly curious. What starts as an arrangement with his idol BJ Alex as just ‘sex friends’ with the term friend used very loosely soon snowballs emotionally for him when he comes to realize he wants more than just sex and that he has broken the one rule he was given when the arrangement started, don’t fall in love.
BJ Alex, Ahn Jiwon and even the person Ahn is out in public could not be more different from each other, even though they are all the same person, just different masks worn by him. One is the online streamer personality loved by millions of fans for his raunchy livestreams and has a loving attitude towards sex and his own sexual conquest. Ahn Jiwon on the other hand seems perfect to those around him, with his gentle smile and helpful attitude to those around him; but like the mask that BJ Alex wears during his livestreams Jiwon hides the real him behind his smiling mask of perfection. Hidden underneath is a cold angry man who keeps everyone around him at a comfortable distance. As the story continues Ahn Jiwon is the character that gets the most development throughout the story. Through learning about his past, we learn why he keeps people at a distance, why he hates love and why the visage of perfection he hides behind could be doing him more harm than good.
It is the last quarter of the manhwa however that the story goes from amazing to brilliant and there will be spoilers from this point onwards. So if what you have read so far makes you want to go read this manhwa over on Lezhin then please stop here and read the manhwa because I will be spoiling a huge plotline in the later half of the story.
One of the big themes explored in the later chapters of the manhwa is one I have not seen covered all to often when it comes to boys love media, and that is the subject of outing. Early on in the story it is made very obvious that Nam Dong Gyun is a bit of a loner and does not have many friends. The only friends we really see him with is his boss and his work colleague Oh Chanwoo at the café, outside of work he does not seem to socialize at all. As an introvert myself I did not read too much into this and kind of just thought he might just be an introvert to, but it turns out I was not completely right in thinking that, but I also like that even though he is not an introvert there is nothing inherit in the story that says being an introvert is a bad thing.
As Jiwon and Dong-Gyun get to know each other better, after officially starting to date; and can I just take a quick moment to gush over Jiwon’s confession to Chanwoo at the coffee shop about Dong-Gyun and just how adorable a flustered Jiwon is! Anyway once they are officially dating they slowly begin to learn more about each other and while out on a date at a fancy restaurant they are served by a waiter who turns out is a childhood friend of Dong-Gyun and it was a friendship that did not have a good ending.
What was a quietly comfortable date between the two quickly turns upsetting for Dong-Gyun who after this encounter from his past, just wants to get away from the restaurant and be alone with Jiwon. It is once the two are alone that we find out that Gyun, though never popular did have a group of friends growing up that would let him hang out with them in school. As he came into his sexuality and growing up he developed a crush on one of his friends, he decided he did not want to come out to these friends because of careless homophobic comments and jokes they had made while around him without knowing he is gay. He is happy to keep his mouth shut about his own preferences if it means he can still have his friends, and be around his crush.
This comes crashing down however, when he is publicly outed by that same group of friends and my heart dropped when I read this scene and it just about brought me to tears. Nothing had changed about the kind of person or friend he was to these other boys but because they found out he was gay, they ostracized someone they once called friend. This one moment, traumatized him to the point where he never told anyone about his sexuality ever again and even worked to hide it from the few future friends he did make, it is not until he is in a happy relationship with Jiwon that he is comfortable enough in himself to come out to one of the few friends he has.
The act of outing someone else is not only a selfish choice one can make, but it can also be very dangerous for the individual that is being outed. Not all places in the world are as open and accepting of the rainbow mafia as what a lot of western countries like Australia are, but even if you are not in a country where being gay is illegal it is still a stupid and cruel thing to do to someone, no matter how you look at it this is a form of bullying and no one can change my mind on that.
It can be so hard for someone to come to terms with themselves about who they are and even then there are those who like myself take decades to find the language to actually describe who they are, or do not want a label at all. The choice for someone to come out is just that their choice, not the choice of their family or friends and certainly not the choice of those who want to use the fact that the person is different as leverage to bully and harass them and this theme of using it as a form of bully and harassment is brought the to the forefront of the plot in the closing chapters of this story.
Kang-Hun is a character not many fans of BJ Alex talk about but he is a character that could be considered an antagonist within the story. He is introduced early on in the story as a fellow member of the student council with Jiwon and we also learn that he has a reputation amongst the council members as a bully who picks on his lower classmen. He also has a strong disdain for Jiwon because of how popular he is with everyone to the point where he begins scheming for a way to take him down and upon learning about his relationship with Dong-Gyun an under classman that he believed was beneath himself he threatens to out them both to Jiwon and even does so in front of all the other council members. This makes for an amazing climatic event for the ending of the main story of the manhwa and the way things turn out there are a few more twists to this that give it a very satisfying ending over all and also gives the bully some much needed punishment in more ways than one.
Now to those who have read BJ Alex may have noticed that there is one aspect to this series I have not written about in this review, that being the S&M relationship between Chanwoo and MD and there is a reason for that. I plan on writing a whole post about these two next month as a sort of part two to this review because their story is something I really want to discuss in more detail about a realistic representation of their lifestyle choices vs other pieces of fiction that write the lifestyle like romanticized abuse.
I also want to say before I go sorry this post came out so late, I know it is a bit longer than some of the stuff I have been posting recently but I really hope you have enjoyed my posts this Pride Month and I hope all my readers no matter where on the gender or sexuality spectrum stay safe and happy!