There will be spoilers for the manhwa series Escape into Oblivion.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to violence, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, attempted murder, manipulation, gang activity, obsession, stalking, ableism (use of the r-slur), suicide, suicidal ideation, pseudo-incest, BDSM, slut-shaming, cheating, PTSD, death, homophobia, co-dependency, toxic relationships, child abuse, child neglect, homelessness, bullying, harassment, impersonation, manipulation, and drugging, as it appears in the manhwa.
Woojin is willing to do anything to escape. Escape from what? His family, school, his lovers, and life in general. He'll do whatever it takes to escape, whether through sex, alcohol, moving away, hiding from school, or anything else. It's almost like a game to Woojin, and it's one that he wins often. That is until he meets Hwon.
Hwon does anything Woojin asks, even when Woojin does everything he can to either run from Hwon or hurt him. This intensity of love is new to Woojin, and it scares him. What scares him even more, though, is who Hwon might be. Part of why Woojin feels the need to escape is that when he was a child, his friend was beaten by a homeless boy they would occasionally pick on and whom Woojin would confide in. Rather than save his friend, Woojin ran away, never to see the friend again.
Could Hwon be that friend seeking revenge? Or could he be the homeless boy, finally back to take what belongs to him, Woojin? Woojin's not sure which he would prefer, but he knows one thing for sure. No matter who Hwon ends up being, Woojin has fallen hopelessly in love with him, which is something he can't escape.
The art is ugly. I'm just going to be frank about it. It's very inconsistent and doesn't look pretty, except for the colored sections where we see Woojin's childhood, which leads me to my point. I think the ugliness is purposeful, as is the choice for most of this to be in black and white. One of the critical points of the story is Hwon's real identity and Woojin's inability to remember anything before his sister's suicide, which includes his friend's assault. I think the black-and-white, ugly world is how Woojin sees everything, just the blank oblivion he is constantly running away from. His past with that friend was one of the few happy times in his life, which is why they are in color and are well-drawn because he can see them clearly, untainted by the pain he's gone through. If we saw his present in color, it would also be apparent to us who Hwon actually is when we finally see Woojin's past, so it's both a visual look into Woojin's mindset and a way to keep the reader hidden from the truth. It's a clever tool, for sure.
Another thing I really liked about this was how open it was to interpretation. The author even said that was their intent. Just as Woojin is willing to accept Hwon no matter his true intentions, identity, etc., we are forced to accept their relationship, regardless of how toxic it is or if Hwon really is brainwashing Woojin or not. There are points where Hwon gives Woojin vitamins, and then during the night, Hwon will whisper things to Woojin, like commands or brainwashing. It's never made clear whether or not Hwon is drugging Woojin or if he genuinely is giving him vitamins because he loves him. Woojin isn't sure either, but he doesn't care either way. He just wants Hwon. It's a compelling ending to be left so open like that, and I really like that it was left to our interpretation.
However, the author also said they intended the ending to be when Woojin suspects Hwon might be the friend or the homeless boy. I wish we had gotten that ending because I think it is actually more interesting to have us guess the identity of Hwon and for Woojin to accept Hwon regardless of who he really is. I think that is much more powerful of a toxic acceptance over the drug debacle, but I like both. I just think the identity question was a much stronger choice for the ending.
Finally, I have to talk about the sex. I don't know how anyone could find this sexy. There is tons of sex, but it's the equivalent of a drug addict taking drugs. Woojin doesn't necessarily enjoy sex. It's his only way of escaping the world and controlling others, so it's a tool more than anything else. Even the sex between Hwon and Woojin is violent, toxic, and often cruel, as Hwon uses it to punish Woojin, and Woojin uses it as a way to reward, placate, and connect to Hwon. I'd hardly call it sex most of the time. It's more of a desperate attempt by two people to connect when they can't otherwise. I like what it shows about their toxic relationship and who they are as people, but I don't find it sexy or hot in any sense, and I don't think it's meant to be, either.
This is dark, dark, dark, dark. If you're looking for smutty romance, then turn away now, as this goes much deeper than that. I'm not even sure I'd really call it a romance. It's so toxic. It's a painful journey with very few bright points. Even the ending is shrouded in darkness and mystery, so I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who may be easily triggered by dark content. However, I did enjoy this and liked many of the narrative elements. It's not the strongest story in the world, but it's definitely one that I'll reflect on for a while.
Have you read Escape into Oblivion? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!