I welcome you to yet again a short review of a series I’m reading. I wonder if writing about the stuff I read on a weekly basis and still having trouble deciding which title to pick is a sign of me reading too much… there are so many good stuff to talk about! Sometimes I have more to say and I prefer putting them on my blog, other times less so I only put together a thread on my Twitter. But either way, BL is a gift that keeps on giving. Without further ado, my -technically- last week’s pick is here! Enjoy ~
Your family or friends would congratulate you for coming second in something you’ve been working hard at. After all, it’s no easy feat to compete and earn yourself a rank! But it’s also the truth that only the firsts earn a place in everyone’s memories, not the second bests. And that’s where Soohyun is at, always a step behind, a tad below, crushed under the perfection in the form of his classmate Eunsung. You know, the whole “good looking + friendly + best at academics and sports” package. This bitterness slowly turns into an obsession to get ahead of Eunsung for Soohyun but until the bitter end, things don’t go the way he wants.
Although his frustration never dies down completely, Soohyun has reached a point where he’s content with his mundane, day-to-day life. That is until he hears Eunsung’s name involved in a huge scandal with a big shot painter in the news. Soohyun’s past obsession surges once again; he resigns and finds a position as a reporter, carefully planning for the day he will topple Eunsung over and revel in the sight of his nemesis cowering under him. And he strikes a deal with Eunsung.
Oh, look what we have here, another favorite dynamic of mine! The petty second place x the perfect first place. A refined example of the enemies-to-lovers trope. Because nothing beats the satisfaction you get when two people who hate each others’ guts slowly fall in love and be extremely dense about it in the process. Checkmate is a less funny and more scheming version of it, and I have to say it works very well. One detail I’m wary of with BL works that incorporate suspense is that it usually resolves too quickly. If you are to introduce a serious traumatic event or intense emotions only for it to be settled in a manner of chapters where the couple is immediately over whatever they had going on and become lovey-dovey, the whole structure becomes inconsistent.
This can, of course, be partly attributed to the length where commercial BL manga is more often than not wrapped up in only one volume, whereas in webtoon format there’s space to introduce more events and characters other than the romantic developments between the characters. In this sense, Checkmate does remarkably well in carrying the tension without dropping throughout the chapters, both between the male leads and with the scandal Eunsung finds himself in. The clean and minimal art style, along with the palettes consisted of washed-out colors give out an intentional dullness to everything and everyone in the series, save for Eunsung’s amber eyes that stare into the reader’s soul.
At some point, I was very close to dropping the series (and platform altogether) because I was so frustrated with Lezhin. Checkmate first came out as just ‘Checkmate’, without any mention of its age rating. I’ve been keeping up with the series ever since its release, week by week diligently purchasing chapters. After 6 months, they suddenly announced there was actually a mature version of the series, and I had to buy the chapters again if I wanted to read it. The worse part of it all is that it’ll take another 6 months for the new release to catch up to where I left the all-ages version.
But that’s a me vs. Lezhin problem and neither the artist nor the story has something to do with it. Maybe we’ll have our enemies-to-lovers glow up with Lezhin one day, but we’re still in the “throwing hands at the slightest inconvenience” phase. We’ll work it out. Hopefully.
Checkmate is a series that I’ve grown really fond of gradually, I can’t wait to see how the scandal will resolve and the male leads’ I-hate-you-so-much-but-you-kind-of-turn-me-on-so-having-sexy-times-is-ok-i-guess dynamic will find its way to more genuine feelings towards each other. I recommend it for people who love suspense and drama, power struggle and manipulation between the leads, steamy scenes sprinkled in between, and a compellingly written plot. Hope I was able to paint an interesting picture of the series, and as always, you can let me know if there’s a series or platform you’d want me to cover. If not, thank you for tuning in and see you next week!
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