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Warning: This article is full of sensitive content unsuitable for young ages. If you are a minor or suffer from a psychological disease, please chose another article to read instead.
In recent days, there has been some hype around due to a webcomic released in English, Japanese, and Korean. We are talking about Killing Stalking, a manhwa by Koogi and published through Lezhin Comics. The story is told in the point of view of Bum Yoon, a skinny college student that has a long history of abuse. He also happens to be a closeted bisexual who has stalked girls in the past.
Anyway, the story is set in motion when Bum breaks into the house of the popular guy he likes: Sangwoo. When discovered, Bum ends up beaten, with a broken leg, and held captive in Sangwoo’s basement. Surprise, surprise! The charismatic, handsome guy is also a psycho who enjoys torturing people both physically and mentally. Every chapter of Killing Stalking is full of mind games, suspense, and blood, with each chapter ending on a cliff hanger. Will Bum survive to tell the tale? As this is an ongoing manhwa, we still don’t know, but what we should be wondering here is how come this work is pushing the limits of yaoi to the extreme? This is not the first time we see deadly love, sex and violence combined in the otaku world, though, as we will briefly review in the next section.
Violent manga with Love Themes
Love is not all pastel colors and flowers, and in some manga volumes we encounter rather dark stories with different aspects of love portrayed there. From the time of Le portrait du Petite Cosette (2004), Jigoku Shoujo (2005) and Umineko Naku no Koro ni (2007), we had ghostly revenge combined with love in some chapters. In these cases, we have a female figure (Cosette, Ai and Elizabeth) enacting violence to do some sort of justice, which In the cases of Cosette and Elizabeth was directed to them and perpetrated by the ones they loved.
We also had stories like Death Note (2003) and the anime 91 Days (2016) where a good faction does evil things against a bad faction who does good things. This means there are a lot of gray zones and complex motivations behind each faction, but they have in common that they want to win. Particularly In the characters of Misa Amane and Corteo, we get pure intentions mixed with violent actions. Everything is done in the name of love.
However, in such stories, love (or rather, the relationships between such characters and the ones they love) is not the central topic. We have more of this in School Days (2006), Higurashi Naku Koro ni (2007), and Aku no Hana (2009). Such manga can get pretty dark or gory (especially in the case of the last two), but the main point here is how some particular relationships cause the downfall of one or more of the main characters. Nevertheless, perhaps the most similar manga to Killing Stalking is Future Diary (2006), where we get a guy who, through some mysterious circumstances, ends up in a Battle Royale style game together with the girl who stalks him.
And yet, Future Diary has a surreal, bubbly vibe that is totally different from Killing Stalking. Plus, did you notice that the titles we mention are not yaoi? We could stretch Death Note and 91 Days a bit due to the bromance in them, but there is still something that puts Killing Stalking in a different basket. And no, my dear otakus, it is not the yaoi per se. To understand how relationships and violence are portrayed in this manwha better, we have to understand some aspects of Korean culture.
Crash Course on Korean Culture Reflected in Killing Stalking
Before we start this section, we must clarify that all cultures have their good points and bad points. Unfortunately, human beings can be violent anywhere on the planet, being pretty creative on the ways to do so. Also, not everyone will go to an extreme for the sake of being “in national character”. Anyway, the first thing we should state is that Korean culture is pretty much patriarchal and focused on having male heirs. We can say that in Japan as well, but being a peninsular nation invaded often in the past by its neighbors, Korea tends to keep even more faithful to traditions because that is what defines Korea in essence. Thus, anything or anyone that goes out of the norm is considered an outsider and not seen in a very good light. This includes gay people and losers.
In Killing Stalking, one of the first things we learn about Bum is that he is ashamed of liking guys. There is also a rigid cut or classification on the types of relationships someone can have. Of course that this is not the truth in real life, but if people in the story keep saying that friendship between men and women doesn’t exist, or that either you are in or out like in the case of Sangwoo, we get a “black or white” space. Although both main characters show contempt for people who are too keen towards appearances (and that usually end up as victims of their violence), there is a background of “not belonging” to the mainstream which is specially true in the case of Bum.
This takes us to another important point in the story, which is the military service. In Korea, all men who are fit have to pack up light and live the military life for two years. They are isolated from their usual environment, use firearms, and much of the hierarchical and violent power structure related to Korean men is learned there. However, men who serve in military service tend to be proud, as they have done a great service to their nation.
A spartan environment is just the ideal place for more abuse to Bum, who is already insecure and unathletic. His psychological issues make him hallucinate, which also deems him as an unreliable source of information. As for Sangwoo, we have the survival of the strongest instinct, which is exacerbated in his violence. Thus, the author takes some of the most controversial points of Korean society to make his characters stand out more. And now, we are going to get on with the juiciest part, shall we?
Can we consider Bum and Sangwoo as in love?
What is interesting about Killing Stalking is that it got a lot of attention among yaoi fans, but let’s take a closer look. Are we talking about yaoi here? Bum gets smitten with Sangwoo in the beginning of the story, and Sangwoo (sometimes) is nice to him. However, the amount of physical and psychological abuse Sangwoo exerts over Bum tells us that no, this is not about love. Neither Bum nor Sangwoo can be considered gay, and we say this because Sangwoo goes mostly after girls.
Everything Sangwoo does is to control and belittle people. We don’t only get graphical and gratuitous physical violence from his part at the smallest of provocations, especially in the basements scenes. We also get the mind games, which can be considered as psychological abuse. Such mind games are played to manipulate other people’s sense of reality or their views about what is acceptable.
Bum, who already has a weak will when he meets Sangwoo, is the perfect target for him. Under Bum’s point of view, Sangwoo is everything he is not: handsome, popular, articulate, you name it. That is why any type of attention received from Sangwoo is uplifting and validates Bum as a person. Thus, Bum displays symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, although the question of how much what he remembers or visualizes is reliable remains open.
Anyway, we can check on other people around the pair, who notice that, while Sangwoo is superficially kind to Bum, he provokes “incidents” to make him feel uncomfortable. For example, we have a scene where Bum wants to go to the bathroom and, being sat in the middle of Sangwoo and a fat guy, he has to get up and pass through either one of them. Sangwoo does not only ignore him at first, but makes him trip over the fat guy, which embarrasses Bum a great deal. The other people at the table notice and think of Sangwoo as a bad person, but nobody says it aloud. Thus, the mechanism of abuse is perpetuated.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Why is Sangwoo willing to keep Bum by his side? It is not only to have a comrade to commit his usual crimes. It is about having someone who reminds him, Sangwoo, constantly that he is all powerful over an individual. At some point in the story, Bum becomes more scared than infatuated by him. Thus, the answer is again no. This is not a story about love.
So, if Killing Stalking is not yaoi, what is it? It can be considered a psychological horror or thriller with bisexual protagonists. Nevertheless, the psychotic characteristics of Sangwoo and the inferiority complex of Bum are not very accurate from a psychological point of view. These characters have been exaggerated for the sake of the plot.
Again, we must remind you that Bum is an unreliable narrator, which is something often forgotten due to the realism of other aspects of the plot. Therefore, let’s say that Killing Stalking is the Korean Silence of the Lambs. This novel and movie has more shared characteristics with the story than the typical yaoi :p But tell us, what do you think about Killing Stalking? Don’t forget that we are open to all our comments and suggestions. See you soon!