At the End of the Road, also known as What Lies at the End is a Boys Love webcomic series by Haribo. I wasn’t actually going to review this series, but a reader of my site contacted me asking my opinion on it. I got halfway through writing my response before realising that I’d pretty much written a blog post. So a big thank you to that reader for getting the creative juices going! Also, before I get into the series I want to warn readers that this is quite a dark story which features abuse and suicide, if reading about these topics will be upsetting, I’d recommend clicking to another post on my site.
18 year old Taemin has had a rough life, he dropped out at elementary school, and has been working to live paycheck to paycheck. His life collides in the worst way possible with Siwon, a rich and successful student who is the victim of horrific bullying. When the two of them are on the brink of death, their souls swap bodies. Taemin, now living as Siwon, must navigate a treacherous high school life and the reunion of an old childhood friend.
First thing I want to say was that I loved the art in this series. Each character had such an interesting style, and their eyes were so expressive. I particularly enjoyed it anytime Taemin (in Siwon’s body) smirked or blushed, he could go from badass to adorable so quickly. I also really liked the simple backgrounds, mainly blocks of colour, as it helped the character’s stand out. Story-wise I’m a little torn. The series started out very well, but it fell apart towards the end. There were a lot of loose ends that the author tried to deal with in side stories or the epilogue chats, but I felt that it could have just as easily been slotted into the main story with some better planning.
While the story is in the Boys Love genre, I’d say that romance is not at the forefront. The series focuses on the ways in which other’s actions can affect our life, and how our childhood can form the path that we walk. I actually really enjoyed this ethos behind each of the characters, as it made for morally complex and unique personalities. Taemin in particularly had some great conflicts within him, particularly on whether to trust his old childhood friend and love interest Woojin. Speaking of the love interest, I did not like his character at all. I found him to be quite nasty and his love unhealthily obsessive. So while I did appreciate childhood chapters to explain this personality, that doesn’t mean I necessarily accepted nor liked it.
Spoilers & discussion of sexual assault in the next section, skip to just before the cat ear photo to see the final comments.
A major issue within the Boys Love genre is the way that sexual assault is handled and discussed. I felt there was great promise in this series to portray it in a mature manner, showing the journey of a survivor, but no. The assault was used as a shock-jock moment and then belittled by other characters. In one particular disgusting scene, the love interest (Woojin), describes the video recording of the assault as “boring”. Which, while perhaps keeping in with his character, was an unnecessary scene. He could just as easily have said nothing. Furthermore, the actual survivor of the assault, Siwon, never receives any justice or a second chance at life.
This was only compounded by the series’ disappointing end. Rather than focusing on taking down the group who had destroyed Siwon’s life, it went an evil twin route. Sure, Siwon’s twin was an absolute piece of trash, and he set Siwon up to be assaulted. But the actual rapists pretty much get off scot-free. In fact, the main dude that organised the rape, never gets punished, but has an almost redemption arc in his role to take down the ‘evil’ twin. Then, to make things even worse, Siwon’s twin is hinted at being assaulted at the end by this instigator. The way this scene is portrayed is that the twin deserved this and it is his punishment. What the actual fuck?
On a smaller note, I noticed some really weird inconsistencies or just odd things that stood out. For example, at one point in the story Taemin mentions that the school is four hours away from his house. According to Google, a train trip from Seoul to Busan takes 2 – 2.5 hours, how on earth is this kid’s school four hours away from him!? In another scene set in the character’s childhood, Siwon or his twin are enamoured by Woojin’s blue eyes. But damn, the twins have blue eyes too! I’m unsure if these were translation inconsistencies or just the author’s lack of attention to detail, but these two examples just took me out of the flow of the story as I took a moment to be like ‘what?’.
Overall, At the End of the Road, had an interesting premise, beautiful art and unique characters. The recipe for a great story. But Haribo managed to completely stuff it all up with their handling of the sexual assault and ending to the series. It ended up just being a disappointing read which left a bad taste in my mouth. 6/10