Article by Ivan Sison
Edited by Regiena Siy and Caitlin Young
Note: Recommended for webtoon, manga, lesbian, and slice-of-life story enthusiasts. Literally anyone can enjoy this story — a possible entry point for new manhua readers. Not recommended if you don’t like lesbian stories, if you want a heavier take on them, or if you want a complete, tightly-written narrative. In addition, this article is meant to be taken solely as a review and does not endorse any position.
SQ: Begin W/ Your Name! (also known as 他们的故事) is a romantic-comedy comic following the romantic life of the girls Sun Jing and Qiu Tong. Created by Chinese artist Tan Jiu (坛九), it has been in serialization since 2016, now standing at a binge-able 203 chapters.
The plot begins with Sun Jing walking outside a convenience store and bumping into a blonde girl whom she immediately finds cute. Seeing that their high schools are just nearby, Sun Jing happens to see her regularly and finds herself more enamored of her with every passing day. Eventually, she musters up the courage to befriend her—starting with knowing each other’s names.
And so begins the hilarious love story between the two. A lot of LGBT romances these days tend to highlight the perks and the pains of being in this particular community, often rousing feelings of pride and sympathy that give them very loaded vibes. But this comic doesn’t delve into that pathos. Heck, you might even forget that it’s a lesbian romance because it excels in portraying itself as a simple and light-hearted romance between two people.
The story mainly follows Sun Jing as she falls in love with Qiu Tong. But of course, the world isn’t comprised of them alone. In the process of them growing closer, side characters and events also come into the picture, affecting their relationship. There are colorful personalities like Qi Fang (Sun Jing’s closest guy friend), their class representative (a dork nicknamed Tattletale), and Xuezhang (a hulking but friendly upperclassman whom Sun Jing competes with in a future basketball arc).
First things first: the art is gorgeous and versatile. It has this light, desaturated color palette with minimal shading that makes it easy on the eyes. It’s economical and cute, but it still feels classy due to the clean lineart, great anatomy, and the characters’ charming designs. At its most intense, it becomes moving with its moody city lighting, vivid facial expressions, and a strong command of the vertical webcomic format. The scenes where Sun Jing and Qiu Tong talk about their feelings towards each other are prime examples of the art’s prowess.
The comic mainly follows the storyline of Sun Jing and Qiu Tong’s relationship through chapters of varying lengths, and they’re often interspersed with short comic strips of the characters’ daily lives. These small tangents are either removed from the main story (i.e. Xuezhang helping Sun Jing on a cold day), or are set in the main storyline but don’t affect the main plot at all (i.e. a chapter of Sun Jing and Qi Fang’s mischief before a major plot point).
On a chapter-by-chapter basis, the comedy is consistently amusing. It takes the mundane situations the characters are in—be it at a restaurant with a rival basketball team, or a hangout at Qiu Tong’s place—and it manages to set up punchlines around them. Rarely does the comic rely on cliche jokes, and never does it rely solely on cute art to carry the comedy. Really, there are a lot of original punchlines that feel like a breath of fresh air compared to the Western, Korean, or Japanese comedy we usually consume.
When the long-term writing is examined though, that’s when things get messy. Remember when I said the main story is interspersed with short tangential comic strips? Sometimes they do undermine the seriousness of the prior chapters and slow down the story’s progression. Oftentimes, the story would also seem to open up a new character arc (maybe Qi Fang starts to get some love as a character!?) but the author never explores that thread moving forward.
And here’s the biggest issue I have with the story. In the later chapters, a major (and I mean major) roadblock appears in the relationship between Qiu Tong and Sun Jing. I thought it was such a game-changer to how they would interact, and I was excited to see how Sun Jing was going to resolve it. But instead, the author seemed to forget about it ever existing, and moved forward as if this problem had already been solved.
To me, this is a serious writing sin. But despite these narrative issues, I found myself sticking to the story until its latest chapters. The characters aren’t deep, and admittedly the story does start to lose a bit of direction in the later half. But I realized that because of how much time I spent smiling at these characters’ antics and following their conflicts, they had won me over. So won over, in fact, that no matter what Qiu Tong, Sun Jing and company came up with next, I’d find myself willing to read it. They’re just charming people that are fun to be around, and that’s the joy of SQ.
SQ is in a limbo right now. The story’s progression has become sparse with months between updates, even on the Chinese sites. What’s more, it seems like the story’s far from over. SQ may very well never receive a proper ending at this rate.
But that’s okay with me. Really. Because even if there isn’t a definitive destination to this story, I am forever glad that, even if just for a while, I got to experience this fun journey with Qiu Tong and Sun Jing.