You will have no problem understanding the meaning of the title Nevertheless (알고있지만/I Know But) as you watch this 10-episode JTBC adaptation of a webtoon by the same title. You might even find yourself following up every statement made by the characters of the series with a “nevertheless…” or “but…” throughout the equally ethereal and exhausting series.
Nevertheless is essentially a slice of life look at modern day romantic relationships as portrayed by a group of university students who have diverse points of view as to what such relations should entail or look like. Romance and sex. Culturally taboo or socially accepted. Healthy or toxic. The series touches upon many situations and circumstances in a way not many Korean dramas have even attempted to do.
Though the material may be initially jarring for some Korean drama fans, both local and abroad, Nevertheless is still a very realistic portrayal of young men and women in 2021. Whether we like it or not, relationships aren’t always pretty or will always reach a happy ending. They may not always conform to one’s perceived notions. But that’s what television dramas allow for; getting to see scenarios one might not agree with or see often.
Nevertheless‘ liberal view on dating and relationships is illustrated most vividly with its main characters Yoo Na Bi (Han So Hee) and Park Jae Eon (Song Kang). Fresh off of an unhealthy relationship with her former mentor, art student Na Bi meets and is instantly intrigued by fellow art major Jae Eon.
Jae Eon has a reputation for being a playboy who has hordes of women falling at his feet. And while Na Bi repeatedly witnesses this play out right in front of her, she can’t help but feel drawn to this mysterious bad boy. Na Bi admittedly sees and acknowledges all the so-called “red flags.” Nevertheless(!), she can’t deny the attraction she has toward him.
After several, enjoyable nights together, Na Bi does begin to question what they’re supposed to be. Is she just one of Jae Eon’s regular hook ups? Or is there something much deeper between them. Interestingly enough, Jae Eon may not be so sure of the answer himself.
Things get expectedly complicated when Na Bi reconnects with her childhood friend, the sweet and cheerful Yang Do Hyeok (Chae Jong Hyeop) who has had feelings for her since their younger days together.
Though it is certainly not hard to predict the series’ endgame judging from the promotional posters, there is a certain expectation going into the series that we might get a deep character-driven coming of age story.
Spoiler alert! We do not, in fact, get one.
Nevertheless features many different characters who each have different views on romantic relationships. From two young women who come to terms with their feelings for each other to unrequited love to having the freedom to sleep around, no strings attached to a simple, straightforward love connection; Nevertheless has a couple of, well, couples to choose from.
Relatively speaking, these supporting characters are the ones who actually do experience some character growth over the course of the 10 episodes.
But that is relative to our main couple. Because, fair warning, you may be going through the series hoping to see either Na Bi or Jae Eon escape from the boxes they’ve kept themselves in. But you’re sadly not going to see it and that’s the most intriguing thing about this series.
Nevertheless sets out to present a grounded and realistic look at young adult relationships. That includes sex and hooking up. That includes falling in love in the sweetest and most unexpected ways. And it includes the idea of being trapped in an unhealthy and toxic relationship.
There’s no other way to describe Na Bi and Jae Eon’s complicated connection. There is an immediate attraction and connection. Definitely a physical one. But the emotional connection is what has gotten viewers riled up and passionate about the series.
Like mentioned earlier, Na Bi herself admits several times that a relationship with Jae Eon may not be the happiest or healthiest of decisions for her. But she, nevertheless has feelings for him that she cannot deny.
This premise is perfectly fine. In fact, it is quite an intriguing story to pursue. However, Nevertheless foregoes any kind of depth or character development to truly dig in to why someone like Na Bi would willingly return, repeatedly, to such a relationship. Or why someone like Jae Eon, repeatedly, breaks whatever trust that may or may not be expected in a relationship like this.
Perhaps it’s something that is unexplainable. And if so, then Nevertheless hits it out of the park. Hard to argue that, but it’s possible.
Jae Eon sleeps around or makes out with any girl that approaches him? That’s fine. But Nevertheless presents the idea that Na Bi will somehow change him. Does he? Is there a reason he is the way he is? We actually don’t know because the series never tackles the story in a way that delves into that kind of character growth and development.
For our lead couple, the series is mainly a rinse and repeat of them going their separate ways before soon feeling that sexual tension and the urge to be all over each other.
In a sense, that is very much in line with the series setting out to be a realistic portrait of young relationships. Yes, young people do hook up. Yes, young people do find it hard to break free of unhealthy relationships. Those are legitimate stories to tell with lots of potential for engaging drama.
Nevertheless, unfortunately, opts to not do any of that and instead tries to simply romanticize what we can only assume is its portrait of a mature and complicated modern relationship. One that is at times frustrating, other times exhausting and other times cringe-inducing.
Add to that the fact that Nevertheless seems intent on doling out happy endings for pretty much everyone except our second male lead Do Hyeok. (Who is affectionately called ‘Potato Boy’ by fans.) In that sense, the series is far from realistic. And as much as it starts out as a uniquely unflinching look at modern day relationships, it sadly devolves into typical K-drama bow-tying at the end.
The cast certainly has no problems bringing the material to life. The large ensemble of supporting actors and fun guest stars help to fill out the slice of life world of the series.
The series’ breakout star is definitely Chae Jong Hyeop. It helps a lot that you want to root for ‘Potato Boy’ Do Hyeok all-series long, even if he isn’t a perfect character either. But a big part of that is Chae Jong Hyeop being able to endear Do Hyeok almost immediately with a great boy next door charm.
Na Bi and Jae Eon definitely have many flaws as characters. Nevertheless, Han So Hee and Song Kang do their best in bringing their characters to life. Truthfully, these aren’t career-defining performances. Far from it. But maybe it’s thanks to their performances as well that help to illicit the cringe and the frustration that comes with watching their characters’ romanticized toxic relationship.
Nevertheless‘s indie sensibility is its strongest aspect. Definitely out of the mainstream in both content and presentation, the series has a refreshing visual identity paired with a properly mellow tone. This isn’t a fluffy idol drama, nor is it a deep discussion on the psychology of young adults. But at least it looks good even when the stories can get a bit shallow at parts.
Nevertheless has stirred up strong emotions from viewers. And that can be considered somewhat of a success. To have people so invested in the series that they are frustrated and disappointed is something some series would love. At least people care enough to feel so strongly.
But Nevertheless is a fascinating entity. Another one of those series that have all the pieces laid out on the table, yet still unable to put them together into a complete picture. The series has a good cast and its bravery in having ideas not-often touched upon is commendable. Nevertheless, Nevertheless lacks real depth that could’ve made it a pretty seminal work for character-driven, coming of age stories in Korean drama.