L♥DK, Vol. 1

By Ayu Watanabe. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Friend. Released in North America by Kodansha.

God knows that I am not the type of person to fault a manga for being too predictable. The industry runs on predictability, and anyone looking for a good adventure, comedy or romance title knows from the start at least the gist of what they’re going to get into. I’m used to many shoujo romances having the same sort of shape. But there’s an agreement you make with the author there, which is that there’s something in this series that will pull you in despite the predictability, be it dialogue, depth of characterization, degree of exaggeration, etc. If everything about a series is something that you can connect the dots, where you guess what’s going to happen 4 pages before it does… well, you probably have something like L♥DK.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Our heroine confronts our hero, who has just rejected her best friend’s confession, and they exchange words. She then goes back to her apartment to find that he’s now living next door. Though a not-so-amazing series of coincidences, his apartment gets ruined and they wind up living together as she feels it was her fault. Now she must keep it a secret from everyone she knows, which is hard as she’s starting to fall for him. It’s also hard because he enjoys flustering and teasing her to such an extent that it would be called bullying if this weren’t a shoujo romance.

Shusei is the guy, and oh my god. I haven’t thrown a book across the room in frustration in quite some time, but when he climbed into her bath and situated himself behind her while her best friend was knocking on the door, I did just that. I get that ‘bully the girl you love’ is a popular trope, and being a straight white male, I am absolutely not the one who gets to say whether it’s good or bad. As always, tropes are good and bad depending on the writing. But this seems a bit over the top even for this genre. Things aren’t helped later on when the two are accidentally handcuffed together by their landlady’s kid, and my first thought was ‘he has the key and is just doing this out of amusement and a really bizarre desire to stay with her’. And sure enough!

Now, this could be OK if we had a really good heroine, and Aoi shows flashes on occasion, mostly at the beginning. But honestly, I think she falls for this guy way too fast, particularly given this series is 18 volumes and counting in Japan. Most of the character beats are “Argh he is so frustrating” – he does something intimate – blushing and flustered – he is rude. Repeat as needed. And I’ve gotten to the point where if I have a blushing, flustered heroine who spends most of her time wondering why she’s in this situation, I can’t also have a guy who is ‘I tease and bully because I love’. This is a very popular shoujo type, and I suspect this series will do quite well here. But it’s just a no-sell for me. I’ve seen it all too often before. And not in a good way.

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