When it comes to its premise, ymz’s Key Ring Lock is unlike any other manga I’ve ever read. A cursory glance might clue potential readers in to its status as a BL romance, but that description hardly feels adequate. There are technically elements of romance present by its end, but more than anything this is a story about relationships forged within limited spaces (both physical and metaphorical) and the boundaries imposed and pushed upon by such constraints.
The manga begins with a chance meeting. Upon seeing a dejected and potentially drunk man on the side of the street, Yui helps the man get back home to his apartment. The man, Toshiki, then locks Yui in with him. His hobby, he tells Yui, is confinement. He’ll provide Yui with everything he needs to live so long as Yui follows his rules and never goes outside. Thus, a unique dynamic is born. Neither slice-of-life nor supernatural in any way, Key Ring Lock takes its characters and forces them to ponder and adapt to questions imposed by the bizarre yet not outright fantastical premise. While there is inherently coercion present in Yui’s hobby, it isn’t exactly your standard image of kidnapping. Yui is given multiple chances to leave, but he knows if he did so he would never be welcome back. What do such limits and strict rules mean for the potential of the pair’s growing relationship?
Visually, this manga has a consistent gentleness that initially seemed surprising given the high tensions raised by the plot. Upon reflection however, the aesthetic choices made here make a lot of sense. The whole book looks delicate, ala the two characters’ relationships and understandings of what they want. The line-work is very thin and the texture work, exemplified primarily through clothing, looks rather soft. The main large black expanses throughout are just the tones of Yui’s hair and some of his shirts; otherwise the vast majority of pages are dominated by white and light grays. ymz makes heavy use of screen tones, generally for effective shading and differentiation between moods. All in all the aesthetic is relatively simple but very polished and nice to look at.
In terms of cons, this manga’s main shortcomings arise from what it doesn’t do moreso than what it does do. Part of this stems from the use of setting specifically. For a story that is so intrinsically tied down to one specific location, it doesn’t actually flesh out that location very much. Little is done to convey specific intricacies of Toshiki’s apartment, whether that be in terms of specific physical objects and organization or in terms of how the characters interact with said space. As such, this is a containment story without exploration of the area wherein Yui is being contained. It’s a major missed opportunity.
Because of this neglecting of the setting, much of the manga’s success hinges on the characters’ interactions and arcs throughout. Fortunately, these are mostly solid. Yui is a well-developed character and it doesn’t take long to get into his head and understand why he would choose to go along with Toshiki’s whims. With that said, his main moment of defiance (involving a sentimental earring that he doesn’t want to throw away despite Toshiki’s insistence) offers the best glimpse into either character’s past in the entire book.
Toshiki, meanwhile, isn’t as well-defined. We primarily get information about him through the eyes of the other characters, but it’s not enough to add much depth or explore the causes for his containment hobby is a satisfying way. It’s not that these issues aren’t addressed at all, they just aren’t very effectively developed. As such Toshiki doesn’t feel like a fleshed out romantic partner for Yui, thus cheapening the romance a bit. This also disappoints from the angle of capitalizing on what makes the manga’s premise so memorable and interesting.
All in all, Key Ring Lock is an enjoyable manga with a premise unlike anything else I’ve read. Its greatest shortcoming, however, is that it doesn’t do more to capitalize on said premise. That’s not to say that it utterly fails thematically; it still remains an enjoyable read throughout. The visuals in particular are very well-tailored to the story, with a delicacy befitting the characters and their circumstances. This is a romance worth reading.
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