Aoi has realized that she might just have serious feelings for Shusei, but she’ll be in quite the battle to make him actually look at her as a girl.

Aoi and Shusei are still living together in Aoi’s apartment after Aoi knocked a hole in the dividing wall, and she’s beginning to find that she doesn’t mind the situation quite so much. The bigger challenge for her now that she’s acknowledged her own feelings for Shusei will be to get him to like her back. First things first the two of them will have to work on hiding their embarrassing living situation from the rest of their classmates, and this isn’t quite as easy as it looks when some of Shusei’s friends come over. Naturally, things get even more complicated for Aoi when Shusei’s older brother comes into the picture with some questionable tips for how she might finally win Shusei’s heart.

LDK’s first two volumes have traded extremely heavily on unabashedly employing shojo manga tropes at every turn in telling Aoi and Shusei’s story, and this volume continues this cavalcade of tropes in a fairly entertaining first half. I say enjoyable in the sense that LDK almost demands to be read ironically because of how it manages to incorporate hilariously over-the-top scenarios into the story with a completely straight face, and once I started going with the flow and stopped trying to apply logic to anything that was going on, I found myself have quite a good time with the first couple chapters. I’m not sure what else to make of the dramatic and otherwise unnecessary leap off their balcony to escape his friends (accompanied by tasteful shojo sparkles) that Shusei takes Aoi on at the end of the first chapter other than to have a good laugh, and the fact that that this is played up as a major romantic moment felt fairly absurd in an enjoyable way.

The second chapter of this volume was the strongest in this volume in terms of incorporating the comedy described above, and balancing this against trying to establish Aoi and Shusei’s relationship in a somewhat credible manner. I had wondered what trope would be incorporated into this chapter, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least when Aoi and Shusei’s harsh teacher turned out to be a seductress apparently obsessed with breaking all known laws and tenets of common sense to seduce Shusei on the trip. This was another moment where I had to take a deep breath and temporary suspend my disbelief at the whole premise of this chapter as Aoi witnesses several attempts by the teacher to seduce Shusei. What saves this chapter is Shusei’s completely straight reaction in responding to all of these advances, culminating in him tying up the teacher in a hotel room so he could seek Aoi out for a romantic moment which is the capstone for the chapter. It doesn’t make a lick of sense in any regard, but the sheer oddity in play here had me grinning the entire time in spite of myself. Make no mistake though - if you are reading with the mindset of experiencing a serious romance story it would probably be best to stay away, but those who can appreciate the absurdity that this series dives straight into will likely find some enjoyment like I did here.

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Sadly, my enjoyment of this volume ended very quickly in the second half of the volume, which devolves into a creepy mess that accentuates the many flaws this series has. Unbeknownst to Shusei, his brother arrives on the scene to cause trouble, immediately seeking out Aoi to complicate her situation further. The rest of the volume follows Aoi and Shusei’s brother’s ham-fisted attempts to provoke some jealously from Shusei to get him to see Aoi as a woman. Not only was this a really creepy turn of events especially when Shusei’s brother turns out to be a major slimeball, but it was also fairly stark reminder that Aoi and Shusei are some of the least developed characters I’ve seen in this type of series. It isn’t clear that Aoi has any defining traits or life that don’t revolve around winning Shusei’s heart and similarly, Shusei has almost zero personality almost three volumes into the series aside from apparently being nice at times for no particular reason. The key problem here is that Aoi’s feelings have absolutely no backing or reason for the reader to care if they are realized aside from them being the self-evident purpose of this as a romance series. This was less of a problem when the series embraced the crazy in the first half of the volume, but when the story is played straight it all falls apart fairly quickly.

LDK’s art continues to be a bit of a mixed bag, and despite its nicer looking moments the general blandness of the character designs holds the series back. Author Ayu Watanabe’s paneling continues to be used to good effect in appropriately framing the moments she wants to emphasize as particularly dramatic. While this almost turns the series into a bit of a parody at times, the art clearly goes up a level in the more dramatic situations, and this felt appropriate throughout. The characters generally look a little more expressive than they were in the previous volume thanks to an increased emphasis on their eyes. However, the characters still come across as the amalgamation of numerous other shojo series out there without any defining flair, and certain characters like Shusei come across as very dead looking with some stiff expressions (although judging by his personality, this might actually be unintentionally appropriate). This all wouldn’t hold a better series back from being very good, but LDK’s art while good at times definitely does not propel this series to a recommendation.

In a different universe, it almost feels like LDK could have been an excellent parody series akin to something like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun with a little bit a tweaking based on this volume’s enjoyably absurd first half, but the second half of this volume brings out this series’ lingering problems in a terribly obvious way. Emotional investment is what romance series make their trade on in drawing in readers, but LDK seems to be unable to give any sort of reason to care for Shusei and Aoi because of the flimsiness of their personalities.

What do our scores mean?

LDK Vol. 3 was published by Kodansha Comics USA on February 23rd, 2016. Authored by Ayu Watanabe, the series began in 2009 in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Friend magazine with 19 volume currently released. Volume 3 was published in English on April 19th, 2016.

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