BL manga review: Key Ring Lock’s portrayal of loneliness and change; how it conveys the themes and feel to the reader with its unusual set up

{Mentions of/thoughts of suicide}

Keyring lock, also stylized as Key Ring Long, is a manga by ymz (also known for Hi-Fi rendevouz and Happy birthday), first published back in 2016. Spanning a mere 1 volume, it grabs the reader’s attention with a unique premise. The story follows Yui, who is sick of living as a freeter, from paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. As much as he declares that he is content in living like this, he stumbled into a man named Toshiki who mutters to himself about trying to die. Unable to leave the stranger alone in a situation like this, despite thinking that he sounds like trouble, Yui offers to take him home, feeling like something bad would happen if he didn’t.

The first twist happens almost immediately. As soon as Yui sets Toshiki down on his couch and turns to leave, the latter grabs his hand and asks him to stay. After getting both of them beers and ranting about the pains and hassles of working as a novelist, Toshiki asks Yui why he saved him. Upon receiving the “I guess I felt like it” he laughs at Yui’s careless behavior. However, as soon as Yui wakes up he finds himself in an unusual situation. Toshiki offers him to stay at his home, with a roof over his head and meals provided, under one condition – he is not allowed to go outside.

Before you jump into any Killing stalking scenarios probably floating in your mind from this sentence, Keyring Lock is not this kind of story. As Toshiki’s supervisor explains, Toshiki is one of those people who can’t work without other people around, so he resorts to this kind of thing. Out of all the others (the list not being very long; only the supervisor himself), Yui seems to be a somewhat special case. He does not only agree with ease, keeping in mind his hectic life and lack of business outside, but stays much longer than Toshiki’s previous guests.

The main characters are seemingly confined in a room, with the lines between what’s considered normal or abnormal completely blurred, as more time passes. Neither of the leads seem to have clashing personalities, mostly thanks to Yui’s careless attitude and him openly stating what’s on his mind, most of the time with a deadpan look. Dialogue between them flows at its own pace. The apartment itself acts as an important piece of the story, almost having a feel to it and forming the individual loneliness that both characters are familiar with. This kind of limited space creates drama that feels personal to the characters but also makes it believable and not a mash of welcome but regular cliches or tropes that most are used to expecting from BL.

Both Toshiki and Yui and many other characters are lonely, just in different yet still similar ways. Nevertheless, that difference is a key part in the lives of each person and their personalities. Like Toshiki’s previous guest, a runaway from home and merely a highschooler, Kokoro-chan puts it:

Toshiki himself clearly explains the difference between him and Kokoro, this way clearing up some nuances of his own character to Yui, in a subtle way. Kokoro doesn’t want the situation to stay the same, so she takes action, as impulsive as it may seem, while Toshiki waits and hopes “that the thing he wanted comes”. Kokoro stands her ground as she denies the same offer that Yui accepted, saying that there are still things she wants to see, while Yui replies that all he wants is here, so he doesn’t want to leave. The tension seems to rise in the crammed space of Toshiki’s apartment.

The pressure from Yui’s own unknown motivations and reasons and Toshiki’s behavior leads to a high point of sorts as Toshiki asks Yui to remove his piercing if he wants to stay, thus triggering Yui’s memories of a past friend. Toshiki, unhappy that Yui denied him, asks him to leave, leaving him puzzled and conflicted. He expressed a clear want to become closer with Toshiki after all, but does not seem to understand him or his reasoning. In these musings we get to see more of Yui’s background, mainly his friendship with the class outcast Takutomi, a notorious delinquent who fuels all kinds of gossip with every action he takes. Bad at conversing with others and not used to talking about things he’s never seen or heard of before, Yui forms a weird friendship with Takutomi. Recognizing that he was the same as him, unable to make connections, Yui felt that there being someone with him who was like him, was fine and enough.

This is the first time we are introduced to Yui’s feelings of loneliness and lack of things in common with others, cleverly masked with his upfront and careless attitude up to the reveal. That’s why the sadness upon realizing that this connection that the two made won’t last, made the whole scene even sadder. Yui explaining that he thinks Takutomi’s piercing is cool, makes the latter happy and he promises to give one to Yui, who, afraid of the pain, keeps putting it off. The author cleverly hints at Takutomi’s less than stellar home life and problems behind his relaxed expression, as he thanks Yui the last time he sees him:

Given style, Yui for a long time torments himself over the things he could’ve asked or said to make it better for his friend, perhaps even saving him, making it clear why he reacted to hearing Toshiki mutter about dying made him react like this. Toshiki distances himself from Yui once again, who makes a hint at his possible feeling for the other man, and the manga’s unusual story takes its bitter turn. Both it and the reader are ready to finally begin exploring what’s bubbling beneath Toshiki’s mischevious smile.

Toshiki somewhat mirrors Takutomi, as he expresses the same idea of wanting to have met Yui sooner. This time, however, Yui makes it. He stays at the now empty apartment, waiting for Toshiki to come back, who in turn wanted to give Yui the chance to escape. The two recognize how different a regular life would feel with all of their past baggage stacked on top. This time Yui finds the strength to reach out and take Toshiki, with all of his stubbornness back home. He also clearly states that he wants them to be together and not lose the thing that they have so easily.

This causes Toshiki to remember what caused him to become like this, hide his feelings, seek for other people to be around and even confine them in his apartment, as weird as it might sound. As a kid he was nervous to even talk to others and didn’t want to be hated yet still sought connections as he hated to be alone. Yui was the one to cause him to open up and realize what he gained, as he stubbornly tried denying that it was too late and he didn’t even know what he wished for in the first place. Toshiki in turn gave Yui the drive and courage to be stubborn and persistent.

Gaining something from each other, the two get the strength necessary to overcome each of their pasts. This is represented in Toshiki finishing his old story and Yui reassuring him that he can surely write a new one.

The one year time skip of the epilogue gives a nice conclusion for both the main characters and the side ones. Kokoro starts working at a cafe after graduation, wanting to repay its owner who helped and was kind to her. Yui and Toshiki are still living together, bickering even, as one sided as it may be, since neither wants to hurt the other and apologizes almost instantly. The supervisor is still around and, as he visits Kokoro in the cafe, it is revealed that Toshiki switched genres, which made his novels more interesting than they were before.

The main idea of the manga is without a doubt the effects of loneliness and how necessary change really is. Both of the main characters are deeply affected by their individual solitude and events surrounding it to differing degrees. Both of those are conveyed in different methods too; for example, Toshiki acts bubbly and mischievous but longs for company and doesn’t want others to hate him, especially Yui, from when he was a timid child up to adulthood. He chooses his words carefully, yet at times is quick to snap and regret what he said or did.

A relationship can’t magically fix either of their problems, as the bonus chapter clearly shows, but it can help. Yui looses Takutomi’s earring and it starts to bug Toshiki how he gives up and resides that he’ll still have the other one, making him insist that Yui still keeps searching for it as it’s clearly important to him. An important scene in the chapter, is how Yui thinks he sees Takutomi for a second as Toshiki tries to wake him up, portraying that the past doesn’t just disappear in a happy ending, but stays. A change like this helps both it and the person in question to get better (as in grow as a person) and in general to become happier, that’s why it’s an important and central theme in the manga.

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