Let Dai Volumes 1-3 by Sooyeon Won
Jaehee is a normal schoolboy in Korea. When he hears a girl calling for help he runs to see what’s wrong. He sees a girl being attacked by a gang, and throws himself in the middle of the crowd, telling her to run away. Jaehee’s sacrifice ends up not working, as the girl is captured by the gang leader and he’s beaten up. Some passers-by yell at the group of kids and Jaehee escapes. The gang leader is the legendary Dai and his followers are known as the Furies. Jaehee is overwhelmed by Dai’s presence.
It turns out that the girl Jaehee tried to save is Yooneun the older sister of Eunhyung, the girl Jaehee is dating. Yooneun and Jaehee are drawn together after their experience with Dai’s gang. When they meet again hey keep in contact with each other, making Eunhyung suspicious that her boyfriend is hanging out with her sister. Dai pops up in Jaehee’s life again with a chance encounter in a parking lot, a beating, and a bizarre ritual where he forces Jaehee to lick clean his self-inflicted wound. It turns out that Dai wants Jaehee to join his gang and despite his better impulses Jaehee agrees. Dai’s cruelty is the casual amorality of a child tormenting a bug with a stick. He’s indifferent to the needs and wants of other people, yet he is attracted to Jaehee as if the boy is his new toy. When Eunhyung tries to track down Jaehee at the gang hideout Dai does nothing to prevent her from being assaulted when he hears that she considers herself Jaehee’s girlfriend.
The second volume opens with a rift between Dai and Jaehee. Jaehee can’t forgive Dai for what happened to Eunhyung. She’s ignoring Jaehee and trying to deal with the psychological trauma of the assault all by herself, pushing Jaehee and her sister away. The reader gets a glimpse into Jaehee’s family life with his Mom. They have a pleasant, mock-bickering relationship. Jaehee moves and transfers schools. One of his new classmates is a true eccentric. Naru Hagi is a true eccentric who is very aware of his own attractiveness yet decides to roam around town wearing bizarre wigs and antagonizing bullies.
Jaehee gets caught up with gang rivalry yet again, as a group of tough guys decides to use him as bait to draw out Dai. When Dai appears he encourages the boys to beat up Jaehee as much as they want, even going so far as to suggest tying Jaehee to the nearby train tracks. While Let Dai is one of the more accomplished manhwa that I’ve read in terms of plot, character, and art there is no denying that the adaptation is somewhat clunky, especially in Jaehee’s internal monologues. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to make phrases like “What moved me more than the quenching of my longing was the fact that Dai hadn’t forgotten me. In Dai’s cold and violent eyes…I now am. That…reassured me” not seem overly emo. The art in Let Dai is attractive, with a glossy style that contrasts with the characters’ violent actions. Perhaps because the series started running in the 1990s, there is something about the characters’ eyes and mouths that reminds me a little bit of Ryoichi Ikegami.
In volume 3 we learn a little bit about Dai’s family life. I found him a little more interesting as a character when I thought he was just a pure force of chaotic evil, instead of a privileged teenager with daddy issues. The third volume focused more on the supporting cast, and I was more interested to see what was happening to them than I was in the developing relationship between Dai and Jaehee.
Eunhyung wants to become a different person. She starts hanging out with new friends, changes her clothes, and has her hair cut as short as possible. Naru Hagi and Jaehee spend more time together, and Naru’s breezy personality and open expressions are a nice contrast to the constant fights and angst going on between the main characters. Sooyeon Won builds the foundation for a soap opera filled with different connections between the characters as Dai’s older brother hits on Yooneun, Eunhyung faces down one of Jaehee’s bullies, and Naru Hagi stands up to Dai when he tries to take a horribly sick Jaehee away for treatment.
Let Dai creates a powerful blend of tawdry violence, emo naval-gazing, and unexpected connections between characters. I can see why this series would be really appealing to shonen ai fans. I enjoyed the three volumes that I read, but I think I’d be more inclined to finish up the series if it were shorter. If the series was just 5-7 volumes I think I would be following the story to its conclusion. Jaehee is getting beat up so much in every single volume I have a hard time believing that he’d survive for that much longer. I tend to have a threshold of quality want met for collecting longer series. I have to be really invested in the characters (Boys Over Flowers) or it has to be a classic (Vagabond). While the first three volumes were ok they didn’t pull me in enough to make me want to read a very long story. Knowing that Let Dai ran for 15 volumes and some people found the ending odd, I don’t think I’m going to invest the time or money to read the rest of the series.