Actual gay people? In my BL? Its more likely than you think.
Ahahahaha, who am I kidding? Its more likely than it used to be, but its still a rare BL bird that has any sense of gay identity at all in it. But, luckily, I Give To You scratches that itch in a satisfying fashion. In fact, I would say that I Give To You checks a lot of boxes I quite like, as it also involves a former yakuza and doesn’t have any rape… and, yes, it is fairly sad that I have to list “doesn’t have any rape” as a prerequisite to me enjoying something, as that itself implies that its a common trope… which it is! Unfortunately.
Anyway, I Give To You concerns two men who’ve had difficult lives – Ryouichi, who is on the run from debt-collectors after his boyfriend ditches him with a bad loan, and Ren, a former yakuza who runs a teahouse and whom is hated by all his neighbors. Ren also has live-in help in the form of his father’s former right-hand man, Ritsu, who has gone the straight and narrow as Ryouichi’s father implored him to keep watch over his sons after his death, and, well, Ren wants to straight and narrow. I want to note, though, that Ritsu is NOT a rival; this is mostly a manga that has no interest in triangles (one sort of pops up later, but is dealt with so rapidly that it feels dishonest to say that the story has a love triangle). Ren shelters Ryouichi in during a typhoon when he stumbles into the teahouse, bedraggled and deeply unhappy… and, well, the rest is roughly as expected, although never unpleasantly so.
One of the things I truly enjoyed about this manga was that not only did we have a character who identified as gay (Ryouichi), but it went beyond simply, “Teehee~ I’m gay!” Later in the story, Ren tries to get Ryouichi to leave so that he won’t get caught up in yakuza issues, telling him to go back to living a “normal” life. Ryouichi tells him he’s talking total bullshit, since Ryouichi has never lived a “normal” life from a society standpoint, as he has been told he is a freak and been socially outcast much of his life due to his homosexuality. Ryouichi never miserably wiles away contemplating this, but we get enough glimpses (a teacher of his telling him that since he’s a boy he shouldn’t be giving chocolate out on Valentines Day after Ryouichi tries to give him chocolate, for example) to see that the man didn’t have a terribly fun time when he was younger and trying to find his way. Ryouichi does admit that he has trouble thinking of himself as not being “wrong” during his speech to Ren, but you know that he’s moved past mindlessly accepting others’ judgement, even if there’s still a bit of a ways to go.
If I have a quibble with I Give To You, its that the problem that arises near the end resolves too quickly, but it feels a minor thing to complain about given how much I like the rest of the story, and how much I liked the characters. Either the problem is too big for the story, or it is introduced too late, can’t decide which, but its resolution is too easy and light. Ah well.
The art here reminded me more stylistically of American comics I’ve read, as while there is certainly the “cute” edge that much of BL possesses, everything seems to be rendered in a more detailed/realistic manner than I’m accustomed to from manga. I don’t really know how to explain it other than what I’ve already said. It wasn’t something I felt added to or detracted from the reading experience, it was just different.
Production values here are perfectly fine, although, again, DMP isn’t releasing an above-average product these days. The size of the volume itself is smaller than the average size of a volume of paperback manga is in the U.S. market, and the sticker price remains above the going-rate for standard paperback releases ($12.95 versus $11.95 for most Yen releases or $9.99 for most Viz releases). I realize that the margins are growing ever thinner for manga in the U.S., but when they’ve got your own in-house translation sweatshop with the likes of the Digital Manga Guild, you’ll have to excuse my skepticism that they couldn’t manage to at least release Viz-sized volumes at that price-point.
I think it goes without saying, however, that even with my on-going frustration with production values, I wholeheartedly recommend I Give To You. This review is actually after my third reading of it, which gives you an idea of how I must feel about it (as if the rest of my review hasn’t conveyed that already!). Just make sure you snap it up before DMP’s pending print hiatus; I get the feeling current titles are going to become a bit hard to come by, as we BL fans are a fairly grabby bunch!