Given Vol. 4 Review

I can think of no clever opening line, so, “its good” will have to suffice.

Given, the hit yaoi series that… I haven’t blogged about at all before! Hardly from lack of enjoyment – its a good series, but I also had already watched the anme twice before the manga started coming out in English, and when I tried to review the first volume, I ended up with a not particularly good stew of ruminations on changes between the page and the screen. So, I let it go… but by volume 4, things have proceeded entirely past the point of the TV series, so it seemed an opportunity to actually review some of it. (Yes, this material is covered in the movie, but I have not yet seen that.)

The focus switches pretty firmly to Haruki and Akihiko in this volume, as while the band has been riding high Haruki’s begun to feel doubt about his own place within it – Mafuyu’s improving by leaps and bounds, while Uenoyama’s passion has made a strong return. Even Akihiko seems to be flourishing, although behind the scenes his home life has entered a period of recurring turbulence in the form of Ugetsu, his ex, recently returned to Japan… and in whose home he lives. And with whom he still has sex, sometimes. Haruki’s lack of confidence leads him to agree to sub in in his own ex’s band… and when both he and Akihiko learn of what they’ve been concealing from each other, things go sideways fast.

This was… a wicked intense volume! (It’s also by far the one wth the least humor, which I note a I think that the fact that Given can be quite funny is something which it doesn’t generally get credit for.) While Given has certainly always involed some strong feelings and has grappled with heavy topics, Mafuyu was dealing with feeling guilty for something that had happened before the story began, whereas here Akihiko is actively fucking his life up in real time. It’s deeply painful to watch, although much of that is because of the damage he’s doing to Haruki in acting out. He also looks bad in retrospect, as we learn that he’s been aware of Haruki’s feeling for a while, casting his teasingly flirtatious moments in a bad light. The revelation that sex for Akihiko is deeply transactional due to his dire financial status after parental abandonment while he was a teen makes his behavior easier to understand, but it doesn’t change that he treats Haruki cruelly.

As much as I’m wary of including spoilers in reviews, I do have to address the disastrous scene at the heart of this volume, as its both difficult for me to fully discuss the volume otherwise. I also think its important for people to be aware that there’s a sexual encounter involving deeply dubious consent in these pages. To author Natsuki Kizu’s credit, its an actively discomforting moment, and the devastating impact is clear; its painful to read. It’s inclusion isn’t for the sake of titillation (and isn’t it sad that I’ve got specify that that’s the case?). As much as I figure its all got to bounce back from this, Kizu isn’t glossing over the ramifications it must have.

On a far lighter note, Haruki is confirmed as bisexual here, so I guess I’ve always been right to feel that he’s got big disaster bi energy. (This is also where I admit that Haruki always having been my favorite character in Given is perhaps partly down to feeling kinship with him; I’m far less nonconfrontational, but…)

As good as this volume is, I was disappointed to have so little time given over to Mafuyu and Uenoyama – that what we do see is good stuff makes it all the more frustrating. So much BL focuses on the getting together narrative that its irritating that here we’ve got a chance to watch a relationship developed past the initial point, and we just get glimpses. There’s a brief subplot involving Uenoyama realizing he has to actively communicate and can’t assume Mafuyu will be able to read his mind, and its so nice to see him realize he’s screwed up and needs to do better.

SuBLime’s release is good, and the translation work shines especially well in the more fraught moments. (In fact, as I re-read the volume, I wasthinking about how deftly the tensest scene was handled in terms of translation effort. I’ve read plenty of stuff over time in which key moments were undermined due to shaky transliteration.) SuBLime in my mind has established itself clearly as a publisher that applies a lot of care in how it handles its titles.

So, Given’s still got it even as it turns its attention to the older membes of the cast, although I think some may find the big event in this volume a bit of a dealbreaker. I’m interested in seeing how things shake out from here and how the narrative’ll continue to work to salvage things between Haruki and Akihiko. But I want to get more time with our younger boys, too! Theirs is still a story worth exploring, too.

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