Given GN 1 – Review

Even if you’ve already seen the portions of the anime adaptation that correspond to this volume, it’s worth reading Given. Yes, part of that statement comes from the belief that it’s always worth reading the source material, but in this case there are also interesting differences, all of which do make sense when you stop to think about it. While this book roughly corresponds to episodes 1 – 3 with elements of episodes five and seven, it focuses almost entirely on Mafuyu and Uesugi, leaving the two older boys in the band on the sidelines. That allows for us to really get inside Uesugi’s head as he struggles to understand his growing feelings for Mafuyu and wonders just how much he actually wants to know as the bits and pieces of Mafuyu’s difficult past are slowly doled out to both Uesugi and the readers.

It also gives the book a slightly greater focus on the BL aspects of it, and depending on what you’re looking for, that can be a good thing. Natsuki Kizu does a good job with showing us the differences in Uesugi’s and Mafuyu’s reactions to each other in both their words and facial expressions, using each as makes sense for the characters’ personalities. This means that Mafuyu spends a lot of time looking at Uesugi with a complicated mix of fear and yearning, while Uesugi internally monologues about how he can’t quite figure himself out when it comes to his reaction to the other boy. That he does come to a conclusion about that by the end of the volume makes for a good way to move the story forward without either bogging it down with too much introspection or actually resolving anything on the romantic front, a mixture not always achieved by romances.

Mafuyu is perhaps the more interesting character at this point, if only because Uesugi is something of an open book to everyone but himself. As we learn more about what Mafuyu went through in the past – the opening scenes of him discovering someone who has hanged themselves is a nice big hint as well as a warning for potential readers – his worries begin to make sense, as do his reactions to Uesugi. Two moments stand out particularly: when he comes to find Uesugi in class and sees a girl trying to wake him up and when Uesugi’s friends invite him to play basketball with him. In the latter case, Uesugi realizes that Mafuyu can smile and have fun (not to mention relax), which alerts readers to the possibility that he isn’t naturally as withdrawn as he appears but is perhaps reacting to bad experiences with his peers, something Uesugi’s friendship is starting to help him deal with. The former scene lets us know that Mafuyu is also capable of asserting himself when he needs to. The girl makes him feel like his relationship with Uesugi is being threatened, so before she can touch him to wake him up, Mafuyu raises his voice to do so from across the room. It’s the first truly solid clue we get as to Mafuyu’s feelings for the other boy and the worry or jealousy that drives him to make himself heard is loud even in the silent medium of manga. (That Uesugi promptly wakes up when he hears Mafuyu’s voice is interesting in and of itself.)

There are good details seeded throughout the volume about the characters and their backstories and family lives. Among those are the relationship between Uesugi and his older sister, which has a much more natural feel than many others in manga. He never gets upset when she walks around in a state of undress and her lack of clothes is never treated as sexual, which feels less like a result of the story’s BL designation and more like a sense of how actual siblings function. Similarly we get plenty of hints about Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship even without any actual page time devoted to it (barring one short bit), whetting the palate for more about them as the series progresses.

Kizu’s art works better with music scenes and facial expressions than almost anything else, although it is worth mentioning how easy the pages are to read in terms of layout. Bodies are slightly inconsistent in their proportions (particularly leg lengths) and movement can be a little awkward looking, with bodies at rest drawn a bit better than those in motion. Interestingly the art is just as detailed in the four-koma extras in the back of the book, which are honestly pretty funny, especially the one where Mafuyu discusses Uesugi’s appeal.

Whether animated or in its original manga form, Given is a story worth experiencing. This introductory volume is a good mix of implication and actual information, working to set up both the romance plot and the music one, as well as how they may intersect. It isn’t explicit sexually, either, so even if BL isn’t your usual genre, this one is worth giving a try.

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