Kazuma Kodaka’s Border has impressed me ever since its debut volume. The character work has been fantastic, as each installment has honed in on a different core character’s backstory. The interpersonal dynamics between the protagonists, a quartet of gay detectives, are also great. Their close-knit but platonic bonds are heartwarming to read about, especially since such relationships between gay men are rare in fiction. Border Vol. 4 collects chapters 16-21, which consist primarily of an extended flashback to Yamato and Sugo’s time together in high school. Does this installment meet the same high bar as past entries in the series?
Fortunately, Kodaka’s skill for character development hasn’t dulled in the least. Sugo and Yamato’s bond was one of the less deeply explored relationships in the series prior to this, but we get great insight into how they became friends here. Both characters come out of this volume more fleshed out, especially Yamato. Their motivations, anxieties, and personalities are all well-conveyed through their dialogue, thought bubbles, and facial expressions.
The pacing and narrative structure of this volume are also strong. The first few chapters, which take place in the present, introduce a character from Sugo and Yamato’s past named Hyoudou. The flashbacks then make it clear just how important of a figure he was in the two men’s pasts, and how their lives all got intertwined in the first place. Kodaka manages to convey changes in relationships over time very well; none of the shifts ever feel too sudden, but events never feel like they’re dragging along either.
As good as the writing here is, it’s the artwork that really sells the characters. The facial expressions and body language throughout are fantastic, conveying both subtle emotions and humorous exchanges. This series’ textures also continue to impress, from the lovely background patterns to the fibers in characters’ clothes. The inking throughout is especially impressive. The deep blacks are very aesthetically pleasing and look especially good with the thin, precise line-work.
As far as cons go, it’s a bit disappointing that Sugo doesn’t receive much character development besides that pertaining to his friendship with Yamato. Yamato’s backstory already received a lot of attention back in Vol. 1, and while it’s nice to learn more about him Sugo’s troubles receives less page-time as a result. It’s not that he receives no development, since watching him interact with Yamato still reveals a lot about his personality. Nonetheless, it would be nice to learn things about him that aren’t dependent on the other main characters. The other main con with this volume is with how explicitly sex between underage high school students is depicted at one point. It’s a relatively brief scene, but it’s still an uncomfortable stain on an otherwise heartwarming read.
Overall, Border Vol. 4 is yet another charming and character-focused installment in the series. The artwork is lovely as always, and we get to learn how Yamato and Sugo became friends. On the downside, Sugo gets less development than expected and there’s a troubling sex scene that disrupts the otherwise heartwarming vibe of the volume. Nonetheless, this series continues to worth reading.