For fans of Natsuki Kizu’s Given, Vol. 6 marks a turning point. It’s the first of SuBLime’s English localizations to pass the point in the story that the anime and its spinoff movie reached. So, even if you watched the show, this is all new content. This volume focuses on what Given’s band members are up to outside of their time together. Ritsuka specifically is temporarily playing guitar for Hiragi and Shizusumi’s band. The pair hasn’t received much page-time prior to this, so it’s an opportunity to flesh them out and focus on characters other than the core four. Does it make for an effective change of pace? Is Given Vol. 6 good?
The splitting up of the cast here is a smart move in terms of character development. Up until now, Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s character arcs have been heavily intertwined. Ditto with Haruki and Akihiko’s. By placing the characters in scenarios where their anxieties and growth can play out without hindering on the series’ core relationships, we’re able to mine new sides of the characters. Mafuyu, for instance, is forced to confront his feelings about the band’s rising success in a way he hasn’t thus far.
Haruki meanwhile has some great scenes with Ritsuka’s older sister Yayoi, who is also Akihiko’s ex. Kizu does an excellent job capturing the awkwardness of conversation between people who hover on the edge of each other’s social circles but struggle to bond themselves. Yayoi comes out of these interactions a bit more fleshed out and likable, largely because of the serious subject matter covered. Given isn’t a series that’s historically shied away from what it is with “But we’re both boys” type tropes. Nonetheless, this installment is still the most explicit thus far in terms of acknowledging the struggles of dealing with gay attraction and straight people saying hurtful things about it regardless of intention.
Hiragi and Shizusumi also benefit from their newfound time in the spotlight. At this point they’ve evolved a bit beyond just being Mafuyu’s childhood friends. There’s a great quote in the volume that sums up their current situations, as well as those of the rest of the cast: “This is a story about once-lonely kids who are on their way to becoming adults.” The ways they’ve coped post-Yuki’s death as they grow into new versions of themselves are interesting to see.
The success of the character work throughout is enhanced by the art as well. Kizu’s work on the facial expressions throughout is great, conveying subtle sadness, humorous extremity, and even animalistic joy. In Hiragi’s case his canines are consistently emphasized when he’s shown performing, highlighting the way he’s coming alive in a way he never did prior to his current success. There’s also attention paid to subtle differences in characters’ facial features. It’s a matter of small details, but these details help further differentiate the characters and prevent any confusion or Same Face Syndrome from ever occurring.
All in all, Given Vol. 6 moves the plot forward beyond what anime-watchers will be familiar with and it does so while being both poignant and funny. The characters act and grow outside the boundaries set up by major relationships thus far, making them all feel more nuanced as a result. The art is also consistently a joy in its humor and differentiation of characters. When reading volumes like this, it’s easy to see why the series has become such a hit.
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