Title: I Give to You
Author: Ebishi Maki
Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing (Juné)
Volume: One-shot, $12.95
Vintage: 2010 by Taiyoh Tosho Publishing Co., June 2011 by Digital Manga
Genre: Yaoi, romance, drama
Ryoichi’s lover abandoned him with a sizable debt, and he is now on the run from some tenacious debt collectors. He finds himself in the middle of a typhoon, standing outside a mysterious tea house. He finds the owner, Ren, asleep at the front desk, but when the other man awakes, he offers Ryoichi a seat and a cup of delicious tea. Overwhelmed by Ren’s kindness, Ryoichi breaks down into tears and relays his story. Intrigued by the man and moved by Ryoichi’s happiness over a simple cup of tea, Ren decides to take him in and allow him to work at the tea shop. Another man, a rather tall and intimidating looking fellow named Ritsu, also works at the tea shop, though his unintentionally scary looks frequently cause Ryoichi to jump out of his skin. An adorable cat (with a surprising amount of personality) also resides there. Otherwise, the tea shop is secluded and rather abandoned looking, and the only customer is an old man who regularly comes by to check up on Ren…who happens to be a former yakuza. Ostracized by the community, Ren has grown used to being alone and being abandoned, and fully expects Ryoichi to leave as well, some day. While Ryoichi is happy to finally have a place to belong, Ren tries to avoid becoming too attached to him, which results in some misunderstandings between the two men. Ryoichi, because he works in the shop of a known yakuza, also finds himself being ostracized by the town, but can’t imagine that it’s connected to someone as kind as Ren. Wanting to be accepted, he puts forth a cheerful effort and eventually becomes, if not a completely comfortable and welcome face, an accepted presence. When Ryoichi discovers Ren’s yakuza roots, Ren expects him to move on, but is surprised when Ryoichi comes back and asks to stay, unbothered by what Ren used to be. Undaunted, and knowing full well what it’s like to be shunned, because he is openly gay and because of his debt, Ryoichi even attempts to raise some good will for Ren around town. Eventually, Ryoichi’s lover attempts to contact him, but with some advice from Ren, he is able to avoid making a mistake that will land him back into trouble. Overwhelmed by his emotions, Ryoichi confesses his feelings for Ren, but there’s little time for reflection, as someone from Ren’s past arrives to shake things up. Tohki, Ren’s former lover and member of his gang, has finally caught up with him and wants to pick up where they left off. With trouble brewing, Ren tries to convince Ryoichi to leave, telling him that if he stays he won’t be able to live a normal life. Ryoichi steadfastly replies that as a gay man, it’s already impossible for him to live a normal life. Tohki, however, wants what he wants, what he sacrificed everything for, and he’s not about to leave without it.
This book’s beautiful cover speaks well as to what’s inside. Both the art and the story are lovely. Everything has a sweetly melancholy aura. The yaoi elements are extremely mild, so for anyone looking to explore the genre who is nervous about the sexual elements, this is a great book to check out. It’s also a mature piece, not just in that it deals with adults (they’re around 30-ish), but in the way the subject matter is handled. It’s true that Ryoichi exhibits some cliché traits of the uke variety – he’s naive, a bit clumsy, he cries easily. However, he can be assertive when he wants, and there are times when his expression evokes a no nonsense sensibility that’s remarkably intimidating. He’s also not the uke in the story, though to be honest, neither character fits the traditional roles; they kind of blend together. Ryoichi is openly gay in the story, which is actually pretty uncommon in yaoi manga, believe it or not. This presents some nice conflict and characterization, both in terms of how he pursues Ren, and in how the two men can relate to each other. The reasons both men are shunned by society are on completely different ends of the spectrum, but the empathy still works. The expression Ren’s face when Ryoichi tells him that he was never “normal” to begin with is fantastic. Ren tends to think his problems are the heaviest in the world, and he forces himself to be in a situation where he’s constantly reminded of his past and the guilt that goes along with it. So when Ryoichi tells him, hey, look, it won’t matter if I associate with you because I can’t live a normal life anyway, Ren is taken aback at first, then realizes that maybe Ryoichi really can understand him. At any rate, it seems to convince him that Ryoichi doesn’t have anything more to lose by sticking around, and he stops trying to push the other man away. For Ren’s part, he’s been trying to escape his past, while at the same time making sure he doesn’t forget about it. He could pack up and leave everything that reminds him of his past behind, but instead he chooses to remain in a place where he’s known and shunned by everyone. He’s punishing himself in a way, by forcing himself to accept he scorn thrown his way. There’s an odd strength to it, because he’s facing his past instead of running from it, but it’s also quite depressing and unhealthy, and a little twisted. He just takes everything in, and doesn’t even try to change the perception of the people around him. Ryoichi can’t stand it, because he’s seen how kind Ren can be, and he wants everyone else to see that too, and accept Ren for who he is, not who he was. Much the same way as he himself craves acceptance, and received that from Ren. It’s a touching little story about two very lonely men who find acceptance with each other, written in a mature fashion, and accompanied by scattered illustrations of one of the funniest cats I’ve ever seen that steals the scene every time.
Now, just a little note for regular readers. Friday and Monday’s Bento Bako posts will be written by CA.net writer Infinite Speech, who is stepping in for me while I attend Anime Fest in Dallas. If you’ll be there, I’ll be in street clothes Friday and Sunday, but I’ll be dressed like Mitsuki Konishi from The World Ends With You on Saturday.
Review copy provided by Digital Manga Publishing.