Low Budget But A Lot of Heart
Given was one of those quiet shows that I took an interest in from the write up and then when Irina suggested we cover it together for the season I happily accepted but didn’t expect much. What I got was a compelling story, wonderful characters, drama that felt right and not overblown (most of the time) and some wonderful choices in music and direction that overcame some of the obvious budget restraints the series was working under. While it wasn’t a flawless series by any stretch of the imagination, my only real complaint when it was done was that the story wasn’t yet finished and I wanted a second season.
While visually the likes of Demon Slayer and My Hero Academia would wipe the floor with something like Given, and even more genre specific titles such as Bloom Into You are far superior even on just a casual glance, Given worked hard to use what it had to tell it story and the end result was definitely satisfying. Colour and shot composition are used to speak volumes as the characters move through their daily lives and as a viewer I found certain settings began to take on a life of their own with the school staircase almost feeling like an old friend by the time we got to season’s end.
This doesn’t really hide the static backgrounds, still images, or lack of detail in background characters, but I don’t really think they were trying to hide it. The attention to detail is where it needs to be and this carries over into the sound direction. The first episode made some clear choices using silence and diegetic sound only for a fair length of time before any background music came into the picture. Actually, the whole series could be seen as a slow build-up to their concert where the sound finally comes together but overall they’ve done a phenomenal job.
But what is Given about? I mean, we could talk about it as the story of a band that has no vocalist and after meeting Mafuyu at school, Uenoyama recruits him into the band but that barely scratches the surface. The story is very much about these two boys who are both pretty lost at the start of the series (for different reasons) who find new purpose after meeting and then have to deal with the growing feelings between themselves. And unlike so many anime, this one doesn’t blink away from that. The characters confront their uncertainty about being in a same sex relationship, and about being in a band and in a relationship, head-on by the end of the season.
Both of these characters have baggage and they are both very much teenage boys. Communication becomes an issue on more than one occasion as does impatience and just a general lack of life experience. Of course, Mafuyu’s baggage is the driving force behind a lot of the drama, though watching Uenoyama figure out how to navigate the emotional fallout is at times quite difficult. For those who find stories around suicide or domestic abuse a challenge to watch, while this one isn’t overly in your face around it, these ideas are most definitely a part of what have shaped Mafuyu and the quiet way the story addresses his past will probably open some emotional scars if you have them and it is probably wise to go in knowing that this content is there.
Outside of their individual drama, the band and preparing to perform just adds an additional layer of tension into the story and pressure to push the characters into action, as well as introducing two amazing supporting characters.
Whether it is band-mum Haruki or the harder to read Akihiko, the two older members of the band provide gentle teasing, support, an occasional word of advice, and their own drama into the story. What makes them amazing is that they don’t seem to exist just to revolve around the main pair. They really are characters in their own right with a lot on their own plates. That is probably the most amazing accomplishment of Given is that every character feels like they could be the protagonist of their own story and we just see glimpses of that story as they pass through the main narrative. It makes the overall story feel complete and brings these characters to warm life in a way that definitely feels special.
Affiliate Link – Play Asia
At eleven episodes, Given paces itself well. The story is a slow burn but each step brings you closer to a climax well worth the wait. The aftermath is beautifully handled and the characters grow on the audience with each passing episode and while I might have started off wanting to protect Mafuyu and thinking the drummer was pretty good looking, I finished the series very much loving all of these boys and wanting the best for all of them in the future. Whether they are dealing with their emotional baggage, choosing a name for the band, or actually up on the stage, just spending time with them and hanging out became a joy each and every week (even when things were going badly for them).
As for the shounen ai tag (or boy’s love), this one is free of a lot of the tropes that put people off the genre. No age gap of note, no forced physical contact (though there’s fairly limited physical content in general outside of a kiss – so if you are hoping for that side of things this one isn’t going to deliver) and so on. This one is just a sweet school romance between two boys finding their way and it does it so well.
Given isn’t without its issues. Conveniently snapping guitar springs (apparently synced more to emotional tension then any real reason for strings breaking), well timed or contrived conversations or comments, and an overly positive outcome do kind of bring down the overall standing of the story. However, that would probably matter more to someone who was trying to give this a numerical score. For me, despite all of those issues and despite the clear restrictions in the quality because of the budget, I loved this anime and these characters. I went in expecting so little and what I got blew me away and moved me emotionally.
Clearly I recommend trying this anime if you haven’t. It will not work for everyone. That slow pace may really put you off in the early episodes or maybe sweet romance isn’t your thing with a bit of drama thrown in. The music aspect might appeal, however there’s limited development there as the music takes a backseat to their relationships in terms of screen time. Still, if you give it a go and watch it through, there’s definitely a solid build up through out the series and an emotional payoff worth waiting for. Now we just need that season two. However if you can’t wait you can check out a fun discussion about the movie as well as my review of the movie.
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Images from: Given. Dir. H Yamaguchi. Lerche. 2019.