The Given Movie Breaks Your Heart In A Nice Way
The Given anime series kind of took me by surprise and blew me away. It wasn’t that it was a visual masterpiece that redefined what animation was. In point of fact, despite some very clever and well thought out sound and colour direction, studio Lerche just isn’t particularly great at animation utilising a lot of stills and even when they step up the animation for the band’s performances there’s still some interesting shot choices that allow them to avoid really getting into too much detailed movement. What the series did beautifully was tell the story of two awkward boys, both dealing with their own baggage, connecting and ultimately falling in love. It was also the story of a band coming together and learning to work together and then there were some emotional triumphs for personal growth as well as an upfront and honest discussion around the complications of same-sex relationships and relationships between band-mates.
All and all, it was well worth watching for its dramatic highs and lows, for the characters we met, and ultimately for just knowing exactly what it wanted to do and not looking away from that.
That was always going to be a hard act to follow and yet I ended my initial review claiming we just needed a season 2 and while I haven’t gotten that, being given a movie follow up is nothing to sneeze at here.
One of the best decisions here was to move the focus from the younger pair, Mafuyu and Ueno, to their older band-mates, Kaji and Haruki. While both Kaji and Haruki were important to the series and clearly had their own lives and issues, it was played very much in the background to Ueno and Mafuyu’s story. The roles switch here as we see that Mafuyu and Ueno are continuing to build on their relationship and Mafuyu’s journey into music is continuing, but now Kaji and Haruki are placed front and centre.
With the older pair at the fore-front the relationship drama moves away from understanding first love and becomes a lot more complex as Kaji struggles in a reasonably suffocating relationship of his own making with his roommate (and violin genius) Ugetsu while Haruki has to deal with his own seemingly unrequited love for Kaji.
Affiliate Link – PlayAsia
It would have been easy to step squarely into the realm of melodrama and had Kaji trapped in an abusive relationship with a complete jerk allowing a simplistic solution. Given once again demonstrates how confident it is in its characters and narrative and instead chooses to deal with all three of these characters as people. no one is the villain here and while characters are causing other characters pain it mostly it isn’t deliberate and even when it is the actions scar the person causing the pain as much as the one on the receiving end.
There are some moments in this film that are massively uncomfortable to watch as we see desperate characters take actions that on reflection they will realise were clearly wrong and at times you wonder how any of them will come back from this and whether the band will even survive. Though the stories of these characters are all interconnected and while Mafuyu’s character may not be the centre of this story, his observations and actions are pivotal to the plot and ultimately his actions are the catalyst for the other characters to make their decisions.
It works beautifully and while the run-time might only be 59 minutes there isn’t one that is wasted. From start to finish your emotions are going to be plucked and stretched before you will find a cathartic peace in the final moments. You absolutely do have to watch the end credits and the afterward as these also have a place in this narrative.
Like the series, the animation remains the relative weak link but once again colour, character design and sound direction more than compensate. Not to mention the story is just good. Spending time with these characters is fantastic. While I feel that we had a whole story play out here, I still want that second season of the anime because I just want to spend more time with these guys and see how far their band can go. Their performance in this movie was incredible, even better than the explosive outpouring of emotion that marked Mafuyu’s debut in the series. Here he is now more controlled, more prepared, and he’s been studying hard and integrating all of the knowledge of those around him into his song. It reaches inside you and genuinely tears you apart from the inside but leaves you absolutely wanting more.
I would like to finish with a focus on Haruki. In the series he was definitely the band-mum and Kaji labels him in this movie as the peace-maker. He’s a character of average music ability who finds himself in a band surrounded by incredibly talented people and at times it would be easy to overlook him. And yet he is at the heart of everything as he is the one who ensures they are entered into the audition and makes sure the others are organised and ready to play. He’s the one who makes the connections and helps get the band name out there. The other three might all be more talented at music with Ueno having already been established as a genius in the series, Kaji proving to be a jack of all trades and while not able to reach Ugetsu’s level on the violin able to pick up things very easily, and Mafuyu, now that he’s been exposed to music, going through an explosive growth period, but Haruki remains the essential figure. All three of the other characters are caught up in their own concerns and can’t step back and look outside. Without Haruki, they’d be a talented group hanging out in their studio and never actually playing anywhere.
While it isn’t the main focus in the movie, it is nice to see that Haruki’s role is acknowledged and that he seems to be learning how important he really is with what he does for the others. I would love to see what his next for his character as it would be nice to see him really step out of the shadows of the others and be confident that he is serving just as vital a role for the band as any of them.
Hopefully it is fairly clear that I loved this movie. I wouldn’t recommend it if you haven’t watched the series, but then I would tell you to watch the series and then check out the movie. It is well worth it and while shounen-ai may not be a genre everyone wants to get into, Given really is just a beautiful story about love and music and a group of characters who are all forcing each other to grow. It is one of those that sticks with you once it is done and I know this is one I will watch again and again.
Images used for review from: Given (movie). Dir. H. Yamaguchi. Lerche. 2020.
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