Given 2021: The live action drama version of the boys love story.
In 2019 the Given anime took my breath away and was one of my favourite series for the year. I’d never read the manga, and I will admit, I don’t really ever intend to. Largely because so much of what I enjoyed about the anime was the play between sound, music and colour and I’m just not sure that a static telling of the story could be as involving. So Given 2021 was coming hot on the heels of an anime I’d loved and had some big shoes to fill.
Then again, that isn’t really fair to this live action drama. And ultimately comparing it to the anime is a relatively futile activity because viewers have either not watched the anime or will already be able to make that comparison themselves. What most people want to know is whether Given 2021 is actually worth watching.
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And in all honesty, the answer is “yes, but…”
That ‘but’ is fairly important and yet doesn’t take away from the ‘yes’ part of the answer.
See, the one issue the Given 2021 live action drama cannot escape is that ultimately it is only 6 episodes long. While I recently proposed that an anime like Mars Red would have benefited from being only seven or eight episodes, rather than stretching a full season, the story of Given really did need more time.
We needed more time to get to know these characters and feel their situations. Particularly the supporting cast that really felt just kind of there and the stories they have to tell felt barely sketched in.
However, let’s take this all a bit more logically.
Let’s talk about Given 2021
Given 2021 is the story of Uenoyama (a high schooler who is in a band) who when looking for a place to nap at school runs in Mafuyu who is asleep in a stairwell holding a guitar. After one of the most awkward and yet adorable meetings, which ultimately ends with Uenoyama fixing the broken strings of Mafuyu’s guitar the two end up meeting in the stairwell more often and Mafuyu works to convince Uenoyama to teach him how to play.
All of which is pretty ordinary until Uenoyama hears Mafuyu sing.
Here I will praise the casting of this live action drama over and over again. Sanari, who plays Mafuyu, really does manage to bring everything to a halt with his voice and it really does make you stop and just listen. You can never quite tell if it is beautiful or heart-breaking and it just kind of overwhelms you. That the character only has a few moments where we hear his voice throughout the series in the build-up to the live-performance at the end really works because too much would simply lose the effect.
However, as much as the sound of this character works, and as much as the group of boys in the band kind of come together by the end, for those who are fans of either the manga or anime, there will be a small adjustment period as visually they aren’t quite what you would expect. Then again, they do all at least look like real people and there are no awful wigs in sight (such as the live action Full Metal Alchemist) so maybe we should just be happy. But Haruki at least took some getting used to in this form and he wasn’t really given enough screen time for the adjustment to be smooth.
If I were to go in with no expectations then I’d have to admit, they all kind of worked in their roles. And considering Given 2021 is a dramatic story rather than a fantastical one, turning this story into a live action drama is considerably easier because there are no weird weapons, physics defying movements, or even complex action pieces to somehow bring to life.
About the most action we get is a sequence where one of the characters runs across a bridge while having an internal monologue and while that was nicely done it does mean that this story didn’t come with a lot of the challenges other manga and anime have when being translated to live action.
Though, on that note, I did point out during my episode reviews that while scenes shot indoors were beautifully controlled in how they framed characters and the use of light and colour, exterior shots were a little more hit and miss. Notably when the characters were in a car or on a motorbike, shaking camera and less deliberate shot composition seemed to be on the cards.
It’s a minor point but an important one when one of the key strengths of this story is in the visuals and sound direction. While Given 2021 takes a different approach to sound to the anime, having more background music and using repeated motifs behind characters and filling silences, it is still a key component in what makes this enjoyable viewing. And they still build up to the explosion of sound that is the live performance. While the song may not be to everyone’s taste, the build up to it and the culmination of the drama of the final three episodes make it one of those amazing television moments that can really sweep you away.
The romance aspect between Uenoyama and Mafuyu is also well built up to, though again it suffers a little due to the short run time here. As much as everything makes sense, it all seems very quick. Though what was perhaps the biggest issue is that Mafuyu’s relationship with Yuki gets so little time and even the montage it does get feels a little rushed. Without this backgrounding, Uenoyama’s presence doesn’t come across as quite so necessary to Mafuyu.
Also, while we do get the after the performance moment with the two boys, as the series then abruptly comes to an end it feels like things have barely gotten going when the story concludes.
So, while I still think the anime did a better job of telling this story (particularly in giving us the aftermath of the concert), the live action does have a lot to offer. And for those who have never watched the anime, they probably won’t have many issues at all with what Given 2021 has on offer, though they will probably be left with some questions about Akihiko and Haruki because they get seriously left out in terms of any kind of detail here.
What is important is that this live action drama can and does stand on its own and offers a fairly solid viewing experience that you could go in to without prior knowledge. And for those who have read the manga or watched the anime, this is just another version of a story you probably already love.
Images from: Given. Dir. K Miki. 2021
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