I feel like a lot of viewers may be sleeping on Given. It’s a surprisingly good character-driven drama. I am enjoying a lot and I enjoy neither drama nor romance. It’s just well written. It’s also really well adapted.
I’m currently reviewing the season with Karandi and you can check out our reviews below. After the first episode, we both had a faint idea that we had read the manga at some point but neither of us remembered much and we had both dropped it before getting too far. As the episodes wore on and my love for the show grew, it kept gnawing at the back of my brain. Why would I drop a story I like so much? This is obviously my type of fiction. Was I just not in the mood?
I didn’t want to spoil the anime, so I stayed away from the manga for a while until curiosity finally got the better of me. I quickly found it once again and after physically restraining myself to not read the final panels of the final volume (available), I started back on volume 1. I read the equivalent of episode 1 and 2, then jumped a bit ahead to the events of episode 5 and then promptly dropped it again….
I like the anime better. Much much better. And I really want to talk about it with you because you see, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the manga. Almost word for word and in the same order. But I take it in completely differently.
Part of that is simply due to the type of person I am. I am a fan of animation. The way light and colours shift. The way pictures come together to simulate movement or depth. I’ve Always loved that and therefore, it’s no surprise that I would enjoy anime more.
But it’s not just that. I’m also impatient. I noticed it a bit when I was reading Natsume but it’s really obvious in Given. A Lot of manga fans will tell you they prefer the written format because it allows them to go at their own pace. To take in every panel to the fullest before going on to the next. I understand that I really do. Because I NEED anime for that. I am the type of person whose brain would be tremendously improved by the addition of a dimmer switch. Like a small child I always want to know what happens next, where do we go from here, are we there yet?
I fly through manga. I look at those stunning panorama panels, think to myself “pretty” and jump right into the next bit of dialogue. It was a bit of a waste in Natsume and robbed the story of it’s atmospheric and ethereal nature. It’s tragic for Given. You see, for whatever reason (I’m going to wager partly alternative distribution, partly budget), given doesn’t really have any transition panels – i.e. manga panels in which nothing happens. It had a few glamour panels to show the characters in all their detailed glory, and I deeply appreciate those! But otherwise, the action just flows from one square to the next without break.
A full episode of the Given anime can be contained in a single chapter of the manga which is only a few pages. The anime has added so many little quiet moments. Thinking time between replies, or just solitary moments for each character. Just the way people speak if changed because of the pacing. There is a scene where Ueno is writing a song. We see him listening to the music on his headphones and scribbling something down then scratching a bit out. There are papers strewn about and his sister bursts in to tell him dinner is read. He looks up startled while she’s absolutely bemused.
It’s a sweet scene that takes up the opening tag of an episode. It shows us just how much Ueno has recaptured his drive for music. In the manga, it’s two panels. His sister bursting in on the scene, then asking what he’s doing. It’s all the same information, you still see the scattered papers, you still know exactly what happened. But you don’t feel it in the same way. You don’t get that quiet second with Ueno, bobbing your head along and retreating into your own little world. For me, that was a big loss.
Another way this affected my viewing experience is that it essentially transformed the character of Mafuyu altogether. Mayu (as I call him – we’re close that way) is a bit of a space cadet. In the anime he’s a withdrawn young man, obviously going through something difficult. He barely speaks and when he does it’s generally slow, hesitating and in a low monotone. That’s why his excitement about learning guitar really stands out and whenever he actually gets visibly psyched, it colours the entire scene. In the manga, the panels he’s in are usually the ones where he’s reacting. As such, he ends up seeming like he’s suffering from serious manic depression as he goes from completely passionate one second to utterly disinterested literally the next panel.
We don’t give anime enough credit for the moments between the panels. They are way more important then we think, even if technically nothing happens in them.
Sometimes, though, things do happen in them. In episode 5 of Given, there’s a scene where Kaji more or less passes out on his friend Haruki who’s harboured a one-sided crush on him forever. There’s a second where Haruki is completely overwhelmed, he slowly reaches out to hug Kaji before realizing the other is already snoring and bitterly leaving him the bed. He then sits next to it for a few seconds, reflecting on the situation.
The scene in the manga is almost identical. There’s that moment of panic glee where the author even points out that the background should be “the universe”. But the hand motion is missing. It’s just not there. It happens between the panels. But that small move was so full of hope and then disappointment. It wordlessly conveyed all of Haruki’s feelings. It was a great moment and the story is weaker without it. And there are countless small gestures or stray looks like that throughout a series. They add up to mere minutes of the total anime, but they can make a tremendous difference in the atmosphere and character building.
In the same scene, as I said, Haruki ends up sitting on the floor thinking about his circumstances. I just read that scene in the manga. I also just saw it in episode 5. It’s the exact same scene. Same position, same context, same words. And it was completely different for me. I read a dramatic young man giving in to a bit of self-pity. It’s a pretty pitiable speech. But what I heard was an exasperated young man both pitying and making fun of himself. Laughing at a situation that has gone a bit out of hand but also a little happy about it. I am not as good an actor as the cast of Given. I do not inject the characters with as much nuance and complexity. Masatomo Nakazawa has created a better Haruki than I could. A wittier and more likeable one.
There is no way I can surprise myself with my own character interpretation, but voice actors and directors are professionals at it. Of course, even the best can be kneecapped by a horrible script, but the good ones can guide and open up dialogue to become so much more than the words on the page. We all know this intellectually, but I always manage to be surprised at just how big a difference it makes.
I’m not even going to get into the obvious stuff like colour theory or soundtrack. Fact is, adaptation is difficult. You can easily screw it up. I’ve no doubt many stories are better in their manga form because of it. Time and budget restraints can seriously hamper an anime and I’ve regularly bemoaned shows trying to do “too much” or being “underdeveloped” and often, that’s due to an expansive story and universe being told over several volumes of a manga, having to be reduced to two episodes for time’s sake.
But when it’s done right, there is a myriad of little things that can make the anime experience transformative in unexpected ways. Ways that I had forgotten. The Given manga isn’t bad. I’m sure there are some out there that prefer it. But to me, the Given anime just brings so much out of the story that I couldn’t do myself. And it reminded me once again why anime is magic.
Do you have an anime you prefer to the manga? If so, why?
Contributed by Irina
from I Drink And Watch Anime!
Want more rambling thoughts from Irina and Karandi on Given?
Images from: Given. Dir. H Yamaguchi. Lerche. 2019.