Why I Think Given is a Better Anime than A Manga

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?

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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.

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38 thoughts on “Why I Think Given is a Better Anime than A Manga

  1. I’m not a manga reader at all myself, despite loving anime and also loving reading in general (regular novels mostly). You’d think it would be a perfect mix, but nope, I just never really ‘clicked’ with manga for whatever reason. So, I haven’t read the source material for Given, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the show – it’s definitely very solid, and probably the most underrated anime of the season.

    1. It definitely feels a little overlooked and I’m wondering if the BL label made some people give it a miss before even trying it.
      I kind of see your point with manga as I also struggle to really get into them. There’s only been a couple that I’ve read at any length and it still is probably my least preferred method of getting a story. Novels or anime or movies with manga being kind of a last resort if I really want more information on an anime that doesn’t have a novel.

      1. That was my first thought as well. I’m not saying BL anime hasn’t earned its bad rep – there’s a LOT of crap out there – but Given is a very decent show, both as a BL series as in its own right. I hope more people end up giving it a shot eventually.

        1. Me too. It has been a nice bit of drama so far and very nicely told. But you are right in that a lot of previous BL titles have given the genre quite a reputation.

          1. Maybe I’m alone in this or simply haven’t done my research but I feel like there’s just as much unwatchable bl as any other genre

    2. Agreed although it seems to be enjoying a fair amount of quiet success. I haven’t heard much on it but everything I’ve seen has been positive

  2. Yup. Given is great abd I love music in general.

    I don’t want to decide whether I prefer anime or manga. Both have qualities unique to their format. Anime can enchant you with gorgeous visuals and music. The huge variety in manga styles is also thrilling and manga can always be read at your own pace, which is not always the case with anime.

    What is important to both is to fully utilize their fornat. Use the qualities that makes anime great and it will usually come out superior. I hate when I see anime that simply adapts a manga panel for panel without adding anything to it. But those that do can simply blow you away. March comes like a Lion is a amazing example, even if the manga is already good, the anime is just wow. And K-on is only a classic thanks to Kyoani’s adaption of the manga.

    Of course at the same time there are countless masterpiece of manga that I just can’t see being adapted well into anime. Junji Ito and a lot of horror, Inio Asain’s incredible works that leaves me depressed. Of course I thought the sane thing about march comes like a lion and decided not to watch it but it proved me wrong.

    As long as they are produced with love and patience, magic will prevail.

    1. I’ve been meaning to try March Comes in Like a Lion in manga form but I love the anime so much I can’t help but wonder if I’ll end up disappointed.

      1. Both the manga and anime is very dialogue and monologue heavy which in manga format can be tough to go through. Especially the shogi scenes are full of text, and as a person that does not fully understand shogi it was quiet hard to follow. However, in both versions the moments he spends with that family at sangatsu is always full of sweetness. I’d say that you can give the manga a try to see how different it is visually and in pacing since shaft really did a good job of making the anime able to stand on its own.

  3. The manga if you didnt know is getting a english publication for next year announced by publisher sublime manga which is exciting. I am glad you two are enjoying this series, I am also in love with it myself for a boys love it’s a special one so melancholy, tame love that it’s more character driven than what is usually served up in boys love genre. it’s a wonderful change of pace I’ve been meaning to talk about this on the blog XD

  4. I am lately reading more manga than I used too, but I pretty much prefer anime to manga myself. As you say I’m a fan of animation myself as well, and I just love the way it can draw you in and invest you into it emotionally, more than a manga can usually ever do. I think it’s also because text even with pictures is static. If done well it can stil make you invested (the recently read Monster manga has certainly been able to do that), but overall I agree. I think the only manga I have read that is better than the animation (mind you I haven’t yet seen the Monster anime so there is that) is Battle Angel Alita. But that’s because the anime for Alita was very rushed and compressed into a one hour movie. Great post! 😊

      1. I know. I’m waiting for it drop back down because I’ve been doing the whole two steps forward and then one back for the last fifty followers, but it seems like it might be sticking for now.

        1. Haha…I have had that myself as well the past few days, but I’m also not really at a “significant” number of followers yet (I would be paying more attention when I’m nearing 2000). That said, I’m grateful for all the current followers, but it seems 3000 for you is still sticking: so yay! 🎉🎉😊😊

    1. There are probably a few stories out there that have suffered from terrible adaptations where the manga is probably a better way to experience the story. Generally speaking though if the anime doesn’t draw me in I’m unlikely to go looking for other versions of the story.

      1. Yeah, that is the same with me. As I said I am reading a lot more manga these days then I used to do…but that said, I’m still more partial to animes. I am however, more than in the past, given to maybe check out the manga if I really like a certain anime (for instance once Is it wrong has finished it’s run, I might go look for/buy the manga😊)

        1. I’d suggest the light novels for Is It Wrong. I don’t know what the manga is like but I’ve read through 12 volumes of the light novel now and am still enjoying the story immensely.

      1. I’m currently reading the deluxe versions of the Alita Manga (They are gorgeous if you don’t already have them, they are so worth it!) and guess what’s up next for me? Yep…you guess it: Death Note! 😊

  5. I generally prefer anime to manga period. Even with great art, manga simply doesn’t compare to a well animated adaptation. If I had to think of a series that I prefer to it’s manga counterpart, it’s My Hero Academia.

  6. Karandi kindly formatted this post for me and it’s AMAZING! Just like the anime is better than the manga, this image choice and formatting really made the post so much more than it was. Thank you Karandi!

  7. Great post! I sometimes will prefer the anime adaptation of an action oriented series over the manga because it’s often more thrilling to watch an animated action scene and easier to follow what’s happening.

    1. Agreed. I never could get into shounen manga but I don’t mind the occasional anime shounen if it is well made. My Hero Academia springs to mind.

  8. Great post! I tend to prefer anime as its easier for me to get into, I can always get a better sense of whats going on watching something move or hearing the voice acting or any of the stuff you mentioned. However it does always come down to adaption.

    There’s stuff like One Piece where, while I have a lot of nostalgia for the early seasons and I’m enjoying the current arc, for the most part the pacing and animation quality of the series just kills the story for me so I stick to the manga.

    Whereas with the likes of Fire Force, the manga (what I’ve read of it) is very good, but the majority of the fanservice feels forced and unnecessary, and while it’s the same in the anime, it goes by quicker so its easier for me to stomach, so I prefer to watch that.

    1. For the most part I almost always prefer the anime over a manga, or I’d prefer a novel over a manga. However there are some where I’ve started to really appreciate the story in manga form. I was thinking I should give Given another try but Irina’s post here has more or less convinced me to stick with the anime.

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