given tells the story of a thrown together band that gets revitalized with the addition of Mafuya, their new lead singer. The lead guitarist, Ritsuka, discovers Mafuya at school and gets invigorated all over again to play and teach music once his connection with Mafuya develops and he hears him sing. Before either of them know it, a romance starts to develop.
Ritsuka Uenoyama is the fiery lead guitarist who discovers the vocalist that reignights his passion for playing and also throws his mind into disarray. He does as he pleases without much thought. When Mafuya comes along, his sleep-through-class play-what-I-want kind of attitude meets an interest he was not expecting and romance he has to articulate. While his character seems immature at first, he is the force behind the band and the reason that everyone has to reckon with their emotions. He reminds me of the cue ball in pool. Not very intricate by design, but the catalyst and driver for most interactions in the game.
Mafuya was the single character I could not stand. This man took eons to respond, lost conversation trains, and seemed like he had never heard music. I’m not sure if he was supposed to be ditzy, reserved or scared, but it was extremely frustrating to wait on character dialog that felt like it came from a toddler. If you are not thrown off by his speaking cadence in the first two episodes, keep watching, but know it doesn’t really get better except select scenes in the last two episodes.
Haruki Nokayuma felt like the dog in the burning house saying, “This is fine.” His character is a constant stream of reactions ranging.l from panic to jealousy. They quickly get hidden behind a smile, generally positive words, and the privilege of being the last one to know anything going on. He isn’t a bad character but his role is not impactful compared to the three other band members.
Our band drummer and intimidating teddy bear is Akihiko Kaji. This was my favorite. character. Despite talking less than the rest, his reckless freeloading, emotional leading and lack of concern for others made it so much more interesting when we took a peek behind the curtains into his life. We can see a talented musician who bound himself to a prodigy in some form of pain loving stagnation that leads to his inability to leave the relationship. His will to be skilled fights his personality and drives his feelings of inferiority. Easily the deepest character and worth some explanation that we really don’t get much of.
There are not many things that make me feel old at the age of 24, but I do think that this show was a bit too high on the teenage angst for where I am in life. And reducing the show down to teen angst feels invalidating. At its core, given is about moving on from the loss of partner, reignited passions, and the weight that people carry around everyday; it just didn’t resonate with me. I don’t think that Mafuya’s previous relationship was presented in a way that connected me to him and the show did not really invest in any story besides his. It’s a bit tough when an emotional connection lives and dies by single character and you are looking to connect on different channels.
The executed idea in the show was how they showed characters holding on to past trauma or current issues. It feels like each character keeps something in their lives as a mark of their past trauma or their current pains, with Mafuya and Uenoyama being the most obvious examples. Watching how the pains of the characters manifest into the physical world was done in a mixed way where some physical manifestations were right in your face and simple and others were subtle and slow burning. Simple examples like guitar strings breaking got over explained on occasion, which made it less fun to come to realization in the moment. Others were never explained but felt especially poisonous once you watched the lives of the characters and understood what they had been going through.
At one point in the show a third tier character mentioned that all the passion of music came from the live performance. From there, I did not pay attention for the next seven minutes because I was wondering if that makes enough of an idea to talk about strictly because I have strong opinions on the topic. I am of the firm belief that studio music is strictly better than live music. I know that my two music loving friends are sneezing right now because whenever I share this opinion with them they disagree vigorously. I have gone to very few concerts but have always disliked the amount of people you have to share the space with. I am someone who likes to experience music personally. I like to hear the depth of sound that comes with studio recordings that can rarely be achieved in live music. Some of my favorite songs are heavier hip-hop beats with light violins in the background that would have been drowned out a thousand times over. So the question becomes where does passion come through for you in music, through the performance and the energy of live music or the controlled and produced execution of studio music?
The beginning half of given felt like the last twenty minutes of the work day. At least once an episode I asked myself if I could write a review without watching the rest of the show, only to think of you all and insist on finishing. It wasn’t as if things weren’t developing or tension wasn’t created, the characters just took a year and half to respond to any stimuli. There was a point, no, there were several points where characters would be asked a question, wait several seconds with a blank stare and completely change the topic. This does so much to throw off the pacing of individual episodes that sits over the whole show. Right after the halfway point, we get normal behaviors and good back stories that felt satisfying way too late for me to be invested.
When stories are building to a single point that is supposed to release the tension of the show, the animation needs to support and enhance that moment. given works itself up to Mafuya finally singing his song. The intensity of all the emotion swirling around a new band, the tension in the relationships, and the heartbreak of loss needed to come together in a way that can be healed by the music. And the show uses really stilted CGI for the first time. I wish they had never done this. The animation was never anything marvelous, but the shots of boys looking sweaty, disheveled (in a sexy way), and anxious can shine in the rest of the show with only mild interruption from lots of emote worthy faces. So my only question is why change the recipe of success at the pinnacle moment? Rarely do I make sweets, but never would I make cupcakes and top them with pickles instead of frosting. And maybe that isn’t even fair because most of the big scene was great. The lighting is perfect, the singing is great, and the emotion somehow comes across through Mafuya’s hair (which feels like an achievement). So maybe they just mixed pickles with the frosting. Weird enough to notice, not what you expected, and nothing you want to see again.
given does a really good job of treating high schoolers as normal humans. Where most shows segment off high schoolers from the rest of society by literally not showing other people on streets, given makes them part of the world by having them pretty seamlessly interact with college students, family, other high schoolers, workplaces, and the music venue. So even though the show focuses heavily on the music scene in the area, the people surrounding the main characters felt integrated and normal.
For being a show about a band, the music really isn’t a priority. The only soundtracks that I could find had nine songs, which comes out to a song an episode. It’s admittedly a bit odd to come from musical shows like Carol and Tuesday where they write and sing a new song each episode, then think about music and song as a metaphor for other issues that the characters are facing. We get a few guitar strums here and there and a couple general hums before the big performance. When the show is centered around music however, I want it to be more present in more impact than given was able to offer.
|Category||Points Given||Points Possible|
|I am interested in the characters in the story||2||6|
|I liked the emotion the story made me feel||2||6|
|The story brings up interesting ideas||3||6|
|I felt the pacing of the show was appropriate||2||4|
|The animation in the show is beautiful||2||4|
|I am interested in the world that the story takes place in||2||3|
|I felt that the music added to the story in a meaningful way||1||3|