Review/discussion about: Given
As some of my readers and followers may know, I’m an avid fan of the metal genre of music.
It’s a major part of my life: I listen to it every day, I collect physical vinyl media from underground groups, I discuss it on the various platforms I’m found on. From the technical skills to the filthy riffs, its intensity and diversity knows no bounds, so I have found myself drawn to its amazing musicality.
Metal also gives me the chance to think about and look inwards into myself, contemplating those harsher, more suppressed thoughts and feelings that tend to get bottled up. Given features a band more akin to pop-rock rather than metal, but their own personable journey still demands self-reflection.
Ritsuka Uenoyama is a young man with a deep passion for playing the guitar – and napping during school. One day, when he reaches his favorite resting spot, he finds fellow classmate Mafuyu Satou there instead, clutching a red guitar of his own. And so it is that this fateful encounter gives Given its beginning.
From this tiny synopsis and eventual plot details, Given certainly seems to be a show about music. They pick up instruments. They form a band together. They practice. They learn about chords. They restring their guitars when needed. But (like other stories of a tangential nature) the music isn’t really the focus of the anime. Instead, Given carves out a character drama steeped in worthwhile themes, romantic interest, and grounded events.
Much of those themes center on negativity: trepidation, loneliness, uncertainty. The story is not dire by any means, but its willingness to talk about the less-than-savory parts of life, while maintaining a consistent tone and refusing to act preachy, showcase a side to the anime that most people can either relate to or at least sympathize with. Indeed, inherent parallels between the isolation they feel individually and the group dynamic they share as a band coalesce that music and these themes even more tightly.
Same goes for the romance and how this sense of darkness feeds into it. Not that the feelings or the ideas are evil but rather that they contain similar longing. One of the men doesn’t quite have the courage to voice his love. One of them feels simultaneously inferior and inspired by his own crush. And the other two struggle coming to terms with their newfound or suffocating emotions.
Which in turn builds the foundation for its grounded events, for the negativity and the romance leads to its distinct sense of honesty. Such honesty permeates Given thanks mostly to the conversations held between everyone. From a female student apologizing for her rude behavior to a longtime friend seeking forgiveness, the show has an honest flow to its scenarios that fits snuggly within the broader realism of the plot.
Other traits improve the execution of Given even further. It weaves in some small comedic bits now and again, preventing things from ever getting too heavy-handed. And the choice to hide the climactic song, saving its reveal for its most opportune and most vital point of the season, was nothing but smart on its part.
Truth be told, Given isn’t without problems. It concludes at a somewhat strange spot, what with the band just getting primed for stardom and the unseen exploration into Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s romance post-confession. There’s also a lingering lack of spark throughout the story. That is, despite the strengths and the solidity of its narrative core, its overall writing almost never impresses or captivates.
Yet Given says and provides a lot in just eleven episodes anyway; it deserves praise for sure.
ART & ANIMATION
Given earns more praise through its visual presentation. And it starts with the designs.
Handsome and sharp, these guys have the looks to swoon the masses. Ritsuka has the tough delinquent vibe about him with his ever-so-slightly bluish-tinted hair and stern face. Mafuyu mirrors with orange and innocence for a more approachable aura. Haruki’s flowing hair, goatee, and better fashion sense grant him extra appeal. And Akihiko’s short blonde hair, piercings, and ripped bod make him the confident, mysterious “bad” dude.
These designs fit the romance angles and the band persona without trouble. Besides them, and better yet in general, Given often includes nice usage of lighting for many of its scenes. Several shots evoke the correct mood or capture splendor through natural lighting, the bright stage filters, or the manmade fixtures at night. This lighting (and subsequent shadowing) once again fits the goals of Given if only because it elevates its grounded and dramatic scenarios to that next level.
The setting also affords the anime a range of locales to choose. Quaint homes and stylish apartments. Nostalgic beaches. Studios, bars, and shops for their musical needs. Public spaces like parks and nearby streets. That secluded spot where the story all began. While these places are for the most part mundane, especially that of the school they attend, there’s a decent amount of variety (to go along with the lighting) that follows the realism of the show once more.
Unfortunately, Given cracks again before landing at that top-tier spot. A major offense occurs during that climactic track where CG segments, while infrequent, are too animatronic, distracting the viewer out of the experience. Even if this example is too nitpicky, the show in general sticks with average quality to its animation and with standard cinematography that borders on boredom.
But what the show shows has a nice amount of quality regardless.
The four guys of Given each choose a different role within their band: Ritsuka is the lead guitarist, Mafuyu is the vocalist, Haruki is the bassist, Akihiko is the drummer. It makes sense, then, that the anime purposefully tailors their roles as characters to metaphorically both follow and counteract their instrument of choice.
Take Ritsuka. A stellar guitarist known by many in this underground scene, he is likewise the star of the show. Yet he has a tough time crafting relationships with others despite being a pro at his own craft. If only because he cannot seem to first understand himself.
Similarly, Mafuyu is the vocalist, so his words and his actions carry the most weight. Yet he’s the quietest of the characters. In a sense, he’s lost and without a voice after falling into loneliness and despair.
Haruki, like all great bass players, may not be the most prominent character in Given (going so far as to hide his identity online), but, without his smooth, selfless support, the rest would drift away without such an anchor. Yet Haruki likewise has his own feelings which he constantly wonders about.
Same goes for Akihiko. He is the underlying foundation, the steady beat that the others rely on for timing, rhythm, and flow. Yet he’s much more fragile than originally believed, how his outward coolness masks an inner weakness that he rarely shows anyone.
This aligned-yet-opposing force in their roles benefits Given immensely. The anime explores their strengths and their flaws in this layered manner, allowing Ritsuka, Mafuyu, Haruki, and Akihiko to have a better, more well-rounded persona overall. And it’s seen in each of them.
Ritsuka cares about Mafuyu and tries to understand him unlike anybody else before. At one point, he even worries if something is wrong with him for having such feelings against the norm. Obviously there’s not, but given that Given sets aside time to address this aside demonstrates a lot of maturity and seriousness on its part.
Mafuyu breaks his silence in various ways throughout the show. He delivers words to mend bridges from his past life. He echoes forth his built-up thoughts for all to hear. He shares his heart with Ritsuka before he can (rationally) do so.
Haruki and Akihiko stick mostly to their supportive creed, but they have their own moments as well. Haruki wrestles with his own wants, opting to keep the status quo because he’s at least content with it for now. Akihiko in turn battles with a “long-distance” connection, choosing to live with the man whom he admires. The two have similar paths and have different perspectives, so their combined guidance works well for the two main leads.
A couple of the extra characters in Given – namely Ritsuka’s sister Yayoi and violin-master Ugetsu – seem to have a place within the larger story, but their presence falls far behind any worthwhile inclusions. In other words, their involvement is largely ineffective and a bit too open-ended when compared to those prominent four.
Nevertheless, the anime affords Ritsuka, Mafuyu, Haruki, and Akihiko the time they deserve during the season. Developing arcs, overcoming struggles, and investigating selves are a testament to that statement.
MUSIC & SOUND
Despite centering on music to some degree, Given somewhat lacks in this department.
Of course, the highlight of the anime is the track “Winter Story”, the climax of the narrative in episode nine. Having built up and alluded to the song for the entire season leading up to this performance, the anime absolutely needed to deliver – and it did. The pained vocals. The bittersweet instrumentation. The heartfelt lyrics. Given stomped its foot down when it mattered most.
Otherwise, the audio within the show cannot quite live up to the same grandeur. At the very least, the opening track “Kizuato” and the ending track “Marutsuke” have thoughtful lyrical content that aligns with the rest of the anime. Yet the songs themselves have a weaker grasp. The OP has a neat section in its middle where piano dances with the pop-rock and harmonizing vocalists but has reduced efficacy surrounding it. The ED acts as a strong contrast to the rest of the music with its mellower, hopeful atmosphere, but it charges up later than needed
Similar thoughts exist for the original soundtrack and the voice acting; these pieces have quite the forgettable presence. The OST is at its best with its jam-session tunes and its lonely guitars, but the piano melodies and the tense ambient tracks have less weight to them. Worse still, the VA work rings out as average in terms of style and charisma, lending the anime zero standout performances.
So, despite its tangential origins, Given cannot quite raise its audio direction to a better standing.
I’ll be the first to admit (since I did so already a couple months ago) that I found this anime to be rather mediocre from the onset. I was skeptical of the show’s ability to walk the walk after talking the talking per se, and I wasn’t all that impressed by its initial attempts at creating drama.
But chalk me up as being pleasantly surprised by its turnaround.
Above anything else, I very much appreciate the show addressing the romance with directness rather than skirting or teasing around it. Feelings were voiced, kisses landed at the precise moments, and confessions had immediate answers. It treated the present emotions with respect and with class, to which I give two thumbs-up.
Its blend of comedy and drama also started to grow on me. I chuckled at their deadpan interactions, and intriguing revelations were enough of a pull to keep me wanting to know more about what was going to happen next.
Now, all that said, I still have two big gripes: Ritsuka and Maufyu. In short, I don’t particularly care for them individually. Ritsuka is a nice friend, but his impact during the season tapered off rather quickly, so he lost some entertainment value. As for Mafuyu, his overly air-headed personality and naïveté got very old very fast. Even later, when he seemed to find his feet more, I didn’t like his attitude.
In contrast, my favorite characters were instead Haruki and Akihiko. Haruki is a swell guy, supporting his friends and their relationships with a kindhearted outlook. Akihiko is just downright cool; I can only hope to be as rad as him some day.
When all is said and done, I cannot claim to be a mega-fan of this anime. However, it earns props from me nonetheless.
Given takes its content and belts out a satisfying chorus. While the overall project tends to miss a lasting spark here and there, it still manages to get it right enough. The relative seriousness of its story grants it meaning, and the relationships of the characters do the same. Backed by clean artistry and passable audio direction, its metal mettle does not waver.
Story: Good, a grounded character drama whose darker themes and romantic angles lead to a solid, albeit lackluster, narrative offering
Art & Animation: Good, handsome character designs, a sharp setting, and nice lighting effects curate a helping of strong visuals, even if the cinematography tends to be uninspiring
Characters: Good, Ritsuka understands himself, Mafuyu faces his fears, and both Haruki and Akihiko support them with their own brand of guidance, but most of the extras are ineffective
Music & Sound: Fine, “Winter’s Story” is the highlight of the night, and the lyrical content for the OP and the ED ruminate with the rest of the project, but these two songs, the OST, and the VA performances fail to reach the same spectacle
Enjoyment: Fine, a pleasant surprise with a couple of major downsides
Final Score: 6/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review.
If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3