Given (Anime) add (All reviews)
Sep 19, 2019
Given strikes the rare balance of being openly gay - none of that maybe he is, maybe he isn’t crap - while not indulging in over the top eroticism to pander to a niche viewership. This is a vanilla, realistic, down to earth romance that can be watched by anyone open minded to love that exceeds conventional desire.

It is fairly unconventional for a single cour romance to have convincing characterization...yet Given makes this a strong point. Each of the band mates are given practical goals, motivations and fleshed out backstories that are sprinkled into the narrative as the episodes progress rather than forcefully crammed in a short span of time. This methodical progression helps the episodes flow smoothly, as it rarely feels as though there is a dominant character focus for any particular episode.

It is a great touch for the instruments of the characters to serve as a reflection of their inner struggles and/or role in the narrative. Lead guitarist Uenoyama, for example, is a hot headed prodigy who has been rejected by previous bands for creative differences. He must learn how to channel the volatile improvisation required of his instrument while accepting the input of his partners and empowering them to reach their ideal performance level. Mafuyu struggles with severe trauma to the extent that he is handicapped from genuinely expressing his feelings to others in ordinary conversation. It is only through his singing, songwriting, and encouragement from his fellow band members that he finds a means of finding closure to what tormets every waking moment of his life. Aki and Haruki are both in supporting roles as the drummer and bassist respectively, true to their positions as the oldest members of the band who serve as the voice of reason to their younger partners and the very foundation that keeps them together. In isolation these characters are lost. Together, they build each other up to reach their true and ideal selves.

Given is entirely absent of the plot contrivances that plague romance anime today - no ill timed misunderstandings that take an entire arc to resolve, no sudden childhood friend love interest interrupting romantic progression, no almost kiss scenes that are interrupted by a sadist. Just a continual build of trust between two friends who grow to like each other until they agree to become lovers. The relationship between Mafuyu and Uenoyama is founded upon principles that mirror actual strong relationships in the real world today. Beautiful stuff.

Similar to other great anime of the genre such as Nana, Kids on the Slope, most recently Carole & Tuesday, music is used as a platform to unite people of different backgrounds who probably wouldn't associate with one another otherwise. This gives the narrative a feeling of "destiny"; that it was meant for these characters to be together in this exact moment and create something special that will change their lives forever. Given does well to hammer this theme and make the viewer feel as if they are watching legends in the making.

A fair criticism is the lack of an elite OST track list - there are few outstanding background songs and many of the scenes are without music entirely. But this "flaw" can be considered an intentional creative decision to reflect real life circumstances. After all, in real life we don’t have on the go orchestras narrating our lives in the background and award winning singers belting out our emotions during times of distress. So this detail actually works to make Given more convincing that it would be otherwise. In the climax of this narrative - the signature "big breakout performance" that is a constant of the musical genre - it becomes EXTREMELY gratifying to listen to the most powerful track in a single defining moment. Even thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

Another criticism, and one that I actually agree with, is that the narrative ends at a point where so much more can occur. The ending isn’t abrupt to the extent where you should feel cheated, but there is obviously much more of a story to be told in terms of relationship development and progression of the band. This is a common consequence of anime adaptations for continuing series and in truth the only thing keeping me from giving Given a perfect score. So guess it'll just have to settle for being the best anime of the season.

Should you watch Given? Yes. Why should you watch it? because it's good. Do you need to affirm your sexuality before watching it? No, contrary to the tendency of every critic who throws out that tired tagline of "I'm a 100% straight male and I surprisingly loved this gay anime". Given excels for reasons that are not at all dependent upon orientation, and the open minded person should find no less value in this narrative than other musical themed romances that use a common passion as a vehicle to develop human relationships. I eagerly look forward to the movie adaptation (confirmed for 2020!) for a continuation of this great story.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9
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