given is, in many ways, like one of its central characters, Mafuyu – quiet, distant, full of pain, regret and longing and beautiful to behold. Like most of us, Mafuyu carries his emotional baggage around with him, only in his case its physical; a guitar. All spoilers aside, it’s clear from the outset that this guitar has an emotional significance as he hugs it, sleeps with it and carries it everywhere. He can’t even play, but that’s the catalyst needed to ignite a relationship with fellow high schooler and guitar whiz, Ritsuka.
Bit by bit, the boys let one another into their orbits, and Ritsuka teaches Mafuyu how to play his guitar. He even invites him into his band after hearing his seraphic singing voice. In so doing, Mafuyu finds himself getting over his emotional trauma and through music learns a slow path to healing. That alone would be enough to warrant a recommendation, but given goes further with its earnest portrayal of gay teenagers.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t queer baiting, played for laughs or sensationalised. This is just two boys who fall in love with one another. It’s remarkable in how unremarkable it is. And just like real life, love is shown in all its messy, complicated, painful and breathtakingly beautiful glory. Credit here needs to be given to Natsuki Kizu, on whose manga the series is based.
With its soft lines and pastel shades, given’s visuals perfectly capture the narrative, with director Hikaru Yamaguchi bringing an understated touch for studio Lerche. There’s so much emphasis on quiet moments and the frame lingers longer than we might expect on a character’s face. Often that’s all the story gives us, rather than inner monologue, and it’s much more potent because of that.
Yet when exposition is delivered, it’s teased out slowly over the series, allowing viewers to build up a complete picture of what these characters have been through. It’s revealed as much through dialogue and interactions as well-placed flashbacks.
Then there’s the music. One of my favourite moments is when Ritsuka, Mafuyu and the rest of the band – then called ‘the seasons’ – are talking about what they listen to. Mafuyu might be impossibly ignorant about music, but it’s moments like these that felt genuine. I was reminded frequently of Beck, an underrated series exploring some of the same musical themes and ideas and well worth checking out.
Episode 9 – the latest as of writing – released to pretty much universal acclaim among viewers and reviewers and it’s easy to see why. It was brilliant drama; exhilarating, emotional and cathartic. To say anything more would ruin the impact. So, what are you waiting for?