Late-night anime block noitaminA has been on quite the roll as of late when it comes to LGBT-friendly stories. With last Spring’s Sarazanmai, the well-respected program has demonstrated that there is room to showcase well-rounded gay characters without having to throw in tropes or stereotypes. This past summer, they have decided to truly hit the mark with given, a boys-love music series that frames both the thoughtfulness and normality that such tales deserve to be demonstrated as.
Based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga, given follows a rock band called the seasons, who are looking for a big chance at fame. Guitarist Ritsuka (Yuma Uchida) one day finds a shy & sleepy classmate named Mafuyu (Shōgo Yano), who is often seen clutching a guitar. After being convinced to teach him guitar, Ritsuka finds a lot of hidden talent deep within Mafuyu, along with a certain bubbly feeling that he himself can’t seem to explain. After bassist Haruki (Masatomo Nakazawa) and drummer Akihiko (Takuya Eguchi) are convinced to let the shy kid join their band, Mafuyu slowly begins to open up his feelings and emotions, even when his past catches up to him.
Unlike most boys-love or even yaoi series, given doesn’t place the focus on the LGBT aspects of the characters and the like. If anything, the framing of the characters’ romance interests is presented as completely normal, something that a lot of other shows both from the Western and Eastern worlds of entertainment need to strive to do. Instead, the real focus of the series is entirely on the friends and the music they attempt to create. In a very big way, this helps to push out a better and more coherent story, to the point where it pretty much grounds itself in reality rather than something for the fujoshi crowd to ogle over.
When we first meet Mafuyu, he’s quiet and very much keeping to himself. Because of this, he might come off as someone who is on the Spectrum (a thought that grazed my brain a few times during the first batch of episodes). However, as the series progresses, we learn about why he’s like that, as Mafuyu is still coming to terms with the death of his previous boyfriend. It’s Ritsuka holding his hand out and grabbing tight of Mafuyu that wakens him back to the world around him, and it’s done do in both a beautiful and lighthearted way.
As this is a music-based anime, the focus on the band plays an important factor into the development of Mafuyu and the other characters. Watching as they jam out, write music, and attempt to piece together a song shares a good similarity with Carole & Tuesday. Both want to ground themselves in the reality that strong music doesn’t just magically come out of songwriters; it takes hard work and dedication, which given does a very good job at demonstrating.
Watching as Ritsuka trains Mafuyu on the guitar brings out a wonderful dose of down-to-earthness between this master and pupil sort of camaraderie. Even when Mafuyu plays his first show with the rest of the band mates, it’s made apparent that his guitar-playing is still sloppy compared to others. However, it’s when Mafuyu starts to sing when a whole new monster pops out, one that will take any anime fan’s breath away once you start hearing it. And it’s these musical moments that make the series shine the brightest.
Not since Anonymous Noise have I bore witness to an in-show band that glows just as colorful as the seasons (later renamed Given, hence the show’s title). When first heard, they demonstrate the trio of Ritsuka, Haruki, and Akihiko’s talents with some badass math rock instrumentation. One can’t be help but utter “Oh shit!” when they first start to jam. With Mafuyu added to the mix, the band becomes tighter and more mesmerizing to watch unfold.
Of course, it’s not just the music and friendship that grows throughout; love blossoms too. Without spoiling too much, Ritsuka starts to have feelings for Mafuyu, in ways that even he cannot understand. He blushes, stammers, and even finds himself being one-upped by Mafuyu’s coy side in a manner that makes himself into a blubbering idiot. It’s not just cute to watch him act in such a way; it’s also very hilarious.
But again, it’s how given is framed that makes it as enjoyable and relatable as it is. Never does it attempt to shove some sort of ideology or force viewers to change their minds about how they feel about those in the LGBT community; it just automatically assumes you’re already an accepting person. As such, the show never has to push the brakes down on its narrative to give its viewers some sort of lesson on something or another. It’s legit a breath of fresh air to see a gay-positive story come out of the woodwork like this, one that never needs to explain why the characters are the way they are or who they may love.
It also helps that it’s got a great animation studio bringing Kizu’s manga to life. LERCHE (Asobi Asobase, Monster Musume) demonstrates a lot of love and care into both the characters and the settings. At its best is when you watch the band perform. With a mixture of CGI, the characters look the way they sound as they play their hearts out. During even the calmest of settings, LERCHE’s attention to things like how someone blushes or reacts to a surprising scenario is showcased with loads of electricity.
The cast of given also delivers their S-game alongside the animation. Yano is an absolute wonder as Mafuyu, who goes from being the quiet type into a blossoming rocker filled with loads of emotion. Uchida’s Ritsuka delivers a performance that goes from being stern & serious to completely stunned & cheerful as the serious progresses. Both Nakazawa and Eguchi somewhat act as the comic relief to the series as Haruki and Akihito, but deliver some great emotional moments when the time calls for it.
Lastly, it’s the unbelievable soundtrack and score of the series that will easily grab hold of every viewer. With compositions by Michiru (Mitsuboshi Colors, Izetta: The Last Witch), the sounds give way to 90s-era alt. rock akin to The Pixies and slower Red Hot Chili Peppers melodies. For the songs by the seasons/Given, rock band centimillimental deliver both killer math rock and hard-hitting pop rock that stands toe-to-toe with some of the best melodies to come out of the music scene this year. Centimillimental also contribute the excellent opening theme “Kizuato”, along with the end theme “Mirutsuke” that’s sung passionately by Yano.
Missing out on given would be a grave mistake to both anime fans and music lovers. With its deep story, wonderful characters, and some of the best music in anime this year, the latest entry in the noitaminA lineup is one show that will surprise any viewer who sits down to experience it. With a continuation film coming out in 2020, now’s a good time to give in to what given has to offer. Just be sure to crank it to eleven when the band’s about to let it all rip!
Final Grade (not an average):