Anime Review: Given

Hi guys, it’s Gray. Today, I’m reviewing Given!

Given is a romance anime about four boys in a band.

This review is not spoiler free because I felt like reviewing this show required me to mention the spoilers. This review therefore has heavy spoilers. If you want to have a very quick spoiler-free summary and rating out of 10, then skip to the paragraph in bold at the very end! Otherwise, keep reading.

Given is a story about love — love for music, love between two people, love for your friends, and even love for yourself. The series primarily features two high school boys named Mafuyu and Uenoyama. Mafuyu is a very reserved person and spends his free time alone on the stairs of his high school. Uenoyama, who uses the stairs as a napping spot, walks up and notices Mafuyu’s high-quality guitar, which he always carries with him. Their friendship begins by Uenoyama agreeing to fix the broken strings of Mafuyu’s guitar. Eventually, he also agrees to teach Mafuyu how to play it.

From there, the two begin to grow closer, but at the same time, it is clear that Mafuyu is troubled by something. Uenoyama discovers that Mafuyu is actually an amazing singer, and Mafuyu is coaxed into joining Uenoyama’s band. The band consists of the two of them and two older men named Akihiko and Haruki. Akihiko is a tough-looking music student who plays the drums, and the bassist Haruki is a kind, responsible, and sensitive cafe employee and grad student. They plan to perform at a concert together, and give Mafuyu the task of writing the lyrics.

That’s enough plot summary!

This anime has a lot of emotions, often hidden below the surface of the characters’ interactions with one another. Uenoyama is afraid to confront how he feels about his own guitar playing and is afraid to express his feelings for Mafuyu. Mafuyu is hiding an immense torrent of pain due to the death of his boyfriend Yuki and his inability to truly absorb the pain that Yuki’s death causes him. Mafuyu cannot even really understand how to process it, and does not know how to properly move forward in life. Haruki is completely enamored with Akihiko, but keeps those feelings to himself because of their friendship and because of Akihiko’s pre-existing romantic attachments. Akihiko appears to be the most straightforward of the main four dudes, but is, in reality, in a very complicated emotional situation. Although my initial thoughts from watching Given were that the series didn’t explore Akihiko and Haruki enough, I soon realized that there was also a Given movie focused mainly on the exploration and resolution of their circumstances. The movie is not part of this review, but if you plan on watching it, you should make sure that you will not be triggered by the content, which involves instances of assault in a romantic/sexual context.

All of these hidden emotions are essentially like pots of water over a stove, getting more and more intense beneath the surface until finally, in the climax of the series, some of them boil over. At the show that the band was supposed to play together, all seems lost. Mafuyu was mentally incapable of writing a song for them to play, so they are probably going to bomb. Mafuyu then breaks his own guitar strings, and Uenoyama has to run to go find more. The band decides that they will play the song without lyrics, and finally goes out on stage. Mafuyu just stands there quietly by the microphone as the song begins.

Then, suddenly, he begins to sing.

And I have to tell you, Mafuyu’s song COMPLETELY blew me away.

The usually very reserved Mafuyu belts out a heartbreaking expression of his pain and unresolved feelings toward Yuki.

The shocked expressions of the crowd and his band members mirrored my own. There is truly no way to do justice to the beautiful moment that Given created. The only way is to experience it yourself. My rating went up a lot just because of Mafuyu’s song, and it really was the perfect way for his feelings to boil over and express themselves. The song seemed to give Mafuyu some closure and he was then able to freely explore his feelings for Uenoyama as well as pursue his new love of music.

I think that the key thing that this series does right is that all of the characters have these very complex, heavy, and realistic emotions. As viewers, we can really feel empathy for the struggle of the band members because we too have experienced heartbreak, emotional confusion, love, loss, and creative inspiration. The interactions between the band members were often fun and relatable, and the uncertain way that they dealt with their complex emotions felt similar to how a real person would deal with them.

However, all of the emotional build up made the series a bit slow at the beginning. The series had to set up the plot and the band initially, Mafuyu had to learn to play music, and they had to establish the budding romance between Uenoyama and Mafuyu. However, these things are not exactly very exciting, and it would have been nice to add in a few more plot elements to keep the viewer engaged in that period. The school that they went to also felt a bit empty and lifeless, and so did the rest of the world outside of the key characters and their band practice environment. However, this may in part just be an inherent limitation of having an 11-episode series. Although I felt like the other three band members were quite interesting, I do feel like I would have appreciated more of a glimpse into Mafuyu’s personality underneath the trauma he was experiencing. The series portrayed him as being extremely passive and unwilling to express himself in any way. Although obviously given his recent trauma this is very understandable, I think I would have appreciated his real self coming through more often in order to hint at what was underneath.

These things are nitpicking. Given is a very good series. It has an incredibly beautiful song as its climactic centerpiece, great emotional depth, some fun moments among close friends, and a sweet romance to top it off. Mafuyu’s song and Given’s opening are still stuck in my head! I would recommend Given to anyone looking for a romance series as long as they don’t mind experiencing some heavy/painful emotions.

Summary: Given is an anime focused around four boys in a band and the complicated emotions they feel toward music, the past, and one another. These emotions are portrayed in an expert way that really makes the viewer feel connected to the struggles of the characters. Although at times the series can feel a little slow, and it doesn’t add quite enough plot and world depth for my taste, ultimately Given is a very good show for anyone looking for an emotional romance series.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Thanks for reading my review!