The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Anyone that has followed my seasonal previews over the years can probably tell you that I have favorable bias towards stories about putting a band together. The glitzy, pop performance focus of idol anime tend to focus on the aspect of the music industries that I find the least compelling, but if you show me some scrappy boys who want to play their loud instruments so they can work out all of their Big Emotions™? I'm all in. Given is the kind of anime that I love to see out there in the world, even if this particular episode's execution left me wanting a little more.
The story is about as typical as it gets, which isn't a bad thing: Mafuyu is an aimless young boy who carries around a broken guitar like a security blanket, and the gruff Ritsuka is just the rock-and-roller that he's been looking for. Ritsuka himself has been searching for his old passion and drive for the craft, and when Mafuyu asks Ritsuka to be his guitar instructor, that spark begins to reignite. One can only assume that this season will bring the two closer together through the power of music and love, and what more could anyone want out of a rock band anime? The script for this premiere was a little low-key for my tastes – I tend to gauge character's chemistry in the dialogue and decisions they share, but Mafuyu is a very reactive and subdued character, so it's difficult for me to tell if I think he and Ritsuka make a good pair. The art and direction also work in service of this leisurely tone, but the aesthetics are solid all the way through, so if that's what you are in the mood for, then Given is likely going to work very well for you.
The scene that worked the best for me was, unsurprisingly, when Ritsuka and his bandmates first performed a little jam session for Mafuyu. The animation and integration of CG worked in tandem to make the musicianship feel authentic. The energy felt in this scene was lacking in the rest of the premiere – this was likely a very intentional effect, meant to emphasize the way music can bring the liveliness back into a person's world, but I still wouldn't' have minded if the whole episode had just a bit more verve to it. Still, Given has my attention, and I'm looking forward to where these characters and their relationships go moving forward, especially if it means getting more snazzy band performances to boot.
Based on this episode, I'd place Given on the more general-audience friendly end of the BL spectrum. The story doesn't appear to be overly steeped in the dynamics of who plays what role in which relationship, nor does it wander into any of the uncomfortable territory that's sometimes associated with the genre. It comes across as a music-themed romance that happens to feature two male leads, and a reasonably genuine one at that. Aside from a couple of hints at a tragic backstory, it's also pretty light on melodrama, with the focus instead being placed on atmosphere and character interactions.
That focus, and the slower pacing that comes with it, places a greater burden on the characters to give the audience a reason to invest in the story. To that end, Ritsuka works well as the more experienced musician of the pair. He strikes a good balance where he's gruff and straightforward without being a jerk about it; he doesn't so much want Mafuyu to go away as he wants Mafuyu to get his act together, and that more good-natured motivation makes Ritsuka a likable character. His sister's role in the story is a little unclear at the moment, but I do like his two bandmates. They're amusingly transparent in their desire to impress people with their music, and they seem like they'll be a helpful source of advice whenever Ritsuka or Mafuyu lose their way.
I'm a little less sold on Mafuyu, although in fairness we don't get to see much from his perspective here. Apart from the opening scenes, most of this episode is presented from Ritsuka's point of view, so there's less room for Mafuyu to distinguish himself as more than just a wistful guy who carries around a guitar he doesn't know how to play. Given seems to be playing up the mysterious side of his personality and circumstances, which is fine for now but will eventually need to be brushed aside to make room for actual character development. The chemistry between the two of them is at least reasonably strong, with Ritsuka playing the frustrated voice of reason to Mafuyu's persistent requests for music lessons.
As far as the actual music goes, this episode's central performance scene does one thing well and one thing decently. The visuals are the more underwhelming element, with a suspicious number of shots framed to hide the motions of the characters' hands while they play their instruments. The music, on the other hand, is a good match for the scene, and feels exactly like the kind of thing these guys would play in response to Mafuyu's request to hear something cool. On the whole, the best thing I can say about Given is that I'd consider watching more of it despite the fact that I don't normally pay much attention to BL as a genre. If you're looking for a fairly well-presented romance series, regardless of the main characters' genders, it's worth checking out.
Given is based on a well-liked manga, but the relative inexperience of its director and its limited trailers meant it wasn't necessarily one of my top prospects coming into this season. This premiere quickly demonstrated what a fool I was, offering one of the season's strongest first episodes yet in its introduction of Ritsuka, Mafuyu, and their bandmate companions. If you're sleeping on this one, wake up - Given is looking to be an excellent romance/band drama, and potentially one of the best shows of the summer.
The show opens with an evocative demonstration of its emphasis on tone and naturalistic pacing, as we're introduced to would-be guitarist Mafuyu through a wordless sequence of him readying for school, and Ritsuka through a lethargic conversation with a fellow classmate. The show's strengths in terms of character blocking and post-processing effects are clear from the beginning, as these two journeys slowly converge into a meeting on a staircase that exemplifies all the show's tonal strengths. A half-resolved guitar riff repeats in the background, repeatedly ending on one held, insistent note, like an engine revving but finding no release. Given thus naturally builds an intense sense of expectation for Ritsuka and Mafuyu's first meeting, in an early indication of how deeply music will be integrated into the drama of their lives.
Given's use of music throughout this premiere is easily its strongest feature; the soundtrack consistently echoes and amplifies the feelings of the characters, and the actual songs employed aren't canned orchestral themes. The show's soundtrack is exactly the kind of winding, melancholy guitar rock you could imagine these characters actually playing, and when Mafuyu finally witnesses Ritsuka jamming with his band, their performance is a stunning highlight. Ritsuka's angular rock riffs surge ahead of his bewildered friends, only for them to smile and snap into tempo, in a performance that cleverly masks its use of CG models through smart staging and plentiful traditional animation.
So far, the show's biggest weak point would be its somewhat inconsistent dialogue. I found Ritsuka's internal voice very convincing, and there were a fair number of satisfyingly naturalistic conversations, but the show also had a tendency to dip into lukewarm romantic comedy farce. Basically none of this premiere's jokes really worked for me, and I was mostly just thankful the show didn't try to be funny very often.
That said, half-baked humor certainly isn't unusual in anime dramas, and to be honest, I'm probably being a bit more critical about this show's writing only because it was good enough to actually warrant that level of critique. On the whole, this was an excellent episode that seemed like it may offer a genuine deep dive into the formation and fortunes of a talented rock band. Highly recommended.
If you can at least tolerate BL, then this one seems like it has some potential. It features one young man who has been playing guitar for years but has started to lose his passion for it. As his band mates are quick to recognize, he finds his passion anew in dealing with another, more laconic young man who carries around a guitar but doesn't know how to play it and has the behavior and demeanor of a puppy dog. There's an implication that the guitar in question is a memento of someone the second young man knew who committed suicide, but this is, of course, too early for that full backstory to be spilled. For now, what matters is that the second boy gets interested in the first initially because he knows how to repair and maintain guitars and later because of his performance, to the point that it looks like he will learn quickly and join the band. That's a solid foundation on which to build a story both about the music involved and their budding relationship.
The music is a key part of this, too. Ritsuka and his band mates perform a very solid rock number for Mafuyu, one which features animation of them playing the instruments that's about on par with the legendary ENOZ performance in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. A steady diet of that king of thing over the course of the series might almost be enough on its own to justify watching the series. (It also explains why the episode takes some awkward animation shortcuts in other places: to save its budget for that scene.) Character designs are also appealing, with Ritsuka's band mates convincingly being shown as a little edgy without being extreme.
The one significant downside to this episode is that Mafuyu comes across as too vulnerable, too puppy-like, to be fully credible. I don't know BL well, but this still strike me as playing to some kind of fetish for genre fans and doesn't make for an interesting character otherwise. Still, the writing, characterization of Ritsuka, and performances also show enough promise that I can recommend this title even though I am unlikely to watch it myself.
Although not a lot technically happens in the first episode of Given, there's still a lot to pay attention to. That's because it's the little things that make this story – the shot in the opening of holding a guitar like a hug, the moment when Ritsuka pulls Mafuyu out of the path of a car and it looks like he's spinning him out in a dance, the sort of desperate way Mafuyu almost imprints on Ritsuka. We don't know enough about the story or the characters yet to understand why any of these things happen (apart from not wanting Mafuyu to get hit), but there's a real sense that there's something going on beneath the surface that's slowly rising to the top.
Since this is based on a BL manga, obviously romance is part of that, and it's nice to see that Given isn't taking any of the routes that can give the genre such a difficult reputation. We can guess that Ritsuka is attracted to Mafuyu because of his actions – running to get guitar strings, noticing little details like his bandaged fingers, the aforementioned dance-like moment – but there's nothing beyond that. While it may not stay this way, as of this initial episode, it looks like it will be a story about a band that just happens to have a homoerotic romance, or that at the very least that romance will be driven by the boys' characters rather than jumping right into more prurient content. If you like your love stories character-driven, that means this will be worth keeping an eye on.
While Ritsuka is a fairly open book right now (although we do have to wonder where his parent[s] are), Mafuyu is clearly hiding some less-than-lovely stuff about his homelife. Ritsuka keeps saying that Mafuyu broke the string on his guitar, but we saw in the beginning of the episode that someone else broke it as a way to hurt him, a detail that stands to be very important in who Mafuyu is. Presumably the way he imprints on Ritsuka and just sits around waiting for people (rather than going places on his own) is related to this, and uncovering what's going on in his life feels like an important piece of the story.
I'm actually strongly reminded of the manga of Anonymous Noise in some of the themes here, albeit much less melodramatic in their depiction, and that's enough to make me want to see where this is going to go. The soft colors can feel a little washed out at times, and I'm not wild about the way the actual playing instruments is animated, but if you're in the mood for something a little quieter than the other shows on offer this season, this should be on your list of titles to check out.
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