by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Given is an ongoing manga with plenty of material beyond the band's inaugural concert, so I wasn't expecting much of a conclusion out of this season finale. Sure enough, any Given fans looking for closure won't find much, and in its place you'll be left with a fondness and a longing clawing at your heart. At least, that's how I find myself feeling now. This finale isn't even that exceptional when compared to Given's other episodes, but I think we all deserved a breather anyway. While this adaptation was over way too soon, it accomplished a great deal in its short run, exploring the tumultuousness of gay teenage love and loss against a musical backdrop.
This episode dials up the goofiness immediately, and with good reason. I can remember that euphoria of my first relationship—that buoyant giddiness of having your feelings, previously buried and fraught, finally reciprocated. It almost doesn't feel real, and Ritsuka's mind appropriately turns into a free-associative jumble of outer space, dinosaurs, and giant rainbow text. It makes for a hilarious first minute that nonetheless nails exactly how anybody in Ritsuka's position would have reacted. It's not just exciting, it's also bound to be a huge weight off his shoulders.
At least, it would have been more liberating if his Spongebob-esque mind palace hadn't reminded him of a mortifyingly hypocritical conversation he'd previously had about another group that broke up because of intra-band dating. Sticking your foot in your mouth is what being a teenager is all about, but I was briefly worried that this meant he would walk away from the confession. While it wouldn't be an unheard-of development in the notoriously protracted genre of anime romance, I felt like he and Mafuyu had more than earned this moment. Thankfully, Given's author Natsuki Kizu agrees, and instead Ritsuka drags Mafuyu to Haruki's place to be upfront and ask for his blessing as band leader. I fully believe they were ready to choose their relationship over the band, but Haruki only warns them not to be public about it. That's a terrible compromise, but it's understandable why he asked for it, and even more understandable why they agreed. Being out as LGBT is sadly not universally accepted, and it's possible their rising star could fall or they lose opportunities if their relationship was made public. It may be awful, but these are the kind of awful compromises that queer people have to weigh daily. From a narrative standpoint, I'd guess this is also setting up a conflict down the line that will explore these issues more thoroughly.
But for now, Mafuyu and Ritsuka are firmly in their honeymoon phase, tempered only by Ritsuka's blusterous inexperience. Their chemistry together is the best it's ever been now that Mafuyu is more confident and assertive, and it's just heartwarming to see them finally being honest with each other. This episode feels like someone opened the pressure release valve on all of the sadness and angst from the rest of the season, giving both Given's characters and audience the opportunity to frolic in the lighthearted delights of mutual love. The band also continues following its path to greater renown by taking some obligatorily melodramatic promotional photographs. Mafuyu gets a huge box of Akhiko's CDs to aid the development of his musical taste, and he recapitulates his commitment to writing more songs. Everything's looking up for the Given boys.
The largest plot thread left hanging by the anime's conclusion is the weird love triangle between Haruki, Akihiko, and Ugetsu. It's easy to imagine that Haruki's conflicted response to Mafuyu and Ritsuka was informed by his own unrequited love toward Akihiko, which perhaps he'd been repressing under the rationale that it would be bad for the band. At least, I can imagine him using that as an excuse, but his feelings for Akihiko (and his serene sleeping face) aren't going anywhere. Ugetsu remains as enigmatic as ever, and Akihiko himself is a closed book. I like Haruki a lot as a character, though. It was super cute to see his bedhead earlier in the episode, of course, but on a deeper level he's a relatable example of how becoming an adult doesn't magically solve all of your interpersonal problems. Mafuyu's song didn't just touch Ritsuka and the audience; it also affected Haruki, who finally realizes how lonely he's been feeling this whole time. He wistfully wishes for a girlfriend, but both he and the audience know that even if it might hurt the band, ignoring his feelings towards Akihiko is going to hurt him (and likely the band too) much more in the long run.
I assume this is what the recently announced movie is going to focus on when it comes out next year. I'm so excited for it! It shouldn't come as any surprise that I absolutely loved Given, and I hope the same creative team returns for the movie, because I can't wait to see what they'll do with more resources. That's not to say that director Hikaru Yamaguchi and his crew didn't do a lot with what they were given in these eleven episodes; they struck one hell of a chord. Given excelled both as a heartfelt BL story and as an uncommonly sensitive adaptation in tune with the narrative's careful pace. It wasn't on my radar at the start of the year, but I will absolutely remember it as one of 2019's finest anime. I wish these wonderful boys the best.
BONUS TRACK: Here's a YouTube playlist of all of the episode titles for you to enjoy! I think these all fit the tone of the show well, and most of them could be classified as British alt rock, Ritsuka's favorite genre. It just goes to show how much thought was put into making even Given's small details work together.
11. Blur - "Song 2"
Given is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is lost in space, but he can still stream anime so it's okay. A communications relay has been established on his Twitter.
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