by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 3 of
A melancholic prologue opens this episode of Given on the soft glow of a snowfall in the city, translated into music as a delicate array of piano notes. We see Mafuyu clutching his Gibson to his chest like a precious heirloom, but its size and shape also suggest something like a shield protecting him—separating him from everyone else. This was Mafuyu before his chance encounter with Ritsuka. It's a very short scene, serving as a portend for some drama later in the episode, but it's also a great example of how deftly Given can control tone to reflect its characters' inner feelings.
The mood picks up once the episode's present-day story begins. In his own words, Ritsuka has turned into a “complete mess” ever since he met Mafuyu, and it's equal parts adorable and hilarious watching him get constantly owned by his crush. Mafuyu is able to send him into a total spiral by unexpectedly refusing his offer to join the band, but of course he hasn't the faintest idea what kind of power he holds over his new friend. Much of the humor comes from the deliberate conflation of this refusal with the rejection of a love confession, which it might as well have been. Ritsuka sulks. He turns to Google for answers. He straight-up pulls out his phone in front of Mafuyu and references some questionable advice about confessing to someone who's already rejected you. Smooth, he is not. He's trying everything he can, while Mafuyu obliviously goes about his day doing completely normal things that Ritsuka nevertheless over-analyzes as intentional slights against him. It's funny because I can relate so hard to the raw power that a high school crush can hold over you. Turning into a big embarrassing goofball is an essential part of the experience.
Thankfully, Haruki and Akihiko are on the exact same page as the audience, unable to contain their laughter when Ritsuka confides his troubles to them. Is it a little mean? Yes, but one of the great things about getting older is the ability to laugh at your past self—and at current teens going through the same thing. On that note, I appreciate the dynamic that Haruki and Akihiko bring to the show, which helps it feel like it has more weight than your average high school romance. The positive mentor-like relationship they have with Ritsuka is also something I don't see all that often when it comes to college students in anime. They rib him, but they also provide sage advice, like emphasizing that music is all about communication. Of course, they also bluntly point out that all Ritsuka needs to do is ask Mafuyu why he refused. There's no need to dance around the issue. You just gotta be honest.
Meanwhile, despite his rejection of Ritsuka's band invitation, Mafuyu remains committed to learning how to play his guitar, which consequently means earning enough money to purchase and maintain the equipment he needs. At the suggestion of his elders, he gets a part-time job at a small music venue, and I hope we see more of this place in the future. It looks and feels like one of the intimate bar-adjacent theaters I've seen shows in. Those tend to be my favorite kind of live performances, where you're right up against the artists and can really feel the energy of the music. Given's direction so far gives me confidence that it can nail that intimate feeling of becoming part of a performance rather than an audience member, and I can see how that would also translate nicely to its central relationships.
The tone becomes more serious once Ritsuka meets up with Mafuyu again. His determination to be more honest is interrupted by a random encounter with a person from Mafuyu's past, (a former classmate or bandmate?) whose accusatory confusion spurs both the boy and his Gibson into a sprint in the opposite direction. Ritsuka doesn't understand what happened, but he feels his friend's pain and chases him down, now more determined than ever to probe some answers out of him. An uncharacteristically shaken Mafuyu opens up and reveals his insecurity about being able to express himself, which is why he felt he couldn't be a part of a band that held live performances. This revelation hurt me especially, because just last week I complained that Mafuyu's character felt spacey and not fully realized. That very accusation has been haunting him for who knows how long—at least since the original owner of the Gibson, Yuki, died. Just because he's not the best at expressing his feelings doesn't mean he doesn't have depths. And as Ritsuka passionately points out, Mafuyu can express himself. If he can't do so with words, he can definitely do so through music.
This emotionally-charged scene between Ritsuka and Mafuyu is the centerpiece of the episode, and I want to emphasize how well the anime's craft enhances its mood and drama. On the surface, it's just a conversation between two people, but the framing is dynamic and purposeful. As the scene progresses, Ritsuka is shown pulling closer toward Mafuyu, until finally the screen is taken up by just their mouths, inches away from each other. Ritsuka then pulls back to hear Mafuyu's song, but the audience understands the romantic subtext of such framing. Were their relationship further along, it would've ended in a kiss. Instead, the two calm down with some canned drinks, and Mafuyu agrees to give the band a shot. Also, while Mafuyu may lament his inability to articulate or express his feelings, his body language throughout this scene speaks volumes—casting his eyes downward, pulling at the hem of his shirt, fidgeting with his can of soda. Ritsuka's little hesitation as he wonders whether he should share his canned coffee also tugs at my heartstrings. The care put into highlighting the minutiae of their interactions is one of many components that elevate Given's adaptation from merely good to great.
I could tell I'd like this show from its first episode, so I feel spoiled that it's only gotten better. This episode proves that Given can satisfyingly blend comedy and drama into a love story that devotes equal attention to both its outbursts of adolescent bombast and its moments of beautiful fragility. It smartly addressed my biggest complaint from last week, and it further developed both Ritsuka and Mafuyu into even more adorable dorks. I like all of these characters a whole lot, and I'm especially interested to see how the tension between Akihiko and Haruki (who's been blushing around Akihiko often) develops in tandem with the other boys' blossoming feelings. If you adhere to the three-episode test, I'd say Given passes with flying colors, and it's hitting all the right notes to be one of the season's best.
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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