Given
Episode 4

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Given ?

Mafuyu has set Ritsuka ablaze. Yayoi walks in on her younger brother completely lost in his own world of composition, meticulously strumming the chords to accompany the song that's taken root in his head. She's concerned, but she also remarks later to Akihiko that he's acting more like he used to. We have a pretty good idea of what Mafuyu was like before their encounter on the stairwell, but less so with Ritsuka, although it seems likely to do with his father. I'm sure we'll get into it eventually, but the more important point at the moment is that his lessons with Mafuyu are not a one-way street. Music, like all art forms, is shaped by our own experiences and emotions, from the heights of passion to the depths of depression. Their growth as musicians will be inextricably tied to the bond between them, pulled taught and resonating like a guitar string.

This episode lacks the huge emotional punch of the prior one, but Mafuyu and Ritsuka are just so cute together. The exhausted Ritsuka remains draped over his desk, dead to all worldly stimuli until Mafuyu's clear voice summons him for his guitar lesson. Mafuyu, meanwhile, is the most expressive he's ever been, which is unsurprising considering the emotional climax from last week. It's a great development for him, and I especially love his gently smug smile when he alone is able to rouse Ritsuka from his slumber. He later blushes, caught off guard when Ritsuka sings back not only the melody, but the guitar accompaniment he's put together for the song he's been carrying with him. Mafuyu is falling hard, and Ritsuka is tumbling right there next to him.

These stairwell scenes are always a highlight, and this week the camera lingers with purpose. For much of the scene, it's focused not on the boys themselves, but on the windows, flooded with the uniform glow of afternoon light. It's as if we're seeing the warmth of their feelings waft upwards and illuminate the scene from above. Similarly, the camera also frequently pauses on their faces to let the audience soak in their lovestruck reactions. Of course, these are all animation-saving measures courted to draw as few lip flaps and hand movements as possible, but economy shouldn't be conflated with artlessness. Given's storyboarding and art direction consistently bring its characters' interiority to the forefront, and the ability of creators to accomplish this while working around time and resource limitations is the quintessence of making art.

Ritsuka formally introduces Mafuyu as the newest member of the band, and Akihiko and Haruki aren't surprised at that, but they are surprised at his pipes. Some bluesy guitar in the soundtrack takes us through a montage of their practice session, and I like their chill diner conversation later on. They quickly start talking about the kind of music they all like, and I felt it in my soul as Ritsuka's initial hesitation at Mafuyu's inquiry communicated how surprisingly intimate a question that can be. I know I have a suite of answers to “What kind of music do you like?” that depend on how well I know who's asking the question. Not everyone needs to listen to me ramble on about Bubble-era Japanese synthpop. The answers the boys give are pretty fitting for their characters (Ritsuka and UK rock, Haruki and pop, and the music major Akihiko with everything from metal to classical). They emphasize, however, that their differing tastes are precisely what make their band better, since they can each bring different ideas to the table and combine them in interesting ways. This metaphor can easily apply to plenty of things outside of music, but I'm also an advocate of keeping a balanced and open-minded musical diet.

The centerpiece of the episode is Ritsuka taking Mafuyu out shopping for an effects pedal—an indispensable tool (and more often, collection of tools) for any electric guitarist. Naturally, it's also charged with all of the emotions and expectations of a date, including navigating the awkwardness of trying to coordinate a meetup point in the labyrinth that is Shibuya station. And don't even get me started on the fact that Ritsuka has set a picture of his Pomeranian as Mafuyu's profile image in his phone. It's upsettingly perfect. The anime captures the sounds and atmosphere of the music shops nicely, from the colorful display case of their first stop to the homier aspects of the repair shop. Ritsuka, adorably, makes sure Mafuyu gets the same blue color pedal he had his eye on, all while extolling the virtues of buying used equipment, especially when just starting out. I wouldn't call Given an educational anime, but it's clearly invested in Mafuyu's growth as a musician enough to get the details right, and that level of care enhances even the nonmusical aspects.

Music is a form of communication, and communication is an infinitely layered process of nuance, intent, and interpretation. We only know other people to the extent through which their thoughts come through all of their layers and filters, which are then filtered through our own perception and prejudices. It's no coincidence that the first tool Mafuyu picks up for his guitar is a basic pedal—a filter that can both amplify and distort his sound, depending on how he uses it. His and Ritsuka's feelings for each other are certainly being amplified as they spend more time together, but volume always comes with the threat of feedback. With a loud groan, the rumor mill grinds into action as the episode concludes and a former classmate alludes to Mafuyu's past relationship, likely with the mysterious Yuki.

Up until this point, Given had been playing with fairly universal romantic tropes, but it seems like it will now be explicitly addressing Ritsuka and Mafuyu's deepening relationship as a queer one in a restrictive society. This'll be trickier and more sensitive ground to cover, but also that much more potentially meaningful. In light of the care Given has taken with all other aspects of its story and characters so far, I'm eager to see how it progresses.

Rating:

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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