Given
Episode 5

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Given ?

The boys have their very first concert as a four-piece band coming up in the near future, but most of this episode drifts back to the past, before any of them had even met. While not as bombastic as the teens' adolescent outbursts of frustration and affection, Haruki's feelings have been simmering palpably for a while now, and this episode's look at his past and present with Akihiko clarifies many things.

First of all, Haruki is head over heels for Akihiko. This shouldn't come as a surprise Given every blush and lingering stare we've already seen out of him, but it's nice to have it out in the open for the audience now. Love being what it is, however, this clarity does not provide Haruki with any stability on which to follow through with his feelings. They instead sublimate in subtler ways, like his hair. Haruki admits out loud that he can't seem to find the right time to cut it, framing its length as a product of happenstance. His reason for growing it out is entirely deliberate, however, which has everything to do with the way Akihiko likes to run his fingers through it, always teasing yet complimentary. Haruki can't bring himself to flirt openly, instead relying on a flirtatious veneer of vulnerability when Akihiko's around.

Most of that vulnerability is all natural too, because Haruki is a lovable disaster, which this episode highlights in lighthearted ways. For a fun game, take a drink every time he buries his head in his hands. I found it especially funny due to how much I could relate to his situation; he's extremely close friends with Akihiko, which means they spend a lot of time together, but his unrequited feelings suffuse this time with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I also need to commend his seiyuu Masatomo Nakazawa for going above and beyond with Haruki's internal monologue. The way he flips out at Akihiko's hotness is simply incredible. His crush on Akihiko feels authentic in how it's both a product of happenstance, yet also stems from their undeniable mutual chemistry. Nonetheless, Haruki hasn't confessed his feelings, perhaps because he's afraid of rejection, perhaps because he's too much of an awkward dork. Or maybe he knows that Akihiko already has a boyfriend. Whatever the reason, I love Haruki too much now to not root for him, and I hope whatever sparks that eventually fly between him and Akihiko don't burn their friendship down.

Haruki at least possesses some of the assurance of one's own feelings that comes with age, but Ritsuka is still figuring things out, staying up late feverishly composing a song to fit Mafuyu's melody. Despite all these uncertain emotions, they remain insufferably cute together, from Ritsuka wordlessly inquiring about their finals schedule, to Mafuyu texting pictures of his new used guitar pedal (with a Pomeranian accessory). It's also nice to see Mafuyu opening up to people aside from Ritsuka, with his surprising knack for basketball putting a smile on his classmates' faces. Ritsuka is happy to see this as well, although this doesn't stop his hands from fidgeting with anxiety while Mafuyu listens to his latest demo. Given is pretty conservatively animated, but its understanding of microexpressions and body language breathes plenty of life into these characters.

Ritsuka and Mafuyu's happy moments together prove to be a prelude to the final scene's bombshell, which follows up on last week's final scene. Kasai's been an ancillary character up until this point, with her obvious crush on Ritsuka used as fuel for some comedic moments about his total obliviousness. But his deepening relationship with Mafuyu has stirred up her jealousy, and while thankfully it doesn't appear that she's wound up the entire rumor mill, she tells Ritsuka what she learned about Mafuyu's past. Namely, he dated another boy in middle school, and that same boy ended up killing himself. Kasai frames this as looking out for Ritsuka's safety, but her intentions are crystal clear. Still, Ritsuka is understandably shocked.

I want to draw special attention to this final scene, not just because it's constructed well, but because it's constructed in a way that seems to be referencing a landmark scene in queer anime, the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie. Midway through the movie, Utena and Anthy pair off to sketch each other for art class, which turns into an intimate scene of Utena exposing herself to Anthy while Anthy exposes her trauma to Utena. Obviously the framing isn't exactly the same as in Given, since it's not between Ritsuka and Mafuyu, but the core elements are present, including a jet plane cutting through the sky in the background—a distant but increasingly loud symbol of a horrible encroaching truth. Mafuyu and his trauma are exposed to Ritsuka by proxy, and the sound is deafening to him. The episode ends before he can react, and it's tough to say exactly how he'll feel, but it's sure to be complicated. On one hand, he now knows that Mafuyu could reciprocate his feelings, but Ritsuka also doesn't seem to be sure of what his own feelings are. Does he want to help Mafuyu with this? Does he want to pretend like he never heard it? Is he scared of what a relationship with Mafuyu would mean for the both of them? Teen romance is confusing enough, and a society that shuns and stigmatizes gay feelings only makes it even tougher. The analogous scene in the Utena movie is what finally drives Utena to fight of her own volition for a future together with Anthy outside the confines of Ohtori Academy. Perhaps this moment will cement Ritsuka's own feelings too.

Given continues to carefully balance cute and tender moments with serious ruminations on how love can overpower us, and it's fast shaping up to be one of the most compelling anime romances of the year. Haruki and Ritsuka are just two adorable gay disasters, and Akihiko and Mafuyu both have enough mystery to throw any hope of certainty into the air. Of course I want to see both pairs of boys end up happily together, but I'm also more than ready for the inevitable angst to complicate everything. So long as Given continues to paint its characters with care and musicality, I'm prepared for any bumps along the way.

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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