Episode 6

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Given ?

Given continues lifting its episode titles from rock songs this week by referencing Radiohead's hit single “Creep.” It's a funny song to pick considering how much Radiohead themselves have disowned it in the decades since, but it's easy to imagine how its self-deprecating narrative about unrequited love might apply to the relationships in Given. Rather than the lyrics' use of the word as a noun, however, I think “creep” as a verb better fits the tone of this midpoint in Given's narrative. This is an episode about murky feelings slowly, surely, and steadily creeping their way out of the tempestuous whirlpool of the subconscious and into the crystallizing light of language. Both Ritsuka and Mafuyu finally put words to what they've been feeling together, but this is only the start.

Despite Ritsuka's numerous interventions, Mafuyu remains adrift in the haze brought on by the death of Yuki. His former classmate and friend Hiiragi catches back up to him and tries to prod him for some information; thankfully it seems to be out of genuine curiosity and concern more than anything else. It's nice to learn that both of their parents were apparently supportive of their sons being gay, and I hope Yuki's mom gets to see Mafuyu playing his guitar someday. Hiiragi's most pointed question, however, is whether Mafuyu picked up guitar to hold on to his memories of Yuki or to move on from them. His sad smile and noncommittal answer both speak to his own truth: he's not sure. He probably can't even untangle those two feelings from each other. But this is exactly what he'll need to clarify if he's going to put his heart into some lyrics.

Meanwhile, Ritsuka jettisons himself into another moody funk after learning about Mafuyu and Yuki, although he too can't put what he's feeling into words. Akihiko arrives to cheer him up with his patented big brother charm and a more fleshed-out demo of the song Ritsuka has been working on. I love the little teasing lilt Takuya Eguchi adds to his responses as Akihiko—it fits his laid-back personality, but it's too gentle to ever feel mean. He also immediately discerns what Ritsuka is feeling after listening to his muddled explanation, and it's funny how he can be so perceptive when it comes to other people's relationships, yet completely oblivious about Haruki's feelings for him—or maybe he's intentionally feigning ignorance. Regardless, he seems happy to play cupid between these two disaster boys, suggesting that Mafuyu write his own lyrics in an obvious gambit to get both of their feelings out into the open. It's also funny to witness Haruki unknowingly stomp all over this idea by suggesting that Mafuyu write about a past relationship. Akihiko tackles Haruki for this indiscretion, but I don't think there was ever any doubt that Yuki would have some presence in the final version of their song.

Mafuyu struggles to write anything. As evidenced by his earlier conversations with both Hiiragi and Haruki, he still can't pinpoint exactly what he's hoping to accomplish in the band. So he goes for a walk. This is where the anime adaptation's patience shines, as we spend a good chunk of the episode just following Mafuyu as he slowly walks through his neighborhood and into the city, guitar strapped to his back, eventually approaching the sea. Deep in thoughts we're not privy to, he sometimes stops and looks at the people and places around him, but he still doesn't say a word.

I love this nonverbal aspect of cinema, inviting the audience to take this journey alongside Mafuyu instead of spelling it out in words. This also heightens our awareness of the sound design, which is excellent with a mellow ambient piece moving in and out of the incidental sounds of the environment around him. It's so rare to see a show properly languish in quiet scenes like this one, so I have to emphasize how much I appreciate the deliberate execution of Given's anime adaptation. There is no fear of boring the audience or taking things too slowly. Given trusts us to have patience, and in turn it patiently lets its characters' feelings simmer and swirl together with the tone of each scene. Given's craft is what invites us into the mindset of the notoriously quiet Mafuyu, and it lets us truly appreciate the magnitude of his realization. He still may be processing Yuki's death, but one thing is for certain: Ritsuka has helped him not feel so alone.

Unlike Mafuyu, Ritsuka has been avoiding thinking as much as possible. He's playing basketball. He's going bowling with friends. He seems to be using Mafuyu's lyrics as the arbitrary endpoint for which he'll start addressing his feelings of confusion, avoiding him in the meantime. It's not out of malice, but it's always tempting to kick potentially uncomfortable truths down the road while you can, especially when you're still in high school. Avoidance can only last so long, however, and Ritsuka somehow always finds himself drawn toward that sunlit stairwell, where Mafuyu is always waiting. A tender scene unfolds with an uncommonly chatty Mafuyu, who tries to tell his friend that he wants to write lyrics about him. The dramatic irony is that Ritsuka, instead of homing in on Mafuyu's show of affection, finally puts a name to the feeling that's been eating him from the inside out: jealousy.

Whereas Mafuyu's revelation brought clarity, Ritsuka's brings complexity. On the one hand, now he should be able to admit to himself that he's truly in love with Mafuyu. But on the other hand, those feelings are clouded by a resentment that Mafuyu still holds feelings for Yuki. It's not rational, of course. Yuki is gone. But love is anything but rational, and both of these boys have a ways to go yet before they'll be able to translate their mutual feelings into a relationship. Still, there's so much hope for them, and I won't be leaving the edge of my seat for the rest of the season as a result.

Given is now past the halfway point of its presumed eleven episodes, and I remain confident calling it one of the year's best romances and best dramas in general. A lot of careful work from the animators, directors, actors, and staff in general has gone into making this show feel very special. This anime's patience reminds me of Flowers of Evil's long unbroken scenes of its characters wordlessly wrestling with the sound and fury of pubescent angst. Given might feel too slow for some audiences, but for those on its same tempo, its melody is developing beautifully.


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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