by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Love is a storm. It's the overwhelming tempest billowing through your sails and battering the hulls of your ship. It's the current pulling you far off course. It's the unfamiliar sky, alight with new stars and strange constellations that dazzle and disorient. It's the rocks that leave you moored against the weathered face of a sheer cliff. It's the whirlpool greedily sucking you in. It's the water embracing you, filling you, consuming and being consumed until it is all of you. Love is a storm.
At least, this is Akihiko's understanding of love, as he describes the ways Ugetsu left him gasping during his first year of high school. Like the rest of Given's relationships, it all begins with music—a chance meeting between two violin players. However, Akihiko found himself overpowered by Ugetsu's performance and presence, and as they grew closer, he put his own violin away to focus on his friend's. Love is an act of negation as much as it is actualization, as one finds themselves more and more entranced by the object of their affection. Ugetsu's heart, large and pitiable, drew in Akihiko, and the two boys desperately clutched each other in the empty music room, their bodies forming the mast of a slowly sinking ship.
The long and the short of this flashback is that Akihiko understands what it's like to be a dumb teen boy in love with another dumb teen boy, so after a strained rehearsal session he takes it upon himself to reach out to Ritsuka. The ensuing scene is perhaps the most heartwarming moment in Given yet, filled with both the frank comedy and disarming earnestness I've come to expect from the show. It has all of the awkwardness of trying to talk to your older brother about your love life, but despite Akihiko's predilection for teasing, he reaches out a much-needed hand to the flailing Ritsuka. It only we all had such perceptive and patient mentors growing up.
While this would be a sweet scene in any romance, it's an especially important moment in the context of the show as a queer romance. Ritsuka nervously asks—to Akihiko but also to the universe—if being in love with Mafuyu means there's something wrong with him, and I don't think I've ever seen him so vulnerable. I can feel how much this question has been eating him up inside, and I can also feel the release of his relief as his eyes go wide with Akihiko's casual “no.” It's such a simple response, yet it's gargantuan. Even as progress continues to be made, society at large ostracizes queer people as aberrations—as invalid—so it remains up to queer communities foremost to support each other. It was fantastic to see Bloom Into You feature an older lesbian couple assuaging Sayaka's fears, and it's equally wonderful to see Akihiko firmly validate Ritsuka's feelings by sharing that he's also had gay relationships. Of course this is important within the narrative, but it can be a pillar of support for the audience as well. The reality of our world can make coming to terms with one's own queerness feel all the more lonely and frightening, so the importance of clear unequivocal messages of acceptance like these cannot be overstated.
Of course, all the advice and support in the world can't stop adolescence from being a hormonal hellscape, and Ritsuka and Mafuyu continue to be insufferably awkward and cute together. Despite Mafuyu's conviction from last week's soul-searching, he still can't put words to the torrent of feelings inside of him, and this uncertainty combined with Ritsuka's own tenuous emotional footing could produce enough friction to tear their band apart. And that very well may happen, but they're still growing closer. Mafuyu's also growing jealous! I hope, selfishly, that Given doesn't end up leaning fully into him mistaking Ritsuka and Kasai's interactions as romantic, because that's one of my least favorite romance clichés. I'm glad that Kasai feels bad about going behind Mafuyu's back, though. It's good that even the side characters have some depth to them beyond moving the plot along, and it speaks to how careful Given's writing continues to be.
Despite their mutual frustrations within themselves and with each other, Ritsuka and Mafuyu still find an ease of communication through music that's absent from the rest of their interactions. Ritsuka teaches and Mafuyu learns. It's clearly defined, and so it's comforting. Music is their safe space, and big bro Akihiko tries his best to give them a little more of that space to grow in. I could spend the rest of the review talking about the adorable way Mafuyu nods off and lays his head on Ritsuka's shoulder, the hilarious way that Ritsuka freaks out over his own racing heart, and the tender way their fingers intertwine as Ritsuka examines Mafuyu's developing callouses. Given's adaptation has been so good at animating the subtleties of its characters' body language.
My big lingering question coming off this episode concerns the exact nature of Akihiko's current situation with Ugetsu. While he's open with Ritsuka about his past gay relationships, he curiously doesn't mention the fact that he's living with Ugetsu. In fact, nobody else in the show seems to be aware of this, and their present-day interactions have all happened at a distance. Something darker seems to be going on between them, and that's probably why his musings on love are suffused with suffocating language. Akihiko also puts a moratorium on further practices, as a last ditch effort to squeeze some lyrics (and some overdue self-reflection) out of Mafuyu. If he does nothing, the band is over. In the same vein, Haruki warns Ritsuka that unless he truly puts forth all his effort into confronting his feelings, he too will be drowned out by Mafuyu's presence and distance. Haruki is most likely referring to his own one-sided feelings toward Akihiko, but he could also be talking about Akihiko's violin being taken over by Ugetsu. Love is complicated, and there's no guarantee that Ritsuka and Mafuyu are going to work out, but they won't know for sure until they start playing in sync.
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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