Given
Episode 8

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Given ?

Even Given's deliberate pacing doesn't stop the steady march of time, which is about to run out for The Season. In many ways, this episode appears to be about stagnation, and little has changed from where we were last week. Mafuyu is still blanking on lyrics. Ritsuka still doesn't know how to compose himself around Mafuyu. Akihiko remains stuck in the limbo of a relationship. Haruki keeps buying time, futilely trying to delay the inevitable. Given has always relished in letting moments linger, but never before has it felt so stuck in place. While it's undeniably frustrating, it's definitely intentional, putting the audience in the shoes of these characters.

Mafuyu in particular gets more focus than usual, and I actually believe the crux of this episode is all about making us understand him better as his own person. Most of our previous impressions of Mafuyu have come via his interactions with Ritsuka and the rest of band, which he spends this week largely isolated from. Even a chance encounter with Ritsuka begins and ends with an awkward exchange of pleasantries—a far cry from the intimate musical moments that brought them so close together. Mafuyu's reserved personality doesn't make him the easiest person for others to get along with, and it might be tempting to call Mafuyu in isolation even more of an enigma. While it's true he doesn't speak much, it's worth noting that anime can communicate a lot of information independent of dialogue. For an intimate look at his current mental state, one needs only to take in this episode's dreary mood. It rains incessantly, and the image of Mafuyu curled in bed, awake, staring at his phone's lockscreen is a familiar portrait of depression. He might not show it, but he's hurting a lot.

Luckily, while his band doesn't know how to approach him, his old friend does. Hiiragi goes as far as the classic “throwing pebbles at the second-story window” gambit to rouse Mafuyu out of bed, and the two have yet another familiar and strained interaction. Mafuyu, uncharacteristically, also blows up and yells at Hiiragi. I didn't think he had it in him, but his frustration with his lyrics and himself snaps into sharp focus with this outburst. It also, I think, speaks to the depth of the bond he shares with Hiiragi. Despite leaving all of his old friends behind, their childhood together forged something that wouldn't go away so easily. And in this moment, Mafuyu sorely needs the perspective Hiiragi can bring.

Hiiragi also brings the audience some desperately-needed perspective in regards to Mafuyu's past, as he wrestles with his own desire for atonement. He narrates an extended flashback detailing the formation of their friend group, starting way back when they were still in grade school and continuing through the formation of their own band. We see Yuki, previously just a name and an absence, as a cheerful, popular, and by all appearances normal boy. Hiiragi almost wistfully remarks how his and Mafuyu's personalities perfectly complemented each other, making up for each other's shortcomings in ways that brought them especially close. He recalls a kiss bathed in sunset, witnessed by him by accident and kept secret for the sake of both his friends. He recalls a fight—petty and overblown like so many fights between teen couples—that left Yuki an alcohol-poisoned wreck for Mafuyu to find. It isn't made clear whether or not this is the incident where Yuki actually died, but the purpose of the story remains the same even if it isn't. Beneath Yuki's bubbly exterior he was battling demons of his own, and Mafuyu blames himself for not being able to stop them.

Mafuyu doesn't just feel grief for Yuki; he feels guilty. This explains why it's been so hard for him to confront his own feelings. Obviously they were painful, but guilt is an especially difficult kind of pain to process when it tugs in complete opposition to the need to move on after a loved one's death. In many ways, Mafuyu has been lucky to find friends and support after more or less starting his life over, but that luck has to be eating away at him. He found a new band to play in. He's even found someone who loves him (even if that person is a walking gay disaster). He said it himself that he doesn't feel lonely anymore when he's around Ritsuka and the rest of his friends, but does he deserve that happiness? Obviously we know he does, but he's going to have to accept that. Hiiragi, similarly, just wants Mafuyu to forgive him, presumably for not being able to protect him and Yuki. That wasn't his fault either, but that's the mental cul-de-sac he and Mafuyu are both trapped in.

Thus, it makes sense that Given kinda feels like it's spinning its wheels this episode, because that's how Mafuyu feels. It extends to the other characters too. Ritsuka desperately needs to talk with Mafuyu, yet continues to avoid it out of fear of having to confront his own feelings. Akihiko also appears to be in an undefined kind of arrangement with Ugetsu at the moment. Their interactions are intimate, but it also feels like they're holding each other at an arm's length. Ugetsu in particular uses combative language with Akihiko, and it's hard to tell how much of it is playful and how much of it is barbed. Akihiko acts like he can take it, but the mood of their short scene is suffused with the subtle toxicity that arises from an arrangement of convenience, as if momentum alone carried the two of them to this moment. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, though.

With The Season's debut performance approaching within the hour, time finally runs out and Ritsuka's feelings as both a bandmate and a lovestruck teen boy swirl together into a volatile cocktail of frustration, lashing out at Mafuyu even as he knows he's being an asshole. Both figuratively and literally, Mafuyu snaps, and the twang of a broken guitar string, frozen in time, is where the episode ends. We all carry some degree of emotional baggage, and reconciling with both our own and our partner's is what all relationships come down to. How Mafuyu and Ritsuka push past this moment will determine the kind of relationship they have, if any.

Given vamps on the singular theme of guilt this week as the sound of rain mutes all other development, and all we can do is wait to see whether it crescendos into a storm or resolves into daylight.

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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