Given
Episode 9

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Given ?

Guitar strings are easy to fix once you know what you're doing. That's how Ritsuka and Mafuyu bonded in the first place. It was the simplest thing: a small act of kindness that resonated into something larger and louder. Heartstrings, unfortunately, cannot be fixed so easily. They're delicate, and you can't just run out to the store to buy a set of replacements. But they can still be fixed. It's painful, and it takes a lot of time and care, but they can be mended. They can even be made stronger if you have someone to help you.

This is what Ritsuka remembers in the clarity of the silence following Mafuyu's snapped string. His heated dash to the music store gives him time to cool off and reflect on how far Mafuyu has come, both in terms of the band and in terms of their relationship. As he reprises his guitar repair from the premiere, Ritsuka muses poetically on Given's running theme of how music mirrors the heart. Even as he remains silent, the tenderness of his motions, carefully animated, communicate his desire to patch up his own bond with Mafuyu. And when he does finally speak, Ritsuka simply states that he loves Mafuyu's sound. It's confused him, but it's also pulled him out of his own emotional haze, and blending your own sound with somebody else's can be much better than playing alone. That's what being in a band is all about. That's what love is all about. And it turns out that's what Mafuyu needed to finally blossom.

Before I dive into the concert itself, I need to take some time to praise Haruki, both as a character and as the only functioning member of the band. As everything seems increasingly disastrous, he takes the reins to ensure that they have extra time to prepare, and he issues simple yet effective instructions when it comes to getting new guitar strings for Mafuyu and pulling their amended set list together. He even helps fill the dead air while half of his band temporarily exits the stage. Every band needs at least one person like Haruki, and Akihiko, realizing this, takes a moment to properly thank him for keeping the band together and inviting him to join in the first place. It's a super-charged scene, smartly framed around the corner of a stairway to emphasize both their closeness and the distance that remains. Their body language is overtly romantic, but unlike Mafuyu and Ritsuka, whose stairwell scenes position them on the same level, Haruki finds himself on a lower stair, pulling away from Akihiko even as he leans offscreen with the posture of an impending kiss. There's a barrier that still persists, preventing Haruki from following through with his feelings, but Akihiko continues to chip away at it whether he intends to or not. In other words, Haruki is very good at band management, but very bad at flirting.

Given has been building up to this concert scene since the beginning, and Mafuyu's performance is pure catharsis. Buoyed by Ritsuka's words and the pressure of his own feelings boiling in his chest, the words he's been searching for finally burst free. The shocked expressions on everyone else's faces are priceless, but the rest of "the seasons" manage to keep the song together as Mafuyu spills his feelings of loss, guilt, and hope. It's a scene filled with sound and light—the complete opposite of last week's melancholic elegy. Like the concert audience, I felt a tightness in my own chest swell up and then release when the rawness of Mafuyu's vocals interlocked with the instrumental prelude. They admit afterwards that his guitar playing was sloppy to downright bad, but in the moment, it was the channeling of his emotions directly into his music that created so much power. Music lets us express so much that we can't normally put into words. Mafuyu has struggled all his life with communicating his feelings to others, but on that stage, in that moment, everyone could know his heart.

All of Given's episode titles have been lifted from rock songs, but this episode notably takes its title from Mafuyu's own song, called “A Winter Story”. The lyrics themselves are fairly straightforward—appropriate for a teenager just trying to get his feelings out there—so there's no mistaking that he's writing about his love for Yuki. It's worth emphasizing that all four band members have names containing one of the four seasons, and Mafuyu's is winter. Yuki can also mean “snow,” so his words about melting snow lingering in the shade are a deliberate heart-wrenching reference to his memory. And as the song plays, his memories of Yuki paint a portrait of two people who truly loved each other, holding hands through pain and sadness, joy and pleasure. Yuki will always remain in Mafuyu's memory, but that doesn't mean his heart will remain frozen forever. Ritsuka's name contains the character for “summer”, and in afterglow of an exhausting and exhilarating performance, he melts a trembling Mafuyu with a kiss.

Given nails this climax with a tremendous episode built on music's ability to connect our hearts together. It left my eyes bright with tears. I can't stress enough how delicate and thoughtful both the writing and this adaptation continue to be, treating its characters' lives and traumas with a respectful frankness. Mafuyu can finally start to heal now. He has someone who loves him, and he has people who will support that love. As if to put a final point on it, we see one last uninterrupted memory between him and Yuki, but this time it's a memory shown from his perspective. His solo pilgrimage to the sea several episodes ago is burdened with even more meaning, as it's now clear that he was retracing the steps of this one immaculate day spent in the company of his boyfriend. It's strange to see and hear Mafuyu acting so carefree and casually joking with Yuki. We've only been privy to his wounded self, but he contains multitudes, and with time, this brightness will return to him.

I could gush about this episode for a thousand more words and then some. It was pitch perfect—wistful and hopeful in equal measure. I'm impressed by how good the staff made the concert scene look, cleverly blending 2D and 3D elements to infuse enough energy into their performance. The song itself was great too, marrying the band's intricate math rock with Mafuyu's powerful vocals. I pumped my fist once Ritsuka finally kissed Mafuyu, and my heart just melted at the gentle way he ruffled his hair and told him how good he had done. But I think what I loved the most was the revelation that Mafuyu's song, which I'd been assuming had come from Yuki, was actually something he started humming. Music connected him to Yuki, music is how he will remember Yuki, and music is how Mafuyu will move on from Yuki.

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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