Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic of 2019, “Adore,” I wanted to stray away from the darker content I typically go for with these posts and focus on something lighthearted. Fortunately for me, none come more fluffy and adorable than the one-shot shounen-ai manga that’s got the BL community completely under its love spell: Go For It, Nakamura!

In February, we will be exploring love and romance. The word selected is “adore” because it has two main connotations: to be loved and respected or to feel worshipped. We will analyze characters that give us a feeling of admiration and explain why we love those characters. We will also be exploring different forms of love (familial, friendship, and even self-love) and how those types of love influence our lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

I myself happened to have recently finished the book, so this prompt came in good timing. Thanks Lyn!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the one-shot (11-chapter) manga “Go For It, Nakamura!,” story and art by Syundei, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.  

Ganbare! Nakamura-kun!!

Nakamura Okuto may be a shy gay high school boy, but he sure knows what he wants—the love of his life, his adorable high school classmate, Hirose Aiki. He constantly daydreams of just about every cliche romance scenario ever written, but when it comes to executing his charm, Nakamura is a total klutz! To make matters worse, the two haven’t even formally met yet, and Nakamura’s clumsy streak is sure enough to botch things before they even begin. Oh boy, good luck Nakamura!

Serialized in Opera magazine over the course of a couple years, the 11 chapters that make up this volume comprise the existing story as it currently stands. It is a collection of vignettes from the titular character’s high school life sectioned off in a way not unlike that of a 4-koma manga.

It’s also a comedy manga—and one that’s fun as heck to boot. The comedic timing will leave you giggling in your chair, and the few moments of genuine connection between Nakamura and Hirose will make your heart all warm and mushy. There’s never a dull moment in Nakamura’s pitiful yet utterly relatable life.

As mentioned earlier, the romantic scenarios are cliche: staying after class, school festival drama, chance meeting in an alley, school plays, CLUBS, you get the picture. Even though you know how the story might play out that particular chapter, Nakamura’s inner dialogue and anxious turmoil transform repetition into a breath of fresh air. And yes, the retro art style contributes immensely to Nakamura‘s uniqueness.

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A Lost Art: The 1980s Japan Aesthetic 

I’m not a historian by any means, but if I had to pin a time period, I’d say that Syundei’s story takes place in 1980s Japan. Regardless, it’s old school, but cute. Really cute. Think Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) printed in modern day. Wacky expressions, explosive bangs, random chibi appearances, traditional hair and clothing styles, that kind of 80s Japan. Between the bright colors on the cover, the fuzzy glow effect of Nakamura’s daydreams, and the flowery patterned backgrounds, Syundei has created a retro aesthetic that is quite the rare find these days.

I really loved the revival of the cartoonishly big hair bangs (a nice choice!). Not only does this design detail take us back to the past, but it makes the characters seem even fluffier than they already are. Hirose in particular is just such a kind, SOFT boi, and I totally understand why Nakamura’s enamored with this sparkling chestnut head! Hirose’s large round eyes also make him seem more gullible, innocent, and inviting, a stark contrast to Nakamura’s gloomy aura. For a guy who is used to hugging against the shadows, Hirose’s radiant light is blinding. So pure!

The duality of Nakamura’s expressiveness—from the estranged slim-eyed “bully” look to this blushing, red-faced, obsessive weirdo—establishes an even stronger bond between Nakamura and the reader. He may have a scary exterior, but he’s just a big softie (and one who’s madly in love!), and I found myself rooting for Nakamura throughout his antics because I relate to his struggles of silent obsession and unrequited love. Slowly but surely, Nakamura is crawling out of his shell and opening up to people, and I really look forward to further developments should Syundei return to this wonderful title.

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A Refreshing Spin on BL

Although he may be a closet gay to his peers, Nakamura isn’t afraid to let the reader know, and I really enjoy how being gay isn’t a big deal in Nakamura. Even his classmates don’t mock him for desparately wanting to hang out with Hirose, and it’s just so, so refreshing. If you’re new to BL, this story would make an excellent entry point. (Being a single-volume story helps make this a recommendation even more convincing!)

Additionally, this isn’t a BL story about lust and skipping the foreplay just to do the deed. Go For It, Nakamura! is as innocent and pure as they come, and for all the right reasons. Sure, Nakamura is a bit obsessive for Hirose, but not much more than any other girl or boy tailing after their romantic idol. The story sticks to themes of adoration and manages to run as far as a lovely, blossoming friendship. And interestingly, its lack of explicit content is what marks it as one of the bests.

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A Story That Loves Love

Watching the push and pull between Nakamura and Hirose grow with each chapter sure doesn’t leave the heart with much time to rest. At times stupidly funny, other times highly resonate and heartwarming, I couldn’t think of a high school couple more deserving of mutual love and affection. More than they realize, they need a person just like the other, and the ending will leave you with so much hope and happiness.

Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! is a story that loves love, and about loving yourself, too. Its characters are cute and fluffy, and despite my wanting to smash the two together and shout “NOW KISS!”, I wouldn’t have wanted the story (as it stands now) to end any other way. I was left squealing and stirring in my chair for hours after reading the last page, and if there’s any BL title out there to boast the word “adore,” this is easily the one.

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Y-you’re the one who said it was important to be true to yourself. — Nakamura Okura


Afterword

Well, when you don’t have to cover animation, music, voice acting, and directing, this makes for a pretty short post! Reading Go For It, Nakamura! easily became the highlight of my week, and its short single-volume release makes it easy to consume yet hard to let go of. It’s fun, simple, and it’ll make your heart go doki-doki for sure! As if I needed to reinforce its notability, Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! establishes itself as a “Cafe Mocha” title, an absolute hit for anyone wanting to spend an afternoon enjoying the softest BL manga ever written. Seriously, you’ll love it.

This concludes my February 3rd entry in the OWLS “Adore” blog tour. Man, when was the last time I went this early!? In fact, it looks like I’m the one kicking off the February tour, so I hope I set the groundwork well enough for all the great posts to come. Now, look out for my good friend Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post about After the Rain on Wednesday, February 6th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host