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

30-Day Song Challenge Day 29: A Song Currently Stuck In Your Head

AHH, I’ve fallen behind again – and on the scheduled last day of all things! Tune in after this quickie for day 30’s challenge as well 😀

From Puella Magi Madoka Magica, “Connect” by ClariS 

Here it is. I guess it’s just stuck in my head . . .

JUST KIDDING I LOVE YOU MAMI DON’T LEAVE ME

OMG THE MAGICAL GIRLS. I’ve literally had this song imprinted in my brain for the longest time now. I mean, I guess I did just rewatch it this past summer, but I’m pretty sure it was ingrained even before my revisit. I keep plucking the tune on my cello, then I go, “Gosh, what even is thi- ohhhh, it’s that song.” Trust me, I have nothing against “Connect,” but by golly is it a catchy tune (And check out all of the artwork featured in this video. Incredible, people are)!

Alrighty, I’m going to finish typing up the final day’s challenge, as it was supposed to be out today. I was tabletop gaming last night into the wee hours, which is something I’m quite new to and am enjoying so far ^.^ But that’s for a later date. See you in a bit!

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 28: A Song That Reminds You Of Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend (if you don’t have one, make one up)

Currently, I’m actually single (what a rave, I know). But that’s not stopping me from participating in challenge day 28! I’ve mustered up three songs, two being from the same band. Fitting for the theme of “love,” each of these has its own heart to it – one that can’t always be felt by everyone. If you resonate the in the same with any of them, let me know! Takuto’s looking for a sign 😉 JKLOL

From “Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, “Aqua Terrarium” by Nagi Yanagi 

Yes, this is a pitched version >.< but it’s still the same lovely ending theme. When I hear this song, I always think of the young village love between the characters of Nagi-Asu, well, that and the cold ocean depths. Manaka and Chisaki are both such adorable ladies ~

“Aishiteru” by Sally Miura feat. CLIFF EDGE

*squeals at the top of lungs* THIS IS A JAPANESE POP LOVE SONG!!! Aghh, it’s like the ideal relationship-goals music. Sally’s voice is utterly enchanting, and the dude rapping from CLIFF EDGE is so smooth! I’d be all holding hands, walking – slowly – through the glowing snow under the moon light with them . . . But I’m alone, so I’ll just run a pseudo cafe that actually doesn’t serve anything LOL

“Endless Tears” by CLIFF EDGE feat. Maiko Nakamura

“Love is a beautiful pain”

This music video is pure genius, but even more so is the song. ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITES EVER! This was one of the first non-anime songs I dared to cross paths with, and omg I just love it so much :3 It’s perfect for any time, but take caution: It’s powerful melody could make or absolutely destroy your mood, trust me. After seeing the NightCore version of it on YouTube with a picture of Oreki and the other girl, I immediately had to search up what show it was. Hyouka, hmm, I’ll have to give it a whirl sometime. Months later, I finally will get to, and I’ll be starting this weekend (SO EXCITED).

Anyway, the song itself reminds me of relationships, and how fragile they actually are. While my love life is a little empty-handed, I have been in my fair share of romantic moments. What did I learn? Talk to her/him. Once you enter a relationship, it’s up to you two to handle any drama. Don’t let it get out of hand, and don’t be ashamed for being with another if they are whom you honestly want to be with. Speaking of, be honest with them (of course), but be even more honest with yourself. If you’re not as “happy” as you thought you would be, talk it out or something, because odds are they might be thinkin’ the same thing (my lack of word choice and frankly decent advice probably indicates an end). Don’t let a sh*tty relationship hamper your life – It’s far too short as it is! You’re much better than this. There is a plethora of fish in the sea. If you’re both in love, then great! But otherwise, make up/break up, and move on with no regrets (or with as few as you can manage ;)).

That’s all I’ve got for today. I am no love doctor, so make of my spiel as you will. Only two days left, and oh, stay tuned for a special announcement today!

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 27: A Song You Make Fun Of

I don’t usually make fun of anime music, so IDK, does that make me weird? I mean, I guess there’s this one song . . .

From Strike Witches, “STRIKE WITCHES ~Watashi ni Dekiru Koto~ ” by Yoko Ishida

Oh, the Strike Witches ~ What’s to say about these lovely ladies? Well for starters, for combat, they arm their legs (funny, right) with modified plane parts (or they look it?) and fly using their witch powers. Day and night, these troopers soar to new heights, destroying enemy alien craft called the Neuroi. Firing rapid machine gun rounds, pulverizing with rocket launchers, and puncturing large holes with sniper rifles, these girls are indestructible! So besides dealing with jet legs after all that nationwide flying (hah, I’m just so punny today), what else do their uniforms entail? Umm, actually, that’s it. Just legs. I mean, they wear ‘panties’ and some have caps, but yeah . . . feeling a bit breezy in here . . . But JK they actually have shirts, but only when they’re out on patrol 😉 Strike Witches is, like most anime, a very pleasant show if you don’t mind the fan service, having a nice story, awesome characters, and whatever else you can expect from a military magical girl show!

Besides imagining Major Sakamoto barreling “MIIYYAAAFUUUJIII” from the bottom of her gut, whenever I hear this song, there’s only one word that rings in my head:

Plot

Witch is why I giggle and make fun of it like a five year-old )-^-^-(. Hey, it was either this or Vividred, but OH GOD we’re not talking about that show in this cafe. NOPE. Wow, there’s only three days left after today. I better start picking some more ‘striking’ tunes. Get it? Okay, I’ll stop while I’m ahead . . . “Bookmark Ahead.”

And yes. That is the ending theme.

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 26: A Song By Your Favorite Band

Pretty sure my favorite band is Kalafina. Yep, pretty sure. I’ll just go with it >.<

Hey everyone, day 26 has arrived! What’s so specially about the 26th . . . well, nothing, actually. Why not celebrate just for the heck of it, though, seeing as how celebrating and writing boring reviews is all we do here in the cafe XD Because there are just too many bands that I love listening to to pick as a favorite, I just went with one off the top of my head (or the last song rattlin’ around in me noggin, hehe). This group of three goddesses needs no introduction, I’m sure. They’re always special guest performers here!

From Fate/Zero, “To The Beginning” by Kalafina

How this epic song fills my mind with feels! This is the second opening from the epic retold as an anime, Fate/Zero, a masterpiece in my eyes. I choose this song because it was the first time that made me realize whom Kalafina actually was. I had heard them in Black Butler and surely another show, but I never paid any attention until tuning into this beauty. Wah, then they made “Heavenly Blue” and several others, but those are for another day! I always think of Saber riding her steed  shining, silver motorcycle into the flames of the sunset. Can’t you see the King of Knights?

Here’s an orchestral/vocal/choir arrangement uploaded by Qonell if you need some variation ^.^ Not bad at all. I can totally picture Saber back in her lands slaying deadly foes left and right. Upon the hill appears some horrifying four-legged beast. She reaches her armored gauntlets down to unsheathe her ephemeral blade. A torrent of blue wind sweeps around her, a spiraling gold light shimmers, then . . . “EXXXCCCUUU —- CAAALLIIBAAAHHHHH!!!”

Pardon my fantasies, I suppose we’re keeping it short for today. Until tomorrow everyone!

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 25: An Acoustic Song You Love

Surprise, surprise – Takuto is cheating again! But don’t worry, he has a good excuse for it 😉

Does acoustic in this context mean that the singer is still singing, but the instrumentals are ‘unplugged?’ Yeah, I don’t think I’ve got any of those, but I do know one song that is an acoustic remix. That ought to count, right?

From Evangelion 2.22, “Beautiful World -PLANiTb Acoustica Mix-” by Utada Hikaru

It’s got “acoustic” it the name, so it works for me XD As soon as the solemn guitar chord strokes ushered in the credits, I nearly started sobbing. A rendition of the first ending song just with an acoustic remix (hence the name), I immediately started downloading this song through some sketchy of course legal means 😛 It’s such a fascinating tune, and I think I posted the original sometime during the challenge . . . did I? Muah, I can’t remember. But for now we have the present, and this is the song I choose. I love it so much!

Agh, more Eva fangasms, they can’t be helped! This is such a rich song of feels, and I hope you enjoy listening to it. The non-electric guitar holds up fantastically with this remix, so I think that it works for today’s challenge. Stay tuned tomorrow where I hopefully don’t have to ‘cheat.’ Hope you all had a pleasant Labor Day. Later days!

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 24: A Song That Makes You Angry

Yikes, what song pertaining to anime makes me angry? Hmm, I don’t think anime music has necessarily made me ‘angry’ before, unless it was a bad opening or something. So after much interpretive thinking (and a Kataphrakt space war), I finally settled on one. Please know that my reason for choosing this song is my own personal opinion. Enjoy!

From ALDNOAH.ZERO’s 2nd Season, “&Z” by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:mizuki

(Sorry, but this pitched version was the only one available. Also, some spoilers for the series ahead)

Okay, so what about this song angers me? Is it that I dislike the music itself? Did I think it wasn’t a good fit for the anime? Hells no, and not at all! Hiroyuki Sawano is a freakin’ genius, and I can’t imagine a better song to match this sci-fi tragedy’s tone. What fuels my hate fire is that whenever I hear this song, all I can think of is the way it ended; specifically, the path Slaine was led down and his inevitable end that follows. My gut pains at the thought: After all of his emotional and physical struggle to save his beloved Hime-sama, Slaine soils in his new-found royal position and ultimately runs the VERS Empire into the ground. Despite his efforts to save everyone, he instead will be remembered as the spark that ignited the war. Not to mention, he didn’t even get a death sentence, but is forced to live with his regretful actions in solitary atonement.

My rage boils at the unfairness of the situation. Does he deserve such cruel punishments? Some would agree, and I do to most extents, but perhaps this is pushing the line. ALDNOAH.ZERO‘s writing is rocky and frankly not the greatest, though I can’t ignore the fact that it appeals to my senses without fail! It’s a tragic beauty, and in that regard, doesn’t need a ‘good’ ending.

But what do you think? Does Slaine’s lonely end just drive you up a wall in angry tears, or do you laugh at the justice served? Let me know in the comments! Until then, I’ll be plugging in my headphones, listening to the hollow melancholy of “&Z” as I bundle up and cry for mah unlucky bud, Slaine.

– Takuto, your host