Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Anime Impact: In Given, Love Is Not Linear

This review of the Given anime series will reveal light spoilers, as well as subjects relating to suicide and homophobia.

Last year, I was fed pretty well when it came to anime. Demon Slayer offered me amazing visuals and beautifully crafted villains, and rewatching My Hero Academia gave me absolute bangers from their soundtracks to add to my everyday playlists. However, as the year was ending, I realized there was a big lack of gay anime in my “need-to watchlist,” and needed to fix that right away. With the help of friends, I had recommendations like Bloom Into You, Gravitation, and Twittering Birds Never Fly in my inbox, though there was something about Given that stuck out to me. Hearing that it was a music anime, and had a focus on gay relationships, while being somewhat toned in plot without the exhausting drama and crazy fight scenes we are so used to seeing in anime. I thought it would be a great series to kick off my year.

And man, was I wrong. Not wrong as in “it was bad,” but wrong as in “this made the start of my year too self-reflective, and now I’m thinking about everyone I ever loved, and how my memories have lasted longer than I’ve known them.”

Given is a manga written and illustrated by Natsuki Kizu, that had its 11 episode anime adaptation premeried Summer of 2019, with a movie that came out a couple of days ago! It’s a slow burner that pulls the rug right from beneath your feet. You follow the lives of band members, Uenoyama, Sato, Kaji, and Haruki, gearing up for their 1st show together as ‘The Seasons’ for most of the anime. It’s difficult for me to care for every character in anime, but in this one, it was as easy as breathing. With music that’s incredible, no uncomfortable love dynamics, and voice acting that sounds so smooth, it made watching Given all the better. But, there was this one aspect of the anime that I’m still thinking about, days later.

Given does an amazing job of showing watchers the love is never linear, that love is not easy, and is possibly one of the most complicated feelings you can go through.

Meet Sato (L) and Uenoyama (R)

You meet Uenoyama, the black-haired sleepy student walking around his high school, looking for a quiet refuge to take a nap in. While finding a secluded case of stairs, he meets Sato, an orange-haired awkward boy clutching a guitar he has no idea how to play or how to repair the broken strings. Sato, unable to introduce himself, leaves Uenoyama to talk to himself, and brings up points about the Edison guitar Sato is holding so dearly. This sparks a friendship between the two, where Sato musters up the courage to finally speak, asking Uenoyama if he can help teach him how to play the guitar.

Uenoyama is a passion-driven, lovable idiot, who quickly finds a fondness over Sato in helping him how to play an instrument. In Given, it shows he’s popular in his school, has pretty solid friendships, and is deemed handsome by the girls in his class. He lives with his older sister, admires UK Rock, and plays basketball with his classmates when he isn’t working on music with his other two bandmates, Kaji and Haruki. Nothing really special, Uenoyama shows he’s pretty much a basic character, just a teenager living his life day by day. 

Uenoyama didn’t really spark my interest until he started really showing Sato the ropes in learning how to play guitar and taking him to shops where he can buy pedals. Uenoyama started noticing that, though they were spending almost everyday together, he knew nothing about Sato other than the face value personality that everyone sees. From dropping questions to see if Sato would open up to him at all, and sleeping in class and waking up on command when Sato calls him, I noticed these were little nuggets that made me happy to see when characters show “crush” behavior. However, when he learns the Sato might be gay from a passed on rumor, Uenoyama starts to act weird, but not in the way that I thought. Scared that the story was going down the homophobic route, and have Given be another piece of queer media where its characters need to be tortured in a way, just for the sake of character building, I was relieved Uenoyama did not drive the plot that way.

What do you get when you combine queer love and music? Given.

Like myself, Uenoyama was someone who realized things about themselves, in terms of sexuality and gender, especially while young, with some impulse reactions that drove us to be upset because you don’t understand why there is a sudden change happening. It sounds incredibly silly now, but at the time, your head feels full and the chain of self reflection won’t end. Uenoyama goes through this same process. His music lost the special drive it had from being distracted, he was irritable with Sato, his friends noticing that he seemed more upset; he was a gay character battling the same “this is not happening, my life is completely fine, how dare I try to change” emotions. However, after a conversation with Kaji, he realizes he’s in love with Sato, and without spoiling too much, processes what to do with his newly accepted feelings.

Sato is doe-eyed, keeps to himself, and recently transferred to Uenoyama’s school. Uenoyama, doing his best to teach him how to play a passed down guitar, opens Sato’s eyes to a new world of music. Sato makes new friends, shows off his beautiful singing talent, and even gets a part-time job to pay for new music gadgets he wants to learn to incorporate in his playing. While the watchers get to know him outside of outings, you see that he is in pain from a past love that ended on very devastating terms, and only having that guitar as a connection with them. As the days towards the show creep up, he is fighting over leaving past emotions and trying to start new ones, while still feeling like he is not deserving of new love, romantically or platonically. Sato shows us how we isolate ourselves, build up emotional walls, and how painfully hard it can be to start fresh when love ends.

Kaji and Haruki, my personal favorite characters who are studying in college, have their own tales of love that show watchers that it’s not an easy and fun feeling to go through. Kaji, is shown in Given as the player type, having relationships with Uenoyama’s sister and being confronted as being the side piece to someone who is always in a committed relationship. He struggles with memories of his first love, the relationship they had, and finding himself still connected and taking care of him, even though Kaji knows nothing serious can happen between the two ever again. A situation I feel a lot of older people find themselves in, still being connected to someone who you thought of a “forever” type future with, but the present says otherwise. 

Haruki, who seems to be a support for all of the other band members, has a struggle with love himself as he finds himself enamored with Kaji. But, out of respect, and being nervous, Haruki keeps to himself, and loves Kaji in other ways by giving him places to sleep peacefully when he’s had too much to drink, giving Kaji someone to talk to about Uenoyama’s troubling behavior, and just being there for him in any way he can.

Given anime
Given is available to watch on Crunchyroll

While I’m only taking the time here to talk about the love timelines from the main characters, the audience gets to see plenty more through the classmates, the venue workers, and more. Given, shows watchers that though we have this concrete idea of love being fireworks, roses, and feeling warm on the chest when you see your soulmate. Most of the time it’s messy, complicated, painful, and can feel like static in your head. And all while having the characters be queer, without giving us numbing visuals of hate crime attacks, and torture porn that the community is far too familiar with seeing on TV. While those stories are important to share, having a beautiful coming of age anime that would be easier to absorb emotionally, was a relief I needed – as well as the self reflection session this anime was able to open up for me.

If you are looking for an anime that’s almost exclusively queer, has bops, and elegant animation with characters you will fall in love with, Given is there to comfort your needs.

Anime Impact is a column from Monti Velez that looks at anime with a queer perspective.

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