Given Series Review: For the Music

Original Run: July 12, 2019 - September 20, 2019
Number of Episodes: 11
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance, Slice of Life
Based on the Series Created By: Natsuki Kizu

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Given. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Ritsuka Uenoyama (voiced by Yuuma Uchida) is a bit of a guitar prodigy. But although he puts a ton of effort into his music, he has lost the spark that once lit the fire within him. Thus, his sound, though still good, has been missing something.

It is at this point when Ritsuka meets the quiet Mafuyu Satou (voiced by Shougo Yano).

Ritsuka is interested in Mafuyu because his new acquaintance always carries with him a beautiful guitar. But to Ritsuka’s astonishment, Mafuyu doesn’t have any idea how to play it. Nevertheless, one demonstration from Ritsuka and Mafuyu is instantly obsessed.

Ritsuka is reluctant at first to teach the guitar to Mafuyu, but eventually, the latter pressures the former to say yes. As the two spend more time together, their music quickly grows into something powerful. Much more than that, however, Ritsuka and Mafuyu find in each other a piece to their being they had thought they had lost.

Series Positives

Given was quite good.

Part of me wants to say that and believe it wholeheartedly. Although I don’t think it is inaccurate, I also don’t think it tells the whole story. Perhaps it is better to describe Given as a show that did one or two things exceedingly well and was only satisfyingly serviceable with everything else.

Among the things this series did well was an element I don’t often discuss in one of my reviews. I usually don’t address this particular point because I don’t have a robust discerning ear for it. If it’s bad or solid, I don’t believe I am the most reliable source to say. I can only like what I like, and I really liked the music of Given.

I don’t have any problem with the typical anime J-Pop, but I was delighted when Given didn’t go down that path. For you see, I grew up listening to rock, and it is still my go-to genre. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t get into this show’s music. The climatic live concert the leading group performed was particularly epic.

Although I would never recommend a series solely on its soundtrack, Given had enough strength in other places to make its music a rather compelling positive.

Focusing more on an area I’m more comfortable talking about, easily the best aspect of Given was its characters; specifically, Ritsuka Uenoyama and Mafuyu Satou. Together, these two formed the charming romance that was the backbone of this series. It made a lot of sense why Ritsuka and Mafuyu grew close.

For his part, Ritsuka was someone who couldn’t stop himself when it came to helping people. In the beginning, it was unclear if Ritsuka’s kindness was for the benefit of others or himself. What I mean is, was he in the right to try and shield Mafuyu from the pain the latter was feeling? In one sense, is it not a noble idea to alleviate the pain of another when it is clear they are suffering? But then again, pain and suffering may not be fun, but they are natural, and like every other emotion, they should be allowed to run their course so that a person can grow stronger.

Throughout Given, Ritsuka had to come to terms with his feelings towards Mafuyu. Along the way, though, it was Mafuyu who allowed Ritsuka to tap back into the inspiration that fueled his music. After so many years of playing the guitar satisfactory but with little heart, upon meeting Mafuyu, Ritsuka once again found the spark to come alive on stage.

Conversely, Mafuyu was a wreck at the start of this series. To say he was mindlessly drifting through his life would be an understatement. Without giving the story away, whatever had once provided Mafuyu with a purpose was taken from him, and seeing how helpless he was, it wouldn’t be unfair to add that whatever was taken from him was done so traumatically.

For Mafuyu, there was a sense of guilt flowing through him. That guilt was preventing him from letting go of the past and truly expressing himself in his newfound passion. He needed someone like Ritsuka who – in Mafuyu’s eyes – was the pristine picture of confidence. The first time Mafuyu heard Ritsuka play the guitar (which was nothing more than a simple stroke of the cords), he was captivated by the sound.

Both teenagers needed one another to break the constrictions that were holding them back, and they hoped to be the critical support to lift the other to fantastical new heights.

Through Ritsuka and Mafuyu, Given was one of the most touching romance stories of 2019. Along with that, this series had a special knack for delving into deeper, much darker topics while still maintaining a natural sense of humor. There were plenty of moments when this story threw out an immensely moving scene that was either followed up with or preceded by some comment/situation that was legitimately funny.

Given struck hard whenever it landed squarely, which was considerably often. Plus, when it missed the mark, it was only ever so slightly. Unfortunately, compared to when this series was on fire, it was far less impressive when it was only smoldering.

Series Negatives

When Given was either focusing its energy on exploring Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s characters or playing music, that was when this show was hard to put down. When it wasn’t doing that, though, it tended to be unremarkable.

The most blatant example of this was with Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s bandmates Haruki Nakayama and Akihiko Kaji (voiced respectively by Masatomo Nakazawa and Takuya Eguchi). For the record, I didn’t dislike these two as characters; they weren’t burdens on the story. That said, they weren’t the most exciting pair.

It was clear that Given had placed most of its eggs into a single basket – Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s relationship. Therefore, it is no surprise how much the series went into exploring who these two were. What was strange was how this series tried giving equal attention to Haruki and Akihiko. Whatever was going on in their lives felt wildly unimportant and irrelevant to what was happening in the narrative.

For instance, what was the purpose of looking into Haruki’s unrequited crush on Akihiko? Or, why did we have to know Akihiko was “dating” Ritsuska’s sister, even though it appeared as if Akihiko was in some romantic relationship with someone else?

Experience is telling me that this series was preparing for a continuation. Why else would this show lay the groundwork for plotlines that ended up going nowhere? I’m not against the idea of a Given 2. I think this story could benefit from adding another chapter. But as things stand as they are, there was a lot of time that came off as wasted padding.

I know a series could be a lot worse, and that is why I’m not too keen on dwelling on this matter. However, I can’t ignore it when large chunks of a story fail to hold my attention. Something that is made even worse when you remember Given was only eleven episodes long.

Final Thoughts

I’m not going to lie to you. Although I did enjoy this series, if there ever is a second season, odds are I won’t remember most everything that happened in the first installment. This is a case where I had fun while I was watching the show, but there was minimal impact.

Still, it had two outstanding lead characters and one of the best soundtracks I have heard from 2019. There are plenty of reasons to give this one a shot, and I would highly encourage you not to let it slip your notice.

Given has earned a recommendation.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Given? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you’ve liked what you read and want more anime content, please follow me at LofZOdyssey Anime Reviews or on Twitter @thelofzodyssey.

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I’m LofZOdyssey, and I will see you next time.

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About The Author

LofZOdyssey

LofZOdyssey has been an anime reviewer since 2015, an anime fan for much, much longer, and is currently based in Osaka, Japan. As a rule, there is no anime he is unwilling to review, and any series he starts, he must finish. Leave all the feedback -- positive and negative -- in the comments. Also, be sure to follow LofZOdyssey on Twitter @thelofzodyssey for more anime related content.