Review: GIVEN The Movie – Untitled

GIVEN The Movie

The GIVEN movie is a story of contrasts – contrasting ships, contrasting musical geniuses, contrasting songs. It shows a messier side to the story we’ve grown to love from the first season, and dives deeper into some uncomfortable themes.

To say that GIVEN The Movie was highly anticipated would be a pretty big understatement. The first season was incredibly popular and we were all left wanting more. Many of us turned to the manga to satisfy this craving, but we were all hoping that the GIVEN anime would continue as well because, let’s be real, a story about music is best when we can actually hear the music. The manga helped satisfy our need to know what happened next, but we desperately wanted the anime to accompany it. Thankfully, a movie was announced fairly quickly and we knew we’d get our wish.

We knew it may take some time for the GIVEN movie to get to us as that’s the nature of being an anime fan abroad, but then the pandemic hit and things got even more uncertain. Crunchyroll got the rights to stream it, but they were somewhat vague about when we’d be getting it. First, we learned it would be coming to the platform sometime in 2021, then we were vaguely told we’d get it ‘in February.’ The exact date remained a mystery pretty much right up until the day of broadcast. And even then many fans were hit with technical errors that kept the story just out of their reach until they were resolved over the next several hours.

GIVEN The Movie MafuyuBut finally – FINALLY – we have GIVEN: The Movie, and all is right with the world. I mean… okay, the world is still pretty messy in general right now, but all is right in fandom, at least, and our long wait is over. So that’s something, right? Take the wins where you can get them.

It’s fitting that we get the messier side of the story when our own world is fairly messy itself. The film focuses on more complicated scenarios contrasted alongside the more upbeat story we grew to love in the first season. The world of GIVEN isn’t all fluffy romance and happy budding relationships. Granted, we knew there were more complexities in the world because of Mafuyu’s history with Yuki, but even that was delivered to us through a more comforting narrative vehicle – Mafuyu learns to deal with his grief through musical expression, and falls in love again. The vehicle that delivers the complexities here, for the most part, isn’t nearly as sweet.

The first major contrasting element of the film that dives into more heavier and complex emotions is the difference between our two musical geniuses – Ugetsu and Mafuyu. Both have a deep understanding of music in a way that few others do, even amongst their musician peers. Even when surrounded by other musicians, their innate skill that they were born with stands out. Both also struggle with expressing emotion, too, but the similarity pretty much stops there. The manifestation of these aspects of their characters diverges greatly.

Mafuyu’s genius was hidden under years of disuse. He didn’t start out wanting to be a musician, but rather stumbled into it through his relationships with other people. He eventually found it as an outlet for the emotions welling up in him over the years, and music allows him to express things he can’t in any other way. The main emotion we encountered in the first season was grief, followed by a developing new love, and then it overall ended on a joyful note as Mafuyu and Uenoyama embarked on a relationship with one another. It was about embracing where you’ve been and finding the strength to go forward.

Ugetsu, however, has been involved with music for a long time and fully knows he’s a genius in this area. There’s a shade of arrogance with him that doesn’t exist with Mafuyu. And, while Mafuyu uses music for expression, Ugetsu seems to continually repress his emotions in a way that negatively impacts those around him. Music does not appear to be an outlet for Ugetsu, but rather a skill that props up many of his self-serving whims. At no point have I watched Ugetsu perform and felt as though his emotions were pouring out through the notes as I do with Mafuyu. His genius doesn’t extend to being able to utilize his skills for his own betterment as it does for Mafuyu. It’s just a skill and, if anything, has actively complicated his relationships with others.

Mafuyu and Ugetsu also contrast through the story’s main ships and their role within them. While the first season of GIVEN focused on the blossoming love between Uenoyama and Mafuyu, the movie heavily focuses on the complicated relationships involving GIVEN‘s drummer, Akihiko. Primarily it looks at Akihiki’s relationship with his former boyfriend and current Friend With Benefits Ugetsu, and the less refined and more unrequited (at first) relationship with Haruki. The contrast between the love lives of Mafuyu and Uenoyama beside the messy Ugetsu-Akihiko-Haruki situation is pretty stark.

I try my best not to villainize anyone in this messy relationship situation, but I can’t help seeing Ugetsu as the source for a lot of these difficult emotions and I genuinely struggle to have empathy for him. I’m sure there are Ugetsu defenders out there who can lay out why I should feel empathetic, but it’s a struggle for me. He says he loves Akihiko, but broke up with him, but then he also keeps him around as a roommate and Friend With Benefits. He kicks him out of their shared home when he brings over a new romantic partner, then becomes physically abusive when this sets Akihiko off. 

It’s hard to not hate him when he does this, but I really do try. I try to see his emotional struggles for what they are and try to understand that people are complicated, but there are just some things I can’t get past. Ugetsu will always have a cloud of negativity hanging over him for these things and I can’t stretch myself to the point of rationalizing it.

GIVEN The Movie Haruki

The emotional damage that Ugetsu inflicts on Akihiko then spills over onto Haruki, which makes it even more difficult to be an impartial viewer of GIVEN The Movie. The scene with dubious consent between Akihiko and Haruki made me rage at Ugetsu when he wasn’t even in the scene. Akihiko is responsible for his own actions and I don’t at all dispute that nor am I making excuses for his behavior, but he hasn’t exactly had a healthy history with relationships to model his behavior either. This isn’t an excuse, but rather an explanation. Somehow forcing himself on Haruki and bringing all their emotions out in the open with the elegance of a bull in a china shop seems like a reasonable course of action for him given what he’s been through, and it leaves Haruki hurt and lost.

Of all the characters in this situation, I get Haruki’s expression of his emotions the most. When faced with a traumatic and emotionally damaging event, his first instinct is to cut his hair off. Man, I’ve been there! I won’t get too deep in the weeds on my own emotional turmoil, but there may or may not have been a late-night anxiety-induced incident a few years ago involving me, a pair of scissors, and a mirror that made this moment hit a bit close to home. Because of that, it’s even more difficult for me to view the situation with Ugetsu and Akihiko with any sort of neutrality. I’ve latched myself to Haruki and that’s where my interpretation of these events will be coming from, which is why I likely project so much frustration on Ugetsu while taking a more nuanced stance at Akihiko’s transgressions.

I’m not neutral here, and I don’t pretend to be. Your interpretation of events may vary depending on where you choose to come at the story. We can absolutely disagree here.

A lot of people’s first instinct to this sort of complexity would be to write off Akihiko and Haruki as an unhealthy relationship due to the dubious way it began and refuse to explore it further. I’m not really willing to do that even though I’m fairly emotionally invested in Haruki and the situation hurt him. While the toxicity of Akihiko’s relationship with Ugetsu certainly bled over to start things off, I appreciate narratives that can explore this sort of tumultuous situation in a way that doesn’t dismiss the negative aspects or make excuses for it. Akihiko absolutely started their relationship off with a dubiously consensual act, and that’s pretty terrible, but that dark starting point allows the story to explore an extreme amount of character growth over the course of the film.

It doesn’t seem hip nowadays to be able to view stories with any sort of nuance, so I’m sure this situation is going to ruffle feathers and create a hell of a lot of discourse, but that’s okay. For the people who can’t sort through these nuanced story elements, Haruki and Akihiko’s story just isn’t for them. I remember when the first season aired there was a lot of discourse saying that Yuki was toxic, so I can only imagine those same people are struggling with this even more damaging narrative. By all means, criticize the narrative (that’s what I’m doing here, after all), but move on from the story if it hurts you too much. But I beg those who engage in fandom discourse to not paint those who view it differently as ‘problematic.’ We’re better than that sort of black and white thinking, you guys.  

So yes, I ship Akihiko and Haruki, even with the complicated aspects to their relationships. A relationship doesn’t have to be perfect in order for it to be deserving of exploration in a narrative. We don’t have to condone every aspect of something to find a dynamic interesting or worthwhile. And we don’t have to use it as a model for our own relationships in order to ship something. I ship this, complexities and all. Your mileage may vary.

The last major contrast I want to highlight is the main song of the GIVEN movie. While the first season built up to Mafuyu writing the lyrics for Fuyu no Hinashi, the film follows the creation of Yoru ga Akeru. While Fuyu no Hinashi was about Mafuyu’s grief, learning to let those emotions go, and growing from it, the lyrics from Yoru ga Akeru can be applied to both main relationships, and how they can move forward with something new in the wake of a negative life event.

Lyrics via Genius:

Over the unchanging white wall
Even if I don’t sleep, dawn will break
As I gaze over it

The sun shines and the clock ticks forward
The seasons I had lived in with you
Become distant to me little by little

I wander into the night like this
It’s painful

Even if I don’t sleep, dawn will break
As I gaze over it
Things changing, things ending
Things beginning
I can live without you
That’s sad for me
Look, dawn is nearly breaking
Dawn is breaking

Blooming in Spring, withering in Autumn
But over and over, if it sprouts again

It’s not “until here” but “from here”
I understand

Even if I don’t sleep, dawn will break
The connected hands will eventually separate
Even if I lose my way
Cry and scream, eventually it’ll stop
I can live without you
But even if I’m not loved, I miss you
Look, dawn is nearly breaking
Dawn is breaking

When no one knows if a wish will come true
People call it hope

Even without you, dawn will break
The separated hands will connect again soon
One will see the light at the end of a long night
Even if I’m scared, I can keep on living
When the sun rises, I’ll start walking again
Look, dawn is nearly breaking
So I’ll be okay

Look, it’s coming soon, right there
Dawn is breaking

The song focuses on changes, renewal, letting go, and seeing a brighter future ahead despite the darkness one may find themselves in at any given moment. This can be reflected in both main pairings, but is especially relevant to Akihiko’s situation as he navigates so many conflicting emotions. Basically, Akihiko changes. He changes for the better and begins to see a light on the horizon even when he’s surrounded by darkness.

This doesn’t mean everything he experienced and did to others is erased. But he changed. He let go of Ugetsu, refusing to continue down the toxic path of heartache, abuse, and uncertainty. He finally breaks it off with Ugetsu for good and embarks on a new path with Haruki, much like how Mafuyu worked through his grief and embarked on a relationship with Uenoyama. 

The changes are most obvious when he asks Haruki for permission to touch him, which Haruki grants. He then confesses his love for him as the two embrace. Together they’ve decided that the love between them is worth exploring, even if they didn’t start out on the best footing and they have emotional baggage that needs to be addressed. They can have a future together, and it can be a bright one even if things feel dark right now. Dawn is breaking.

The manga tells this whole story while still giving us Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s budding relationship, so if I had one criticism it was that I felt a bit deprived of that throughout the film. We do get snippets of it during the end credits, but a lot more happens during the creation of the second song than just the Akihiko love-triangle situation. But even with that gap, the film was emotionally resonant to me, evoking complex emotions from my own life alongside the history of these characters that we got through the first season of the show and the manga. It hit the right notes (pardon the pun) and overall the GIVEN movie worth the wait. 

GIVEN The Movie – Untitled is currently streaming on Crunchyroll Premium.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.

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