Given (ha) I viewed Given fairly recently, I figured I’d give the recently-released film a quick watch. It’s less than an hour, the story is still fresh in my mind, and it focuses on Akihiko, my favorite character from the series. One of the things about the original series that kind of made me squint was just how little was explained about him and his relationship with the prodigy violin player. This film focuses on that relationship, along with serving as a sequel/filler story for fans to chew on. Given (last time, promise) I wasn’t too keen on the original (though still liked it overall!), did this film leave me with a better impression of the series’ direction?
To reiterate my thoughts on the parent series, one of my biggest gripes with it was the insistence on dramatic monologues and telling the viewer exactly what was happening/wrong. Was a character feeling down? You would know immediately, because they’d fill your screen with words (assuming you’re watching subbed) overexplaining their every thought and feeling. There’s very little subtlety at play, and while this isn’t a dealbreaker for some, I’ve always been fond of minimalism. Show, don’t tell.
The Given film does not let up, and debatably does it even more than the series. With the shorter runtime (roughly two and a half episodes’ worth), there’s a lot more to zoom in on, so the film likely felt it necessary to get the show on the road. And it does! Immediately upon starting, the plot gets moving, with Mafuyu uncovering that Akihiko is still doing some shady business. From there, the writing goes from expository and dramatic very quickly, not leaving a lot for interpretation or further digestion.
Another thing I find somewhat regrettable with these kinds of sequel/spin-off films/OVAs is that it doesn’t feel the need to further develop characters not important to the central focus. Or, in this film’s case, even have the “not important” characters express themselves all that much. Remember Uenoyama? This film doesn’t; he’s hardly relevant in this whatsoever. Mafuyu? Yeah, they continue to paint him as some secret genius that inspires others with his talent, but is relatively unimportant as a person. It’s mostly the Akihiko, Haruki, and Ugetsu show. How are they? Angsty. Can’t have drama without a giant pummeling of self-destructive behavior and toxic dialogue.
Gone is a lot of the charm of the original series, full of cheery characters and wonderful chemistry. While it all works out in the end (spoilers?), getting to that point isn’t exactly a “fun” ride. There’s one scene that is especially uncomfortable, which I won’t give away but will provide a mild trigger warning for, that feels entirely unlike how a character generally is. Truth be told, this film kind of had me considering how much I really liked Akihiko and Haruki. Characters can have flaws, and just because they aren’t perfect doesn’t mean they’re weaker than others. It’s just that this film really covers it in an extra layer of angst and cliché communication hurdles that, frankly, adults should be better at than their high school counterparts.
This film’s issues tend to mirror the parent series’ issues, only extending its negative qualities to the characters, now that the focus has been enclosed. So with this said, there are still some nice things to note about this that give it a slight edge to contemporaries. As alluded to earlier, the ending is sufficient enough, and the closing scene is pretty cute. The closure these characters needed may have been brought upon by a lot of gross behavior, but the outcome did end up showing genuine growth. I wonder if the film’s condensed runtime had a hand in making things feel a little too overwhelming—it’s likely, all things considered.
And the performance was, again, pretty good. This band can definitely play.
Animation is also still at a crisp spot. I didn’t notice any degradation of quality or shortcuts present, though there were a few moments of blended CGI-hand drawn art. Didn’t look too bad during the band performance, but Ugetsu’s violin concerto was a little off. There also isn’t too much demand for wild or intricate animation with the type of settings here. People at a house. People at a restaurant. People hanging out in a house. The only exceptions were the performances, which were solid—both in terms of animation and sound quality. No complaints.
Chances are, if you liked the original series, you’ll still like this. Much of the approach is the same, and aside from what I see as a demotion of character exuberance, the drama is what people signed up for. For me, who found the parent series decent, this is a tad lower in quality: passable, tolerable, fine, etc. Doesn’t have me drooling in curious fascination for what’s to come, though fortunately doesn’t do the opposite either. It did its job. Like a retail worker doing the bare minimum for six hours before going home, booting up Netflix, then passing out 55 minutes into Pride and Prejudice.
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