*Warning this review contains spoilers and please be advised that this article contains discussions about suicide and suicide ideation*
Where do I even start with a wonderful show like Given?
This series is clearly a love song to music and musicians everywhere and the animation staff clearly reflected Natsuki Kizu’s love for music in their attention to detail throughout many scenes in the anime. This cute love story begins when Ritsuka Uenoyama meets Mafuyu Sato on a stairwell at school and fixes Mafuyu’s broken guitar. After they become friends, Mafuyu eventually joins Ritsuka’s band and meets his fellow bandmates, Haruki Nakayama and Akihiko Kaji. The Given band members all have different tastes in music which helps them become more open about bringing in unique perspectives into their creative process.
In Mafuyu’s case, the story focuses on him building his relationship with music so that he could become closer to his deceased boyfriend, Yuki Yoshida, while also discovering his own joy and healing through music. The melancholic undertones are strongly felt throughout the series and it’s difficult for Mafuyu to cope with the painful reality that Yuki is dead. Even after Yuki’s death, Mafuyu continues to see images of Yuki in every aspect of his life. It also doesn’t help that Mafuyu was the one who found Yuki after he committed suicide so the mental anguish that he experienced cannot be understated.
In the wake of his death, Yuki left behind friends and family asking themselves brutal questions such as: “why did he do it? what are the signs that I missed? why didn’t I notice something was wrong? could I have helped him?” etc. While these questions are not directly asked in the anime, it’s clear everyone is thinking about it and trying to deal with their own grief.
The manga is still ongoing and will probably explore answers to those difficult questions, but I hope no definitive answers are ever given. The reality is no one will ever know why Yuki killed himself and regardless of the “answer” it doesn’t change the fact that he is dead. How does anyone cope with that pain? It’s not an easy question to answer, but Given does explore that awful reality through Mafuyu’s grieving process and he allows himself to feel a range of emotions. Thankfully, the series handles Mafuyu’s trauma in a healthy way and gradually he realizes despite his complicated feelings for Yuki, it’s ok to still be in love him and his memory. Mafuyu still wants Yuki to be a part of his life and towards the end of the series, he clearly wants to share all his happy moments with Yuki so that he can reassure him that he is going to be fine.
I appreciate the show’s subtle approach to handling intense topics like suicide since there is so much stigma around mental health that it’s often difficult to talk about it without feeling like everyone is being judgmental. When experiencing depression and suicide ideation it can be hard to reach out for help, especially if you feel like no one genuinely cares about you. It’s in those moments you often wish people would reach out to you instead of putting the onus on yourself to do the physically and emotionally draining task of reaching out for help. The few times that Mafuyu talked to Yuki is relatable to me because when I am dealing with my mental health issues, I often talk to my elders (in this case I talk to my deceased uncle) for guidance and support. While my circumstances are different, I feel comfortable talking to someone who most likely would’ve understood what I am going through.
I never had the privilege of meeting my uncle because he decided to leave this world at a young age and the effects of that continues to be felt on the paternal side of my family. Unfortunately, my family doesn’t understand mental health at all so going to them for any emotional support has never been an option and often times it makes me feel demoralized. When I found out about my uncle, I felt immense relief because it was cathartic to discover I had a relative who also dealt with mental health issues, but at the same time I felt sad that he wasn’t physically around anymore so I could talk to him.
When I started celebrating Día de los Muertos a couple of years ago, I started to understand how to connect with my deceased elders and gradually the process of talking to my uncle became easier for me. In my darkest moments, I can feel the immense love he has for me and it helps keep me going. When I see Mafuyu trying to remain connected to Yuki by going to all the places they used to frequent and learning how to play the guitar, I can’t help, but be reminded of all the ways I have tried to relate to my deceased uncle.
I often find its on the shoulders of QTBIPOC folks to remember and preserve the memories of our elders because if we don’t archive them, no one will honor their legacies. Whether dead or alive, elders have always been important to trans and queer communities and the way Given celebrates them is wonderful. When Ritsuka realized he fell in love with Mafuyu the surge of joy and confusion he felt made him feel lost. It doesn’t help that he knows that Mafuyu lost his previous boyfriend in such a brutal way so it’s understandable that he is unsure on how to deal with those complicated emotions (plus it’s his first love). Thankfully, the people around him, mainly Akihiko noticed Ritsuka’s feelings and looked out for him until he was ready to ask for advice. Ritsuka looks up to Akihiko so for him to be told that there is nothing wrong with falling in love with guy and that Akihiko’s sexuality is fluid meant the world to him.
While Mafuyu and Ritsuka were struggling with their feelings, Akihiko and Haruhi looked out for them and when necessary confronted them because their personal problems began to effect the band. Despite their drama almost ruining their first band performance, Haruhi and Akihiko continued to look after them and Haruhi even asked his friend, Koji Yatake, to perform a couple of more songs while Mafuyu and Ritsuka sorted out their emotions. It’s because elders were looking out for them that Mafuyu was able to perform on stage and sing out his complicated feelings about Yuki. After the performance, Mafuyu was able to genuinely tell Yuki that he is happy in his current life and found a new love.
It’s not often I get to see older queer folks validating the feelings and mentoring queer youth in any medium so for that to be depicted in Given is heartfelt and sends a comforting message to queer youth struggling with their sexualities and gender identities that they aren’t alone. Given is a love letter to us and reminder that no matter what, our elders (both here and beyond) love us and want to see us not just survive, but thrive.
Honestly, Given is such a great show so go check it out on crunchyroll.
*QTBIPOC – Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color.