given made its anime debut in the summer of 2019, and while it didn’t win any anime awards, it was arguably one of the best anime dramas of the year according to Crunchyroll. It tells the story of four characters – Mafuyu Sato, Ritsuka Uenoyama, Haruki Nakayama and Akihiko Kaji – and how they relate to each other against the backdrop of the music. At first glance, the premise is compared to anime-like standard Sakamichi no Apollonbut what makes it special is how it portrays the Boy Love or BL genre.
Typically made by women for women, the BL genre has a reputation for offering a lot of fan service among other things. Mostly BL anime is consumed by a niche group of people who love the genre mainly for its raunchy nature. but given broke into mainstream media and showed that there was more to the genre than just two handsome boys tackling it.
Deviate from BL Tropes
The story begins with Mafuyu, who is unusually attached to a guitar and attracts the attention of a classmate, Ritsuka. The way Ritsuka sees Mafuyu sleeping like a baby while holding a guitar sounds like a typical beginning of a romance. In the context of straight anime or manga, that kind of romantic beginning is pretty much a staple. It’s not for BL.
In general, the BL genre of recent years begins with the couple having explicit non-consensual intimate scenes within the first episode or chapter of the manga. You will see this in stories like Dakaichi: I’m being harassed by the hottest man of the year which ends with one of the characters imposing on her drunken love interest. Aside from BL anime or manga having dubious beginnings, it’s also not relatable. This opening sequence of given probably won’t happen in real life, but it’s more understandable for the audience whether or not they are part of this subculture of BL enthusiasts.
Another great thing about given What differs from typical BL stories is that it doesn’t allow its characters’ physical desires to become the basis of their emotional bond with one another. An example of this is Chirping birds never fly which means that the characters indulge in masochism and focus their relationship solely on physicality. given examines relationships with unhealthy attachments found throughout Akihiko’s story, but it also explores Haruki struggling with his feelings towards Akihiko.
Exploring complex battles
I like the BL from back then fake had a bit more to say about same-sex relationships and the difficulties involved. But as already mentioned, BL has since taken care of the fan service, which becomes unnecessarily explicit and almost reads as queer baiting. And while that is slowly changing alongside the emotional and sexual maturity of its audience, it has yet to fully explore the realities faced by people in same-sex relationships.
There are anime that explored same-sex relationships that broke into the mainstream Yuri!!! On ice and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. But the relationships within these are always ambiguous, leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether the characters are in a relationship or not. given isn’t there yet to address issues faced by people in same-sex relationships, but what makes it different is that it’s uncompromisingly BL. The story is clear in defining each character’s relationship to one another without sexualizing them. But true to BL fashion, they don’t specifically say they’re gay; Rather, these characters are simply in love with each other.
While it focuses on the blossoming relationships between the four characters, given also deals with complex issues and emotions such as trauma, death and acceptance. These issues and their relationships are spread throughout the storyline, making it a nice and slow burn for the audience to appreciate the characters and better understand their connections.
Even in the face of this emotional complexity given doesn’t let his characters rely on their significant other to face their problems. In BL, it is common for the main couple to be obsessed and overly dependent on each other. However, given allows characters to develop a more mature and healthy emotional support for each other.
Lark – the same studio that animated Assassination Classroom, Cinema’s Journeyand scum’s wish – does a great job of creating emotionally charged animations, especially during band performances. These moments, coupled with internal and external dialogue, further portray the complexities of their situation: Mafuyu and Akihiko with their individual pasts, and Ritsuka and Haruki’s feelings for the two.
given isn’t a groundbreaking story, but it steers the BL genre in the right direction to change the way people think about it. It just proves that a BL anime doesn’t have to start out sexually explicit and rely on its characters’ physical desires to create a compelling story. The manga is currently ongoing and there is no word yet on if given will get a second season, but there’s now an anime and a live-action movie. We hope that a more thoughtful BL anime will break the mainstream and change the genre’s reputation forever.
given can be streamed on Crunchyroll.
MORE: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Is the first season worth watching five years later?