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Occasionally, I come across discourse in regards to queer representation that asks for more flawed characters. I think if I saw that kind of request in my baby gay years I’d be angered by it, determined to highlight media that didn’t make us look like messy human beings. Being Black AND queer definitely added to that because those are two identities that, frankly, go through the wringer when it comes to representation.

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What I’ve learned over time, however, is that “good” doesn’t mean “flawless,” nor should it. Creating nothing but squeaky clean characters to represent us sets up unrealistic expectations because let’s face it, many people look at fiction as truth when it comes to marginalized communities. In reality, what we want is honest representation that shows us as, well, normal people who are trying their best but get things wrong sometimes.

You know. Because that’s how people are.

This brings me to Given the Movie.

Given the Movie was on my anticipated anime list for 2021 and it exceeded my expectations by completely embracing its messiest characters. So let’s talk about it!

Synopsis

Where Given (the series) focused on Ritsuka and Mafuyu’s story, the movie centers on fellow bandmates Akihiko and Haruki. We got glimpses of these two and their budding chemistry in the series, and the movie works to develop their relationship. We know from the series that Haruki has feelings for Akihiko, and Akihiko has definitely shown signs of reciprocating those feelings. Except, well, Akihiko is the definition of disaster. He still lives with his ex-boyfriend, Ugetsu, who is still in love with him, and they’re still sleeping together. He also sleeps around with women in order to have a place to stay whenever he and Ugetsu are at odds with one another (which is often).

All of this is happening while the band decides to enter into an amateur music festival, and just like in the series, the movie demonstrates the power of using your art (in this case, music) to get your feelings out there.

Review/Thoughts/Feelings/Fangirlish Screaming

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In a flashback, Akihiko admits to having aspiration and confidence in music … until he met Ugetsu. Ever since he heard him play, he says that he hated him, yet the two of them not only started dating, they started living together. Ugetsu is the one who realizes (as he starts playing violin professionally) that the two of them are suffocating each other. He doesn’t really feel like he can freely play music when he’s with Akihiko, especially since he knows how he makes Akihiko feel in regards to music.

That doesn’t mean they don’t love each other, though, but just because you love someone doesn’t necessarily mean you should be with them.

This is something both of them have a hard time realizing since, after two years, they still keep making their way back to each other. Instead of someone standing up and saying “we should break up,” they just keep hurting each other, hoping to push the other far enough that they end things. Akihiko constantly sleeps with women when he’s frustrated with Ugetsu instead of going home to face him, and at one point in the movie, Ugetsu brings home another man and texts Akihiko about how he’s gonna need another “save point” to stay at.

So why is it so hard for them to end things when they keep poking at each other like this? I imagine it’s a couple of things, really. There’s that whole first love thing, sure, but I also imagine it’s because they’ve gotten so used to each other that they’re too scared to walk away.

It’s hard to walk away from what you know when you don’t know what lies ahead.

When Akihiko does leave the house for an extended period of time Ugetsu doesn’t know what to do. The house is empty now. That constant element is gone. There’s a sort of comfort that comes with having a consistent thing in your life, so much so that you kinda get tricked into thinking it’s good … until you’re reminded that it isn’t.

Akihiko says as much when he wonders why it was Ugetsu he had fallen in love with and not Haruki. It’d be so much easier if his heart only responded to Haruki, but as it stands, he still has feelings for Ugetsu and they’re all jumbled up, and have BEEN jumbled up for a long time.

(CW for this next part)

While all of that is going on with Akihiko and Ugetsu, Haruki is feeling lost on what to do about his obvious feelings for Akihiko and where he stands as a member of the band. A friend suggests that he play back-up base for his ex-girlfriend’s band, maybe try something different to get out of the funk that’s brewing within in. When Akihiko comes over to his place after a fight with Ugetsu and finds out about Haruki’s potential plans he’s furious, thinking that Haruki is running away from him. It’s obvious that the person he’s actually angry with Ugetsu (and himself, let’s be honest), but he takes it out on Haruki.

This leads to Akihiko forcing himself on top of Haruki, kissing him, and groping him. As much as that sucks, it sucks even more because Akihiko admits that he KNOWS that Haruki is in love with him. It’s such an awful thing to do and Akihiko knows it, mentally telling himself that it’s the entirely wrong thing to do. He’s frustrated because it feels like Ugetsu purposely brought a man home to push Akihiko away (he did), yet he also accepts Akihiko’s attachment to him. Akihiko wants to be able to let him go, but he can’t, so he keeps coming back. And really, Akihiko kinda does that with everything in his life. He’s constantly relying on other people to get by, like how he sleeps around with women or crashes at Haruki’s place until he wanders back to Ugetsu.

What makes this scene truly heartbreaking is the fact that Haruki says he’ll do anything for Akihiko. It’s Akihiko who stops himself from taking things even further, Haruki desperate to help him somehow. Akihiko says that telling Haruki won’t solve anything, and yeah, that stings, but also … he’s right. The problem here is that Akihiko needs to let Ugetsu go AND grow the hell up. Had he accepted Haruki’s offer to do anything he’d be stuck as the same guy aimlessly drifting through life because Haruki would let him.

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And this is what I mean by beautifully messy. All of these characters are so realistically flawed. Because as bad as Akihiko and Ugetsu are, Haruki’s got his flaws too. After all, he was ready to coddle Akihiko in the middle of a near-sexual assault because he didn’t want to see him breakdown.

Like, imagine how terrible this would’ve been if Akihiko went through with it?

So Haruki leaves, cuts his hair (it’s symbolic because Akihiko loves his hair), and when he sees Akihiko again he tells him to leave his place. Akihiko seeing that Haruki cut his hair is like a punch in the gut to him, a wake-up call, if you will, because yes, Akihiko, you need to get your shit together. Step one, I suppose, is Akihiko admitting to not having anywhere to go and realizing that, wow, he really does just bounce around all over the place until someone says yes. Akihiko begs Haruki to let him stay with him, offering to cook meals and do chores, and Haruki agrees.

What happens next is the two slowly rekindling their relationship, first and foremost as friends, which is hugely important after what they went through. Akihiko doesn’t rush anything with Haruki and you actually get to watch them fall in love with each other.

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It’s kinda amazing, really, since when we meet them in the series Haruki’s already in love. Now we get to see it fully develop on both sides, so much so that Akihiko decides to legitimately break up with Ugetsu.

Ugetsu refuses because of everything I talked about earlier (him being a mess when Akihiko isn’t around, being scared to walk away from a situation he’s become accustomed to, etc.) but then we get the healing power of a new song from Mafuyu. I know I haven’t talked much about him in this review, but the story really is about Akihiko, Haruki, and Ugetsu with blips every now and then of Mafuyu learning the details of Akihiko and Ugetsu’s relationship or being adorable with Ritsuka.

The song Mafuyu sings is about how it’s ok to walk away, and even when the person you love is gone, you can go on living. The words are clearly dedicated to Akihiko, who starts to regain his passion for music, but honestly, to me, the song is really for Ugetsu.

By the way, can I just say that I’m so glad that this movie spent time on Ugetsu? The story could’ve easily made him the bitchy ex holding Akihiko back, but he’s not painted as the villain of the story who’s stopping the two guys you’re rooting for. Ugetsu’s treated with care, and you get to see how he AND Akihiko needed to learn from this.

After the concert, Akihiko breaks up with Ugetsu for real, and Ugetsu wants to run back to him … but remembers Mafuyu’s song and how he said it would be ok. Again, love love LOVE that Ugetsu gets this moment. It’s not just Akihiko who needs to be able to let go. Ugetsu needs it, too, and furthermore, he deserves the chance to go on with his life.

Just when you think the movie is over, we find out that Akihiko has been doing his best to become a better person. He shows up to band practice early. He’s playing the violin again. He’s actually going to class. Haruki assumes Akihiko’s doing all this (and avoiding him) because he’s back with Ugetsu, but it turns out Akihiko decided to grow the eff up because he wants to be a man worthy of Haruki’s love. Like I said earlier, Akihiko needed to improve himself (because growth is important, but also, Haruki was willing to take him as is), and he definitely took that to heart. He even asks for permission to touch Haruki, and when he gets the ok, he hugs him tight and says that he loves him.

The story ends with Haruki agreeing to go out with Akihiko, the two walking away together.

I seriously appreciate the messages in this movie. I love the message of how walking away from something you’ve grown accustomed to, even if it’s painful, is hard. You have no idea what’s out there and it’s scary to venture off into the unknown. While it’s so easy to just write someone off as not being willing to walk away from shitty circumstances, the bottom line is that sometimes people are too scared to because the alternative could potentially be worse.

It’s hard walking away from painful love when you’re not sure you’re gonna get love at all once you leave, especially if you’re queer.

I also appreciate how Haruki and Akihiko didn’t get together UNTIL Akihiko changed. I like that he HAD to do that in order to be with Haruki. Because Haruki was so in love with him that he’d settle for whatever he got. The fact that it took Akihiko telling him that he couldn’t help for him to walk away says a lot. It wasn’t the fact that Akihiko forced himself on him, it was Akihiko saying that Haruki wasn’t the solution he needed.

Basically, Haruki needed to realize that this version of Akihiko wasn’t a good fit, so yeah, chop off that hair, set some boundaries, and let this man grow up before you let him touch you again.

All and all, Given the Movie kinda feels like this “grown-up” version of the series that deals with messier characters and complex relationships that don’t have easy fixes. That’s not to say the series didn’t have its own complexities with Ritsuka and Mafuyu, but the movie REALLY hits that “I want characters who are flawed af” territory.

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If that’s what you’re in the mood for then Crunchyroll’s got you covered. The series itself is great, too, so it’s a win/win all around.

(Image: Crunchyroll)

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