Given – 04 and 05 – Roaring to a Stand Still

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Uecchi is utterly befuddled, agitated, and his google-fueled antics put Harkuki and Kaji in hysterics. Perhaps oblivious to the meltdown he has caused, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets a part time job at the live music venue.

When Uecchi finally goes to confront Sato, old friends interrupt and STRONG IMPLY Sato’s guitar belongs to some one very special and very tragically dead…

Thankfully, Uecchi shakes him out of it and demands to hear Sato sing. The following episode is largely dedicated to Uecchi creating a song for Sato to sing and the lead up to their first public gig.

…Also, the episode reveals revealing that Harkuki loves Kaji, that Kaji has a boy friend no one knows about, that Sato is pretty damn good at basket ball, and Uecchi learning that Sato was dating a boy in middle school but that boy may have suddenly killed himself in an extremely tragic way! Appropriate, this last bit of news comes amidst a deafening roar of white noise punctuated by a hard cut to black.

Given remains beautifully rendered, even when it’s being ‘lazy.’ Seriously! The backgrounds and colors and level of unnecessary detail are insane. Episode 5 did take a noticeable dip, but that is to be expected mid season and it didn’t hurt the narrative’s more introspective focus.

I’m really enjoying the idea that Uecchi is the only semi-straight member of the band, yet imperfect knowledge may prevent each member from realizing that. I’m finding it even more interesting to watch Sato, who seems like he’s characterized as having a spectrum disorder in addition to being gay. It makes for some curious takes on his scenes with Uecchi.

Sato strikes me as a sincere representation of a gay male who’s not romantically into the straight male who is pursuing him. He seems aware of that Ueechi may not realize he is even pursuing him, which seems ironically likely since Uecchi resorted to dating advice to get Sato into the band. Now that the sexuality angle is out in the open, we’ll see if Uecchi reconciles with his own obsessive feelings, or if his obsession is purely based in the art of music the way he previously seemed to think it was.

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Given – 03 – Rejection!

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Ue is utterly befuddled, agitated, and turns to google for advice on how to win over someone after they’ve rejected you. This goes about as well as you would expect, and Harkuki and Kaji think it’s hilarious!

Meanwhile, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets himself a part time job working at a music events space. When Uecchi goes to confront him there, everything is interrupted when Sato’s old friends recognize him and STRONG IMPLY the guitar over his shoulder belongs to a dead friend.

Sato is a polite, if not slightly stereotypical take on a person with a spectrum disorder. He can not express himself well and the added trauma of death makes him aware that something is wrong. He doesn’t even realize he is already expressing himself, and that Ue is rocked by that expression down to the core.

Alone on the street, Ue grabs Sato and shouts that he wants to hear him sing. Ue needs to hear him sing and Sato agrees. Unseen, Kaiji has heard their exchange and knows their band is in for something special…

Another episode of Given is another episode possibly a hair short of Masterpiece level work. From framing, to color, to writing and emotional candor, if it connected with you before, it will do it again. Why on earth are you not watching it already?

Given – 02 – Insiders x Outsiders

Uenoyama struggles with the idea of being a good teacher. He’s not even sure what Sato wants out of the guitar. Uenoyama is stuck inside his own head, oblivious in class, and unabsorbent of his classmates’ growing curiosity over the nature of his relationship with Sato, even when they ask him about it directly.

Sato struggles with expressing his interests and objectives. He’s not even sure what he wants out of learning guitar. He’s not even sure he has a favorite song, though a melody keeps playing in his head. Sato is often oblivious to Uenoyama’s instruction and questions, but he absorbs the training quickly. Sato has a very keen ear.

These are the early days of training, where Sato’s newness and mystery is exciting. Pretty Harkuki feels a change towards a better, kinder man in Uenoyama but Tough Kaji insists it was already there. To himself, he wonders if Uenoyama’s kindness is something closer to that of a protector, which has broader implications he does not share.

Sato’s transition from outsider to insider begins with the learning the technicalities of music but effectively completes over dinner, when the band reveals they each have part time jobs. Kaji tends bar, delivers items on his bike, and even works security. Harkuki is a hair model in a video channel, and works with Uenoyama at a convenience store. Each boy’s job descriptions are playful but made with care. No matter what job Sato chooses, and he must choose one to support the band, he should consider one that feeds him during his service.

Given is a master class in framing and composition. Above, the criss-crossing shadow connects Uenoyama’s eyes up to his friends, and the sweep of the drum set sends our eyes around to the door. But the rigid green door, which completely encloses Kaji and Harkuki traps them there, stuck behind the drum set.

This fraction of a scene expresses hesitation. It implies Kaji and Harkuki are waiting for their friend to stand and join them emotionally. That waiting shows us they care, and emphasizes the conversation they share outside about Uenoyama comes from their caring.

And It reads equally well for western left right and eastern right left.

Given is also a master class in color, pattern, and skilled integration of 3D rendered backgrounds with traditional animation. It’s subtle at first, but the range of color (especially as it pertains to the the believability of lighting) and consistency of perspective in this show is fantastic. Yet, unlike the space ship in Astra Lost in Space, these 3D elements do not stick out.

Great care was used to control the pallet and soften edges. The over all effect makes Given believable looking, yet also dream like. A perfect aesthetic choice to match its cast introspective, dreamlike state.

This week ends with Uenoyama pressing Sato for direction. There must be a song he wants to play that Uenoyama can teach him. So Sato sings the music that is inside him. It has no title. It is only brief. It brings Uenoyama to tears.

Even though Uenoyama doesn’t officially ask Sato to join the band until after he hears Sato sink the secret song inside his head, the decision has all but been made official during their dinner. Weird, awkward, mysterious, and with much to learn, Sato is the change agent everyone needed. I can’t wait to see — and heard — where this is headed!

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 10

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Five years have passed. Sukeroku and Miyokichi are long gone. They don’t even appear this week at all, and their absence is felt. I missed them, but whatever Kikuhiko feels about this, he’s soldiering on during these years.

He’s gained fame as a Shin’uchi, with the power to make total strangers leave their families and homes and burn bridges behind them just to get a shot at begging him for an apprenticeship, which he always refuses.

He feels he has nothing to teach apprentices. The successful formula he’s grasped and run with, he still scarcely knows what to make of it himself, let alone how to pass it on to others. It, being the rakugo business, is like a soap bubble; he daren’t disturb it.

However, Kiku cannot stop the march of time from taking its toll on his master Yakumo, who isn’t taking his wife’s death well. One could say she’s calling to him, and now that he has a reliable successor in Kiku, there’s little point in keeping her waiting any longer.

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On his deathbed, Yakumo confesses to Kiku something new, but something that in hindsight makes sense: the “old man” who taught Sukeroku (and had that name before him) was a rival of Yakumo’s from his youth; someone he knew was the better talent, but used nepotism to snatch his father’s name from the interloper.

Obviously, Yakumo managed to become a great and revered storyteller, worthy of the name, but it’s clear, especially after taking in the young Sukeroku, that the possibility of blocking a greater talent than himself for the sake of his own pride, weighed on him greatly.

After tearlessly leading his father and master’s funeral ceremonies, Kiku gets back to work the next day. Taking the stage to new, gentler (and thus more suitable) entrance music, he eschews a sentimental story for one about an old man meeting a shinigami, who says magic words and shows him candles that represent lives, including his own, which eventually goes out.

The peformance ends with Kiku literally sprawling out on the stage as if he himself had died. And in a way, a part of him did die with his master: the part that was tied to others. When lying there soaking up applause, Kiku isn’t tearful or distraught, but relieved and elated by his new-found—and in his mind, hard-won—solitude. It’s a solitude he’ll use to hone his craft and become someone he believes worthy of being the Eighth Generation.

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Before that, however, he wants to see Sukeroku. Not just to inform him of their father’s death, and recover the money Miyokichi stole, but to see how his brother doing. Kiku never had much faith Sukeroku could take care of himself, and didn’t think running off with a woman and raising a child would suddenly make him more capable of doing so.

So soon after achieving clarity through complete solitude—no master, no rival, no apprentice, no family—Kiku sets out to find old connections once more, no matter how briefly. In a town far from Tokyo, he asks an old man where rakugo is performed, and gets a predictable answer: strange for a young person such as himself to be asking about rakugo; there are far fewer such venues in town; television has taken over the hearts of most, making the world more boring.

Kiku probably agrees with all of that. But the old man also steers him in the direction of a soba restaurant, where he finds something…not boring at all: the entire crowd of diners is being entertained (and later squeezed for change) by a five-year-old girl with fiery red hair who is performing rakugo that Kiku immediately recognizes as Sukeroku’s. A little girl named Konatsu.

I loved Kiku’s little eye twitch upon their meeting. His late father believed young Sukeroku came to him as “karmic retribution” for maneuvering the older Sukeroku out of his father’s favor so many years ago.

Kiku may not know it yet, but Konatsu will end up being another kind of retribution: the kind that not only deprives him of the solitude he yearned for so dearly (not that being alone was what was best for him), but serves as a daily reminder of the brother he always believed was the greater talent. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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