Today let's explore the gripping aural and visual storytelling of this season's terrific band drama given!
Hey all, and welcome back to Why It Works! There’ve been plenty of great shows to enjoy this summer, with the poignant drama given standing high among them. From its very first episode, given’s mixture of purposeful sound design, strong visual layouts, and terrific character writing have made it a success both as a refreshingly frank gay romance and a coming-of-age band drama, with both the performance sequences and personal moments executed with uncommon grace. But describing given’s strengths in such general terms doesn’t really capture its power; fortunately, the climax of the show’s recent fifth episode demonstrated all of the show’s many strengths at pretty much the same time. Today on Why It Works, let’s break down that thrilling climax, as we explore the fundamentals of what makes this engaging drama work!
Given centers on the evolving relationship of two high school boys, Ritsuka and Mafuyu. As a talented guitarist already in a band, Ritsuka finds himself strangely drawn to the novice Mafuyu, who owns a treasured guitar but doesn’t know how to play it. The two grow closer over a series of outings and conversations that lead to Ritsuka first discovering Mafuyu’s inspiring singing voice, and ultimately inviting him to join his band. But Ritsuka’s happy process of getting to know Mafuyu soon runs into a wall of tragic history, when a jealous female friend tells him about Mafuyu’s past—about the rumors that Mafuyu was dating another boy in middle school, and the rumors that Mafuyu ultimately drove that boy to suicide.
This sequence is a key one for several reasons. Not only is it our first introduction to the trauma that likely informs Mafuyu’s current self-doubt, it’s also the moment a genuine romantic rival makes her play, and on top of that, it signifies a key and vividly realized turning point for Ritsuka’s emotions. From a position of idly enjoying the progression of his relationship with Mafuyu, Ritsuka is forced to directly consider what Mafuyu means to him, and what sort of relationship he is actually pursuing. Given’s production does everything it can to emphasize the gravity of this moment, demonstrating how graceful, purposeful art design can bring a personal moment to life.
The scene opens with Ritsuka in lazy distraction, until his friend Kasai enters his view, her sudden intrusion into the frame from "behind the camera" echoing her breaking of Ritsuka’s concentration. After a panning shot establishing the atmosphere of the room, we hone in Ritsuka specifically, as a single dull tone begins playing in the background. Appropriately for a show about a rock band, many of given’s key dramatic scenes are constructed around a key piece of music—like in Ritsuka and Haru’s first meeting, where a perpetually unresolved guitar line created a sense of building expectation. Here, the sound design creates a very different effect; its rising, uncomfortable ringing creates a sense of unease and approaching catastrophe, a feeling that only grows as we see a plane off in the distance.
Clever visual layouts immediately tie that plane to Ritsuka’s thoughts, as he works idly, his own mind off in the clouds. Shots of Ritsuka in the corner and the great blue sky behind emphasize his distraction, while the trajectory of the plane implies his distracted thoughts are headed towards a wall, illustrated through the edge of the window frame. His distraction and emotional distance from Kasai are also emphasized through the two of them rarely being captured in frame together, with the show instead contrasting shots of each of them in the corner of the frame, with a great blank distance behind them. Shots like these imply a sense of isolation through their vast empty space, as well as a kind of emotional blockade—Kasai wants to reach Ritsuka, but she’s essentially just lobbing thoughts over the visual barricade of the frame.
It’s only when Kasai mentions Mafuyu that Ritsuka actually raises his head, and the two finally share the frame. This straight-on shot of Kasai’s face tethers us even closer to Ritsuka’s perspective, as both the character and camera make “eye contact” with Kasai for the first time, truly engaging in her conversation. Even then, Ritsuka doesn’t full grasp what Kasai means by “do you think Mafuyu likes you”—but his mental and visual barricades are broken as Kasai fully explains herself, in a shot that aligns Kasai with the window frame’s wall, and sees that plane having fallen out of sight entirely. As Ritsuka considers Mafuyu not as a friend, but a potential romantic partner for the first time, that trailing, uneasy guitar note ends, replaced by the overt roar of the plane’s engines. And then everything cuts, sound and light jumping to silent darkness, as Ritsuka’s happy momentum shatters, and his feelings drop into a pit.
It’s a terrific scene that demonstrates both given’s raw dramatic frankness, and its ability to illustrate intimate human moments through every tool of visual and aural storytelling. The show’s progression so far has been full of such beautiful and gripping moments, and I’m eager to see the show continue to develop its rich relationships, as well as the talents of its central band.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of just a few of given’s strengths, and please let me know your own favorite given moments in the comments!