Think about your first love.
Not your first crush. Not the first time someone caught your eye. Think about your first love. Have you been there yet? Now tell me, did it hurt?
Please be aware that this post gets very honest, and it isn’t about only romance.
The first time you’re in a relationship, everything seems so… big. Every fight. Every date. Every dance. Every moment. We don’t always know how to handle ourselves with the grace we wish in retrospect we’d had, because we… we can be really stupid. Most of the time, we’re young.
We aren’t unintelligent. We aren’t incapable. We aren’t BAD. But I know that people can make really, really poor decisions in the heat of the moment. I know this because I, too, have been stupid.
The anime “Given” hits the nail on the head with its depiction of teenagers in that we we’re all young once. Good people, especially young people, do stupid things in the heat of the moment. Sometimes, those stupid things motivate others to do disastrous things, even when no one is at fault. And everyone has to live with that. People learn, and we grow.
But wait, Shoujo, you might say. That’s not what “Given” is about. “Given” is a shounen-ai band anime about the power of music as a means of expression and developing relationships while moving through life’s obstacles…
Well, honestly, you’re right. And that in and of itself would have been enough. But it’s also about a lot more than that.
Mafuyu’s first love, Yuki, sets the plot of the show in motion, well before he’s ever shown on screen. Today, despite everything else the show offers, I want to talk about the big reveal in episode nine, and what it means to me. I want to talk about “A Winter Story.” I want to talk about what I heard in, “Are you willing to die for me, then?”
[Spoilers from this point]
[Trigger warnings, suicide and self-harm]
Yuki drank himself to death. We don’t know if suicidal idealization had been a privately ongoing problem for him, if he intentionally drank himself to death in the aftermath of Mafuyu’s angry words, or if he was just so lost to his emotions that he didn’t realize how much he’d had before he was gone. All we know is that Yuki is dead by his own hand. And everyone else was left to pick up the pieces.
My counselor will be the first to tell you that you are not responsible for someone else’s actions. Even if they do something negative in response to something you said or did, that reaction isn’t your fault. You can only control the things YOU say and do. But that doesn’t make it any easier for Mafuyu, whose careless words thrown out during a heated argument proved to be so foreshadowing. He’s in such nameless pain that he cannot express for most of the series, wondering what in the world he’s supposed to do with these feelings that he can’t put into words. There’s love, heartache, anger, guilt, sorrow, pain, grief. How does he go about processing what he’s feeling having walked in on his ex-boyfriend–his first love–dead in his room after an their argument in which Mafuyu said, “Are you willing to die for me, then?”
Mafuyu isn’t bad. I cannot stress enough that he is not BAD. I also want to stress that Yuki wasn’t bad, either. Mafuyu did what many of us do in the heat of the moment as adults, but especially as teenagers: lash out by saying something harmful or stupid. Whatever his motivation, he wasn’t in the head space to make good decisions. He was hurting. He was angry. And the same can be said for Yuki in that he was hurting, he was probably angry, and he made bad decisions. Whether his death was on purpose or accidental, he was responsible for his own actions that day.
But they’re just teenagers. They’re just people. They’re not BAD. They just don’t always know how to handle things. And it hurts me to see this sort of true-to-life tragedy born of high-emotion and inexperience on screen, so real and raw. I cried. I listened to Mafuyu’s song lyrics over and over again because they’re so expressive and honest. They’re real. These characters were so young and, caught in an overwhelming moment that life hasn’t yet given them the experience to handle, people can say terrible things. In the aftermath of an emotional breakup, young people are liable to do dangerous, self-hurtful things, or to make bad choices, but they’re not bad people.
It rang so authentically to me.
It’s noted in internal monologue that Kashima wants forgiveness, and while for what he seeks forgiveness could be a blog post all its own, I think that forgiveness is a major theme of the anime overall. Forgiveness and blame: how to hold on while letting go, how to process the ending of a relationship coinciding with the ending of a life, how to absolve others when you’re not sure if they’ve really done anything that requires it, and, ultimately, learning how to extend grace to yourself. Slowly.
Extending grace to myself is something I’ve always struggled with, and I didn’t realize how much it impacted me until I started seeing a counselor last year. While I’ve not been in a situation like Mafuyu, I’ve struggled to forgive myself for lots of things over the years, both inside of and outside of romantic relationships, as an adult and as a child. Like Mafuyu, I’ve run from expressing very difficult things because I’ve been so afraid to look at them and didn’t have the words to say what I felt. I’ve lashed out and hurt others with my words. I’ve felt so incredibly angry about poor decisions others have made and left me in the aftermath. I’ve been in relationships where neither party had the maturity or life-experience to make good decisions. I’ve made poor choices at the cost of myself and others, including self-harm. I’ve felt so, so guilty about those things. In my past, like so many of us, there’s love, heartache, anger, guilt, sorrow, pain, grief, just like Mafuyu feels in “Given.” I don’t always know how to forgive myself for them and move on. Hearing the regretful melodies in Mafuyu’s song, seeing his inability to put into words what he feels, what he regrets…
It makes my stomach hurt.
I’ve forgiven so many well-meaning and hurtful things other people have done on the merits of their own inexperience, because I understand that to be young or inexperienced is to folly. At one time, it may have been a struggle, but I’ve by now had the experiences necessary to put those things in perspective. I’ve gotten beyond that portion of Mafuyu’s tragedy. Being angry at others, begrudging them: it only hurts you, in the end. But Mafuyu and I are still working on forgiving ourselves, unable to move on for a variety of reasons; those exact reasons may be different, and mine are not peppered with feelings of lingering attachment, but at their core, scattered amidst the rubble and dust of past trauma lies a mutually distinct lacking of self-grace. I’m not holding onto love like Mafuyu–and, honestly, the pain of his lost love is in no small part a reason for my own tears even now–but I do understand to some extent the emotions he’s expressing. The longing and pain and anger and grief.
We sometimes see in media a reflection of our own life and experiences, and it’s those reflections that stick with us the longest. Perhaps I’ve related too deeply with Mafuyu’s inability to move on from his past and strong desire to express what he feels in relation to it, but I don’t think so. Our reasons are different, but the emotions relating to our struggles feel similar in ways that resonate within me and make me feel.
It can be so, so hard to let go.
Just like the shade of snow/ That hasn’t completely melted/ I continue on with these feelings inside me/ Hey, with what words/Should I close the door on this love?/ Your everything has lost its tomorrow/ And now is wandering around eternally/ Along with me/ Who was unable to say goodbye or move on/ Just like a spell that still won’t break/ Or some kind of curse/ I’m still holding on to some heavy baggage/ Hey, what kind of tomorrow/ Am I supposed to look for in this town?/ Ah…/ The cold tears that fall/ Freeze under the sky/ They pretend to be kind/ And around the time, they fall down my face/ Two people who were always together are torn apart/ That’s all there is to this story/ Even if your everything loses its shape one day/ You’ll always be here within me/ As I try to move forward again/ Even though I couldn’t say goodbye/ You’ll always be here with meGiven, Fuyunohanashi (English Translation)