WARNING: Spoilers for Kiznaiver
Studio Trigger original anime are always highly anticipated by anime viewers, not for nothing Kill la Kill is still considered one of the most memorable anime from the 2010s. They have unique art style and they are not afraid to talk about unusual topoics. Kiznaiver is no exception.
Mari Okada‘s Kiznaiver resembles other anime like Kokoro Connect, which focuses on a group of teenagers connected by their feelings after body swapping. In Kiznaiver‘s case, the connection is through pain, both physical and emotional. It’s an interesting concept reinforced by the fact that the main character, the one character the audience is supposed to feel identified with the most, is unable to feel any pain. This results in him coming off as a quite bland, boring-to-watch character, but not to the point that takes away from the enjoyment. Katsuhira is, after all, accompanied by a very lively, fun cast. Chidori, Tenga, Nico, Honoka, Yua and Yoshiharu are all unique in their own ways, making their relationship both entertaining and, surprisingly, not as easy as you would expect it to be. It shouldn’t be too surprising, though, a short series based on characters sharing emotions is bound to have conflict and drama, even if it had to be a bit pushed at times.
It’s no surprise then that the main source of drama came from their difficult relationship. Aside from friendship (a topic I will touch later on), this is the series that has probably started more ship wars in this anime season. Hell, even the characters had their own ships! The drama in this regard came from unrequited love and love triangles (and even quadrangles). As a fan of slow-burns, I’m not particularly fond of how the romance was handled as most of the relationships seemed to be very sudden and probably only included to add up to the drama. Perhaps the most well-built (and plot-relevant) relationship was Katsuhira and Sonozaki’s, while Tenga and Chidori’s strange/implied “romantic” scene in the finale was quite forced.
One of the problems with Kiznaiver is that it takes a long time for the plot to be established. It’s not until Episode 9 that things start to really happen. I didn’t have a particular problem with this, as my main reason for watching Kiznaiver was the characters. In fact, Kiznaiver is much more character-driven than plot-driven. However, Maki’s storyline took too much time from the show. This is not to say her story wasn’t good or important (it was refreshing to see a lesbian relationship without it being sexualized or making a big deal out of it), but it certainly would have made much more sense in a 24 episode series. Kiznaiver had already very limited time for such an ambitious concept to have so much time invested in Ruru, a character that is not relevant to the plot or mentioned again.
Episodes 9, 10 and 11 were certainly the peak of Kiznaiver. While Episode 9 took the drama a bit too far if only for shock value (see gif below), Episode 10 finally gave us an entire flashback for what actually happened in that recurring flashback about Katsuhira and Sonozaki. Everything from their lack of emotions to Katsuhira’s white hair were given an explanation in a brilliant, yet saddening way. Sonozaki’s smile and Katsuhira’s cries when meeting his catatonic childhood friends rank as some of the most heartbreaking moments from this season. In many aspects, the episode actually reminded me of Terror in Resonance, except this time, the Kizna organization is not entirely evil, which was very refreshing to see. Sure, these scientists still played with children’s lives without permission, but the outcome of the experiment was an accident, they regretted their actions and tried to save everyone in the end. Furthermore, while Episode 12 was not as good as the previous ones, I’m still glad that it focused on the series’ themes of human connection rather than on fighting a big bad just for the sake of it.
One of the reasons why the finale felt a bit lackluster was because the show had already used all of the emotional and psychological speeches it had to offer. At the end of the day, Kiznaiver is hardly a story about friendship (a theme 95% of anime love to exploit), but about empathy and human connection. The show raises questions such as “when does someone go from being an acquaintance to a friend?”, “does sharing traumatic experiences together make you friends?”, “why do you feel bad when a friend is crying: because you empathize with them, or because you really can’t stand to see them sad?”. While the series’ treatment of these topics is pretty cheap and unsatisfying, I still have to give it credit for making the audience think about friendship in a way that is no the typical “because we’re friendz!1!!1!” we are so used to seeing.
Kiznaiver was a joy to watch every week if only for the amazing character designs, colorful animation, superb opening and character interactions. It took a while for the plot to get going and for us to really get a clue of what was going on, and while the final result was not that innovative, it still managed to make us feel entertained and wonder about the value of friendship and whether pain is something we need in order to live life to the fullest.