Review: Kiznaiver

[Synopsis]: Days before the school season draws to a close, quiet and introverted Katsuhira Agata (Kaji Yuki), his childhood friend, and a handful of other students are abducted by the mysterious Sonozaki Noriko (Yamamura Hibiku) on behalf of the Kizna Committee. The seven students are selected to become Kiznaivers – people connected by a bond of shared pain among one another as test subjects for the Kizna Committe’s end goal of world peace through connecting everyone through mutual pain and suffering. With this situation forced upon them, Katsuhira and the other students have to find a way to understand and work with one another despite their differing personalities as their bond is tested over the upcoming Summer.

[Characters]:

Given the premise of the show, it makes a lot of sense that Kiznaiver would focus almost all of its attention upon its primary group of 8 characters and a fairly concise supporting cast. This approach worked well insofar as none of the character’s felt all that underdeveloped with the exception of Hisomu Yoshiharu who was introduced after the initial introduction of the other Kiznaivers. The characters themselves are fairly archetypal at first glance – Chidori is a stereotypical childhood love interest upon introduction, Yoshiharu sports a pretty typical depiction of a masochist, Honoka is a pragmatic and distant intellectual, and the list goes on. What’s interesting is how the show grows these characters out of their initial depictions into something a bit more intricate.

Though the Kiznaiver’s themselves vary in depth, one thing that is certain is that their archetypal foundations do a great job in setting them very distinctly apart before the show invests time into discerning the context of their character. Their designs aid in this distinction as each of them look immensely different, causing them to stand out from one another on a visual level as well. The importance of detailing this distinction between each of the characters is that the show relies heavily upon them having contrasting and conflicting personalities and if nothing else, the show sets this up well.

Had each of the Kiznaiver’s remained as they were when they were introduced in the first episode the cast would have felt overwhelmingly stereotypical and tiresome however they quickly evolved beyond this if only slightly. Though Katsuhira’s lack of pain and emotions has left him quiet and introverted, he is far more observant and thoughtful than he initially appears and a good deal of the show is about him coming into a new sense of agency. Other characters like Honoka, Tenga, and Nico all have their fair share of intricacies that are contextualized and accentuated upon by the show as it explores each of them each episode – gradually revealing more and more about each Kiznaiver as they are forced to work alongside each other.

The issues that arise within Kiznaiver’s cast are less to do with the different Kiznaiver’s on an individual level and more about the way in which they converse and act with each other. The plot pushes them along very deliberately and the characters act out in very extreme and exaggerated ways in order to promote the drama of each scene. Certain central characters such as Chidori are left far too one-dimensional to be taken seriously, her character completely defined by her attachment and romantic feelings for Katsuhira. All in all, Kiznaiver has a distinct group of characters most of whom possess pretty entertaining characteristics however the way in which they are utilized by the plot dulls their interest considerably. They are left feeling far too hyperbolic in their interactions and the resulting drama between them thus often feels absurd.

[Art/Animation]:

Kiznaiver’s art and animation is its major strength and appeal as the show possesses gorgeous visuals. As mentioned above, the character designs are very recognizable and even unique in some aspects, going a long way in further differentiating the characters visually. The animation and character movement is flashy and expressive which worked well alongside the colorful and often extreme personalities present in the show. Kiznaiver had a wonderful variety of colors within its palette as well, its aesthetics heavily contrasting against one another with a heavy thematic focus on various shades of red. The animation was vibrant and entertaining and pretty much everything one would expect out of studio Trigger.

[Story]:

The narrative and overarching plot of Kiznaiver is where the show truly falls apart. Given it’s character-centric premise and early introductory episodes it would be a fair guess to say that the show itself was similarly character-driven however as its plot unfolded this became gradually less true. The plot of the show as well as its themes focus upon forming bonds of friendship, overcoming personal struggles through the help of others, and acting empathically. These themes are plenty interesting and even more so when set against such an outlandish premise such as Kiznaiver’s – a setting where 7 people share each other’s physical and emotional pain. The critical failure of the show is in the forced and artificial way these attributes manifest within an already somewhat vague plot.

The first episode of the show starts right into things, introducing the viewer to the Kizna system and the newly linked 6 students as it both explains the purpose of the experiment as well as their role in it. The second episode fills in the gaps as it begins to push the initially archetypal character introductions into a slightly more complicated light by forcing the characters to divulge certain information about themselves to their fellow Kiznaivers. The forced methodology that emerges becomes incredibly important as it sets the tone for how the show will behave for almost all of its future episodes. Rather than connecting the students and leaving them to organically solve their own issues or encounter their own hurdles, the Kizna committee plays an extremely active role in forcing them together and placing them in certain ‘extreme’ situations in order to generate data. Quickly the Kizna committee begins to feel like an unnatural writing tool for forcing drama to occur.

By episode 4 the show starts to pair off certain characters with one another and their relationships and romantic interests begin to take center stage thereafter. Kiznaiver’s resulting dynamic is a show about an enigmatic and shadowy organization forcing students who share each other’s pain into chaotic and ridiculous scenarios in order to develop romantic melodrama. Rather than exploring the psychological implications of sharing each other’s pain or emotional states the show opts to invest itself in their romantic interests in the typical style of Okada Mari, the show’s writer. The artificial way in which the Kiznaivers are placed in each dramatic moment makes it hard to take the show seriously which is very problematic given how seriously the show takes itself.

Something worth touching upon that would otherwise seem very unimportant is the presence of the Kizna committee’s mascots – the Gomorin. Their appearance is very cartoonish compared to the rest of the character designs which makes a lot of sense given their mascot-esque nature however it is their chronic presence in all of the dramatic scenes where they truly feel out of place. In essence, they are used by the Kizna committee to incite moments of dramatic tension by attacking the students or chasing them in some manner which is perhaps the most obvious insight into how artificial the plot progression of the show is. Despite setting no precedent for being dangerous or harmful, the Kiznaivers overreact to them, essentially draining the scene of any possible dramatic tension given the non-threatening appearance of the Gomorin and the scene’s straightforward progression.

With all of that said, Kiznaiver is not completely bereft of good scenes and there are a few engaging moments throughout. The characters themselves are highly entertaining however it is the exaggerated and overly-sentimental scenes they are forced into that makes many of them fall flat.

[Music]: 

Considering the nature of Kiznaiver its soundtrack behaves as one might expect – emphasizing the drama of its scenes with given tracks and otherwise providing a fairly standard backdrop for the show. For me, there weren’t any particularly memorable tracks.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

In summary, though Kiznaiver might hint at something more complex and compelling through its premise and initial episodes it quickly devolves into a rather incoherent story focusing on teenage melodrama. I myself am not a huge fan of Okada Mari’s writing and so I may have disliked the show more than one normally might and perhaps fans of her other works would be able to overlook certain aspects of the show and enjoy it to a great extent.

Rating: 4

I gave Kiznaiver a 4 because the way in which it attempted to conjure up a dramatic atmosphere felt forced and inorganic in how it was narratively presented. Though a handful of its characters were fairly entertaining, its cast also had a few one-dimensional and overly exaggerated characters which detracted from the cast. The visuals were terrific however they didn’t dress the show up well enough to the point that its narrative and thematic issues could be overlooked, not that they ever could have.

[Recommendations]:

Those who have enjoyed Okada Mari’s work in the past will likely enjoy Kiznaiver as well as the dialogue and themes are quintessentially her. Similarly so, fans of melodramas like Kokoro ConnectNagi no Asukara, and AnoHana will probably find that Kiznaiver lies within their interests. Those who don’t care for considerably sentimental character interactions and plot developments may want to pass on the show.

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