Monday, August 22, 2016

Anime Review: Kiznaiver

My original plan was to talk about both this show and Little Witch Academia 2 back to back since it's really interesting to look at a story that has all of the typical Trigger hallmarks and one that doesn't, even though they're both original stories! That didn't quite work out, and I'm not going to compare the two of them since they're more dissimilar than alike, but I still find it interesting that Trigger tries every year or so to make a more typical anime series and yet never quite hits that mark.


Katsuhira is a white-haired anime boy who can't feel pain and when you can't feel pain, it turns out that it's hard to feel any kind of emotion as well. He's bullied at school, supported by a childhood friend at home, and generally seems to be moving through the world without even realizing that he needs some sort of goal in life. Or a purpose, enter the mysterious Sonozaki who connects Katsuhira with six of his classmates and now they all share each seven teenagers' worth of pain and feelings.

Kiznaiver makes a very anime choice by having the story focus on Katsuhira, the least relatable character who is so unconnected to the world that they actually have to give him a crazy backstory with how he doesn't feel pain. I'm torn about this choice really, on the one hand again, this is anime, and I did know the story was going to be set-up like this from the pre-airing summary. On the other hand, each of the seven other main characters also have issues with connecting to the people around them so theoretically any of them could have been the main character instead. It would have changed the story dramatically, I'm not saying that any other character would have been a better choice but two or three of them would have made for more empathic leads, and yet I feel like you could have had the same emotional beats regardless.

In a story about emotions, I think it's telling that I didn't resonate with most of the cast and I think that's ultimately responsible for why I'm a little wishy-washy on the series in general. By the end I really liked Nico (who, even when she's caught up in her own love triangle, says that she would rather keep her friendships than risk seriously damaging them to maybe date someone, which is usually a choice that stories penalize!) and in a weird way I also liked Hisomu, who was the least connected to the story and yet this also seemed to mean that he had the fewest issues to deal with. The rest of the characters suffer from a variety of cliches, from Chidori and Tenga's rather bland stereotypical bases (the childhood friend and the delinquent) to the weird "dead lesbians" subplot involving Maki (made even weirder by the fact that the lighting and staging of those episodes were heavily influenced by Kuniko Ikuhara's works, who writes stories about living lesbian characters). I've seen a lot of people crying out "oh no Mari Okada! What really weird relationships have you been through that make you write yourself into every story!" which feels straight up wrong to me, one of her trademarks is a certain level of melodrama but I feel like the situations are all pretty different between the many many series she has written for.

And, when the story has it's lighter moments, it was rather fun! I liked the episodes where the characters were trying to figure out more about the kiznaiver system and were getting thrown into summer training camps and the like, the over the top tone worked really well there! But by the end of the series the story got a bit overly complicated, tried to give a few too many plot reasons for the character's emotional responses, and worked itself into a bit of a corner where no ending would feel like it had any business resolving things. It's a shame since the show still looks great at that point, I loved the scenery compositions and use of lighting and color through out the show, and I know the show is going to stick with me for that. But the story never got quite where it needed to be, it felt like a story that still needed a few more drafts.

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