Kiznaiver Review — And Then There Was Angst

Lots and lots of it.

The combination of Trigger’s hyperactive visuals combined with Mari Okada’s idea of what teen drama should be like was already considered a weird combination when Kiznaiver was first announced, but it was only upon airing that people realized just how much weirdness they can take. I’m sure most of you have heard by now that the show is basically Kokoro Connect if it stuck to its initial concept and traded the grounded tone for a cartoonish one. Which is a bit ironic considering I connected more to the cast of this show than Kokoro, as well as Okada’s recent dramas like Anthem of the Heart – even though Katsuhira doesn’t really do much more than the male leads in those shows in regards to affecting the plot other than get punched. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten so tired of teen dramas trying to recreate realistic personalities that seeing one not even bothering to pretend is a relaxing breath of fresh air.

It also helps that the concept doesn’t really pretend to be realistic either, going for a straight sci-fi angle right off the bat in regards to the drama through the Kizna System: a scientific experiment designed to bring world peace by connecting people with a mysterious scar that’ll allow them to share each other’s pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional. Said experiment is used on seven students sharing the same class prior to summer break with the condition that they all stay connected for the entire summer and perform assigned missions that are so obviously intended to force them to be friends that there might as well have been a goals header explaining that fact. It’s a bit hokey when you say it out loud, but what attracted me to the show were the possibilities of what the Kizna System could explore regarding teenage issues when said teens are forced by other people to confront them. They can be really annoying when handled improperly, but when they are, they hit the side of me that likes strong characterizations and social insight.

With all that said, I really hate when anime thinks it can be funny, and it gets particularly annoying when it gets in the way of the drama. I know Kiznaiver is a Trigger anime and all, but it has a bad tendency of picking inappropriate times to remind us of that what with the ridiculous secrets some of the characters revealed in the initial game or the jarring tonal shifts in general. It’s not quite Jun Maeda-levels of distracting, but I have a feeling it would have been if PA Works had been the ones behind this show instead. Hisomu in particular reminds me of the dude’s useless male friends, right down to having no importance to the plot other than to be a masochistic outsider. The Trigger wackiness fares better when those mascots that I can’t remember the names of are involved, but I have the sneaking feeling that they were intended to be scary – and if that’s the case, no they’re not.

But let’s talk about the drama itself. It’s got all the cliches you’d expect from the writer of Anohana: love triangles, teens yelling out their feelings as a moment of release, friendship is the most important part of your youth, and the cast being a mixed bag with half of them being decent characters and the other half being stereotypes who are only there to provide levity or more angst.

There are also two important plot lines that are mostly connected through our monotone male lead: the one about the six classmates trying to deal with the challenges put upon them by the scientists whilst getting closer as a result, and the one about Kizna System arbitrator, Noriko Sonozaki, and her mysterious past regarding usage of the system in the past (with the former having the extra task of dealing with some other subplots). And I don’t think both plot lines connect very well, especially considering the former is basically a teen drama with the scientists literally being the writer and the latter is a sci-fi thriller plot I’d expect in an episode of Ghost in the Shell if GiTS’s characters had any emotion whatsoever. Towards the end when the latter starts to become the main focus, it’s right after the former experiences a (particularly forced even by the premise’s standards) emotional climax and said climax mostly gets swept under the rug with what’s left being conveniently resolved by this other plot line.

But even if the show had only focused on developing one plot line for the entire length of its cour, I found the results of the Kizna experiment to be very disappointing. Getting a little spoiler-y here, but saying “human emotions are too complex to scientifically analyze” is an incredibly obvious conclusion and aside from Maki’s arc, there’s a disappointing lack of flavor to the show’s usage of puberty other than saying it exists. I know the way it’s told to us through the director’s great visual direction has gotten some praise, but Kiznaiver is not a 30-minute OVA. It’s a twelve-episode long series, and there’s only so long that positive can carry the show when it goes on for that length.

Overall, I’m kind of meh towards Kiznaiver. It’s not the worst thing in the world or anything and I’d recommend it over most of the anime that aired this Spring. But like most shows of this type, it just doesn’t live up to its potential. Half the cast end up contributing nothing substantial to the plot, the story doesn’t go far enough with its premise, and the tone is very inconsistent all throughout.

I suppose it’s worth watching if you just want an emotional experience, since on those terms, I preferred it to other recent hits like Grimgar and ERASED, let alone every inexplicably popular VN/LN adaptation ever. After all, it has a good visual style, the other half of the cast are endearing (and it helps that they’re the plot-important ones), and it does enough with Okada’s formula so that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a rehash of her previous stuff. Certainly seemed to have made a lot of my “feels”-loving colleagues happy, although given the announcement of that upcoming Little Witch Academia series, they’re probably prematurely passing on the “Trigger’s best anime” crown by the time this review comes out.

Minor Quips

  • Honestly, I think the show would have been insufferable if PA Works had been the ones to adapt it.
  • Apparently, people prefer the show when it turned into a sci-fi thriller given that’s when it jumped up in rank on MAL.

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