Kiznaiver sounds a lot cooler than it actually is
Despite being an independent group for less than half a decade, Studio Trigger has become the latest darling of the anime industry. From the creativity and wonder of Little Witch Academia to the hyped-up action and in-your-face comedy of Kill la Kill, Trigger has earned their place at the table of popular anime culture. However, Trigger also has a very bad habit of not being able to hold themselves together all that well when Hiroyuki Imaishi isn’t around, and while he was busy with Space Patrol Luluco this season, the rest of Trigger was working on another TV series surrounded by a ton of hype: Kiznaiver.
Katsuhira Agata is a quiet and reserved teenage boy who lacks the ability to feel pain due to a mysterious incident in his past, leading him to become the target of several bullies at school. However, Katsuhira and five other students are suddenly abducted and told that they will become part of an experiment using something called the Kizuna System, where all six of them will feel each other’s pain. Now, Katsuhira and the others must learn to deal with their new bonds and try to accomplish the experiment’s goal of discovering a way to connect all of humanity together and bring about an era of total peace.
Furthermore, this is also a Mari Okada anime.
For those who are unaware, Okada is one of the few anime writers that has gained notable acclaim/infamy, mostly for her work on melodrama-esque shows like AnoHana, Nagi no Asukara, and Toradora!, and that melodrama feel is definitely present in Kiznaiver. Almost everything is drawn out into a huge speech whenever it can be, and romantic relationships criss-cross each other into a messy love pentagon.
Some of the dramatic elements work fine, especially near the beginning, but as the series marches on and everyone’s feelings are put out in the open, it really starts to fall apart.Kiznaiver is, unfortunately, one of those anime whose premise sounds a lot cooler than the anime actually is. While the promise of a social experiment revolving around shared pain sounds really cool – and they do create some pretty interesting scenes involving pain-sharing – the reality is that the end result isn’t as grandiose as it seems to think it is.
There’s nothing hugely negative about the story and it is fairly engaging for at least the first half, but by the end, I was left wondering what this anime had actually tried to tell us. I don’t want to spoil it, but the final sentiment we’re left with feels a little underwhelming.
A lot of this has to do with the characters, most of whom are actually pretty flat and uninteresting aside from their assigned character archetypes.
Katsuhira is essentially another calm and emotionless kuudere being hounded after by his tsundere-lite friend, Chidori, and it’s very rare that we actually learn any interesting details about who these characters are. Everyone seems to be defined by their relationships with one another, rather than by who they are as an individual, which is always a huge stumbling block that bad melodramas seem to trip over. The relationships are important, especially considering the premise of the show, but if the characters aren’t backed by interesting personalities, the relationship drama is unearned and borderline painful.
The only one on the cast who I can definitely say is fleshed out enough for me to care about them is Honoka, and the losses she incurred in her past make her struggles in the present all the more engrossing. Even Sonozaki, Katsuhira’s mysterious childhood friend, ended up being so aloof in personality that I couldn’t really care for her despite her being at the centre of basically everything involving the Kizuna System.
Fortunately, Trigger’s animation work is still top-notch.
The character design are especially impressive for feeling so unique without being insanely crazy or over the top, and they go a long way in trying to get me to care about characters that aren’t as deep as they need to be. The set designs are really solid as well, taking on a very clean, almost antiseptic appearance, giving it a much more futuristic look than the mediocre settings of other sci-fi series that surround it. It’s not Trigger’s most interesting artwork, though that would be a feat unto itself, but it’s definitely one of their most polished.
The soundtrack by rising star Yuuki Hayashi (My Hero Academia, Haikyuu!!) is pretty solid and shows that Hayashi is able to cater his brand to the specific feel of each series he works on. In this case, his high-octane style is dialled back just a touch and layered over an electronic backbone to give the overall sound a smoother punch. While there aren’t any tracks in particular that really caught my ear, the overall work is definitely fitting for the series.
While I wouldn’t say that Kiznaiver is a bad series, it’s still a lot less impressive than it attempts to be. The superb animation and intriguing premise are burdened by haphazard plot direction and seemingly hollow characters. I still recommend giving it a try, but even as a fanboy of both Trigger and Mari Okada, I don’t feel the need to revisit this one in the future.
Kiznaiver is available for streaming on Crunchyroll, but is currently unlicensed for physical distribution.
Final Score: 6/10