Kiznaiver First Impressions
I went into the first episode of Kiznaiver with little to no idea of what it was about, and by the time I had finished that first episode, I was still in much the same state. I will probably stick with this series for a little while to see if it is able to form a bit more of a coherent narrative, but, at the moment, it appears to be little more than a bucket of philosophical ponderings that have randomly been tossed in a blender. Now, I can certainly enjoy series that tend to wax philosophical, but I prefer it when I have a solid narrative to ground myself with. Series like Ping Pong the Animation or Fullmetal Alchemist are able to excel at the exploration of their themes of the nature of talent or the value of human life due, in part, to the fact that they center themselves around well constructed narratives. As a counterexample, series like Serial Experiments Lain, Ergo Proxy, or Neon Genesis Evangelion have a tendency to alienate many of their viewers because they are or become more focused on discussing their themes than actually presenting a coherent plotline. I can still enjoy those series, but my preference is definitely toward the former over the latter.
The plot that is discernible is somewhat limited. Kiznaiver is centered around Katsuhira Agata, an emotionally disconnected teen who has a limited perception of physical pain. Over the course of this first episode, he gets bullied, then his bullies get bullied, then he gets knocked out, and then he is abducted by a mysterious classmate by the name of Noriko Sonozaki. As far as actual events are concerned, that constitutes almost the entirety of this first episode. However, Sonozaki is prone to extended monologues on the nature of human behavior and interactions, so we get treated to quite a few of those. According to her, she, Agata and five of their classmates are connected in a manner that makes it so that each of them can feel each other’s pain. It sounds not entirely unlike the premise of Netflix’s Sense8… Sense8 minus one, if you will. However, this concept barely gets introduced before the episode ends. Instead, Sonozaki spends much of the time talking about how each of these characters serves as some embodiment of a modern alternative to the seven deadly sins, or why humanity can’t avoid conflict because people cannot truly understand one another’s pain. I hate to harp on her scenes this heavily, but I could feel my patience waning as I sat through them. She isn’t the only character to try and discuss basic philosophy like it is some ground breaking treatise on the human condition (I knew I was in for a ride the moment Agata started questioning why cicadas bothered to come to the surface if it would only lead to a quick death), but she is hands down the biggest offender. Ultimately, I feel compelled to use a particular word to criticize both her speeches as well as the entirety of this first episode, namely “pretentious.” I don’t particularly like using that as the basis for a criticism, but it is hard to deny that Kiznaiver fits the bill. It spends much of the episode building towards the argument that humans fight because they don’t have sufficient empathy, but it has yet to do anything interesting with the idea. Furthermore, none of this is subtext. The information is dumped on the viewer like some bizarre audiobook version of an essay for a first-year college philosophy course. Aside from Sonozaki and Agata, the rest of the cast really haven’t established themselves as anything more than stereotypes, and moderately bland ones at that. The end result is an episode that supplies plenty of concepts and ideas, but ultimately provides nothing to latch onto or be emotionally invested in.
On the production side of things, the show certainly looks good. Each of our seven major characters has a distinctive appearance that not only makes them easy to distinguish from one another, but also makes it so that they are easy to remember in general. Considering that we still don’t know much about most of them, that is a bit of an accomplishment in and of itself. Studio Trigger is best known for the series Kill la Kill, and, while Kiznaiver certainly has a notably different tone, some of the influence can still definitely be seen in the angular designs of the characters. I have to admit that, of the show’s I’ve seen from this season so far, Kiznaiver is probably the prettiest. The voice cast does a decent job, but none of them really stand out yet, and most of the dialogue they have is… not particularly engaging in my opinion. The opening is fine, but, even before I had been properly introduced to the show’s themes of emotional isolation, I was getting the sense that it was trying to emulate the opening of Paranoia Agent. I suppose that that isn’t a bad thing to emulate (I appreciate Paranoia Agent, but I’ve never been able to actually like it), but it comes off as a little distracting. Still, the production behind the show is definitely its strongest element, but it is a shame that it isn’t enough to overcome the actual tedium of the viewing experience.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- The name of the show is apparently an amalgam of the words “connection” and “naive.” My initial guess was that it might be a word derived from German, though I hadn’t been able to come up with an actual theory as to what that word could be.
- While this is an anime original story, there is a tie-in manga that is being released concurrently.
- Aside from Sonozaki and Arata, the rest of our cast appear to consist of the popular normal guy, a stuck up loner, a ditzy eccentric, a loudmouth, and Arata’s straitlaced friend.
- Kiznaiver admittedly maintains a relatively upbeat and playful tone, but, oddly enough, I might find that more irritating than the comparatively dour tone of Serial Experiments Lain or Evangelion.
- And what the hell is with those mascot things? They were barely on screen for a minute, and I’ve already lost patience with them.
There is a tedium to watching Kiznaiver that even its beautiful and polished visuals can't fully overcome. It feels like the series is too impressed with its own philosophy to bother with conveying an actual narrative, and this results in an episode in which the only memorable element is its ponderous monologues. I may sample the second episode to see if it can salvage together an actual plot, but I wouldn't be surprised if I never watch the third.