The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Katsuhira Agata gets bullied at school, but it doesn't really bother him. The kicks and punches don't seem to affect him at all, in fact, because Katsuhira is almost incapable of feeling pain. But one day, he finds himself in a conversation with his mysterious classmate Noriko Sonozaki, who tells him that the reason for his troubles is that others can't see themselves in him. It looks like Katsuhira will have plenty of opportunities to get over this problem, as he soon becomes a test subject of the mysterious Kizuna System. Katsuhira and five of his classmates have been bonded through pain, and any misfortune that falls on one of them will now be reflected across all of them. When he bleeds, his new friends bleed too - and as Sonozaki says, “everyone wants to carve their scars into someone else.” Kiznaiver is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Jacob Hope Chapman
I think Mari Okada needs a vacation. Okay, that's not fair. She's a successful creative writer, and getting this much work can only be a good thing as far as she's concerned. Good for her, seriously. So let me rephrase. I think I need a vacation from the mind of Mari Okada. Her ideas are just not very interesting, and as time has passed and her interest shifted from pastoral drama to dark genre work, her writing is getting actively embarrassing to watch.
Kiznaiver's first episode is kind of baffling in its accidental hypocrisy. The story is ostensibly about the importance of empathy, especially amongst the incomprehensible outcasts of the world, but the script's characterization is so oblique and inhuman that all that philosophizing about the human heart rings hollow before we've even had enough time to consider it. Okada's slightly earthier melodramas (AnoHana, Hanasaku Iroha) thrive on simpler, more relatable characters who indulge in bouts of wild eccentricity, but every time she steps into more fantastical premises (Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans, Selector Infected WIXOSS), her characters tend to mutate into bizarre cookie-cutter exemplars for some outlandish perspective she wants to try out. Some characters will literally exist to be "in love with their identical twin" or "babyish yet polygamous" as they roll unmotivated through the increasingly ill-conceived story around them. When dabbling in speculative reality, human nature is the one thing that needs to remain consistent for everyone to stick with you. I'm willing to give Kiznaiver's cast a little extra time to grow thanks to Trigger's engrossing production design and snazzy animation, but my faith is low as of this premiere, and Okada's spotty track record with sci fi doesn't help either.
There's nothing exceptionally bad about Kiznaiver—okay, most of the dialogue is pretty bad—but apart from random soliloquys on cicadas and Catholicism, Kiznaiver doesn't smack of ensuing disaster like Okada's other project this season, The Lost Village. It's entertaining start to finish (though not always for the right reasons), and the premise is certainly unique (albeit way on-the-nose for the stated theme). This will probably be one of the most discussable shows of the season, and it's worth following along for the novelty and Trigger house style if nothing else. But as much as it pains me to say it, considering how moving Okada's non-genre work can be (this year's Anthem of the Heart was her best work yet), I'll be shocked if Kiznaiver's story is anything more than a hot mess. Spec fic is not her wheelhouse, and boy does it show.
Kiznaiver is a difficult show to pin down. Mari Okada definitely wants to say something about the distances between people, the slow death of human empathy, and the flaws in archetypal personalities. The primary problem might be that her characters, much like in The Lost Village, are restricted by the predictability they're cast into. It would take a greater level of nuance to build these typecast characters up into something resembling humans with genuine problems that have cut them off from their peers. I'm not entirely confident Okada can do that.
Kiznaiver wants to share the importance of humans connecting, specifically by sharing and relating to one another's pain. To illustrate this, it takes the most straightforward approach, by literally taking a crew of neurotic opposites and making them feel when one of them is injured. The reasoning for why they were grabbed for such an experiment is superfluous. It doesn't really matter how and why Sonozaki can orchestrate something like this, it's all just a means to the overall message.
This message is almost lost in between Sonozaki's monologue of mind-numbing philosophy. There's a long scene of her staring at what appears to be a Christian stained glass window and telling the unfeeling Katsuhira that the reason people are mean to him is because he refuses to acknowledge their actions as important, adding that his lack of emotion is inhuman. Then she murders him, and somehow his death is nullified because the pain was spread among the other characters in the experiment? For a show with such a straightforward thesis, it seems dead set on putting as much “symbolism” and profound talking points into the script as it can.
The sophism presented in the opener is flanked with equally weird, hallucination-like scenes that also seem like an attempt to get the audience hunting for meaning where there probably isn't any. Why is Katsuhira pushed down a hospital hallway with discoballs and Bollywood music?
Kiznaiver seems like a flawed production right out of the gate (albeit a really attractive one) for either taking itself too seriously or ramping up the weirdness too high. It seems like the better of the two Okada shows this season, thanks to a smaller cast of characters, but it suffers from many of the same general problems.
Review: At least once per season a new series comes along where I just sit back after watching the first episode and ask myself, “what the hell did I just watch?” This season that looks to be this very odd little offering from studio Trigger. Sure, one can summarize what happens in the episode, but that doesn't mean that it makes much sense.
Actually, that's not entirely true, as the concept it bases itself around is a relatively simple but heady one: stop violence by connecting everyone through violence. As the theory goes, if everyone shares in the pain when violence is committed on one another then people will be less inclined to commit the violence. There are two large inherent flaws with that philosophy, though: anyone in the collective being a masochist would be a real problem (though perhaps the assumption is that eliminating the violence would also effectively eliminate masochistic tendencies, too?), and if the system isn't all-encompassing then sharing pain like that could be a major weakness when dealing with people who aren't so linked, even if the effect of the pain is watered down by being distributed amongst a group. There are also all sorts of other complications, too, like childbirth or suffering from a painful accident injury or disease, which can create havoc in such a system unless it is keyed only to distribute pain borne from violence. In other words, until it becomes universal such a system is more a curse. And how nice that the system is set up by someone who seems to be an emotionless sadist!
Whether the series actually thoroughly explores the consequences of what Noriko has done or just uses it as a gimmick will go a long way for me towards whether or not this series works as a whole, because I didn't find any of the characters or their relationships with each other to be all that interesting. (And seriously, what is up with those mascot-suited kidnappers?) I wasn't overly impressed with the artistic style, either; it's classic Trigger, down even to the animation style, but that doesn't automatically make it good. The production does, however, pull off a minor production coup with its opener by Boom Boom Satellites.
Given the past projects that the director has worked on deeply involved the way people connect with each other (assistant director for Rage of Bahamut: Genesis and episode director for Kill la Kill), the series probably deserves the benefit of the doubt. The lack of a clear direction or compelling characters is limiting it so far, though.
Kiznaiver had been looking like a bit of a wildcard in the leadup to this season. Its director has put in fine work directing both several of Kill la Kill's best episodes and various other highlights (including some work on the excellent Kyousogiga and Yozakura Quartet), but both Studio Trigger and Mari Okada have had fairly inconsistent output. And watching this first episode, there are moments here and there where the fear inherent in that combination is born out - some crass physical comedy reflective of Trigger's general issues, some overblown lines about cicadas seeking death or “finding peace in this battle-ridden world” that remind you Okada prefers her drama with a capital Melo. This first episode is certainly a little rough around the edges.
And yet, for all its roughness, it's also an extremely compelling premiere. Almost all of Kiznaiver's strengths so far come down to its execution; the character designs are distinctive, the color work is lovely, and the show's overall eye for compositions is fantastic. Initially, the show's thick linework and occasionally jerky animation led me to feel the characters seemed a little out of place in their environment - but by the halfway point, everything clicks visually, leading to sequences like Katsuhira's first conversation with Sonozaki feeling legitimately apocalyptic through framing alone. Kiznaiver is full of arresting visual ideas, offering a consistent sense of unease all through its second half, and the show's absolutely fantastic soundtrack strongly buoys that appeal.
On top of that, the animation so far is messy, but in a good way - there are scattered cuts throughout that demonstrate a loose, interpretive fluidity of motion that's somewhat characteristic of Trigger productions, and one particular standout sequence at the end that astonishes through its camera-spinning ambition. Kiznaiver's visual strengths even extend to tiny touches like the physical comedy of watching its stars all get kidnapped in various ridiculous ways, a sequence that demonstrates playful humor without wasting a moment of storytelling.
The only real question, then, is the writing. It's clear Kiznaiver is going to be a story about learning to connect with people, because half of the characters so far have already made speeches about the difficulty of human connection. Katsuhira's mission of “getting back his pain” isn't all that inherently compelling, and his classic sad-sack monologues about cicadas just waiting to die do little to distinctively humanize him. The main point of appeal so far is the actual premise; Kiznaiver's other leads all seem like reasonable people, and I'm legitimately curious to see how their new powers will be employed by the story. Kiznaiver's terrific visual and musical execution (even down to its fantastic opening) give it a great starting platform, but it's all potential at the moment, and bad writing could easily squander those gifts. I'm excited to follow this one, but more than a little nervous it'll blow up in my face.
Rating: 2.5, I think?
It's tough to know exactly where to start with Kiznaiver. This show is the product of a union between one of anime's most prolific screenwriters, Mari Okada (you may already be strapped in for her other show this season, The Lost Village) and studio Trigger, known chiefly for being the beloved punk weirdos behind stuff like Kill la Kill. Mostly I was taken by how lackadaisical the pacing seemed – this first episode is in no rush to get to the story, which is handled as a huge infodump reveal about 2/3rds of the way through this episode. Given how relatively complicated this premise is to articulate (it's deceptively simple but try working it into a story), it's understandable, but it made this episode feel like they maybe should've gone for a full hour-long opener, if only to give us a better taste of what exactly this show is going to be about once it really gets going.
It's an alright premise – all these folks are connected via an experimental system that allows themselves to feel each other's pain, which is a concept that has “JAPANESE SOCIAL COMMENTARY FOR TEENAGERS” on it in big bold flashing letters. I guess over time we'll learn what Mari Okada thinks about empathy and the purpose of working together toward a common goal (introducing seven “new” deadly sins, predicated on modern personality flaws, make that big flashing JAPANESE SOCIAL COMMENTARY FOR TEENS thing even bigger and flashier) but for now I think the point is to get all wrapped up in the surreal visuals, which look pretty great. I'm a big fan of these distinctive character designs, and I'm pretty sure I ran the OP by Boom Boom Satellites (who killed it last year on that first Ninja Slayer OP) back and repeated it at least 3 or 4 times – I think this is my favorite OP since Death Parade. Kiznaiver is kind of a shrug aside from the amazing visuals, but even if you're not interested in the premise here, check out that OP.
I have to admit – the story execution, the way this premise is being delivered, it didn't grab me. Trigger visuals add a lot to just about anything and this show could go some really interesting places, but the first episode only explained the basic premise to me and I wasn't blown away. I feel like two episodes are kinda required here to get a full sense of what this show is trying to do. Highly recommended OP, but don't feel like you absolutely have to stick around for the rest.
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