Reviewby James Beckett,
Blu-Ray - Complete Set
For years, Katsuhira Agata has been haunted by his distant reactions to the world around him, tortured by indifference to physical and emotional pain. His best friend Chidori spends her time trying to protect him from bullies, but his growing apathy is threatening to swallow him whole. One day, Katsuhira and Chidori, along with five other students from their class, are kidnapped and taken to a laboratory deep underneath Sagamore City. There the seven teens meet an enigmatic girl named Noriko, who explains that they have all been chosen to participate in the Kizuna System experiment. Katsuhira, Chidori, and the others will all become Kiznaivers, connected to one another in such a way that when one of them experiences pain, the other six members of the group will share that pain along with them. Noriko explains that the Kizuna System was created to technologically spur the development of world peace by bonding all of mankind together. Whether they like it or not, the Kiznaivers will have to survive an entire summer experiencing each other's pain.
Studio Trigger officially burst onto the TV anime scene with 2013's popular and controversial hit, Kill la Kill. Over the past half-decade, Trigger has made a name for itself with its eclectic and energetic visual style. Compared to the company's mainstay hits, however, Kiznaiver stands out from the pack in many ways. While the studio's is often associated with blowing simple ideas up into stupendous visions, Kiznaiver offers a more complicated character drama that remains nuanced throughout the entirety of its twelve-episode run.
While the above plot summary might lead viewers to expect a series of escalating twists and exciting action sequences, the vast majority of Kiznaiver's storytelling remains rooted in its young cast's social and romantic entanglements, less a heady science-fiction drama and more a teenage melodrama, with the Kizuna System functioning primarily as a very on the nose metaphor for the pain that comes from developing close relationships with other people. Trigger recruited the prolific Mari Okada to help compose the scenario for this series, and she brings along her style of high concept writing that has been hit-or-miss for me over the years.
Thankfully, Okada's script is up to the task of developing this gang of relatable kids who all struggle with their own private brands of loneliness. Katsuhiro spends much of the series trying to decode his own stunted emotions, while growing more and more attached to the enigmatic Noriko. Chidori's struggle to accept her best friend's attachment to this woman essentially holding all the Kiznaivers hostage makes for one of the series most compelling arcs, where the show begins to expand on the kinds of pain that are shared between the Kiznaivers as their bonds grow deeper. Other characters, such as Hajime (the loudmouthed rogue) and Nico (the cute eccentric) bring the energy and comedic relief needed to balance out the morose members of the group. Not all of the Kiznaivers get equal time in the spotlight, but nearly every member of the main cast earns their place in the ensemble, even if by virtue of charm alone.
It's good that the ensemble work so well together, because the actual plotting of this series is much messier. Over the course of twelve episodes, the Kiznaivers are subjected to various trials that are meant to test the limits of their bonds and further the intensity of their connections. This is all well and good for the first half of the series, when things feel more episodic and freewheeling (I especially enjoyed the exploration of one young manga artist's complicated backstory), but the transition to more plot-heavy drama in the back half is less successful. There simply isn't enough time for Kiznaiver to tell its story without rushing things in the final few episodes; the finale in particular is a mess of last-minute developments and narrative shortcuts that does a disservice to the many excellent individual stories that came before it. The overall experience of watching Kiznaiver still comes out on the positive side, but more in spite of the series' plot and structure than because of it.
The biggest thing that helps Kiznaiver overcome its structural weaknesses is its excellent aesthetic style and art design. Series director Hiroshi Kobayashi and his crew at Trigger imbue Okada's world and characters with a cinematic sensibility that's delightful to behold, especially in high-definition. The way that the series uses deep, rich shadows to accentuate the surreal color palette of its world is consistently striking, and Shirow Miwa's standout character designs fit perfectly within the show's style. Even when the script threatens to buckle under the weight of its own ambitions, Kiznaiver's visuals always elevate the material and keep it engaging.
Aniplex has put together this Blu-Ray set with an English dub produced by Crunchyroll, though that's about it for on-disc extras (aside from textless OPs and EDs, the set also comes with some nice illustration cards drawn by Shirow Miwa). The dub is quite good, with a faithful script that captures the weird, goofy charm that makes Kiznaiver so enjoyable. Rylan Strachan is not an actor I'm familiar with, but I was impressed with the unexpectedly naturalistic performance he gave as Katsuhira. It would have been easy for such a monotone character to become grating, but Strachan manages to find the pathos buried beneath the character's affectation. The rest of the cast does an equally great job with their roles; Caitlynne Medrek does an especially excellent job with Chidori, who often serves as the emotional core of the Kizaniver collective.
Kiznaiver is a messy and overly ambitious experiment, but it also stands as a refreshing change of pace from Trigger's usual wackier output. The show takes the best of Trigger's artistic ethos and focuses it on a story that's more philosophical than action-packed. While the result won't be for everyone, I still applaud Trigger for giving an opportunity to young talent to produce something different and diversifying its catalog in the process. Kiznaiver is a gorgeous and heartfelt science-fiction romp well worth taking, so long as you're willing to bear with a handful of speedbumps along the way.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B
+ Gorgeous art design and animation, strong English dub, lovable cast that carries the story through its weaker moments
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