by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 10 of
The give and take was strong with this week's Kiznaiver. Excellent scattered tonal and character moments, as always, but also some disappointingly empty plot nonsense. The actual details of the Kizna program have always been the least interesting part of this show; the system is silly and arbitrary, simply a vehicle through which the show could explore its thoughts on pain and the feelings of its characters. That Kizna program took center stage this week, and the results were fairly predictable.
In the wake of last week's collective cry of pain, all the Kiznaivers decided it'd be best to go their separate ways for the rest of the summer. And so this week picked up with the beginning of their second term, as all of the cast worked to figure out where their relationships now stood.
The episode's first half was actually very strong, as it leaned almost entirely on the existing bonds of the characters. I particularly liked how this separation gave Hisomu and Nico more time to shine. The two of them have both been underserved by the drama so far, but here, the fact that they've been mostly tertiary to the romantic troubles of the rest of the cast actually worked to their benefit. Hisomu had no skin in the game last week, and so he's able to basically play the understanding parent to the dumbstruck Katsuhira. And their reunion with Nico was a nice reminder that romantic affection is far from the only relationship worth valuing. Nico often comes across as the most insecure member of the group, but her forthright embracing of simple friendships actually puts her ahead of her friends as far as emotional maturity goes.
I also liked the small detail of Tenga being directly inspired by Nico's bravery before making his own stand. Moments like that are crucial to what this show is trying to do - we can't simply be told that these characters like each other, we need to outright see what they find inspirational about each other, or what in their own lives has caused them to need these friendships. For the most part, the show is quite good about this. Yuta likes Honoka because he sees a lot of himself in her actions, and actually desires a bracing, more emotionally honest kind of relationship. Tenga likes Chidori because he's attracted to her own enthusiasm and forthrightness. Other relationships are defined more by long friendship and personal meaning than immediate chemistry - like why Chidori is attracted to Katsuhira, for example. It's a little late to be establishing more understandable pillars like this, but the more the show can make us believe in these relationships for reasons beyond us being told the characters like each other, the stronger it will be.
The episode's second half turned away from this compelling stuff, and was unfortunately pretty heavy on the Kizna program exposition. Learning the reason for Sonozaki and Katsuhira's emotional issues was definitely a bit of a letdown; instead of their issues being reflective of their characters in some meaningful way, it was simply “the science stuff made bad times for everybody.” This material still worked in a thematic sense, since it's been clear for a long time that one of the messages here is “staying in touch with your own pain is vital, and it's often through emotional turmoil that we grow as people.” Nico articulated this directly when she said that she wanted to “get hurt the right way” (again, Nico often leads the pack as far as emotional growth goes), and having Katsuhira and Sonozaki each be emotionally unbalanced in a way that resulted in their pain being deadened worked as a thematic cautionary tale. But this show's dramatic weight rests in the active relationships between its characters, not the explanation of their arbitrary genre conceit.
I can't feel anything about Sonozaki being forced to carry the pain of nineteen children, or Katsuhira having his pain taken away - those aren't real, tangible things. It's very possible to make fantastical genre devices result in relatable emotional catharsis (see Neon Genesis Evangelion, or basically any other science fiction story that cares about its characters), but when the device itself robs the characters of emotions, it becomes much harder to relate to. “Why is Sonozaki so distant but emotionally curious?” “Because science did it.”
That said, if the plot explanations were a little underwhelming, the execution once again pitched in to carry the emotional weight. The sound design was particularly strong this episode; the mix of pretty, mournful strings and harsh electronic dissonance was a strong complement to moments of Sonozaki and Katsuhira attempting to reconnect with their own feelings. And Katsuhira's breakdown at the end was wonderful; instead of framing the sorrow he felt for his friends as some kind of beautiful tragedy, the animation and voice acting emphasized the raw, honest ugliness of finally letting yourself go. The cathartic honesty of Katsuhira getting in touch with his grief was perfectly matched by the unvarnished depiction of his feelings.
So I guess I've ultimately talked myself into liking this episode. The Kizna exposition was some weak storytelling, but it was only a few lesser minutes in an episode that otherwise consistently demonstrated many of Kiznaiver's greatest strengths (and I didn't even go into Chidori's excellent “just making me feel your emotions doesn't mean I'll understand them”). There was enough honest emotional expression and beauty in execution here to once again secure Kiznaiver's place as one of the strongest shows of the season.
Kiznaiver is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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