by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 11 of
As the story's narrative fundamentals and larger conversations continue to be creaky, Kiznaiver shined in the details once again this week. It's a consistently interesting show to engage with; it wants to be a monumental statement about empathy and human connection, but its writing is never good enough to get there. Instead, the show demonstrates its value through smaller moments - the subtext of a brief conversation between friends, or the framing of an unintentional rejection. Kiznaiver is not a great show, but it is full of great moments all the same.
The first truly strong scene this week came after another Sonozaki flashback, as Katsuhira, Nico, and Hisomu all returned from the Kizna facility on the train. Nico clearly understood Katsuhira was hurting, and so she tried to cheer him up by engaging with him and asking him to remember how his friends used to be. Nico's behavior was overbearing here, but it was very true to her character - like with Chidori last week, she is only able to apply her own understanding of hurt and connection to her attempts to get closer to others. In contrast, Hisomu urged Nico to leave Katsuhira alone, saying he was probably tired. Hisomu has sharper emotional intelligence than Nico, but both of their approaches here were valid and true to their own natures. Nico craves company, and wants to be in a place where she can share her friends' emotional labor - Hisomu is used to being alone, and can relate to Katsuhira's need for time to himself.
Katsuhira's slow path towards greater understanding of himself and his friends took center stage this episode, as he spent time thinking about his feelings and then tried to sound them out with his assumed friends. I really liked both of the halves of this conflict; it's rare that a show acknowledges people sometimes just need time to think over their feelings, and the way Katsuhira presented his thoughts, as “checking his answers” against the emotions of his friends, felt very honest and true to his nature. As he said late in the episode, even if he can't feel pain, he can intellectually understand the hurt of his friends. He wants to respect that hurt, and so he needs their help to reach a more honest point of communication.
The visual execution did a lot of work to elevate these struggles, as usual. Katsuhira's phone conversation with Chidori was a particular highlight; the visual juxtaposition of his cutting confession and her unchanging face helped emphasize the pain she was experiencing without a word. And when the conversation was over, the cut to her sitting alone in a giant room emphasized her sense of isolation, as she finally came to understand Tenga's feelings from the previous episode.
Other segments here were less strong. Some of Katsuhira's dialogue in his major conversation with the whole Kizna group felt stilted, as if he were talking more in thematic terms than actually creating a dialogue with individual people. The final conversation about the Kizna project attempting to discover empathy altogether was very contrived, and only highlighted how silly the show's premise has always been. And Sonozaki remained a bit too much of a cipher in the buildup to her final actions here, even if it was nice to see Katsuhira's growth contrasted against hers in that premiere-mirroring hall conversation.
Those seem like major complaints, and they are. Kiznaiver's faults are clear and inescapable, issues of both premise and dialogue that consistently threaten the emotional charge of the production. But it's almost more interesting to me that this show can succeed in spite of such core issues, on the back of strengths that are far more subtle and slight. The way Hisomu has come to be the emotional rock of the group, or the framing of the Kizna structure as a physical shield protecting Sonozaki. The weirdly earnest confession of Katsuhira checking his emotional answers against his friends, and how Nico comes across as insensitive in her rush to be sensitive. Messy and contrived as it can sometimes be, there's a whole lot to appreciate in this show.
Kiznaiver is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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