by Nick Creamer,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Hoo boy. This week's Kiznaiver was a stunner - strong from start to finish, almost wholly lacking in the show's occasionally awkward dialogue, firmly dedicated to a compelling personal drama. It was thoughtfully written and beautifully directed and smartly scored, laying out all the necessary beats of Maki's story without overselling anything. It might be my favorite episode of the season.
The episode began on perhaps its one "lighter" note, as Nico lamented the death of Maki's friend through a series of very wobbly faces. Apparently Ruru was born with a kidney disease, and as the Kiznaivers learn from her parents, she was abandoned by Maki just before the final chapter of the manga. The many photos of Ruru lining her parents' home were the episode's one somewhat unserious touch - from there on out, it was Maki's feelings being utterly respected from start to finish.
To start with, we got another sequence of flashbacks detailing the relationship between Maki and Ruru. Ruru's thoughts on their relationship and manga seemed like an echo both of Kiznaiver's overall thematic priorities and Mari Okada's general feelings on writing. In response to Maki complaining about the cliche tragic illness in their manga, Ruru responded with “who cares if it's overused. It's true.” This line was true enough of her own story, but it also seemed almost like a classically Okada defense of her love of great, theatrical personal drama. Regardless of the specifics, these feelings are experienced on this scale for the people who are living through them. The melodramatic fundamentals have a fundamental emotional truth.
The echoing of manga and personal feelings continued in the final major flashback, as Ruru pushed herself on Maki in a series of escalations that mirrored the panels of their manga. Here, the manga felt like a way of safely processing Maki's feelings; she was too scared to carry the emotional weight of embracing Ruru, and so she left her feelings on the page, saying “these things might be better because they're left to our imaginations.” For Maki, the manga played essentially the opposite role of the Kizuna project, allowing her to maintain a safe distance from her own emotions. And in the end, that fear led her to abandon her friend before the manga's conclusion.
Not only was this a very understandable and nicely understated emotional conflict, it was also beautifully elevated by the show's execution. The scene of near-intimacy smartly jumped between the real life events and manga pages, letting the manga directly articulate all the things the two girls couldn't quite say. And when Ruru's active presence turned into her memory, Maki's feelings were poignantly expressed through strong use of shadow and color. Ruru was presented as a smiling tormentor hiding in her shadow, and Maki was framed as walking through a grayscale world beneath her red umbrella, her metaphorical shield the only emotionally charged thing left.
Maki's new acquaintances did their best to connect with her, trying to draw her out with traditional friend-stuff activities like lighting summer fireworks. This conflict could easily have gotten over the top and hurt the episode's consistently melancholy tone, but fortunately, even this was handled with real tact and humanity. While the rest of the group stuck to the general friendly script, Nico wasn't able to keep herself from asking “why do you try to carry it all alone,” as Maki stood silhouetted in her window's shadow. And when this sharp but well-meant jab prompted Maki to hang up, the episode segued into a purely textural segment, where a mournful track played over the city slowly shuffling through the rain.
The episode's last few scenes were as strong as the rest of it. I really liked Maki responding to Yuta's plea to understand her with “I don't understand myself” - it's admissions like that that make these characters feel more layered and sympathetic than your usual sob-story protagonists, with feelings that often seem more like on-off switches. And the fundamental nature of Maki's conflict being so understated and relatable (I didn't kill my friend, but my fear of being hurt kept me from being there for her in the end) allowed for an equally subtle emotional conclusion. Maki didn't reach some cathartic new understanding of her relationship with Ruru - she just finally allowed herself to read her friend's final letter, and felt maybe a bit better when she saw her new “friends” having fun together. No climactic victories, just an acceptance of the feelings of the past. And then she let down her umbrella, and let the rain embrace her.
This episode was fantastic in terms of writing, structure, direction, and sound design - in fact, I don't really have any complaints at all. Its understated approach to Maki's story let the fundamental emotional truths of the narrative shine, making the most of the show's strong cast and occasionally letting loose with a great visual highlight. This show has been shaky before, and it will likely be shaky again. But this episode was basically perfect.
Kiznaiver is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.
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