Episodes 1-2

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kiznaiver ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kiznaiver ?

There's a potentially great show hiding in Kiznaiver. The mix of Trigger's visual exuberance and Mari Okada's hyper-emotive storytelling seem like a fertile match, and Kiznaiver seems to at least be trying to be exactly that theoretical show. We've wasted no time here - within the first two episodes, the show has already established the Kizuna project, the nature of Kiznaivers, and even the deepest, darkest secrets of our six leads. Pain has been suffered and confessions have been made and glorious dawns have arrived, all within a mere forty minutes of air time.

In fact, if you can accuse Kiznaiver of anything, it's likely that it's trying too hard. Not that effort itself is ever a bad thing - but by hammering on its characters' most core emotions and illustrating them through its occasionally overwrought prose, the show threatens to show its hand too early. Normally, shows like this would illustrate the feelings of their characters slowly, accompanied by a gradual reveal of the scifi premise. By spilling so many beans early on, Kiznaiver opens itself up to either tell a more ambitious story than you'd expect, or simply stumble around reiterating the emotional points we've already heard.

In any other show, I'd appreciate how much we'd already learned about this world and these characters, because I'd assume that meant the show wasn't going to waste time with emotional revelations that were obvious from the start. The problem here is, “stumbling around reiterating the emotional points we've already heard” is probably how I'd describe most of the Mari Okada shows I've seen. A Lull in the Sea wasted its second half on repetitive romance-polygon nonsense, while Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans sent its cast into space and then just told them to taxi in circles. Even her adaptations have suffered this problem, from the circuitous Blast of Tempest to the criminally overlong Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Okada's second halves tend to be significantly weaker than their first halves, for reasons that seem uncomfortably relevant to Kiznaiver's current style of storytelling.

So I'm worried about Kiznaiver, and I think I have reason to be worried. So far, the writing has been a mix of good and bad - the florid, on-the-nose lines about human connection tend to be pretty lukewarm, but there's actually plenty of fine incidental dialogue between the main cast. That cast is likable and diverse, and the fact that they've already been forced into such a weird bonding experience means they can talk far more honestly than most similar groups. Offhand lines like “I've never been this close to someone except when I was getting beaten up” point to the show's themes without double-underlining themselves, and some of the jokes here are very funny, and amply buoyed by Trigger's great visual personality.

Speaking of visuals, Kiznaiver's aesthetic is compelling from top to bottom. The character designs are expressive and distinctive, possessing a looseness and caricaturized style that makes them appropriate both for cartoony interludes (like when the whole cast is getting electrocuted) and intimate, emotional moments. The overall visual design is just as strong, and though the animation isn't the most consistent, the show consistently puts together beautiful overall compositions. The combination of a fairly new director and Trigger's characteristic style tics means Kiznaiver feels simultaneously fresh and familiar, a compelling take on a very strong visual brand. And the odd touches of surrealism, like the strange mascot characters seemingly designed for the Kizuma project, work well with the show's overall heightened sense of reality. Kiznaiver is successfully constructing a tonally cohesive and engaging world.

For all that, the show feels like more of an open question than anything else I'm watching this season. The visuals are great and the characters are interesting, but the writing is hit or miss, and the series composer has a reputation for sinking exactly this kind of story. The sky is the limit for this show - if Trigger's visual creativity and Okada's love of melodramatic, emotionally-lead character stories can play off each other correctly, Kiznaiver could turn out being as poignant as it is pretty, a wild celebration of human connection. But if things go south, the already-ridiculous Kizuna project could end up just being a narratively meaningless vehicle for the continuous elaboration of character feelings we already understood six episodes ago. I like this cast and I like this production - Kiznaiver is easy to look at and fun to watch. I really hope this one beats the odds.

Overall: B

Kiznaiver is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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