Review: “Kiznaiver” – Absent of Empathy

Triggers huge attention grab Kiznaiver is finally over and love it or hate it, I’m pretty sure this is a show that everyone has feeling about it. Now my feelings, like always, are hard to pin down, especially since I just finished it up and its fresh in my mind. But I’ve been doing this long enough to where I already know where this show will end up for me down the road, and it’s not a good place to be. Still while we’re at the end of Triggers third full length series and I think there is some nice things to take away for this “polarizing” studio. I will try to articulate those thoughts without getting too off topic or ranty.

So to hit the easiest note first I want to talk about how this show looks. In short, amazing.  The people working at Trigger must be very passionate for them to release something with this much care, consideration and quality. Through out the show there is never a drop in quality or aesthetic, and considering the detailed designs, this is quite a feat. The character movements are so fluid and every character has a distinct way that they move that is animated to fit their personality. This is usually something you only see in Kyoto Animation or UFOtable shows, so I’m glad Trigger is showing their talent. It’s nice to see them come such a long way from the mess of production that Kill La Kill was. (For the record while Kill La Kill may have some visual problems, most of it was aesthetic choice and worked regardless.) The shot composition was lovely and really helped nail whatever tone the show was trying to convey at the time, even if the writing didnt so well. I feel that if this is the new standard for Trigger then they have a bright future ahead of them. That is if they pick better writers.

Talking about Kiznaiver is sort of simple because when I have to think about what is bad, all I have to say is, “the writing”. Then anyone who has seen the show can immediately understand, or disagree with what I’m saying. Given that Kiznaiver is a show about teenagers feelings, its stand to reason that those certain types of viewers would be very invested in those feeling regardless. But still the writing is bad. I haven’t seen a lot of Mari Okada’s work, but the things I have seen (Anohana, Anthem of the Heart, Pet Girl of Sakurasou) are some of my favorite dramas. However she is a writer who has very distinct writing habits that tend to be a little mean, that accompanied by her inability to make her sci-fi writing work is one of Kiznaivers short comings.

We all knew from the very first episode that Kiznaiver could only end up being a story about empathy. That’s what it sets up with the Kizuna system and all the allegories that Noriko explains about the seven sins. The problem “starts” when the people are not ones you as a viewer want to empathize with. Almost everyone has this sort of mean spirit to their casual conversation, where it almost reminds me of Two and a Half Men, or Big Bang Theory (both shows that I despise). The causal conversation where characters learn about each other are almost always used against the person that is revealing something about themselves, and it’s almost always played for a laugh. You’re literally watching kids who are forced to be together all bully each other even though it doesn’t fit their personality and for what exactly? This is not how you write a story about empathy.

An example from the show would be when everyone finds out that Yuta used to be a fat kid and that’s why he puts so much emphasis on looks. Immediately everyone starts judging him about how he wasn’t always a hot person, as if it somehow makes him uglier because he didn’t used to be hot. That’s not just mean, that’s horrible. Yet all these characters joke about it and even use it against him later, just as a referential jab. If someone keeps making jokes about something you worked at really hard and recovered from, and then tries to belittle you knowing that it’s a point of insecurity and shortcoming, they aren’t your friends. Kiznaiver doesn’t know how to handle having all these different personality types work together as friends so it decides that they all be cynical jerks to each other, that doesn’t work, bad writing. However when characters were shedding some real feeling about themselves and the emotion was being played for dramatic effect, the stuff Mari Okada is known for, I did feel some tears well up. But it was cheap tears that would only be felt by a moody teenager, or a giant empath like me. Most of these moments didn’t derive from conversation but characters screaming their thoughts/feelings into a crowd of characters. Meanwhile the other characters might as well have been viewers too, because the progression of these feelings, is well near to nothing. Someone screams, someone else acknowledges them, and then they move the fuck on. Because the story doesn’t care about these feelings, or at least it doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings except for a select few. Which is not what you do with an ensemble cast like what you have with Kiznaiver. The point of having such a diverse cast is to explore everyone, which sadly doesn’t happen. But you think it would right, given that it’s a show about “seven” people bound by their feelings? Nope, I guess some characters are just along for the ride. They’d rather spend their short runtime on reiterating the same sob story while focusing on bully humor.

The story, sadly enough, gets the same treatment as the characters, no consistency at all. The show grinds to a non progressive halt fairly soon and it puts them into situations that are not ripe for character building. That is until Honoka’s two episode arc. I don’t know how Mari Okada views homosexuality, but she needs to educate herself. She always writes gay characters as an anomaly and not as real people and there are two instances in this show. But lets focus on the Honaka’s flashback. The little development there is, still has the same mean spirit as the rest of the show. Characters constantly feel a certain way and behave the opposite for no reason. And it’s not like that these characters are “being real” or “in the moment”. It all is used to go, well nowhere.. But like I said before this arc doesn’t even matter. It has no bearing to the story and doesn’t even match with the formula. Honoka is the only character other than the main two who gets back story and development. And even then they throw her progression aside and she’s still as mean as ever. The only point her arc served was to deepen the bond between Kiznaivers so where they could feel emotional pain now. Not sure really how that’s possible but the show never explains it so I guess the Kizuna system is just a Macgufan for the show, right? Wrong, it quickly turns into the Kizuna system being the most important ill-explained plot point in the show that has the last three episodes wasted on it. And yet again the show seems to be trying to actively make it out to seem non empathetic, when that is the only way to make a story like the work. They go out of their way to explain that the situation was all random and an accident. The only one who actually feels any sort of empathy as the show explains is Noriko. But we don’t get to see it since she is taking medication to kill her emotions. Only at the last episode do we see Katsuhira show a little bit of empathy and he chocks it up to getting to know her. Are you kidding me, what we were suppose to take away from this show is that we learn to care about people as we get to know them? Really, thats your big revelation? I could see it being a revelation for him as a character, but thats seriously the revelation for the show. Noriko’s theme about letting go of pain in fear of people not caring doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think they put much thought into it to be honest. So when we are left with a show that is a mess thematically, narratively, and character wise, where exactly do I stand?

Even with its problems I never felt bored watching the show. Everything had a very good way of engaging you in its ideas, it’s just the ideas were half-baked and not that good. There were so many times where they could have changed just a few things and made something actually relatable and that meant something, but it never did. Sure the art was amazing but there are plenty of shows that I could watch to fill that void. Kiznaiver doesn’t really fit that emotional spot since Mari Okada herself has written better drama’s with better characters and everything. If not for the art I would say that you should give this show a hard pass. But part of me still thinks that it’s a show worth recommending, at least with a big asterisk. This show regrettably doesn’t fulfill what it sets out to try to do, but it still has enough things to where someone could learn a thing or two about anime as a whole from watching it. It’s a show to watch only if you’re in dire need of whatever Kiznaiver has to offer, because honestly it isn’t very much.

Logan Peterson
Logan Peterson
My names Logan and I love writing about Anime. Other art is guchi too. When I'm not writing gonzo reviews I'm writing books. *If interested look up The Dream Sequence on Amazon.* I usually write more editorial stuff than just plain reviews. I like my writing to be more big picture. I feel consumer reviews are a thing of the past and more personal reviews are the most valuable nowadays.