Wednesday 6 July 2016

Anime REVIEW: Kiznaiver


Although Space Patrol Luluco may officially be the fifth anniversary celebration for Trigger, the Spring 2016 anime season proved to be a rather busy period for the popular anime studio as they also debuted another original work. Written by Mari Okada (the woman behind AnoHana, the Black Rock Shooter series, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans and more) and the directorial debut of Hiroshi Kobayashi, Kiznaiver is an intriguing story of friendship and growing up with a sci-fi edge. The secret behind a strong friendship may be the bonds formed in sharing pain, but what if this was literal rather than just figurative?

Kiznaiver Cast
Pain will bind us together

Sugimori City may seem your average Japanese city. However in reality the city itself is one giant testing ground for the Kizna System – an experiment designed as means of creating world peace by connecting people through a shared sense of pain and suffering. Those bonded through the experiment are known as Kiznaivers, and if a single one is to feel pain (be it physical or emotional) it is evenly distributed among the others. 

Katsuhira Agata is a boy who’s long lost his sense of pain, and in turn this has made him apathetic and emotionless. One day he is approached by the mysterious Noriko Sonozaki, who tells Katsuhira that he has been selected to become a Kiznaiver. This fate is also shared by his classmates – his childhood friend Chidori Takashiro, rowdy delinquent Hajime Tenga, the eccentric Nico Niiyama, sly ladies-man Tsuguhito Yuta, the aloof Honoka Maki and the masochistic Yoshiharu Hisomu. Bound together for the whole of summer, these seven very different people must learn to bond as Noriko sets them various missions to complete.

The many expressions of Noriko Sonozaki

The idea of proportionally sharing pain among multiple people may sound like a pretty interesting premise for a series, but in Kiznaiver’s case it’s just that – a concept. Despite all the talk of shadowy scientific organisations, a grand plan for achieving world peace and some rather curious flashback foreshadowing, the main crux of Kiznaiver doesn’t do much in the way of carrying the show forward. If anything it’s just a method of getting all these wildly different characters together in the first place. Once the whole “if one person gets hurt the rest will feel it” thing is set up there isn’t much left to really do with it other than for it to act as a visual metaphor. As the 12-episode series approaches its conclusion and starts to answer some of the bigger mysteries of the series (why Katsuhira can’t feel pain anymore, Sonozaki’s true identity), what should have felt like huge revelations instead comes across as minor background material.

Flashback to Katushira's childhood

But at its core Kiznaiver isn’t a series about any of that really – it’s a story of a bunch of kids getting to know each other better, enjoying the highs and enduring the lows of friendship. This isn’t exactly an original concept (and ultimately the core story is probably just to help it stand out), but this show does it especially well. A quick browse through Okada’s back catalogue is enough to tell you that her strengths have always lied primarily in her characters, and Kiznaiver is no exception. The sharing of pain acts as a good segway into each character’s inner demons, as all the cards are laid on the table pretty early on and emotional pain becomes the item of the day. Development isn’t equal as it possibly could be, but each character seems to hold their own few surprises and none feel solely defined by their initial trait. Emotions often run high enough to make things seem almost too over the top, but given the age of the characters involved it works largely in its favour instead. 

Basically while the premise may be what draws so many people towards Kiznaiver but it’s almost certainly the characters you end up staying for. The show’s ending may seem fairly conclusive in terms of its overall story, but the relationships built up are so strong that it could easily continue with just a simple slice of life setting.

Unnecessary mascot thing is unnecessary

Visually Kiznaiver also packs one hell of a punch, showing off Trigger’s skills as a studio in a very different way to its predecessors while at the same time displaying the same level of craft and energy. Visually nothing is done at half measures, with the lighting, colours and framing of each and every scene working in tandem with the narrative to produce the desired impact. The series also boasts some really distinct character design, courtesy of Supercell illustrator Shirow Miwa. On a sheerly technical level this is undoubtedly a new high point for Trigger, offering something outside of the erratic style the studio has made a name for itself with.

Finally special mention is deserved by the show’s kaleidoscopic opening sequence, featuring “Lay Your Hands on Me” – the swansong single from popular Japanese duo Boom Boom Satellites. Although the circumstances behind the band’s retirement are tragic, the song itself a wonderful note to go out on and never fails to give each episode a real highpoint to kick off on. The end theme from Sangatsu no Phantasia gives on a similar raw sense of energy, as the two songs bookend the show with a soundtrack that really is a cut above the rest even when the show’s narrative shortcomings are more apparent.

Emotions get heated amongst the cast
Teenage angst

Kiznaiver is a show worthy of recommendation, but not for a reason that any plot summary will have you believe. It acts as visual proof that you can base a show on a weak premise but still have it come out a success as long as the cast is enough to make up for this. While perhaps not doing anything especially groundbreaking, the trials and tribulations of the Kiznaivers keep things engaging as they embrace the highs and lows of love and friendship head on. And even when the show is at its very weakness, the sublime visuals never falter. Though perhaps not the usual kind of production Trigger have become known for over their first five years, that same sense of quality and craftsmanship is certainly there.

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