Kiznaiver is a 12 episode anime series, set in a city that was built to test an experimental system of linking people together through physical and emotional pain. The idea is that it will become a way to achieve world peace, because nobody will inflict pain on others if they can feel it themselves. It’s an idea I’ve never seen before in any sci-fi show, so I think it must be original or at least unusual, and the writer deserves credit for that. However, as soon as you start thinking about it, the problems are obvious.
The idea is explored via seven high school kids, who are all linked to each other. Each time one feels pain, all the others feel it too. How anyone could think this could work as a practical system to create peace is a mystery, because it immediately creates a serious problem in their lives. It’s hard to function as a human being when you’re being constantly hit with unexplained pain, because one of your friends has hurt themselves or is feeling the pain of unrequited love. It is quickly established that the system has already been attempted on a wider scale, and failed, so this seems like little more than a cruel, torturous experiment. By necessity, I think, there is a shift of focus on what is being achieved here, with seven strangers being brought together and becoming friends. The suggestion is that these are very different people who would never normally have associated with each other, but end up forming a strong bond, so there is some point to that and by the end of the series their lives are definitely enriched by the group friendship, but I’m not sure I’m keen on the idea that people with contrasting personalities have to be forced together before they can form friendships, which flies in the face of the message just about any other anime series has for us.
It’s all a bit depressing, and that’s not helped by the selection of characters we have to watch. There is a strong focus on working through their issues, hopes, fears, desires and psychological damage from their pasts, with the help of their connection to the rest of the group, and that does make for some interesting and strong storylines, but a series like this, which is so character driven, is bound to live or die on the basis of whether we like the characters or not. There’s a problem with that.
The main protagonist in the group is Katsuhira, who can feel no pain himself, and is almost emotionless. His love interest is Noriko, who runs the Kizna system and is also emotionless. There are good reasons for this, and those reasons are explored and resolved successfully, but it’s hard to gain much enjoyment from watching lead characters who are so blank and bland. Then we have a couple of girls who are defined by little more than their unrequited love. Chidori could have been fun if there was anything to her character other than her attraction to Katsuhira. Similarly, Nico is just the kind of anime character I usually love to watch: bubbly, lively, and a bit childish and eccentric. But again, there is nothing really happening with her apart from her attraction to Hajime, who is attracted to Chidori, and none of their affections are reciprocated. Hajime is probably my favourite character, thanks to his entertaining brashness, and his violent reaction to bullies. Tsuguhito has frankly nothing about his character to spark any interest. He just seems to be there to make up the numbers. Honoka is a miserable and distant girl, who is still pretty much miserable and distant by the end of the series, while Yoshiharu, the final student to join the group, is just revolting. He is turned on by pain, which is I suppose an interesting way to throw a spanner in the works of the idea that shared pain will stop people inflicting it on others, but he’s a distasteful character who is supposed to be funny and really isn’t. He is animated and voice-acted in a way that just makes him look like he is high on something all the time.
So you can see the problem here. The story is told through the eyes of eight main characters (the group of seven, plus Noriko), but only two of them are even slightly entertaining to watch and I actually disliked the other six. That spoiled what could have been an interesting idea, although even the mind candy on offer breaks down almost immediately as soon as you start to think about the concept and it’s logical implications. For a story about shared feelings, ironically the writer forgot about the most important connection of all: the emotional connection the viewers need to feel for the characters. Without that, Kiznaiver is a failed experiment. RP
Anime sure knows how to help keep the sci-fi genre interesting. Thanks, RP, for your review.
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