Rina SatouHibiku YamamuraYuka TerasakiMisaki Kuno
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: K
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Director: Hiroshi Kobayashi
Writer: Mari Okada
Actor: Hibiku Yamamura, Yuuki Kaji, Junichi Suwabe, Kotaro Nishiyama, Mie Sonozaki, Misaki Kuno, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Rina Satou, Tomoaki Maeno, Yuka Terasaki
Keywords: anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=17706
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 10 October 2017
Whoah. That was different. I really got into that. It's an anime-original series by Studio Trigger and a new kind of story that's inviting you to speculate about what it might be saying with its themes. It'll then go beyond the boundaries you'd probably talked yourself into expecting. (That said, I've just been told that the premise sounds similar to a show I haven't seen, Sense8. Googling makes that sound intriguing. You could probably get a good discussion out of comparing the two shows and I expect I'd enjoy Sense8, but I'll be talking here about Kiznaiver.)
Imagine you're a dick. You're not good with people and you're not very likeable. Now imagine that you've woken up in a room with five people with whom you clearly have nothing in common. You're classmates at school, but you don't see that as a reason to associate with them. You could hardly find a more ill-assorted group. Do any of you have friends? Quite possibly not. Later you'll be described as "imbecile", "cunning normal", "annoyingly self-righteous", "high-and-mighty", "eccentric headcase", "musclehead thug", etc. Admittedly the person saying all that has her own issues, but she's not completely wrong. Your group includes Katsuhira (apathetic, lets people bully him, doesn't feel pain), Hajime (loud delinquent), Tsuguhito (sneering ladies' man who only cares about people's looks) and Honoka (talks to everyone as if they're worms).
Chidori's nice, mind you, and in love with Katsuhira. As for Nico... well, she'd be mortified if you thought her intelligent and normal, so she dresses like a Christmas tree decoration and talks like a six-year-old on a sugar rush.
That much you can guess by looking at everyone. What you don't know is that we're halfway through ep.1 and that the audience has just been seeing a montage of syringes and scalpels. You're been turned into a Kiznaiver! Everyone else here is also a Kiznaiver! This means that your pain is shared. You'll feel a sixth of the impact should Noriko do anything silly like, say, deliberately push Katsuhira down a flight of stairs that would normally kill him.
Noriko tells you this. You ignore her and walk away, which is a mistake. You get a demonstration to change your mind. Your ill-assorted group is now going to be given missions.
This would have been interesting even had those missions been "kill the aliens" or "come top in your next maths test". They're not. They're more personal than that. They're things like "introduce yourself honestly" (which is sometimes hilarious). The Kiznaiver organisation isn't doing all this for laughs, but instead chose its victims after detailed research into their personalities and histories. The story isn't about sadism or gore. It's about exploring the bonds between people. ("Kizu" means wound in Japanese and "kizuna" means bond, both of which are being bound together here.)
At the start, our heroes get on terribly and have almost nothing in common. Tsuguhito and Honoka need slapping. Hajime's a brash idiot. Nico lives on Planet Nico. Katsuhira and Chidori are childhood friends, but Katsuhira's so detached from the world that Chidori might as well be on another planet too. They're bad at making friends and they don't look interested in starting now (especially Honoka), but they're stuck with each other and feeling each other's pain. What would that do to you? If two of them had sex together, would that create feedback too? Is the pain-sense going to evolve?
We discover unexpected sides to people. Katsuhira feels empathy where you wouldn't think to look. (It's an emotionless, distant kind of empathy, but he does seem to be trying to think things through in his way.) People start falling in love with each other, which wouldn't be so bad if it were requited. This was attention-grabbing enough, in fact, that for me it proved a slight distraction from other aspects of the show. I really wanted to know who'd end up with who, even when we're seeing and being told other things that are equally important in what the show's saying. It's interesting and sometimes slightly unsettling to see the shifting webs of relationships and the hints at who'd actually go well together, especially with the more dysfunctional cast members. (Honoka. Honoka. Ouch ouch ouch.)
It's twice as fascinating for being anime. It would have been great in any medium, but anime is made for an otaku audience that's famous for exactly the issues described here. They're not good at making friends. They avoid social contact and don't go out a lot. That's a caricature, of course, but it's often true. Viewed through that lens, this show becomes a laser-guided missile aimed straight at its audience. It's saying a lot of things so clearly and deeply that occasionally it's capable of almost sounding preachy. (I love it, but there's one scene in ep.5 that some people might think verged on that.) Katsuhira's problems are fundamental to the story, but he's also by proxy the autistic otaku who feels disengaged from the world and has to think everything through intellectually. (He's also clever, albeit also so disinterested in himself that you'd almost call him self-destructive.) Thinking about it, there's even a subtle message in who ends up with who at the end. Lots of anime is bending over backwards to be an ego-stroke for a dysfunctional audience, but this show's targeting a message at them more clearly than almost any other show I can think of.
Oh, and the animation's great. It's a real-world setting with no fantasy elements, but even so Studio Trigger's doing lovely, fluid animation and taking particular care over the characters' eyes.
I found it fascinating, but also entertaining. It's funny, especially Nico (who's like an alt-universe counterpart of Mako from Kill la Kill). It's certainly not heavy-going and in fact I blasted through more than half of it this morning, although I can see how some people have had trouble getting into its headspace. It's not telling a conventional story at all. The baddies are actually goodies who want to help our heroes learn things about themselves and explore the boundaries of our mental potential. It has bobbleheads. It's asking questions about human nature and empathy. What's the difference between discovering friendship and having bonds forced upon you? Would telepathy join us into one or push us apart? It's one of the most important anime of 2016.