OP: 「LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME」 by (BOOM BOOM SATELLITES)
「一目あつたその日から一絆の花咲くこともある」 (Hitome atsuta sonohi kara ichi kizuna no hana saku koto mo aru)
“Sometimes, a Bond Can Bloom from the First Day Eye Contact is Made”
Strongest potential I’ve yet seen for a seriously powerful show.
Kiznaiver’s debut started off awkwardly slow and alarmingly abstract, but slowly came together towards the episode’s latter half for an enthralling promise of things to come.
Set in the fictional Sugomori City, the series follows high school student Agata Katsuhira (Kaji Yuki). Since a young age, Katsuhira has possessed a latent resistance to pain. While other people feel hurt by smacks and punches, Katsuhira merely responds with disinterest. One day, his classmate Sonozaki Noriko (Yamamura Hibiku) kidnaps him as well as many other of their peers to involve them in an intensive social experiment with severe consequences. The Kiznaiver System links the pain and suffering of all those connected in an effort to foster world peace. When one individual is wounded, it divides and transmits the suffering to all other Kiznaivers. Now, Sonizaki has hooked up Katsuhira & co. to this system, in order to test its validity and effectiveness.
A Thematically Rife Narrative
One might initially dismiss this premise as overly abstract philosophical nonsense, but the show’s digestible pacing and expressive characters make it seriously work. There’s a lot to chew on and pick apart in just this first episode that gets me excited about subsequent installments. Obviously the Kiznaiver System is meant to generate and promulgate empathy within all individuals in order to eliminate further contention and conflict. However, its method and conception of empathy is fascinating. By forcing those involved to share each other’s pain, the Kiznaiver System is deeming that the best way to reduce warfare is to adopt the perspectives of those around us. This is uncannily similar to the works of Alex Neill—a prominent contemporary philosopher—who posits that our ability to empathize with each other is derived out of our capacity to imagine what it may be like to be in another’s shoes. I kind of grossly oversimplified his thinking, but essentially, it’s interesting to think that whether we get along with each other or not is inherently linked to our ability to directly understand one another.
But what exactly does Sonozaki mean by “world peace?” Well, this episode also makes apparent that one component of social harmony is a complete abandonment of one’s significance. When Katsuhira confides in Sonozaki his inability to understand himself let alone others, she quickly shuts him up by stating that such a reflection is pointless—the answer to everything is to just be “bonded” to one another. Ruminating over one’s self-worth is ultimately counterproductive to world peace. What we need to do instead is exactly what the Kiznaiver System evangelizes: the complete union of each other’s thoughts and pain.
The episode’s closing words are very much cryptic in this sense, as Sonzaki professes that “One for all, and all for one” got it wrong. Instead, we should be saying “One for all, all for victory.” I think this may allude to the fact that while people today are content with the mere idea of empathy and understanding between all, we rarely put these sentiments into practice. With the Kiznaiver System, we can finally start forcing implementation—expediting the process to world peace. Whether the system is an inhumane breach of inalienable rights or ultimately necessary remains to be seen. I can’t wait to see how the show will come to answer this.
All For One
While Kiznaiver harbors a lot of allegorical potential, what about its characters? What can we say about the individuals we’ll be riding this journey with? The series still leaves much of this in the air, but the little we see of the main cast shows a lot of promise. We’re of course most exposed to Katsuhara, who turns out to be way more likable of a character than you might think. When the show opens, he exhibits a cold apathy not unlike that of many too-cool-for-school protagonists. So of course, I presumed that our little silver-haired friend would be very much the same—weighed down by obnoxious, unlikable angst and pompous indifference. However, very quickly we realize that Katsuhara’s apathy isn’t a result of self-imposed emotional exile, but genuine apathy. His inability to feel physical pain has leaked over to his mental being—he really just doesn’t care about much of anything.
That’s why it’s so interesting to put a character like Katsuhira in the middle of all this. He’s seemingly an ideal candidate for the Kiznaiver System—when one really understands the immense suffering and pain he undergoes, a sense of sympathy would naturally follow. At the same time, though, since he’s numb to pain, he would be unable to empathize with others’ suffering (made apparent when Sonozaki identifies his lack of fear). It’ll be fascinating to see what role he’ll play in all this as the series progresses.
Plus, unlike the cool emotionless main characters of so many other shows, Katsuhira is hilariously incompetent. Whenever he’s in contact with Sonozaki, he’s not calm and collected, but staring at his shoes, stumbling over his words, taking steps back, and so on. He’s completely dominated mentally. Unlike so many other MC’s, he’s a wimp and I love it. This leaves the door open for a heap of development and growth as the show goes on. Despite his stale indifference, Katsuhira exhibits a lot of personality.
Also, he’s been getting the shit kicked out of him since he was a kid. You can’t help but feel like you understand his pain like the rest of the cast likely will in the coming weeks. In fact, I’m wondering if the show will come to acknowledge and incorporate into the narrative the viewer’s own empathy of the characters’ pain. Maybe some fourth wall-breaking? Probably not, but that would be mad trippy.
The rest of the main cast is also distinctive in their own right, despite the little we see of them. Characters emote and display distinguishable quirky, colorful personalities with the little screen time they’re designated. I look forward to diving deep into their minds as the season goes on, especially in seeing how they fit into this weird, new take on the seven deadly sins.
Breathtaking to Watch
And I haven’t even begun to talk about the gorgeous presentation. Maybe I’m just a Trigger fanboy, but the studio continues to absolutely nail their visuals show after show. Their consistent hyper-stylized look returns here, but in a more toned down and fully-realized manner than before. Characters in Kiznaiver move and express themselves with cartoonish yet convincingly authentic movements. They express emotion with intricate idiosyncrasies and complex facial movements. Linked pain is felt in riveting, starkly technological visual flairs—lighting is employed in all the right powerful moments.
The color palette is all the right combinations of bright and subdued—perfect for the calm yet dramatic tone of the show. Furthermore, scenes are framed in a beautiful fashion—shots zoom in close for dramatic, exquisitely rendered facial expressions, and zoom far out to accomodate handsome sweeping vistas. So many times I would pause the episode just to take in the phenomenal visuals. Easily in the running for best aesthetics of the season.
Overall, Kiznaiver definitely impressed with its first episode. While I’m usually quick to claim that a show has “potential,” I’ve never stated it as resolutely as I do for this show. The narrative is rife for profound insight and thematic intricacy. From the get-go, the show has proven its intelligence—from the way it handles its characters to the depth of its story. There’s already so much to talk about here, and I’ve no doubt the same will continue with each episode. Now that the premise has been established, the series can really go wild with its storytelling. Not only that, but the visuals are nothing short of phenomenal—from its animation to the cinematography to the character designs, and so on. Yes, the pacing early on was notably awkward, and yes, the show goes dangerously abstract with its philosophical inquiries—but there’re seeds here for a phenomenal sci-fi drama. Believe me when I say that I’m incredibly excited for Kiznaiver this season.
ED: 「Hajimari no Sokudo (はじまりの速度)」 by (Sangatsu no Phantasia)