Kiznaiver is so stylish and colourful that it is almost blinding. But behind Trigger's beautiful visuals, there just isn't a whole lot else besides an extraordinarily average, if somewhat enjoyable anime-- one that is certainly a noticeable step down from their previous work, Kill la Kill.
This should not be taken as an insinuation that all Kiznaiver has to offer is style without substance. There is value here, and Trigger has evidently tried to capitalise upon some of Kill la Kill's prior successes, particularly with regards to its characters. Kiznaiver tries-- it tries ever so hard-- but in the end crumbles under its own ambition. It is an excellent premise that unfortunately never really finds its footing. Were it a full two-cours of content rather than the mere twelve episodes it actually is, the result might have been different.
Kiznaiver's characters are likely the first thing to catch one's attention. They are rich with personality, visually distinct from other characters in anime. There is no one that feels particularly bland (aside from maybe Sonozaki), but a number of them never go much beyond simply looking cool or being weird. Nico is a cute airhead suffering from a variety of mental illnesses (and quite possibly low IQ), while Yoshihara is an extreme masochist who orgasms at the very idea of pain, and exists largely as fuel for shounen-ai fanfiction and doujinshi. The protagonist, Katsuhira, is also a mopey emo kid who lets people beat him up without a care. This is about all that characterises them for the entire show. They are as one-dimensional as can be. It is bit of a waste, given how unique their character designs are. (And I do not only say that because I like twintailed girls named Nico.)
Some characters are more compelling than others. Tenga's dialogue in the original Japanese, for example, is fairly natural and feels like something that could come from an actual teenager's mouth. Chidori, as annoying as her scream-fests tend to be, is also pretty representative of how the average teenage girl handles their emotions. The writers of Kiznaiver know what they are doing and are capable of doing it well, but the problem is that the short episode count prevents these characters from ever realising their full potential. It throws a lot at the viewer, but never gives them time to digest it or room for the characters to breathe and relax. It is, almost invariably, the quiet moments that stand out the most in a story. There are no quiet moments in Kiznaiver.
I suppose it makes sense for something like Kiznaiver to be as short as it is, as Trigger puts a great deal of work and effort into each episode. It obviously shows. But that still does not excuse them creating a story and a cast of characters bigger than they could handle within the allotted time. For something like this, a more briskly-paced movie, perhaps a duology, would have been a better way to compress the story without sacrificing visual quality. But I suppose a movie or two doesn't make quite as much money as five or six over-priced BluRays would. Anime is expensive to make, and Trigger needs to pay its animators so they can eat and have a roof over their head. I get it, but it is still a bit disappointing to see business prioritised over artistic quality in this case. If Trigger saved up extra money for a year or two through smaller projects, and used that to fund an extra cour of Kiznaiver, we would undoubtedly have had a much more exciting product.
Some aspects of Kiznaiver, however, are less the result of its short episode count, and more related to lacklustre writing. Most of Kiznaiver's drama involves angsty, spoiled teenagers overreacting. Being rejected by someone you like is a sucky thing, there is no doubt about that, but it is not the end of the world like Kiznaiver tries to paint it. There are things far worse going on out there, and yet they're traumatised because someone they had a crush on couldn't reciprocate those feelings? Big deal. Give it a couple months and it will barely even cross their mind again. It would be one thing if these feelings were long-term, but for everyone excluding Chidori, they have had these crushes for a few weeks, tops.
Kiznaiver tries to create an absurdly complex set of romances. Every character is attracted to someone else, and often the one they love is interested in someone else entirely. With eight main characters and only twelve episodes, you can have a pretty good guess of how well these romances are handled. They get angry, scream and beat each other up when they find out the one they love is being treated poorly by one of the other Kiznaivers, only for another person to get upset in return, and another and another, it raining and dramatic music blasting all the while like the world is on fire and ready to explode. It is extremely difficult to care about their feelings for one another when most of these feelings (particularly surrounding Tenga) have been seldom explored and revealed only one episode beforehand, without so much as an explanation-- or heck, even a hint-- for why they like each other in the first place. Considering the experiment within the show is also manipulating these characters' feelings, the romance doesn't just feel lacklustre-- it feels artificial. Chidori and Katsuhira are about the only couple that make any sense. Everything else is just a big mess that the show could and should have done without.
It is also quite silly and cloying how emotional 'pain' is shared and hurts them all as well. One of the Kiznaivers is heart-broken, so, hey, that means everyone else must succumb to the feels and suffer from heart-break, too, because emotion is equivalent to physical pain and not at all psychological, or something. There are other scenes, like Chidori confessing to Katsuhira in the middle of a storm (weather in anime being the convenient device that it is), or Yuta and the rest screaming at the top of their lungs and jumping into the river (because that's how you deal with your anger?), that make it quite clear that Kiznaiver is not all too interested in appealing to adults. I can totally understand why someone who is around fourteen-years-old may enjoy and empathise with that sort of thing, but being twenty-three myself, it doesn't warrant much more than a sigh and some head-shaking. For how believable Tenga's and Chidori's characterisation can be, it is a bit disappointing to see the show stray so heavily into melodrama territory. At least Kill la Kill was aware of how blatantly over-the-top it was; Kiznaiver takes itself seriously all the time, and it wants you to take it seriously, too. It forgets how to have fun with itself, and that is perhaps the most disappointing thing of all.
I'll still give Kiznaiver credit for trying. Most of these issues could be resolved simply by the show having more episodes to develop its characters and their feelings in a more meaningful way. It would still not be an anime without significant flaws, as the copious amounts of melodrama make clear, but there certainly was the potential to, if not match Kill la Kill, at least come close to its quality. Kiznaiver looks and sounds so nice that it is easy to forgive some of its issues and enjoy the ride regardless, but, in reflection, there just is not much else to praise aside from that. I really, truly wanted to give Trigger's big new project a glowing review, but I just can't do it. It's not there, and it never gets there.
At the same time, not everyone is looking for the next greatest thing. Having charm and style alone can please most people, and merely being a standout title within its respective season is enough to warrant a viewing. And, you know, that's perfectly fine. I wouldn't hesitate to give Kiznaiver a recommendation if all the person wants is a few hours of fun and something a little bit different. Because, make no mistake, Kiznaiver is not a bad anime.
It's just an immensely disappointing one.