Forced drama, what does it entail? Is it the act of searching for genuine emotion in a place that never offered it? Is it not understanding the limitations of your screenplay? Perhaps it comes from honest attempts to create something organic. Whatever the reason may be, when it happens, it doesn't leave a good aftertaste.
So which is it for Kiznaiver? Is it truly trying to craft something memorable? Is it seeking poignancy in the anguish of others? Is it studio Trigger trying to branch out into unfamiliar territory; a leap of faith, hoping their dedicated followers would comfort them when they fall on their faces? And really, should I care, even if they did attempt something out of a place of honest effort? Well, short answer, fuck no.
I don't need to babysit a half-baked effort. I don't need to try to empathize with a failed project that slipped out of the creators' hands. As harsh as that mentality may be, it's the honest truth. I'm the consumer. The only thing required of me is to be entertained and engrossed by the project they put forward. And guess what? I wasn't. In fact, I was mentally drained by this synthetic try-hard and its relentless efforts to pull at my heartstrings; operating with as much subtlety as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade trying to sneak down Central Park West. A good concept doesn't make a good anime and Kiznaiver embodies that very notion. The message it chose to convey was fine, but the way it went about delivering it was the problem.
In a sickeningly idealistic attempt to bring forth "world peace" and a greater level of understanding among humanity, the Kiznaiver project was created to combine the shared pain of its placeholders by linking their sensory output together. The more these placeholders are made to open up to each other, the deeper their connection becomes; experiencing everything from the surface-level physical pain, to more emotional-based pain, as the walls that separate them dissipates.
If the premise wasn't made explicit enough already, it's essentially one big character study and self-examination of human relationships. And it should go without saying, but whenever topics like these are made your primary focus, there are some prerequisites expected of it in order for it to function with any semblance of validity. You can't go swimming without a pool of water, and in the same light, you can't have a character study without characters. Notice I wrote "characters" NOT "caricatures," a distinction that Kiznaiver can't seem to make.
If Kiznaiver had an extended title, it would go something along the lines of:
"Kiznaiver: Forcing Archetypes to have Da Feels"
These color-coordinated caricatures are so cookie-cutter by storytelling standards that you could sum them all up with one-liners. They're basically human smurfs, each feeding into pre-assigned roles with little in the way of diversifying their default archetypes. Instead of swimming in a pool of water, Kiznaiver attempts to achieve the same feat with a pit full of dirt. A task that's not only nigh impossible but also painful to watch play out as well. Archetypes are meant to serve as default personalities to further build upon. To simply present them as is without building on who they are as characters is not only conceited, it's borderline delusional when taking into consideration the importance that the characters hold in the confines of this material. This isn't an action adventure where the world being trekked is the star attraction, it's a character study, a CHARACTER study. If there's one aspect of your screenplay that you want to shine the most, it's in this department. And yet, redhead tsunderes are pre-packaged in this anime in the same way every live-action movie and TV drama depiction of high school has the popular blonde cheerleader and varsity-jacket-wearing jock.
So when these non-entities are placed in a situation where they're forced to open up to each other, there's very little that could be done to divert the audience's attention from the obvious truth. That truth being that there's nothing to truly pull from these "characters" since there was nothing there from the beginning. The show desperately attempts to squeeze a modicum of emotion from this dirt pit, and when that plan fails, we're brought back to my original inquiry. This anime is strong-armed into producing something it never had to begin with; genuine emotion.
To be fair, there are transient glimpses of decent writing in this dirt pit of a cast, that coming in the form of one character, Honoka Maki. If there was ever a character in this show that Kiznaiver didn't butcher with its ineptitude, Honoka was it. With the introduction of her backstory, as well as the time dedicated to exploring her psyche, she stands out like a sore thumb, especially when placed in her vapid surroundings. Had the show handled its cast with the same amount of effort and care as it did with her, I would have been singing a different tune. But this sadly isn't the case, and just as quickly as Honoka's character focus brought hope to the show, it's immediately snuffed out as the artificial angst surrounding every other facet of the screenplay further plunges the material back to the subpar levels that it was constructed out of.
If I had to offer any other appraisal outside of this temporary moment of decent writing, it would be that of the art and animation department. Unlike the rest of the show, this area demonstrated the talent found at Trigger that they accumulated from their time spent at Gainax. The color palette used was radiant and immediately draws the viewer's attention. With storyboarding that kept a sense of flow in mind and a decent amount of consideration made in its use of color theory, there was clearly more effort here than what's usually expected out of typical studio projects. The same could be said (for the most part) about the character designs. While some were painfully by-the-numbers, others were quite expressive and easily identifiable. At the end of the day, these designs are wasted on cookie-cutter archetypes, but they're still appealing nonetheless.
One a side-note, for readers who've already seen Kizanaiver, the designs of the gomorin outfits take clear inspiration from the Maromi doll in Paranoia Agent. Perhaps this was done so as a tribute to Satoshi Kon, given his extensive work in the field that the show is trying to dive into. Whatever the case may be, it was a nice touch.
Another detail that, while not innovative, still deserves mentioning was the color of the characters' hair. Katsuhira's hair—which was supposed to show someone close to complete apathy—was represented with pure white hair overlapped with some brown, with the white representing an absence of emotion and the brown being the faint presence of it still left within him. The same could be said about Niko's hair, which obviously denotes to the flamboyancy of her personality given the diverse, bright colors. Again, pretty simple in how the hair color denotes their traits, but still worth noting.
As for the soundtrack, there isn't much to say. The only thing that sticks out is the opening theme "LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME" by BOOM BOOM SATELLITES, and rightfully so, given the infectious nature of it in accompaniment with the visuals presented. This could be attributed to the fact that sonically it has much in common with one of pop's more recognizable tunes "Take on Me" by a-ha. At the time of this writing, a quick youtube search of "Kiznaiver take on me" would bring you to a video that exploits this, merging the song with Kiznaiver's opening, demonstrating just how interchangeable it really is. That being said, BOOM BOO SATELLITES certainly delivered. Everything else in the sound department is forgettable by comparison. The only other thing worth taking note of is the sound effects used at times; like the glitchy noise made whenever the Kiznaiver device was activated, or the added sound effects given for objects when motioned. It was minor inclusions but still did something for the show than had it been excluded.
Now, what should have been excluded but ultimately made the final cut was a love heptagon. Not a regular one-way love, not a love triangle, but a full-blown love heptagon! And what happens when you involve a bunch of dimensionless smurfs in an ouroboros-like relationship? You get an embarrassing display of cardboard cutouts inserts pleading to each other. A potpourri of ill-advised confessionals that transformed itself into a deformed, blubbering mess. There's very little in the way of actual characterization for these mouthpieces with legs, so expecting them to divulge genuine feelings for each other just comes across as half-assed. Some characters don't even have much in the way of one-on-one interaction prior to these events either, and those that do get that time barely share any semblance of chemistry. This made what was suppose to be emotional climaxes in the story, into an over-bloated cringe-filled sob-fest. This was midday soap opera levels of awful.
The show steamrolls through all of this melodrama and artificial angst in order to deliver a message that no one needed help figuring out in the first place; getting closer to others runs the risk of eventually being hurt by them. This isn't exactly an eye-opening revelation, this is just common sense. But what's possibly worse than off of this is the fact that what Kiznaiver struggles to deliver in 12 episodes, is easily understood with just 1. This 1 episode I speak of is the TV pilot of Kino's Journey. Watch those 20 minutes and save yourself hours of seeing a show drown in the kiddie pool section.
I told myself, as well as a few colleagues, that I wasn't going to review this, due in large part to the fact that just talking about it made me feel mentally exhausted. But then I thought about what it would mean for those people that share my stance but can't quite articulate the reason for why they feel the way they do. I thought about our perspective going unheard in the frenzy of hype and unchecked evaluations. Letting Kiznaiver get off scot-free to gain unwarranted appraisal became far bigger of a burden than simply ignoring it to comfortably go about my way. And so, here I am, writing this review for all those, who like me, are tired of these empty vessels being filled with accolades it doesn't deserve. The only emotional response that Kiznaiver got right was that of frustration, as that's precisely what I felt while watching it.
Kiznaiver is fine until it gets into the character drama, and seeing that the whole show revolves around character drama, you could see how that leaves very little in the way of value. Had the characters been handled better, had the concept not been bare-bones, had the writers tried a bit harder, then maybe, just maybe, there would have been something here worth talking about. But that wasn't the case, and Trigger, once again, "saves anime!"
"The show wasn't that good, but the opening was so nice though!" How many more times do we have to make this statement before we let insufferable titles like these crash and burn? How many more times would we equate trying with being good enough? The only good that Kiznaiver can offer is serving as a future example of what forced melodrama looks like. With that being said, ignore this one if you haven't already, it's a practice in tolerance-control that would only serve as a distraction from watching something else that's truly worth your invested time.