I’m back, baby.
Every season, a new crop of anime is tossed onto the scene (and the internet), appealing to new fans and old with original stories or adaptations of other work. The anime cycle is similar to Hollywood, offering up potential new series’ in hopes of garnering enough interest and capital for future seasons.
However, there are some studios out there that take the leap with a one-shot property. These are shows that last a grand total of ONE season with few episodes. In fact, “Kiznaiver” itself is only 12 episodes long, which is half the life of a standard anime show. In a way, these one-shots are a blessing and a curse: cursed to only enjoy them for such a short span of time, but blessed with a piece of art that is beautiful to look at and introspective all the same.
The philosophies behind “Kiznaiver” are hardly new. In summary, the story is about seven unique classmates who all hail from various cliques and personalities that normally wouldn’t mesh together. They’re forced into a scientific experiment known as the Kizna System, which binds them through a link that shares pain among them. In other words, if one of them gets punched, they all feel it. The goal of the experiment is to obtain universal understanding by forcing subjects to experience each other’s pain. But whether or not these seven classmates can endure the experiment over the course of a summer is another matter entirely.
So, you may be asking yourself what the point of this review is. Why have I chosen to call it “The Breakfast Club” anime? Because, quite bluntly, it is. Just with flashy technology and more characters. Instead of diving deep into the story, I believe the heart and soul of the show lies in its characters. Without the variety of this cast, the story would be really boring, and the same can be said for the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club.”
Remembering the Confessional Scene
Early reviews of “Kiznaiver” had been skeptical of the show, due it’s “stereotypical characters” and vague storyline. However, I believe that these stereotypes are what drives the show, and first intrigued me upon completing episode one. But the show also breaks down these stereotypes and reveals the characters within, along with their fears and doubts that plague them, and that is where great drama stems from.
But first, a trip down memory lane.
In 1985 film, “The Breakfast Club”, there were five high school archetypes that were at war: the princess, the jock, the basket case, the criminal, and the nerd. But over the course of the film, they come together through shared hijinks, foiled escape plans, and confessional scenes that twist your heart. They start off knowing “of” each other, but leave their Saturday detention knowing “about” each other.
But the best scene in the film is when they’re sitting on the floor, and they each confess their secrets. They talk of suicide, terrible parents, social pressure, and more. It’s a scene that never leaves a dry eye in the audience, as these characters pour out their hearts about their fears and doubts. It truly is a scene where shared pain can develop into friendship.
But at the end of the scene, Brian (the nerd) asks the glaring question: “What happens on Monday?…Are we still friends?” to which Claire (the princess) answers “I don’t think we can be friends.” While the others try to deny it, there’s an underlying tension felt that Claire speaks the truth; that on Monday they will go back to their cliques and not speak to each other again. The film is purposely left open-ended, asking the audience to think for themselves about what human connections are worth.
Now, “Kiznaiver” takes a more literal approach to this emotional philosophy, that true friendship can only develop through shared pain. Over the course of the anime, the characters in “Kiznaiver” evolve from feeling physical pain, to emotional pain, and eventually to hearing each other’s thoughts. Imagine all the emotions of “The Breakfast Club” stretched out over a 12 episode series, and especially that confessional scene stretched over two episodes itself. “Kiznaiver” asks the bold question of what it takes to make a human connection and sustain that connection, as well as to a degree the broader question of how technology may be influencing how we make these connections.
What Does It Take to Connect?
First step: let’s get to know the characters. Instead of the five archetypes from “The Breakfast Club”, they’re actually sorted into seven “modern archetypes” that are modeled after the seven deadly sins:
- Katsuhira Agata: The Imbecile
- Chidori Takashiro: The Goody Two-Shoes
- Hajime Tenga: The Musclehead Thug
- Nico Niiyama: The Eccentric Headcase
- Tsuguhito Yuta: The Cunning Normal
- Honoka Maki: The High and Mighty
- Yoshiharu Hisomu: The Immoral
They’re actually all from the same class, but the dialogue makes a point that they barely remember noticing each other (except for Chidori and Katsuhira, who were already friends). After being forced into this experiment, they are then tasked with various missions to deepen their bond.
Episodes 1 through 8 are spent getting to know them and their deeper secrets: Tenga’s fear of dogs and yearning for friendship, Yuta’s fear of being overweight, Nico’s expressed cries for attention, Chidori’s past love for Katsuhira, and Maki’s regrets about her friend’s death. The only one who seems to be an outlier is Hisomu, who’s mainly comic relief. His schtick is he’s a masochist who gets his kicks through pain, throwing a wrench into their plans. But near the end of the series, they have morphed into twisted versions of themselves. They each become less concerned with their outward personas, and become something more daring and starving for connection. But in tying this show to “The Breakfast Club”, it’s the last four episodes where things truly come to a head and emotions run high.
The Last Four Episodes
The researchers for the Kizna System believed that cohesion could only be achieved through sharing physical pain, but that sharing emotional pain and beyond would prove disastrous. But these kids prove them wrong, surpassing all the predicted results and achieving that eureka moment of understanding. However, as a result, they end up rejecting this level of connection and the experiment is ended.
At the end of episode 9, they have progressed to hearing each other’s innermost thoughts and emotions. It elevates into a constant cycle of pain and self-doubt that exhausts them to the point that they no longer want to be connected. They realize that in this current state, they can never be true friends, and this transcends their emotional connection and inflicts physical harm. To put it visually, the episode ends with them all lying on the ground, clutching their chests, because the pain of their failure physically hurts. After spending several episodes building what seems to be a lasting relationship between them, the house of cards tumbles down. Even though the experiment is ended and the Kizna device is removed, they are traumatized by the event. They agree to part ways and not speak to each other, for fear of revisiting these intense emotions.
There’s a visual moment with each character walking away in the rain, interplayed with cuts to a email that they each receive, agreeing to not speak to each other. It’s so heartbreaking to watch, especially after experiencing what they went through and seeing how close they were to sustaining friendships without the Kizna connection.
In episode 10, it’s obvious that each character is thinking about the others. Nico eventually says what they’re all thinking, with her wishing that she was still connected to the Kizna so they could be friends again. But Katsuhira explains that, in a way, the Kizna was a success, and that he wants to stay friends, in spite of their social archetypes and shortcomings.
It’s also revealed in episode 10 that Noriko and Katsuhira went through a similar experiment as children, but the experiment was ended with Noriko believing that true friendships could only be sustained through shared pain instead of will. This twisted her worldview. She sees the emotional results of episode 9 as proof that people can’t be connected without Kizna. This incites her mission to force the whole city into connecting to the Kizna System.
Episodes 11 and 12 are spent uniting the group once more, with the understanding that they have achieved what the Kizna System set out to do. As a result, they head out to stop Noriko from forcing the whole city into the Kizna System. In an emotional finale, Katsuhira convinces Noriko that he would have loved her, even without the Kizna system, and that relationships can always start over. Noriko relents and the city is spared. In the end, the characters stay together through their shared experience, and even romance blossoms.
Has Technology Subverted Our Connections?
This show is an emotional doozy, much like “The Breakfast Club”, but it also brings up an interesting viewpoint. Noriko had been twisted into believing that only science and technology could bring about worldwide empathy, and therefore world peace. It’s not far from what we’re experiencing today as humans: finding love and friendship through the internet, becoming activists over leaked videos, political undermining, etc.
But at the same time that we strive for this unity, we desperately cling to online anonymity, our privacy. We relish the old times where you could meet your future love through happenstance or through friends. When you got to know your neighbors by actually talking to them. When you could trust friends with your secrets, and not have it spilled all over social media at the first sign of mistrust.
“Kiznaiver” tackles this hard question: do we really need technology to become better, connected people? In fact, I’m not even going to answer that. Just like the ending for “The Breakfast Club”, that decision is up to you.
Should You Watch “Kiznaiver”? Yes!
Phew! That was a wild ride, for sure. I want to say that this show is just colorful enough to entice new anime fans dipping their toes into the pool, but also thought-provoking enough for anime veterans to experience something new.
TL; DR: this show had me SHOOK.
Kiznaiver is not like a typical anime, where new arcs and storylines are introduced mid-season to entice viewers to stay. I think this is what alienated some reviewers at first: there’s no clear storyline at first, no monster of the week. It’s a collection of events and a roller coaster through emotions. Kiznaiver requires a full, unhindered viewing, and requires a lot of thought afterwards. There’s a deeper meaning behind each episode of the story that may surprise you.
As of this post publication, “Kiznaiver” is available on Crunchyroll.com.