I don’t like to dedicate my reviews to specific members of the industry, seeing how I plan what I write about at least one week in advance, and I don’t know anyone personally in the industry enough to mention them. However, it has come to my attention that Boom Boom Satellites guitarist/vocalist Michiyuki Kawashima, who performed Kiznaiver‘s opening theme “Lay Your Hands on Me,” passed away this week. I can’t imagine what his family and loved ones are going through right now, but know that what he has contributed to this series through his talents had moved me, too.
Kawashima-san, thank you for sharing your talents with your fans and inspiring us to embrace that kizuna that we share with each other. You will be missed.
With that, I will be expressing a critical, yet very personal approach to this review, and hope to show how much respect I have for all of those who contributed to creating such a beautiful, original anime. I’m going to keep the humor light, but let’s face it: this is anime, and there are plenty of things found even in this series that can be kind of fun, relatable, and otherwise outright bonkers.
Kiznaiver is a sci-fi anime about a top secret experiment that explores the concept of human emotion, and more specifically, how humans are connected through these emotions. Using a technology called the Kizuna system, the experiment brings together seven would-be delinquent teenagers (the kiznaivers) by which all of their feelings –from physical pains to mental experiences– are shared and evenly distributed among them.
For the purposes of this review, I will be approaching the story and its characters as if it were all an elaborate thought experiment. However, I also find that the eight (yes, eight) principal characters speak to all of us in ways that feel very real. This becomes very important to the tone of Kiznaiver and its central theme kizuna: the bonds we share with each other.
At least on the surface, it is not apparent to us that the characters have experienced or understood kizuna, seeing how they are all marginalized by their society in different ways. But upon seeing just how complex each one is, maybe we don’t understand it!
Chidori Takashiro is often seen as the pure, innocent type who cares a lot about her friends and their feelings. Often getting involved in everyone else’s business, it’s not as apparent to others that she doesn’t take care of herself.
As the masochist of the group, Yoshiharu Hisomu takes pleasure in the shared, physical pain throughout the experiment. What isn’t as clear is how he expresses psychological pain and how his reactions don’t match up with everyone else.
Niko Nīyama seems to have a very cheerful outlook on life, expressing herself with frilly outfits and adorning fairy-like charms and mascots. However, her colorful presentation hides her grim expression, and she’s been lying to herself about being happy.
Hajime Tenga is the most impulsive of the group and will start a fight with just about anyone. But as obnoxious and tough as he may be to others, it surprises a few that he may have a gentle, vulnerable side as well.
Tsuguhito Yuta stands out as the most vain character of the group, given his status as a foxy pretty boy. Although he acts like he’s better than everyone else, he shies away from his embarrassing past.
As the character that I personally relate to the most, Honoka Maki distances herself from others, finding that she cannot trust anyone, not even her friends or family. Feeling responsible for hurting a close friend of hers, she doesn’t feel worthy enough for anyone else.
As the face of the Kizuna experiment, Noriko Sonozaki acts as both supervisor and peer for the seven kiznaivers as they undergo different tests. Having been a test subject during the previous Kizuna experiment with unsatisfactory results, the lead scientists hope to learn something from this experiment that can save her as well.
Katsuhira Agata is a test subject from the last Kizuna experiment, and the current one. Having lost his ability to feel, Katsuhira is the central subject of this series that Noriko wants to save the most.
These eight characters experience different trials to dig deeper into their feelings over their summer break. And while some of the little moments in the series were cute and fun, I felt like I was deconstructing how my feelings are expressed toward others as I watched it, and how much I lack in feeling for anyone else. Kiznaiver can be a very emotional series for anyone who has felt marginalized by their communities, and it’s hard to separate my own feelings from the attachment I find in these fictional characters. However, Kiznaiver also expresses the very values of kizuna at its core, something that a society that emphasizes individualism much like our own, often dismisses or forgets.
It should come to no surprise to anyone that I believe “group think” is one of the most dangerous things to society. Having said that, I think it’s insane to believe that we would all somehow live happily ever after if we just knew everyone’s pains as if they are universally understood. This very worry is expressed when the kiznaivers experience each other’s suffering at its highest state.
Up until this point, the Kizuna system was supposed to evenly distribute anyone’s feelings at any given time, so as to lessen the impact of pain. However, nothing would prepare the kiznaivers for when all of them feel the suffering at once, so each of their pains are multiplied seven-fold instead! Realizing each other’s pain in this frenzied state, the characters and audience alike can draw all kinds of conclusions.
I suppose the most popular conclusion might be what I call the Noriko solution. After finding out how the Kizuna experiment affected Noriko, it’s very easy to conclude that perhaps we should just eradicate pain altogether. If living a better life means to have less suffering, that should be obvious. Having experienced this the first time, Noriko took it upon herself to experience her fellow test subjects’ pains, including Katsuhira’s. Using the Kizuna system, all instances of pain will be redistributed to everyone so that no one has to suffer from a strong impact. However, this also means that instances of pleasure will also be redistributed and thus, there would also be less happiness.
The Noriko solution may not be the best one for each of the characters’ individual expressions as they experience different kinds of pain and pleasure. However, I also think that the experiment control solution isn’t any better: to individuate all experiences as belonging to each person alone. This was the control state that our principal characters had before the series began, and they were all misfits that suffered alone. In a hyper-individualistic society, the idea that everyone’s problems belong to themselves alone has an unfortunate side effect where some of those individuals will come across as any one of the characters from this series, and I have to be honest: feeling that pain alone absolutely sucks!
What the Kizuna experiment tried to solve was a method, albeit technological, that would help people understand each other’s individual feelings and thereby “cure” these misfits from acting so self-centered all the time.
But when the kiznaivers return to their control states without aid of the Kizuna system, they come to a seemingly surprising result.
Whether you believe that the Kizuna system helped them realize this feeling or that the experiment was a huge waste of time, this phenomenon cannot be denied: these seven individualistic, self-centered, delinquent teenagers all experienced each other’s pain. As themselves alone. Without the help of the Kizuna system.
To me, this realization seems to reveal that humans already have the ability to share and understand each other’s pain. I might even go the more radical route and say that individualism as an ideology taught us to forget this ability, but that’s for a different conversation altogether. If there was any moment in the series that expressed exactly what kizuna means, it’s right here.
At this time, I would like to present my own conclusion of what this series meant to me. For the lack of a better name, I’m going to call it the Katsuhira solution.
We don’t have to be close. We don’t have to agree with each other. We don’t have to have the same experiences. We all have our own pains, and we don’t like how they feel. But without pain, we will never understand how someone else truly feels. We cannot end suffering. None of us are the same, yet we all share this world, so someone will always feel left out. Maybe we all do.
But even so, we are still connected. By understanding our own pain, we can recognize each other. Share your experiences. Learn from each other. Recognize their pain. Understand how you are seen from someone else’s vantage point. Respect them for who they are. And when we come to recognize another in this way, we form a bond. And for every person we recognize, those bonds become stronger. This is our kizuna.
So if you’re looking for a sci-fi anime that tugs at your emotions and embraces the values of kizuna, watch Kiznaiver.