My first impression of Kiznaiver after finishing the first episode was that, regardless of whether it was good or bad, it would definitely be interesting. The premise was unique, albeit convoluted, Trigger has a strong style and writer Mari Okada (Anohana, Toradora) has written a lot of highly regarded anime before. The first episode also made it very clear that Kiznaiver wanted to explore complex themes about human connection. As it turns out, I was right.
The story starts when six high school students are taken by the government as part of an experiment to try and bring about world peace. They are each given a small scar that binds their pain together. Every time one of them is injured, the others feel it too. The idea behind the so-called Kizna System (Kizu is Japanese for wound and Kizuna is Japanese for bond) is that if everyone was able to feel each other’s pain, there would be no war or conflict in the world. The kids taken are Katsuhira, the main character who can’t feel pain and is regularly bullied, Chidori, his childhood friend who has feelings for him, Tenga, the tough guy who tries to help Katsuhira, Nico, the eccentric airhead, Yuta, the ordinary popular guy, and Maki, the cynical loner who is the most reluctant to connect with anyone. There’s also Sonozaki, another high school student who is one of the masterminds behind the Kizna System and has some sort of connection with Katsuhira.
It’s clear from episode one that the overall theme of Kiznaiver is human connection, and it’s shown through the characters. Katsuhira struggles to make friends because he doesn’t feel pain (it’s explained later) and just generally seems distant and apathetic, which Sonozaki calls him on at the beginning. All the other characters have similar issues that keep them from really fitting in. The early episodes are mostly spent establishing this and setting up relationships before it really starts to explore the characters. Not every character is given equal development (Yuta gets relatively little) but the ones that do usually turn out to be the best. Maki’s episodes are especially good as they reveal why she’s so closed off and reluctant to befriend anyone. Surprisingly, Nico is also a standout character. She seems like the goofy comic relief at first and she kind of is, but she’s also the most open character in the show. She has a pretty simple outlook, but she’s also really perceptive and good at seeing what the others really need. She’s the most determined to bond with everyone and doesn’t let their issues get in the way. The show can occasionally be a little too direct about stating its themes, but that never bothered me as much as it did others.
I haven’t talked about the plot much beyond the basic premise because it really isn’t that impressive or important. The sci-fi aspects are pretty meh and the entire setup is just there to develop the characters and put them in specific situations. That might sound like a harsh criticism, but Kiznaiver isn’t very story focused anyway. It gives most of it’s attention to the characters and their interactions and only a few episodes really look at the Kizna System. I’ve long thought that strong characters can makeup for a weaker story, and Kiznaiver is a perfect example of that. The story isn’t what I would call bad, but it’s just not all that interesting compared to the characters.
It should also be noted that the direction in Kiznaiver is excellent, with plenty of beautiful looking shots and just generally good framing for everything. Hiroshi Kobayashi has only directed one OVA before this, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for his name attached to any future projects. The animation for Kiznaiver was done by Trigger and is generally high quality, although it’s more dialogue focused than animation focused. The art strikes a good balance between stylization and realism so it’s able to stay memorable but keep the more serious moments grounded. The music mostly stayed in the background, but did a great job enhancing the existing material without taking over. The opening by Boom Boom Satellites was especially good and something I would listen to on its own.
Overall, your enjoyment of Kiznaiver almost completely depends on how much you like the characters. The story was just okay, but the real focus was on the characters and how they got to know each other. They weren’t all equally developed, but there were several standouts that were great. It might seem strange to give something with an okay story such a high rating, but the character development more than made up for that, and the story wasn’t really the point of it.
Kiznaiver is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Final Score: 9/10