Kiznaiver is a fascinating thing. It’s an undeniably flawed show ranging from rather boring exposition to overly on the nose dialogue to development in characters seemingly coming completely out of nowhere. It’s far from being “perfect”, something that, due to the nature of media, should be impossible in the first place, but in a way I almost feel like ironically, this makes me like the show more.
Kiznaiver is one of the two latest original series to come out of Studio Trigger and it doesn’t exactly fit into that picture. As the show’s director described to the Japanese Magazine “PASH!”, he feels like a lot of people associated with the studio have the image of working on more “boyish” projects in comparison and I feel like that is more than appropriate. In comparison to Kill la Kill, Gurren Lagann or most other original series the studio has put out, Kiznaiver lacks scale, it lacks the over the top nature and instead gains something a lot more human. The show doesn’t go as all out as most others that are often associated with Hitoyuki Imaishi and Yoshinari Yoh, but rather keeps it much more quiet and small scaled.
At its core Kiznaiver is a show about characters and their struggle to connect to another and while there is a bigger story behind that it feels like a mere stage for these characters to play on and that works brilliantly. After all, its setting and the big story in the background are Kiznaiver‘s biggest weaknesses. There’s little reason to care much about Katsuhira’s and Sonozaki’s background revealed later on in the series and what little investment there is comes from the people we like caring about it. What really is eye-catching about Kiznaiver is the main group of characters.
I say group here because of a reason. While the shows’s individual characters get stronger and stronger over the series, for a large chunk what really carries it is the group as a whole and their interactions. Kiznaiver has a fantastic sense of how these characters would talk to each other and that makes the bonds between them feel surprisingly real, considering their actually rather exaggerated personalities. Of course Katsuhira and co also each develop over time, may that be throughout their own little arc or while going along with everyone else and that really is what ends up making for the best moments in the series.
Kiznaiver’s biggest strength lies not just in its characters, but its character moments.
Where a lot of the exposition may be dull and some of the scenes aren’t as entertaining or meaningful, the show’s high points are exceptionally high, not only through its writing but especially through its absolutely stunning understanding of visual storytelling, lighting and the use of its soundtrack.
Despite being a relatively new director Kobayashi has shown with Kiznaiver that he’s a more than talented individual. The show is absolutely gorgeous in every possible way. The cinematography works very well and the framing and lighting are both absolutely top notch, often bringing out subtle nuances in the characters through visual storytelling. Isolation through framing, positioning of characters, somewhat odd angles, absolutely gorgeous lighting they all help to strongly enhance the quality of the work and the visuals are in the end one of the things the show does best. It manages to create atmosphere incredibly well, flesh out our characters visually and much much more.
The character designs for Kiznaiver are absolutely gorgeous as well. It’s easy to figure out each character by their design alone and their looks strongly compliment their actual personalities. The duo of Shirow Miwa and Mai Yoneyama is a fantastic fit and I’d absolutely love to see more of Yoneyama specifically who had her big TV debut with this show (she previously only worked on the second episode of the Japan Animator Expo named Hill Climb Girl). Where Shirow’s original designs shine through being relatively unique yet absolutely gorgeous to look at and fitting for each character, Yoneyama’s style simplifies them for the sake of animation while giving them incredibly pleasing to look at faces. Her style has through this and Hill Climb Girl become one of my favorites in recent time.
Just as notable as the visuals is Kiznaiver‘s score. Composed by one of my favorite composers in Yuuki Hayashi, it’s possibly one of his best works yet, which means quite a bit considering his background of working on shows like Gundam Build Fighters and Haikyuu!, two shows that have before been praised highly for their Soundtracks. This specific OST somewhat falls in line with his previous works showing similar patterns overall, but at the same time still managing to have its own identity.
It’s a very varied Soundtrack and although piano and guitar seem to be the most prevalent instruments it doesn’t shy away from using other more extraordinary ones either.
Its use in the actual show is just as strong as the Soundtrack itself. There’s more than one scene that would barely work without a track as good as it is playing in the background and it enhances Kiznaiver at least as much as the visuals do.
There’s very little to criticize in Kiznaiver‘s presentation and although the show does have quite a few faults in other parts, like being a little to literal in a lot of cases and having a story that in the end frankly isn’t as interesting there are more than enough pieces making up for that. In fact it being overly literal is something that made me like certain scenes even more than I thought I would. In the final episode there was several lines that threw me off and made me think of exactly that criticism, but in the end it made me smile. Not in the “this is so bad” kind of way and not even because I found it funny, but rather because I found it endearing. It may sound odd, but in the end some of its faults may in fact have made me like it even more.
That was Kiznaiver to me. An absolutely endearing and hugely charming series about pain, connecting and friendship. It was an absolutely wonderful ride even if not all stops were equally beautiful and I would absolutely recommend for more people to go give it a watch!