Watching Wednesday #1 – Watch Without Waiting
Kiznaiver: Anime Taught Me that I’m an Asshole
The short of it: Kiznaiver is a short, beautiful ride that asks why and how relationships exist. It twists tropes and doesn’t cheap out on any of its characters. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, purely character-driven show that looks this good and works this well.
We’re plagued by the phenomenon of ghosting– slowly losing contact with someone else and dodging any attempts at a connection. The reason I feel strongly about this strategy of evading others is because I do it, a lot. It’s this thought that avoiding a response is the equivalent of delaying a conversation, that it’s not an outright, “No.” that could offend someone. There are two main reasons for ghosting:
- I don’t want to respond.
- I can’t respond.
The former is easy– pants are off, the next episode’s already started, pizza’s in the oven, something I’d rather do is happening. The latter is less easy. Generally, it’s, “I can’t find the energy or motivation to face another person.” My apathy overcomes social expectations and the entire concept of politeness.
Katsuhira, the protagonist of Studio Trigger’s Kiznaiver, is the model of pure apathy– he can’t feel pain. He’s got one faint memory from his childhood where someone tells him he’ll get his pain back one day, but other than that, he’s unsure why he doesn’t feel anything. But he doesn’t care enough to really question it. His best friend tries her best to keep him active and alive, but there’s only so much you can do for a friend that’s constantly stepping away from you.
That’s it. That’s the anime protagonist; he’s not the chosen one or got some secret family power. He’s a kid who doesn’t have feelings. As the show goes on, it becomes clear that the struggle isn’t for Katsuhira, it’s for his friends and loved ones that have to deal with his apathy.
Katsuhira and six of his classmates, each of which represent one of the modernization of the Seven Deadly Sins (that is, the Seven Deadly Tropes), are kidnapped and quietly forced into the Kiznaiver Experiment. In an attempt to bring about world peace by making humans feel the pain they inflict on others, the experiment makes all participants share their pain. The seven Kiznaivers are linked up and given three months to understand one another; in the meantime, anytime one of them feels pain, it’s evenly divided between the group. A jump off of a roof becomes survivable, but it does a good bit of damage to the other six members.
The initial premise is a little lame– world peace through sharing is a pretty fluffy concept that’ll earn more than a few eye rolls. Thankfully, it’s the most minor of the motivations on the show. Within a few episodes, it breaks down to being wholly character-driven, giving each one of the Kiznaivers fully-realized lives and relationships.
Watching the show made me realize a lot of things about myself, my relationships, and how my actions impact those I care about– like Saturday morning cartoon level of teaching me a whole new degree of emotional maturity. Yeah, maybe I am a manchild who overindulges in his passions, but this beautifully animated Japanese show made me realize I’ve been a huge asshole to people that care about me.
Beyond all that, Kiznaiver just does so many things right in its brief 12 episode run:
- A sexual deviant who doesn’t have a traumatic backstory to explain their deviance
- The depiction of an adolescent’s struggle with sexuality and confusing feelings with fetishizing or demeaning
- How tropes, and, by extension, stereotypes, succeed and fail as narrative and interpersonal devices
If all this rambling hasn’t it done for you, do me a favor and just watch the opening. It’s by far my favorite opening of a show in recent memory.
Watch it on: Crunchyroll
On The Topic of Emotional Openings
The opening theme song is “Lay Your Hands on Me by BOOM BOOM SATELLITES, a Japanese duo composed of Michiyuki Kawashima and Masayuki Nakano. Soon after the opening song for Kiznaiver was announced last year, Kawashima’s brain tumors grew worse and left him partially paralyzed. The song and four-song EP that contained it was his final works. He died in October 2016.