I have more than one screenshot folder open when I watch a show. The first has all the screenshots I take of the show, where anything interesting, background, line, etc. might appear. These folders are massive. The second is where I collect the most useful “reaction faces” and such. Some shows, some episodes yield 0 results for it, while others yield ~10. Then I have a folder where the most important and/or beautiful moments of a show are collected, moments that would be useful when writing a post, to encapsulate the episode, or to drive home a point about it. Most episodes get roughly 4-10 screenshots in this folder. Rare shows that have a lot to say or are very beautiful get about 20. This episode of Kiznaiver had 69 bloody images. Here is the album of these screenshots, in case you’re interested.
Before I move on to point out similarities, I want to make it clear that this show is gorgeous. Just keep in mind I’m actually positive on the show’s presentation as you read the following segments.
Talking about that, let’s get it out of the way first. Kiznaiver is a pretentious show. No, no, I’m not talking about how people use “pretentious”, I mean that on the visual level, where it pretends it’s a Shaft production. I mean, if someone had told me director Kobayashi Hiroshi had really wanted to direct Bakemonogatari, I’d have certainly believed them. The austere and symmetrical architecture, throwing someone off the staircase, the Senjougahara look and head-tilt.So much of it is there.
Not just Bakemonogatari though, the starting sequence was reminiscent of Madoka’s opening segment, in atmosphere, and the patterns and running, but also reminded me of Mekakucity Actors in other parts. As the episode progressed, however, I kept thinking “Studio Shaft, Shinbo, yes, yes, but there’s also something missing here,” andthe scenes where Katsuhira is taken captive and then Sonozaki makes her declarations finally helped me see what it’s about, it reminded me of the person whose works feel like an ur-Shinbo’s, Ikuhara, specifically in Mawaru Penguindrum.
That’s not too interesting in and of itself, so what is the relevance of it? It means the show is going for a slightly surreal state of mind, where it’s as if we’re watching a play. These two influences often make use of mirrored instances and symmetry. Symmetry and mirroring are a big theme of the show. And also, on a much simpler way, it means that the show’s visuals are very striking, and they leave a strong image. Someone sat down and thought hard on how to make this show into a spectacle, and they succeeded.
Beyond that, the gogorin remind me of both the dolls in Psycho-Pass, and from the doll in Paranoia Agent. This is a show about losing ourselves in the other, so here we have the municipal officials all hiding their true natures, as if they are not people, as if they had already been successfully assimilated into the show’s “happy togetherness”. A dystopian atmosphere through this impossibly happy mascot. Sometimes symbols are used to mean things, and references, and atmosphere creation.
The show’s audio was good, the voice acting solid. The character designs pleasing and the colours crisp. I mean, I made a webm of them walking in the shadows, and I had to rewatch that scene because it was so pretty I ended up ignoring the lines the first time around. Everything about this show is gorgeous. Even the animated “smears” look good.
OP – Colourful, relatively fun music too. A Kaleidoscope, which is all about mirroring, and reflections. Mixing with one another.
ED – Nice song, I like it. I like the minimalist visuals, but just the girls with flowers? Boys need some flowers too :P But nice, and it’s nice to see the show holding back, as opposed to the OP and the rest of it.
Themes / Story:
To start this with, I’m going to follow ideas I presented in my Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress write-up, specifically on the difficulties of bringing up philosophical ideas in anime, where far too many shows keep spelling out their themes in the very first episode, where they’re telling us, rather than showing, what their ideas are, what the show is about. They also didn’t earn them in terms of making them relatable via the characters, and it comes off a bit weird as characters just spouting all this information at one another (and Sonozaki speaking exposition coldly at the other characters sure was a thing in the episode’s last act).
Here is a bunch of such lines:
I mean, come on, why are we watching a show to see an exploration of all these topics if you tell us what the answer is from the get-go, right? You will note all these lines start with “Everyone”, and it’s not by accident, it’s because these are all messages a show, this show, could be trying to impart to us. To just come right out and say them like this is so inelegant, so artificial, within and without the show. And not very convincing, even if we agree with the messages.
So why does Okada, who, although not a very subtle and nimble writer, isn’t one who is without skill, start her story like this? Here is a line that appeared in the episode that is part of an answer, while being sort of ridiculous for, say, a philosopher to write, but works very well for a narrative author: “Words are futile in answering your question.” Seems ridiculous for an author who deals in words to say that, right? Except, she can show us through her narrative. So, what about all the things she had already told us?
Before I provide the answer, here are a couple more lines, less “Thematic” and more “Emotional”, lines that would be great if we heard them 8-10 episodes into the show, as characters are forced to admit them through what they undergo:
Why is she giving this to us now, rather than rob us of it happening later? Well, because the show isn’t about these things. The show isn’t about understanding these obvious lessons. And since these lessons are obvious, why am I so bothered that the show is spelling them out now? Because it’s crass storytelling, and because real people don’t act like that, mostly. But if we accept for a moment that saying all of these things from the get-go isn’t a mistake in storytelling, what then?
It means that these things are not the underlying assumptions that the show will try to prove all along, but the explicit assumption. We all want to connect to one another. We all want to know one another and ourselves. We don’t. We have hardships. So this show isn’t about showing how these age-old questions are “Real Questions”, but to see what happens when we try to solve them. How even though we know these things, and know one another is also hurting, we still have difficulties “solving” it. As an analogy, this is about OreGairu seasons 1 and 2. Season 1 has as its underlying truth and assumption that isn’t vocalized that we wish to connect to one another, that we’re all lonely and hurting. Season 2 makes it explicit. And yet, knowing others are hurting, admitting we are hurting isn’t a magical solution that removes all drama, but exactly what drama is born from.
And drama is Mari Okada’s third name. “Melo” is her second, in case you were wondering.
Even if I accept that Okada knows where she’s steering this ship (beyond “tears and heartache”), the show is still heavy-handed in how it’s been presenting its storytelling, how much exposition there is, how little the characters are actually coming through. What this episode did was present us the premise we entered into this episode with, “A bunch of teenagers are connected via a sci-fi premise, where they will grow to understand one another.” That is almost the “All-Okada Show”‘s premise. It still didn’t actually do much. And what it did do, it did by hammering us over the head with. I think even these premises which we take for granted could’ve been woven more comfortably, especially as the characters still need to grow to accept it themselves.
Yes, yes, our main character can’t feel pain, because he lost something, and now can’t connect to others, and they can’t connect to him. Themes don’t have to be so loud. It certainly did feel as if we are seeing a bunch of characters on a stage acting for us. Very Ikuhara, very Shinbo. Can Okada make it work? I wonder. I really love all these ideas, but shows aren’t about ideas, but how you can pass them through. Shouting works, but isn’t terribly interesting. So we’ll have to see.