If you watch a lot of anime you know that summer vacation is usually high stakes. Either you get thrown into a cybernetic world, scouted for a professional sport, or you end up getting run over by a bus and have to thrive in a new world. It’s rare that you actually end up just having a blast and these characters are about to learn that the hard way. It’s a pretty fun show and ends up being unique as well.
The show starts off by introducing us to Katsuhira who gets bullied every day. He is forced to hand over his lunch money to these bullies and get pounded for a while anyway. The thing is, he doesn’t really mind. He does not have the ability to feel pain, it’s just not something his body can do. So he doesn’t mind being beaten up since he doesn’t feel it. Additionally, he doesn’t really possess emotions or they’re too muted to really be felt. So he’s rather apathetic about life itself.
His best friend Chidori is always really upset about Katsuhira being beaten up like this but she can’t convince him to fight back. One day his life changes when a girl named Noriko shows up. She decides to murder him and pushes the guy off the stairs. Katsuhira manages to survive somehow, only he is trapped in a facility. She explains that she is going to run an experiment by which his pain will now be transmitted to the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins. These are 6 other students she has chosen from the school who will now be forced to partake in this experiment. The Kiznaiver program.
The 5 don’t have a choice as they are kidnapped and taken to this school. Here’s how the program works, whenever any of these 7 experience any kind of pain, it will be split 7 ways and everyone will feel it. So the good part is that no pain you experience will be as bad as it usually was. The bad part is that if someone gets beaten up by bullies a lot….prepare for extra pain. The 7 students must survive the entire Summer Vacation in order to be released from this program. They’re all from different social circles and circumstances though so they will have to try and get along first.
That’s really what this show is about, seeing if the students can come together. In a way the show’s even a metaphor for how anyone can get along no matter what their background or situation is. The show creates a scenario that forces each person to have to at least make an attempt to get along. It’s in their best interests if they want to make it through the Summer without too much pain after all. They’ll be put through many different situations and scenarios before they can get out of this.
So lets do a roll call of the characters. I’ve already talked about Katsuhira for the most part. He doesn’t know what his dark secret is (Everyone is tested on this during the first trial) I wasn’t a big fan of his. His lack of emotion does mean that for a while he lets anyone push him around and doesn’t really think for himself. He does get a character arc around this though so by the end he is considerably improved from how he started. I still wouldn’t say I’m a big fan or anything but I am glad that he made progress.
Then you have Chidori, (I could have sworn they pronounced her name as Chitori the whole time though. I really thought that was her name until I looked up the spelling for this review) the best friend. Her darkest secret is that she’s in love with Katsuhira so that’s pretty tough for her since he doesn’t have the emotional knowledge to know how to respond. She’s a nice character and one of the more likable ones. She does her best to try and take this all in stride but Noriko’s presence makes it rather difficult. Usually if you start off strong it makes it difficult to stick the landing though as she takes the final episodes the hardest. Still a quality character throughout though.
Next up is Hajime, the tough guy of the group. His darkest secret is that he’s extremely afraid of dogs to the point where he plans out his routes so he doesn’t pass any dog owners. It would wreck his image so you can see why he hides that away. He’s quick to step in and help Katsuhira out in the opening episode which was good. At his core Hajime is a good person such as how he ignores his own romantic feelings so they don’t get in the way of this adventure. He’s not always great as he can be rather crude like his threat to Noriko but for the most part he definitely stands out and is loyal. He’s more likely to have your back than most of the other characters even if he did beat someone up a little too quickly near the end. I know he cracked but it still felt uncalled for.
Nico is the quirky member of the group. She loves talking about fairies and just bouncing around all the time. Her darkest secret is that…she doesn’t actually believe in any of that stuff and just acts quirky so people won’t think she’s normal. I thought that was actually a pretty interesting subversion and in a sense, thinking up a whole elaborate act like that means she was already quirky to begin with. It’s definitely an interesting development. Overall she’s one of the strongest characters for sure. Nico probably takes the end of the series better than the rest as well.
Tsuguhito was my favorite member of the students. He’s the cool kid in class who is super popular and has a lot of friends. His darkest secret is that he used to be fat and has tried to make sure nobody knows that part of him. Honestly, while it’s good as a comedic moment, it’s probably the lowest stakes from all of the secrets. To most that’s actually more of an impressive moment than anything because it showed that he was able to lose a lot of weight and turned his life around.
Part of why I like him is because he’s just a good guy. He doesn’t brag about it or show off like the others but just does the right thing when it counts. He gives Honoka a lot of pep talks and sticks up for Katsuhira. He really doesn’t pick fights or get anyone into trouble throughout the show. He does put up a tough façade at times and throws some insults around but never anything too serious. He does just enough to keep the act going and also wasn’t about to rush into a romance like certain other characters in the show.
Then you have one of least favorite members of the group Honoka. She’s definitely not a people person and likes to keep to herself. Her darkest secret is that she murdered someone a while back although of course there is more context to that later on. Honoka is just the meanest member of the group by far and carries this attitude on for way too long. Right up through the last 2 episodes or so, she is still going on about how none of them are friends. She does her best to hurt everyone else’s feelings as well.
Her origin story was definitely a sad one but even that got worse because she didn’t face it head on. If she had then she would have been in a much better place since she did misinterpret things. Should have just read the manga…. I would say her backstory was probably the weakest part of the show.
Finally you have my actual least favorite member of the group, Yoshiharu. His thing is that he’s really into pain and even enjoys injuring himself just to get that sensation. He’s got a few screws loose so to speak. I don’t even remember what his darkest secret was. He missed the first trial so maybe it didn’t come up. Part of what hurts him is that the guy never really contributes to the story. You could cut him out and I dare say that not a single thing would change. He really felt like he was added on to an extent. Even how the other 6 characters all match up in pairs while he’s just running around. Yoshiharu’s gimmick wasn’t really funny either so he just fell flat as a character.
Of course you have the two teachers who are in on this. Both of them signed off on this very corrupt experiment so it’s hard to like either one of them. Both are willing to put the students in danger on multiple occasions. Mutsumi seems to at least have more of a conscience than Kazunao though. She finally has a breaking point while he never backs down even to the end. The students definitely shouldn’t forgive these two anytime soon.
Finally you have the mysterious Noriko. She also appears to be rather emotionless and didn’t feel a thing even when she nearly brought Katsuhira to his doom. So that’s a character you want to be wary of. I’m not a big fan of hers for the same reason I wasn’t a big Katsuhira fan for a while. When you’re emotionless like that there’s just less opportunities to have cool moments where you really stand out.
By the end we learn her origin story of course and it does help her case. She definitely went through a lot and made some rather big sacrifices to make sure things went well for everyone else. I can respect that without a doubt. Noriko definitely takes the cake for the hardest path in the show and had to endure way more than the rest of the characters combined. It’s very dark and I’m glad she at least got a happy ending since it would have been really tragic otherwise. She was a lot of fun in the flashbacks too.
That’s mainly it for the cast as there aren’t many supporting characters beyond that. The show is 12 episodes after all and it’s heavily character driven so there’s not much room to throw in others. The two bullies appear for a bit but Chidori put them in their place when they try to complain. They haven’t been through nearly as much as the main characters so they definitely had no room to complain. It’s not like it’s a competition of who had it the worst but when you’re a bully you don’t get to suddenly say that life isn’t fair. They really picked this battle for themselves.
Now there is a whole lot of romance here as you might have gathered. It’s summer vacation with 7 students who are forced to hang out with each other constantly. Naturally there was going to be a lot of drama here. Moreover, you’ve got multiple triangles going. Katsuhira likes Noriko, Chidori likes Katsuhira, Hajime likes Chidori, and Nico likes Hajime. Tsuguhito likes Honoka but there isn’t a third party in that one. With characters all connected like this, it makes it hard for them to approach.
Even more so once the characters begin experiencing each other’s emotions as well. In a way that’s the scariest thing about the Kiznaiver program. When everyone knows every little thing about you, it means that privacy is now a foreign concept. You’re really boxed in and when you’re forced to be honest as opposed to doing it willingly, that’s naturally going to bring in a little more tension.
The Kiznaiver program is a very fascinating concept because even if you could implement this in real life, the show depicts why this would be dangerous. For starters, you could simply die from the sudden pain of someone else feeling something. Throw in the emotional pain and you could suddenly have a group of suicidal people. From the start the show makes sure to depict this as a very dangerous experiment that would be outlawed by any government. The main characters have to thrive in spite of it.
So going back to the romance, that part could get a little overly dramatic. I’m not the biggest romance guy and aside from Chidori who knew Katsuhira ever since he was a kid, the rest only just met each other. A little quick to be developing romantic feelings right? Perhaps the Kiznaiver accelerated the program since it connects people so thoroughly but even then it all just feels fast.
Now, most of the characters do keep their feelings hidden which is an interesting twist. See, I usually judge the characters for moving too quickly but for the ones who were hiding their feelings until Kiznaiver exposed them, is it really the same thing? I’d say no. See, in this case that means the character might subconsciously know it’s too soon so that’s why they didn’t say anything. I don’t think Chidori, Nico, or Hajime would have said anything. They’d just have kept their feelings in their heart and squashed them eventually.
It’s a very interesting dynamic and one I could get behind here. Particularly in the triangles since they were all holding their feelings back since they knew that their friends were already interested. If you like a girl but your best friend has already made the same interest clear, then stepping back is a pretty honorable thing to do. Now, if you friend doesn’t do anything for ages then absolutely you can jump in, but the core concept is sound. So I’ll give them some credit for that. That said, it does feel like Chidori going with Hajime would feel like an absolute rebound if Katsuhira chooses Noriko in the end. Kiznaiver probably has more romance sewn into its themes than most other shows I’ve seen and yet it handles them better than a lot of others too. I wouldn’t mind if you cut out a lot of the drama of course but if you’re going to do it, then you should do it well of course.
While things get really serious by the end, I’d say the show keeps a good balance of being light hearted along with this. Nico for example is a character who keeps everyone feeling pretty chipper the whole time. The characters also have opportunities to just hang out and have a good time once in a while. Don’t expect it a whole lot but they at least aren’t having to worry about the Kiznaiver program all the time even if it’s not exactly something you can forget either.
I said it once and I’ll say it again, the Kiznaiver system itself is absolutely terrifying when you think about it. The fact that these 6 strangers (Lets be real, they’re basically strangers since you don’t know them well) will eventually know your every thought, emotion, and pain is pretty intense. It’s enough to make you decide to just move away like in the Kino’s Journey episode only in this case you can’t quite escape the pain so it isn’t a full proof solution. Then if you keep residual effects even after the Kiznaiver implant is gone…well I guess there’s no real escape at that point.
The animation looks pretty solid. This is more of a slice of life so there’s not a chance to show off with the graphics most of the time but the city shots look great like in the climax. This is also probably why they gave Chidori’s hair a sharp color since that always stands out. The show also takes advantage whenever there is a chance to use some bright colors so the Kiznaiver energy bands are an example of this or when Noriko is standing in front of a data computer. As for the soundtrack, it’s not very memorable but it’s decent. The opening is one of the weakest I’ve seen in a while though. It’s going for more of a low key route but give me a hype opening anytime.
The writing is solid throughout and the episodes really go by in a flash. It feels like a very natural journey to the point where this could easily be turned into a movie. You’d have to remove some of the trials of course but it would work pretty well since it’s all 1 grant story here. You could probably cut some things out if needed like Honoka’s origin story and even most of Noriko’s or at least the parts that are still around in the present. I wouldn’t mind if they threw some more scenes Tsuguhito’s way instead.
By the end you will question why the company was looking into these Kiznaiver experiments though. If you think about it, there’s still no long term gains for this project. At least not without some kind of redesign because even if you make it safe to an extent, nobody is going to want to sign up for this. I can’t see it being useful in military applications either as it would just confuse the soldiers. Maybe it can help with medical research if a doctor wants to see exactly what kind of pain you are experiencing but I still can’t see that ending well. So in that way it almost feels like the kids were put through a whole lot for no real reason other than learning how to be nicer people.
It is cool how the company has a bunch of people in mascot costumes going around and kidnapping the main characters though. They have a whole lot of pull when you think about it. Even enough to hide some pretty deep secrets in the school. I admit that I was taken aback at how a few select students are just sorta sitting around. When you get to the final episodes you’ll see what I mean but they were just hanging around there the whole time? That was absolutely crazy, not in a plot hole way or anything as it’s easily explained but I was just surprised at how suddenly they appeared. Not everyone gets a happy ending in this show I’m afraid as the Kiznaiver program definitely has a lot of skeletons in the closet.
Overall, Kiznaiver is a pretty fun show. It’s got a solid concept going for it and is also a fun new approach to showing how characters can learn to get along. It certainly gets serious as the characters have to really look inside themselves to discover their true feelings. It’s over in a flash but has a good run throughout. It also starts off with a bang as the characters initially get trapped in that facility. I wouldn’t call the show high stakes for the most part but they are put in some real danger at times and for a while it’s hard to tell what the intentions behind the tests are. Also the final episode raises the stakes pretty suddenly as well which made for a good climax. You should always end on a high note right? I’d recommend checking this one out.