FEATURE: Aniwords – Kiznavier & How to Say Things without Words

Let us see the things we cannot say.



Kiznaiver's a pretty show; I think most people who are watching it would agree. From the opening seconds of the first episode, the show is drenched in bold red colors and interesting visual textures. And even after the premier, Kiznaiver has continued to be nice to look at even on the most superficial of terms, with varied lighting and quirky set designs standing out its many other visuals virtues. However, despite the praise I could lavish on Kiznaiver simply for being easy on the eyes, it would all be so much cinematic garnish if it didn't serve a deeper purpose. After all, Kiznaiver is a show about saying things, and for a show like that, how it tells the story of its characters is of utmost importance – yes, trumping even the need to look good. 


Tonight I want to talk about Kiznaiver and the things it does right, specifically with its visuals. While my primary inspiration for writing this post comes from the show's sublime seventh episode, note that many of these qualities have been present in the show since the very beginning. Even when its characters aren't explicitly communicating themselves, Kiznaiver is constantly communicating information about them through other means. In a show like this, which always has something to say, always has characters who have something they should be saying, and ultimately desires to be an accomplice in the revelation of things not often said, this is a critical point on which to succeed. And so, alongside discussing Kiznaiver's merits, I want to also speak of the necessity of what it's doing – about how the way it chooses to speak (and the fact that it does so at all) resonates deeply with the show's primary goals. 




Before we begin to really dive deep, let's start with the most obvious: Kiznaiver's distinctive character designs are a great launch point because of how obviously they play into the characters embodying their basic archetypes. Although Kiznaiver has been diligent in expanding these characters beyond anime clichés, it's been fun to see how the characters live out the basic personas their appearances suggest. The red-headed, ponytailed Chidori looks like the childhood friend character she is, Nico's eccentric accessories and teal highlights suggest her to be an oddball, Tenga's spikey hairdo and vibe that recalls Gurren Lagann's Kamina sets him up to be the loud and confident person he is, and so forth. But it doesn't stop there.


In fact, the base of the show's character designs plays directly into one of its biggest (and most crucial) visual strengths: its unrelenting commitment to displaying its characters as unique individuals. By some numbers, it's estimated that around 93% of our communication with other people happens through non-verbal signals – leaving only the other 7% to the actual words we use. Although it demands a far great attention to the details of character animation (consider this cut of Tenga emoting from episode 7) and drawing the characters' facial expressions, Kiznaiver is always placing an emphasis on these kinds of non-verbal signals as a method of communicating what its characters are thinking and feeling. That is, it understands that to truly be a show about communication and connection, it cannot simply rely on the words Katsuhira and the rest of the Kiznaivers say. This has led to a wealth of group shots of the cast that are both entertaining and informative, as even the minor differences in the ways the characters are portrayed reacting to the events of the story differentiate them from each other and add up over time to shape our understanding of who these characters are. [1]


But we're still only at one level of communication – and that's the characters "saying" things themselves. As a cinematic story, Kiznaiver also benefits from being able to tell things to the viewer through the way it shapes the frame by which we witness them. Series director Hiroshi Kobayashi and his episode directors have brought a huge aresenal of different tricks to the screen, but the common thread running through the show's shot framing, diverse lighting, and visual motifs has been expression and reinforcement of the emotional realities of Kiznaiver's characters. Whether it was the repeated use of the umbrella to symbolize Honoka's slow path towards openness with the rest of the Kiznaivers in episode 7, a series of isolating shots representing interpersonal distance in episode 4, or a radiant sunset backlighting a moment of emotional catharsis in episode 2, Kiznaiver sharpens these moments so that we can understand clearly what the emotional truth present is. At times, these techniques may be nuanced and subtle, as with Maki's quiet resolution at the end of episode 7; at others, they may be blatant and loud, like when Chidori lets the floodgates go at the end of episode 5. But whatever the tone, Kiznaiver's direction mirrors the emotion of the scene – and so aids the characters in expressing themselves to the audience.




I could write on and on about specific examples of both of these points, but to do so would be to say more than I need. Although this is not a complete chronicle of all the ways the show communicates outside of what its characters and narrative explicitly state for us (I haven't even touched on the show's fabulous sound direction or the voice acting) I think this is a good start. Again, Kiznaiver is a story about how to say things, and the fact that its non-textual  elements are so harmonized to its written story not only helps to make the arcs of its characters more poignant, but also reinforces the story's themes by living them out as a show. Communication, Kiznaiver says, is a critical part of what makes us human. That the series is willing to demonstrate this for us itself, rather than just forcing its characters to do so... that's something special, I think. This is the kind of formal collaboration that turns good scenes into great ones, and solid shows into standouts. And while I can't predict whether or not Kiznaiver will stick the landing in its final episodes, what we've gotten so far seems to indicate the written and visual narratives are very much in sync with each other. If nothing else, I hope this pattern continues as Kiznaiver moves towards its conclusion.


I suppose it'd be good to close here by noting that Kiznaiver is not the sole anime example of this kind of quality visual storytelling (Hyouka comes to mind, as does the Monogatari series), but it is perhaps – and not a little due to the outspoken sentiments of the story itself – one of the most accessible recent examples I've seen. As the Kizuna systerm purports to force the cast of the show to surface their deepest emotions, the series' visuals must mimic these values in return in order to maintain the story's integrity and illuminate the show's goals. What Kiznaiver's doing isn't particularly revolutionary or unique, but the fact that it speaks right alongside its characters as if guiding them along... I kind of like that.


So, how are you guys liking Kiznaiver so far – and what do you think about its visual style? Have there been any standout shots, images, or scenes for you?


[1] From interviews, it seems this attention to character detail has been a major priority: 12.




Isaac eases his compulsive need to write about anime on his blog, Mage in a Barrel. He also contributes to the Fandom Post and sometimes hangs out on Tumblr. You can follow him on Twitter at @iblessall or on Facebook.

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