FEATURE: "I'm Your Puppet." On KIZNAIVER Episode 8

Emily returns for more thoughts on KIZNAIVER, this time taking a look at episode 8!

by Emily Rand

 

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Spoilers for Final Fantasy VIII ahead.


Breathless from fleeing the eerie Gomorins in the pouring rain, Chidori Takashiro finally musters up the courage to confess her feelings, again, to childhood friend Katsuhira Agata. Agata had been instructed to lead Takashiro to safety, suddenly dropping her hand and apologizing for holding onto it so long. Blushing, she admits that there's something that she wants to tell him for some time.


As she stammers, about to launch into her confession, Agata's eyes widen, illuminated by lightning. Flashbacks of his childhood come to him, a younger Takashiro, a younger Noriko Sonozaki, younger versions of everyone he is forcibly linked with in the kiznaiver experiment. This compels him to run outside into the storm as Noriko Sonozaki walks up a long staircase towards the surface, just in time for a statue to conveniently fall on top of her.


Agata lands gracelessly on top of Sonozaki, presumably saving her from the statue as rain pours down on their prone bodies. Back in the school, Takashiro's confession is spoken, but never heard. Flashbacks suggest that this isn't the first time Agata has saved Sonozaki, and Sonozaki shows her kiznaiver scar to Agata, proving her prior involvement in the experiment.


Due to the artificial nature of the kiznaiver experiment, the series itself toes the line between creating genuine emotionally resonant scenes and entire setups feeling forced or out of place. It's a balancing act, and one that KIZNAIVER hasn't always navigated deftly. However, due to the execution — Sonozaki's approach by train was interspersed with individual vignettes from various pairings, ending with Agata and Takashiro — it works. Everything is contrived, melodramatic, and yet somehow builds tension throughout, making the eventual payoff predictable but oddly satisfying.


 

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Last week's writeup included an off-handed joke about the video game Final Fantasy VIII, which offers a suitable comparative framework, especially with the obvious reveal to the audience this past week and looming realization of in-universe characters sure to come. When a similar narrative was executed in Final Fantasy VIII it was the worst part of the game's narrative — possibly the worst part of the entire game depending on how you feel about the Junction system. Even decidedly less cynical young me rolled her eyes when the lead characters conveniently unearth their past and discuss it in a ruined basketball court. As it turned out, they were all from the same orphanage as children. Most of them had forgotten their pasts until that very moment, when they all slowly remember together, urged on by one of the group. The reason given for their amnesia is the guardian forces they use in battle which makes little to no sense and seems to exist only to have a reason at all.


Even the staunchest of Final Fantasy VIII fans tend to gloss over or ignore this particular scene in favor of the stronger romance narrative between protagonist Squall Lionheart and Rinoa Heartilly. It's sudden appearance within the storyline and execution are fairly indefensible, as is the resulting conversation. The military academy system that they're attending just happens to be a training ground to defeat a succession of powerful sorceresses, the latest of which just happens to be their prior caregiver at the orphanage. Lines like, "We can't keep avoiding her forever." and "I can't believe we have to fight matron!" surface, the latter of which rings particularly hollow given that they've only remembered her role in their lives within the past fifteen minutes or so and there were little to no clues leading up to this reveal.


 

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While not identical, the situations are similar in that both groups of children are being manipulated by adults without their consent or knowledge. KIZNAIVER's eighth episode begins with the leaders of the experiment kidnapping their charges and forcing them to listen to a lecture of the project throughout the years — a slide presentation to jog their memory in service of their latest setup to come. It is revealed that prior to this most recent batch of kiznaivers, the initial trials were performed on unwitting children and were in search of linking human emotions rather than physical pain. The sage audience member knows instantly that this very group is the same batch of living children that Kazunao Yamada speaks of in his lecture, yet the current kiznaivers react with disgust, still not recognizing their own past.


Honoka Maki's episode last week showed the kiznaivers stepping forward for the first time, unbidden by their overseers and establishing a truer emotional connection than any experiment prior. This week's offering embraces its own pre-fabricated nature with the Kizna Committee setting up the teens like pawns in order to link their positive emotions — a yet unachieved accomplishment in previous trials. Going as far as to create a relationship chart with which they can track their charges' current romantic feelings towards each other, Kiznaiver admits the series' role as puppetmaster, wielding it as it's own storytelling device.


Sometime it works, and sometimes it doesn't. The Nico Niiyama and Hajime Tenga pairing felt forced, without much preceding interaction between those two characters to warrant her interest. This isn't to say that it couldn't happen between two hormonal and confused teenagers, but that within a constructed story, there should be more precedent than the researchers dictating a previously undetected and unexpressed emotional connection. With characters manipulated by both their handlers and the series itself, the series should have given its audience more to work with visually, especially given how visually-competent the show can be.


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Fortunately, the other two setups work — the Agata/Takashiro/Sonozaki love triangle finally taking center stage after weeks of buildup. While the viewers' hearts may break for Takashiro, it's once again up to Sonozaki and Agata to carry the show. As the two most outwardly apathetic people in the series, their responses are the the most genuine. Despite the contrived framework, and his coming to her aid in the most melodramatic way possible, the awakening of their respective feelings continue to be some of the more intriguing parts of the experiment, being the least-forced despite their childhood connection and obvious setups.

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Emily Rand writes about anime at Atelier Emily, when she's not writing about people playing video games.

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