We all know pain. We’ve all suffered loss, defeat, and failure in one way or another. Whether it comes to bullying, self harm, or a loss of a dream, we all have scars we hide as we bravely confront whatever problems the next day has to throw at us. We put on makeup. We smile. We do our job. After all, that’s what being an adult is all about, right?
Kiznaiver throws the middle finger to this. It defiantly gives a “screw you!” to the idea of harboring scars and instead, flashily marks them on the skin of our young protagonists. Rather than keeping our feelings and pain locked up, Kiznaiver explores adolescence and plays with the idea of displaying pain in all of its ugliness, pettiness, and passion and sharing that with other human beings, whether they like it or not.
For teenagers, there are only two ways of reaching out to people – verbally or physically. Communication inflicts the scars you can’t see; sometimes, through miscommunication, false pretenses, or actively harming another individual with hurtful words. While many anime choose to focus on this half of interacting with others, Kiznaiver instead, opts for physical interaction in two ways: bullying and self harm. Bullying, as Kiznaiver sees it, is a petty but desperate way of reaching out to others, albeit in a negative fashion. It opposes physical intimacy, and only stimulates negative feedback. One feels victorious, and the others loses. It’s a war.
There’s a second, more shameful, stigmatized form of assault, and that’s self harm. It can mean actively harming oneself, or passively letting harm come to oneself. Whereas attacking others in the name of justice or bullying at least creates some kind of interaction between two individuals, self harm is the most isolated case of interaction. You don’t reach out to others. You cannot love yourself, and as a result, you have no ability to help or be helped. For our main protagonist, Katsuhira Ahira, this is his identity: a bullied boy who fuels self harm by letting it happen to him and seeking no help from his best friend, Chidori Takashiro.
“Katsuhira-kun, do you know why you have always been bullied for no good reason ever since you were little? It’s because you don’t get scared. Everyone wants to be special to someone. Whether it be due to positive feelings, or negative feelings. Because you don’t express pain, because you don’t struggle….people can’t find themselves within you….Everyone wants to carve their scars into someone else.”
For Katsuhira, a boy who cannot physically feel pain, verbal assault, bullying and self harm are the same thing. If Kiznaiver suggests that bonds are formed through inflicting pain on other people, then he is a passive existence that belittles himself to the point where he has no issues with people violating his own body. He runs away from the responsibility of holding himself and others accountable for his and/or their actions. Noriko argues that it’s not normal; at least, a human being should respect what happens to their own body and feel it. As part of a grander scheme, she implements the Kizna System, designated to link Katsuhira’s physical pain with six other individuals (and vice versa). It’s a forced assault on two levels – Noriko not only pushes Katsuhira saying he willingly volunteered, but now Katsuhira and the others have no choice but to comply with her demands. Katsuhira cannot feel pain, so it’s up in the air whether he can feel other’s pain or not. But whatever he feels, other people will feel. He now is bound by the responsibility or accountability of other’s feelings of pain. He cannot be isolated anymore. It’s an ugly way of forcing interaction; no more hiding, no more suppression. Every mistake is shared whether we like it or not.
We could ask ourselves why only physical pain? Why not verbal? It ties down to what Kiznaiver actively chooses to be about: the physical harm we inflict on one another. It’s not that verbal and physical harm are mutually exclusive; Nico Niiyama’s exchange with her classmate, Hajime Tenga is a result of disrespect on a verbal and physical level. We can assume that as a result, Kiznaiver wants to focus on the most passionate of emotions – emotions that cannot be contained with words but must be felt by action.
Kiznaiver opts for the unhealthy with the opening LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME, and sticks to it with the premise of exchanging pain with one another. Heck, if we can’t learn to understand one another through common respect and love, we’ve got to be human, stumbling, bleeding, and messy beings, pressing our mistakes, ideals and responsibilities on others. It’s the only thing we’ve got in common.