Well, I just finished Kiznaiver, and boy am I piqued!
I’ve had the line about flying in from Chicago and having tired arms stuck in my head, so this is the opening you’ll have to deal with. It’s so much cheerier-sounding than this whole post ended up being, not that that is of any surprise to me. I originally was planning to write up my review of the show, but that’ll have to wait; suffice, at the moment, to say that I liked the cast a fair bit but found the need to hang “teens are hormonal and behave in silly ways” plot onto a not particularly well thought out sci-fi frame irritating at best. That it’s ultimate lesson at the end was as facile as “people really CAN connect with one another!” certainly doesn’t help matters.
While all that is fairly annoying, what bothered me most about Kiznaiver was the whole handling of Maki, a story arc which finally petered out with Saved By Heterosexuality. If you haven’t watched Kiznaiver, to wit – Maki was close friends with a girl, Ruru, in middle school who was terminally ill with some never fully specified kidney ailment (surely nephritis of some stripe). They also collaborated on a manga which was, GASP, yuri. Art imitating life, it would seem, as Ruru herself makes a move on Maki. Maki for her part, gives her a pretty hard cold shoulder, and Ruru dies, leaving Maki to feel guilty about how everything played out. Zip forward to the present day and she still has hang-ups about it. Luckily for our gal Maki, the people she’s been unwillingly bound to with the Kizna System, which makes all those connected feel each other’s pain, are all nosy enough to get involved with trying to sort these hang-ups out. Chief among these are Nico, an eccentric and pig-tailed girl, and Yuuta, a pretty boy type who used to be chubby and who has a crush on Maki.
Despite the fact that Nico is initially the prominent player in the efforts to aid Maki, Yuuta is the one who ascends to the most important role. Yuuta urges Maki to read the final chapter in the manga which Ruru completed on her own, something which allows Maki to finally come to peace with her own actions. (By the way, we also meet Ruru’s bereaved parents, who do not themselves get any resolution – sucks to not be a photogenic teen, huh?) Maki also admits that she loved Ruru, and that she backed off out of fear of being even more hurt upon the other girl’s inevitable death. As part of the series finale, we last see Maki and Yuuta on what appears to be a date, Yuuta freaking out over an indirect kiss involving a crepe. Heterosexuality Saves.
That is the rough outline of it, but I’m necessarily glossing over some items, and if you haven’t watched the show, you probably won’t grasp the full weight of what I’m talking about. And while I do quite like the first two-thirds or so of the show, as its cast of photogenic and frequently foolish teens are honestly fairly endearing and enjoyable to watch stumble into each other, I wouldn’t quite endorse it as something to watch. Do you want to see an example of why sometimes what looks initially like inclusion ends up being worse than not mentioning homosexuality at all? Then, sure, go ahead and watch Kiznaiver.
Moving back toward the actual issue at hand, though…
Maybe Maki is bisexual? And, yes, that is certainly possible! But with the way things are depicted, that is neither clear nor does it seem what we are meant to conclude. Maki’s gay whatever with the dead Ruru is the wound she bears and the reason she can’t connect with others; it is the boy with a crush on her who saves her from this trauma, and they end up on a date together at the show’s close. (Regarding this date, perhaps it could be argued that Maki’s just humoring Yuuta, but this interpretation doesn’t fit with her personality – she makes it pretty clear she’s not the sort to humor others or to massage their egos in any fashion.) Maki’s additionally never demonstrated as having an interest in any other girl, too, something which lends the whole thing to being interpreted as a matter of youth/immaturity rather than as something intrinsic to her sexuality. Same-sex attraction as simply a symptom of immaturity is hardly an uncommon belief, even at this late a date.
To hop back a bit to the idea of homosexual relationships/attraction as traumatic, too, let us consider that Maki and another girl in the show, Chidori, are in similar boats. Chidori has a friend who she loves (Katsuhira) who “died” in a sense years before the show begins, as his sense of pain was ripped out, leaving him unable to feel emotionally or physically. Chidori’s hang-up is a pretty vanilla unrequited love thing made slightly more complicated because she also understands that Katsuhira is incapable of returning her feelings at the start of the show. Maki’s friend, meanwhile, literally died, and her hang-up is since she, sans explanation, ditched out on the girl before the girl died. Even though Chidori doesn’t get the boy, the boy still lives, and he is able to be fully restored by show’s end. Meanwhile, gay girl Ruru stays dead. She is the homosexual past, and she essentially has to remain buried because she can’t be reformed anymore.
Now, not only is Ruru the homosexual past, she’s also an embodiment of homosexuality as disease given that she has died. Even before Yuuta shows up, Maki had tried to disassociate herself from this taint of death by repressing her own desires and rejecting Ruru’s overture. But what is heterosexuality if there is no male to pair with the female? She couldn’t fully escape it until a boy came along. Homosexuality isn’t just a sign of a lack of maturity, it is itself death.
So, what initially appeared to be inclusive just ends up being the same old crap in different packaging. Homosexuality is immaturity. Homosexuality is damaging. Homosexuality is a disease, be it physical or mental. Homosexuality is death.
Part of what bugs me, too, about the whole thing is that this erasure and pathologization could’ve very easily been averted. Remember how I mentioned that Nico is the person initially pressing most to help Maki work through things? She could’ve merely remained the primary driver of the whole effort and, TA DA!, Kiznaiver ducks promoting heterosexuality-as-redemption. I’m not even suggesting that Nico then be the one subbed in as having a crush on Maki (although that would’ve been great) – let Yuuta keep having his crush over to the side, and let it be enough for Maki that she’s gotten over feeling guilty.
But, nah, guess anime’s gotta anime, even in 2016.