When “Inclusivity” Isn’t, or, Homosexuality in Kiznaiver: An Essay Written in Anger

kiznaiver 7b

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.

kiznaiver 7

But, nah, guess anime’s gotta anime, even in 2016.

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14 Responses to When “Inclusivity” Isn’t, or, Homosexuality in Kiznaiver: An Essay Written in Anger

  1. Rae says:

    I agree how the Kiznaiver ending is disappointing on many levels. The entire Yuta liking over Maki despite her struggling with her own issues starts to drag on and I wished they ANY other ending scene.

    Oh well anime, you tried.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Well, arguably aspects of the whole love cat’s cradle felt like they were dragging on and on in general. Admittedly, that itself feels true to life to a degree, but it also doesn’t necessarily make for hyper-compelling viewing. Yuuta having a crush on her is fine, but placing that as his primary thing as opposed to trying to address his body image issues is a cop-out. Ending it all with junk about indirect crepe kisses is the insulting shit cherry on top.

      Honestly, anime may’ve tried, but this is one of those cases where trying proved worse than leaving it out completely. Sighh.

  2. DP says:

    I strenuously, strenuously disagree with your assessment. Even ignoring the fact that anime ain’t HBO, I don’t think there’s really much basis for a “heterosexuality saved the day” argument.

    It’s central to the point Kiznaiver’s making that friends – plural, male and female alike – are important in helping us get through our collective problems and pain. Maki wasn’t “saved” by Yuuta, she was helped by the WHOLE Kizna gang.

    I can certainly accept that all of the pairing off at the end was unnecessary. It’s just one example of the many flaws in a show that still has a lot to recommend it.

    However, I don’t accept that KIznaiver has some sort of big agenda vis a vis promoting straight relationships to the detriment of gay ones. That’s reading much too much into what is at root a story that just isn’t about sexuality and simply doesn’t have those issues in its sights.

    I would argue that if someone has an agenda here, it’s you much more than it’s Kiznaiver.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I’ll admit that I keep getting stuck on your comment about HBO as it totally baffles me. Do you mean that one should only expect diversity/inclusivity from a premium American cable TV station? I don’t watch HBO, so maybe I simply can’t parse this as a result.

      As regards your comment about agendas, you’ll note that I never stated that Kiznaiver has done all of this intentionally. But it doesn’t matter, as the end message is the same – homosexuality is a bad thing that will prove detrimental for one’s well-being.

      And, yes, the whole gang did help, but you can hardly argue that Tenga’s assistance was on the same level as Yuuta’s or even Nico’s. They didn’t contribute exactly the same thing, and it’s Yuuta who provides the key element that let’s Maki get over it by insisting she read the final chapter. Maki, too, doesn’t end the show on a date with everyone. These two things don’t exist in vacuums, they’re part of a story-arc. And that story-arc, whether intentional or not, makes a very old assertion of homosexuality bad, heterosexuality good.

  3. cantors says:

    Yeah, this pretty crystalizes why I disliked the Maki-Yuuta relationship the show was hinting at from the very beginning.
    Kiznaiver was a visually stunning show, and its silly moments with characters like Nico were enjoyable, but anything involving actual romantic relationships weren’t all that interesting or fun.

    Has there been a non-Ikuhara anime that actually had decent representation of homosexuality or queerness?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      Yuuta’s interactions with Maki also struck me as an example of the guy who is only interested in girls who clearly have no interest in him.

      I’m really wracking my brain on queer representation in anime. Wandering Son’s definitely got good and also very specifically aware queer representation, as it is a story about a young transgirl and transboy. Aoi Hana/Sweet Blue Flowers is also good, an example of the sort of yuri which is probably better viewed as being a lesbian story rather than a yuri one. Simoun does a pretty good job even though it initially looks absurd, as it has technology activated by girls kissing. CardCaptor Sakura’s got it, albeit not front and center. Maria-sama ga Miteru’s an interesting instance as a quick look could seem to show that it’s doing something similar to Kiznaiver, but it isn’t (I’m being vague as I wouldn’t want to spoil if you haven’t seen it). Red Garden’s got it in a supporting character. St. Luminous Mission High School has a great gay couple. Tamako Market does very well by its trans character, and while it’s gay girl feels more after-school special-ish, and its pretty obvious she won’t get the girl, she’s also well-adjusted and not tragically gay.

      I’ve heard that Concrete Revolutio does, but can’t vouch for it myself (I also didn’t like at all what I saw of the show, although that was only two episodes). Ditto Gatchaman Crowds insight.

      I’m probably missing some, and admittedly some of these examples are pretty slight! Red Garden handles it’s queer girl extremely well, but she’s also not a prominent character.

      I really do dream of a day when anime has characters who just happen to be gay, and it isn’t a big plotpoint. There are some examples, sure! CardCaptor Sakura’s got it, and one of the great things about the transwoman in Tamako Market is that no one in the show acts like there’s any reason to comment on it themselves (even as the gay girl, again, is After-school Special: The Character). And Yuri Bear Storm’s being all about homophobia and criticizing yuri as a genre is great. But I would really love to have a character who is part of the primary cast just simply be gay, and there to be no fuss whatsoever, because that itself is a demonstration of what equality really looks like.

      • makotachi says:

        No. 6 also has some LGBT representation! The two main characters are in a homosexual relationship with each other. It was probably one of the more respectful gay relationships I’ve seen between two guys in anime. Everything else was bad about the anime though. The light novel is beautiful though.

      • Sap says:

        It might be a little spoiler-ish, but if the incoming second season of Attack on Titan -yes, you read that well- is adapted properly, then we might get to see a sensibly-handled homosexual relationship, as the two female characters involved, who were members of the supporting cast in the first season will come into the forefront in the next one. There’s nothing explicit to said relationship, but it becomees increasingly hard to deny its romantic undertones as it keeps being shown to far exceed the bounds of mere friendship time and time again. And of course, that’s without mentionning the fact that one of the two girls is pretty much a self-admitted lesbian -who does indeed happen to joke about marrying her love-interest on more than one occasion.

        It’s especially interesting because on top of being a rare occurence in anime in general and an even rare one in shounen manga, the AoT TV series was an international success that won’t fail to bring in a lot of viewers next spring when it resumes airing, which means many people will be exposed to it.

  4. Cookie L. says:

    I’ve been bothered by this for a wbile, but couldn’t totally say why. But I agree 100%, and I feel like you’ve got exactly how I was feeling. I haven’t watched the end yet, but I am not sure I will… is it worth finisbing?

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I’m inclined to say that it isn’t, but if you’re enjoying the aspects other than that involving Maki’s arc, then, yeah, finish it. Its very heavy on Noriko and Katsuhira’s story (which I never found of interest), so there’s that.

  5. makotachi says:

    While this may just be me trying to be optimistic, I tried to read the situation as a poor representation of a bisexual character. The problem is it’s really not handled that well and there isn’t much clarity given to that type of statement. Maybe I tried to read it that way though because I myself am bisexual and would like to see characters like that, but really… I’m kidding myself. This was a poorly handled decision and writing and it baffles me that something like this still gets written. The again, Kiznaiver was a bit of a mess and it surprised me that someone even okay’d the script, but hey.

    I understand the frustration of it making it seem like Yuuta was the only one who really tried to help her when the whole group should have been given credit for that. For a work about bonds it kind of made it seem like friends aren’t as helpful as romantic partners or something.

    • A Day Without Me says:

      I, too, am bisexual and would love, love, love to see bisexual characters in media who are well-rounded and have compelling stories. But with Maki, it just doesn’t come off as that they were going for giving us a bisexual girl.

      As for romance versus friendship in light of the show being about bonds, I’ll note, too, that trying to promote romantic partners as superior to friends in terms of being there for one feels a bit absurd when the characters are all sixteen years old or so! I’m still friends with some of the same people from back then, and neither myself nor anyone else is even still in touch with the folks we dated.

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