Only one episode remains. I often don’t pay too much attention to second-to-last episodes, as my attention is completely focused on the ending in sight, but I think they can be very important. They set the stage for the finale, and if they don’t contain just the right balance of information and build up, the conclusion could be a disaster.
Noriko remembers her lonely childhood, her joy when she lived with the experiment children, and how she wished it would last forever. It’s heartbreaking to know the time she was happiest was when she was suffering. Her past has devastatingly warped the way she understands the world, which is concerning. Can she ever find some semblance of a normal life? Noriko wakes up, and we find that she realized something when she almost jumped. Unfortunately, I don’t think it was anything good.
As they depart on the train, Katsuhira asks Urushibara if anything could be done for his old friends, but she dodges the question. While Katsuhira thinks about his past, Nico texts the other Kiznaivers, suggesting they meet again. I love how Nico, despite not having many friends, seems to understand relationships more than any of the Kiznaivers. They have to communicate with words now, like the rest of human beings, which makes for a much more interesting story, in my opinion.
The Kiznaivers each individually feel nostalgic about their experience. I thought this sequence not only had a great atmosphere, but also showed how the experiment is still affecting them, which I think applies well to the greater picture of human relationships. You can’t be placed in a group of people, bond with them, and pretend nothing happened. Friendships have a real impact on people, and the changes they make can even feel irreversible. I kind of wish there was more focus on how the Kiznaivers are dealing with the fallout from summer, but I acknowledge that there are only two episodes left, so there’s only so much they can do.
Katsuhira calls Chidori to confirm his thoughts on their relationship and to thank her, and I think it’s a really important moment for both of them. Chidori, remembering Tenga’s conversation with her, finally has the much-awaited realization that she’s been focusing entirely on herself. Chidori and Katsuhira have grown, and it’s interesting how their growth connects to their friendship. He has finally come to understand and truly appreciate everything she’s done for him, and though it’s taken her a while, she has come around to the truth that far too often she’s made everything about her. From here, things can move forward for both of them.
Hisomu wonders if they were able to feel Katsuhira’s pain, which should have been felt by Noriko, because he wanted to feel it. I feel like this is a little bit of a hand-wave of an explanation, but at this late point we have to take what we can get.
The mayor claims they definitely can’t continue with the experiment, and Urushibara and Yamada talk about how they are guilty for Noriko’s past hurts, so now they must fulfill her every wish. I am still suspicious of the mayor, and probably will be until the end of the anime. Although stopping the experiment is something I definitely support, there has to be more going on here. However, I will not give the anime points if the mayor was innocent all along and they try to portray it as some sort of twist.
It’s both saddening and frustrating that guilt has so deeply destroyed Urushibara and Yamada that they feel the need to support her every action. Just because someone is hurt doesn’t always mean they’re right, and giving people what they want is not always what’s best for them. At least Urushibara tries to help the situation, but Yamada seems to only push Noriko further down a very destructive path.
Katsuhira confronts Noriko at school the next day. He asks whether she wanted the Kiznaiver experiment so she could heal herself, but she denies it, insisting that sharing pain is the only way for humans to experience true happiness. She acts very differently from their most recent conversations, indicating something, perhaps whatever vision she mentioned in the beginning, has crucially changed her mind.
When he maintains that he’s right, she calls him an imbecile, which is a nice reference to the first episode, and unfortunately reveals Noriko’s possibly biggest fault: She is so, so stubborn. Katsuhira has been reaching out to her for so long, and when she finally begins to reach back, it’s like she’s slammed the door. Her heart has hardened against him, and instead of seeing him as her friend, he is once more a stranger in an experiment.
Katsuhira gathers the Kiznaivers, and in a round about way, argues that they have all been friends since the very beginning, although it’s not entirely clear when. The point is that it had little to do with the Kizna System. As Katsuhira talks about his old friends, everyone starts to hurt. My suspension of disbelief, which has been through many trials in this anime, tells me someone wouldn’t mistake their own natural empathy for someone else’s, but I suppose the experiment may have had such a powerful effect on them that they don’t even trust their own emotions.
I love how passionate Katsuhira has become about connecting with others, and he expresses so much emotion that he collapses. He has gone from being the most apathetic, uninterested character to the one who cares more than any of them, maybe even Nico.
Noriko goes to visit her emotionless old friends. I think it’s clear her intentions are, as far as she is concerned, good. Like Katsuhira said, she wants everyone to go back to the time when they were happy—the only happy time that she remembers. The pain she endured has altered her perspective so strongly she believes pain is necessary for happiness. But as we’ve seen with Katsuhira, this simply isn’t true.
This reminds me of several interesting arguments that if, along the lines of a Christian world view, God created the world to be perfect, then it would be either boring or pointless, as there would be no conflict or suffering. But conflict and suffering are all we’ve ever known, and so like Noriko we associate our negative experiences with life itself. But good is not dependent on evil to exist, and although sharing pain can be a special part of human relationships, people would still find ways to love each other even if there were no pain to share. Even though God has been able to redeem a lot of the brokenness in our world and use it for good, the joy we find in our lives does not depend on the world being a broken place.
At the nurse’s office. The Kiznaivers express their concern over whether they still have the bond, and Urushibara reassures them that the Kizna system was always temporary. She thanks them for proving people can feel for each other without the Kizna bond, which confused me at first because that’s what empathy is, but I wonder if she meant that they proved people can achieve the same level of empathy as the Kizna system is supposed to produce without being bound together forever. Or if she was referring to how their experiment was supposed to be between very unlikely friends. Or maybe she is tired enough of the experiment to just be glad they don’t really need it.
An odd scene launches the entire episode into the action that will lead to the ending. Urushibara notices a faceless girl and boy fighting, and the girl claims that she’s connected to Noriko. Noriko, surrounded by many gomorins on a great height, announces that from now on, everyone should bond with her.
Noriko is being quite selfish here, but unfortunately it seems she isn’t self-aware enough to realize it, which can be contrasted with Chidori and Katsuhira’s recent introspection. While they are growing, Noriko has had some sort of a false epiphany, making her to regress backwards. In the end, she really is the main antagonist, which is very sad because I’ve come to like her after all. She has endured a lot, and now is so twisted that she wants everyone else to endure the same, and will think of it as a favour. There is still some good in her, but she refuses to listen to anyone who really cares about her.
I feel like the conflict for the ending is now ready. The fate of the whole city hinges on reaching out to Noriko’s cold heart and convincing her that what she’s doing isn’t right. If done well, it will be no easy task. I worry a little about character motivations, as they seem to change according to the writer’s convenience, but hopefully we’ll have a better picture of why exactly certain characters are doing things in the finale.
Kiznaiver may not have been perfect, but it has gotten me to actually care about the characters. There were some sloppy moments, but overall I think the major characters were compelling and well-developed. Although I’m a little afraid the ending will be merely sufficient, I do still have hope that it will be fantastic.