“I just wanted to live a normal life.”
“Nothing amazing happens here. Everything is ordinary. ”
These phrases summarize the two primary teen narratives found in anime — in addition to a myriad of other media and fiction. The former is from Studio Trigger’s latest short, Space Patrol Luluco. The latter is from the gold standard for male adolescence in anime: Studio Gainax’s FLCL. Naturally, the fact that Trigger is in many ways an offshoot of Gainax, founded by former Gainax animator and director Hiroyuki Imaishi is highly relevant.
More importantly, Imaishi is responsible for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is arguably the last big Gainax property depending on your feelings regarding Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, which was also directed by Imaishi and more of a cult in comparison to Gurren Lagann‘s larger scale and scope.
Imaishi’s seedling from the now-gutted Gainax is responsible for two anime this season: the aforementioned Luluco and Kiznaiver. Put them together and they tell a slightly new story of adolescence — one that’s a bit more personal with fewer robots and galaxies chucked around for fun. Your mileage may vary with both, as robots and galaxies are generally considered to be pretty cool as far as anime story lines go.
Luluco is the story of a girl’s adolescence — one of the most direct portrayals of such since FLCL‘s third episode and Eri Ninamori’s Marquis de Carabas. That whole changing into a gun in the middle of class? Yeah, that stands for something super embarrassing that could possibly happen to your body which is now changing without your permission and oh god help this sucks. All Luluco wanted was to blend in, which is impossible when you’re a part of the Space Patrol, or your body isn’t your own, or you’re a teenage girl.
Of course the hot boy transfer student’s transformation is cooler, and he has control over it, because everything he does in Luluco’s mind is perfect. Of course he instinctively inspires her to fire her own Space Patrol gun because hot boys inspire your body to do all sorts of things that you don’t understand but generally feel good for reasons. Quick, bright, and colorful — Luluco nails its premise in a way that’s fun to watch and never overstays its welcome.
Kiznaiver is a bit trickier to define. It doesn’t work nearly as well as Luluco in highlighting its premise, which boils down to “sharing pain.” This illustrates a slight shift from “nothing amazing happens here” to “I don’t feel anything at all.” Much of protagonist Katsuhira Agata and likely love interest Noriko Sonozaki’s expository conversations deal with Agata’s struggle with finding his emotions.
There’s an easy comparison to be made between Imaishi’s Gurren Lagann and Hiroshi Kobayashi’s directorial debut, Kiznaiver, especially considering a few of the character archetypes. Hajime Tenga immediately comes across as a Kamina clone where similarities can be drawn between Agata and Gurren Lagann‘s Simon, especially when the two characters are together. However, where Simon’s narrative is an amped-up version of the traditional super robot show, Agata’s already seems more internally focused. It’s less joyful and far more gloomy to a fault. He’s not kept down by others bullying him as much as he’s kept down by his own inability to feel anything at all, which is admittedly dull to watch.
What saves Kiznaiver is it’s apparent focus on interpersonal relationships. Agata’s dreariness is also balanced by a cast of far more colorful characters. While Sonozaki’s repurposing anime archetypes as the seven deadly sins is a bit hamfisted, it further drives home a newer adolescence that’s more representative of the times. This isn’t to say that Kamina and Simon’s genki spirit is dead, but it’s significantly less applicable in the present day than it was even as late as 2007.
“You said that I’m bullied because people can’t find themselves in me. I . . . don’t know about myself. Before sharing another person’s pain or sharing their thoughts, I don’t even understand my own pain or thoughts.”
-Katsuhira Agata to Noriko Sonozaki, Kiznaiver, Episode 1
Wrapping back around to Luluco, Agata’s wish in Kiznaiver to understand his own pain is curiously similar to the titular Luluco’s struggle to fit in. If feeling pain is “normal” then that’s what Agata lacks, and presumably wants to understand.