Nothinglings: emotional connections in Space Patrol Luluco and Kiznaiver

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Hiroyuki Imaishi’s Studio Trigger have made a large name for themselves with admittedly few series produced — Space Patrol Luluco as a five-year anniversary celebration seemed a bit excessive — creating their own strong fanbase and distinct style rooted in Imaishi’s oeuvre and the studio’s first major project: Kill la Kill. Trigger’s Kiznaiver and Space Patrol Luluco easily invite comparisons, with the studio sometimes overshadowing both projects in the same way that series composer Mari Okada is brought up as a point of comparison between Kiznaiver and Mayoiga — her two series of the spring season.

Despite their different directors — Imaishi heads up Luluco while Kiznaiver is Hiroshi Kobayashi’s series debut as a director — the two properties find common ground in the way they address emotional connections with others.

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As early as their respective premieres, both Luluco and Kiznaiver had similar ways of addressing adolescence. Turning away from the old, “Everything is ordinary, nothing ever happens here.” of Studio Gainax, these two Trigger properties focused on wishing to return to the ordinary, or be “normal.” The titular Luluco of Space Patrol Luluco, like most teenaged girls, wishes for a normal life. From personal experience, especially around the dangerous ages of junior high school, fitting in is the primary objective. Standing out from the crowd is a very bad thing, likely to result in social ostracization, public humiliation, and shame. For her part, Luluco experiences all of these things in the series’ first episode when she transforms against her will into a gun in front of her junior high classmates.

By contrast, Kiznaiver‘s Katsuhira Agata struggles to feel emotions like a “normal” person. Enlisted into the Kizna System along with childhood friend Chidori Takashiro and five others, Katsuhira is told by Noriko Sonozaki that he’ll be able to get his emotions back. All seven of the kiznaivers — labelled by Sonozaki as the new seven deadly sins — have trouble making or recognizing emotional connections with others, making them prime candidates for the system’s method of shared pain through wounds. However, Katsuhira’s Luluco equivalent isn’t Luluco herself. Instead, it’s her love interest, Alpha Omega Nova.

Nova is an empty shell called a “Nothingling” who was crafted as the perfect, hunky dream boy for Luluco, in service of taking over the Space Patrol and gathering her worthless love as a treasure. Throughout the series, Nova is seen only through Luluco’s warped perspective as she projects her own feelings onto him without actually being straightforward enough to confess. When he steals her heart — fulfilling the aforementioned nefarious plot to accumulate all things of worth in the universe — Luluco dies of heartbreak, feeling betrayed by the person that she loved.

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“Nova-kun, I was shocked when I thought you had betrayed me. I was so sad, my heart became an empty shell and I died. But then I realized that you never once lied to me. You never betrayed me. Yeah, I was all a misunderstanding on my part. But you also never told me the truth, how you really feel.”

-Luluco to Alpha Omega Nova, Space Patrol Luluco, Episode 12

Like Chidori Takashiro in Kiznaiver — who dotes on Katsuhira, hoping that he’ll return her feelings someday — Luluco has a seemingly never-ending wellspring of love for Alpha Omega Nova. Luluco’s emotions are first mocked by the series, and then held up as something ultimately worthless and incredibly valuable at the same time. No one can take away her love for Nova, because she owns that feeling herself. Upon realizing this, Luluco goes to properly confess to Nova, prompting him to grow his own heart and love despite being a previously-empty shell. Not-so-coincidentally, the scar of the Kizna System is visible on Nova’s back as he begins to show emotion.

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For Katsuhira, it takes a face-to-face meeting with his old friends from the initial kiznaiver experiment — who are missing their emotions completely — to recognize how others, especially Chidori, must have been viewing him this entire time. While he still can’t quite grasp how he feels emotionally, he clumsily addresses his current friends, stating his emotions plainly for the first time since the first experiment.

Meanwhile, Chidori could learn a thing or two from Luluco with regards to facing her fears head on. Her prior proclamation that she cannot possibly understand Hajime Tenga’s feelings because those feelings aren’t her own rings true, but also provides an interesting foil to Katsuhira’s confessions in Kiznaiver‘s latest episode. She’s able to understand Tenga’s feelings after Katsuhira calls her to express his own. Following Katsuhira’s speech, all of the kiznaivers feel pain in their hearts, similar to the shared pain that they experienced while connected by the Kizna System. Unsurprisingly, these are their own feelings, born of empathizing with Katsuhira on their own, rather than any forced system or pre-constructed experimental situation.

Both series’ penultimate episodes come to predictable climaxes that are no less affecting for their predictability. Luluco finally abandons her former wish for a normal life, accepts her individual feelings, and goes to confess to the boy she likes. Katsuhira comes to realize his own emotions thanks to the support from his friends — regardless of whether these awkward individuals see themselves as his friends, they are — and manages to express his own emotional development. As Kiznaiver and Luluco both approach their respective finales, the common threads are that emotions are worth feeling despite necessary pain, and relationships are worth having, allowing shared pain to further strengthen the bonds made with others.

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