It may be that as we get to know the characters better and start to explore the phenomenon Kokoro Connect will enjoy a “tortoise vs. the hare” effect and slowly work its way up to being really interesting.
The fact that we got to “really interesting” so quickly is a bonus, but I’m gratified to see it – and not completely surprised, because there was certainly the germ of something interesting in the premiere. I’m also pleased that the second episode confirms that Oonuma Shin is seemingly not in charge of the series on a day-to-day basis, because two episodes in we’re almost completely free of his St. Vitus’ Dance of tics and stunts. The direction is simple, straightforward and minimalist – and so far, that seems to be working.
It’s hard to imagine a show that isn’t improved by the addition of Fujiwara Keiji, and he instantly adds some weight and amusement as Gotou-sensei – universally known to the students as “Mister Go”. Go-san is your classic wannabe-cool teacher – the guy who wants to be everyone’s friend – and Keiji-san nails this. But he really steps into his own when “Heartseed” takes over his body. If you imagine Houtarou from Hyouka as a Kami taking over a human’s body, that seems to sum up Heartseed – he’s either the one who started the whole body-switching gig, or the one in charge of keeping an eye on it. I love Keiji’s deadpan performance here as he utters Heartseed’s bizarre dialogue. “Then, after you’ve all switched around a bit and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that was fun’, it’ll all stop.” may not be much of an explanation, but I could listen to the delivery all day long.
It’s interesting the way Kokoro Connect chooses to give us just that nugget of information, but no real explanations – just that this thing is happening, it’s unavoidable, and it has a finite duration. It understandably doesn’t make the kids feel much better, but it does start to give us some understanding of their personalities – something that was largely missing from the first episode. Inaba in particular tries very hard to be scientific and in-control, but she’s a complete slave to her own temper and constantly loses that precious control whenever one of the others does something stupid (as they inevitably do quite often).
Another element I see creeping into the story is something dark in Yui’s past. When Inaba speaks quite practically about protecting everyone’s “virtue” when switched, she reacts quite dramatically – and in fact, she seems the most upset by the whole thing. She’s extremely afraid of being touched, has a keen interest in self-defense, and her refusals of Aoki’s rather innocent puppy-dog advances are more violent than they really need to be. She also seems terrified at the notion of being alone in the house when in Nagase’s body – something quite unusual for a 16 year-old. Clearly there’s something more to all this that needs to be explored, but the speculation will naturally follow a certain course. If indeed she carries a painful secret from her past, it’s easy to imagine that the notion of body-switching would be even more terrifying for her than the others.
One question that this ep did answer is whether or not same-gender switching would occur – and indeed it does, as it appears we’re simply not seeing it so far because it isn’t considered as inherently comedic. We got a little philosophy too – from Nagase, surprisingly – about what these personality switches mean for everyone’s identity (what did “I screwed up” mean, I wonder?). The fact is, these seem like basically decent people – they liked each other well enough to be in the same club by choice – and as Aoki says, this is a moment when they really need to trust each other. Taichi certainly has a normal adolescent curiosity but there’s no real indication that any of the kids aren’t trustworthy – but will all this insight into the others’ lives bring the kids closer together, or drive them apart? It may well be that this is the theme that emerges as the dominant one as the show progresses. For now it appears that next week’s episode will introduce the element that’s been largely absent so far – the complicating issue of romantic feelings within the group. We already know Aoki likes Yui, and while I already suspected Taichi liked Nagase it seems as if the preview confirms it. How those events are portrayed should tell us a lot about just how much potential KK has as a series.