Kokoro Connect – 05

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Kokoro Connect makes a habit of showing us both the risks and rewards of creative ambition.  This week, thankfully, the balance was tipped heavily in favor of the latter.

I consider last week’s episode quite a stumble, but KK definitely regained its footing this time, and the reason is that it stuck to the terrain it’s well-suited to.  The show doesn’t do comedy very well, but in terms of drama there are few school-based shows of recent vintage that do it better.  Rather than relying on the forced and calculated speechifying of last time, this week’s episode had a strong narrative drive that was powered by the events themselves.  And it was one of those times were even though I knew how the ep was almost surely going to end, there was plenty of inherent tension to keep me on the edge of my chair right to the last moments.

There was an awful lot of good stuff here, starting with the initial conversation between Nagase – posing as Inaba – and Taichi.  My first thought was that Taichi had great instinct, recognizing that the girls had switched before Nagase said a word – but it turns out what was really being proved was Nagase’s chameleon-like nature.  She wasn’t kidding about her ability to shift personalities depending on the situation (a side benefit to all this is that we’re hearing the seiyuu put in some very interesting situations too), but this also said something about her fundamental distrust of human nature in that she felt she had to put Taichi’s promise to the test so soon after he’d made it. 

I guess I’m going to have to accept that these kids are going to have impossibly sophisticated and insightful conversations and suspend my disbelief – when Nagase can toss off “sophistry” like it’s nothing and Taichi gets her point exactly, it’s obvious they aren’t going for hyper-realism here (another example is Fujishima’s preposterous monologue to Taichi when he’s chasing after Nagase).  But the stylized dialogue sort of fits with the larger-than-life nature of the drama.  I’m also going to have to accept – for now at least – that while the girls are characters, the guys are plot drivers.  The fundamental difference is that while we’re always shown exactly why the girls do what they do, the guys simply do, because that’s what’s necessary for the plot.  Taichi reveals himself to be, effectively, a masochist – but why?  Who knows. Aoki confesses his love to Yui – but why does he loves her?  Doesn’t matter, he just does – because that’s what the plot needs.  It’s a shame, because this is a real opportunity being missed – Kokoro Connect is quite good at psychology and character deconstruction, and it would be nice if that was applied to all the characters instead of only three of them.

In terms of Heartseed, more than ever this time I was reminded of Nagilum from “Star Trek: TNG”.  My sense was that things were progressing too smoothly – Aoki confessed to Yui, Taichi confessed to Nagase – and it wasn’t enough drama for Heartseed to have the kids pairing off logically, even if they were still struggling with the relationships themselves.  Like Nagilum he seems interested in putting them under as much stress as possible to see how they react – so once Taichi confessed to Nagase (and unlike Yui she would likely have said yes) he felt he had to stir the pot.  And boy, did he ever.  Not every series could have pulled off the dramatic premise that followed without it degenerating into bad melodrama, but it was right in KK’s wheelhouse and once the ball started rolling, it was easy to see that the show was in very comfortable territory.

The first clue of how things would turn out was that Heartseed gave Taichi Nagase’s cell phone before she jumped – I noted it at the time, but didn’t quite connect it to its eventual significance.  The jump itself was no drama – spoiled by the preview last week – and again, I never felt it was seriously possible that Nagase would die here.  But this was good drama – tense, and gripping, especially after Heartseed laid down his 30-minute ultimatum.  Here he proves what really interests him is seeing what the rats in the maze do when they’re stressed out.  Taichi is predictably the first to offer himself for sacrifice, but interestingly it’s Aoki (I’d love to know what it was about him that’s the reason for this, but that’s another series for now) who arrives first – or at least speaks aloud first – what I consider the correct decision.  Nagase needs to die with her body – as she says herself, how could she live knowing one of her friends had died for her? 

The goodbye conversations were quite natural, and quite well-played, and I’m sure they were of enormous interest to Heartseed.  I think on some level the kids knew they were probably being trolled – Inaba predictably seems the most skeptical – but they have to act as if Heartseed might follow through on his threats.  What a terrible thing to do to children in the interests of science, and a box of sweets as “apology” hardly does much to commend Heartseed to me.  Apparently the kids passed their test by choosing to let nature take its course, but what would he have done had one of the others – Taichi, say – been allowed to body switch and “die” in Nagase’s place?

Clearly, we’re nowhere close to seeing this thing through.  In postscript we see that no one has switched since Heartseed’s apology at the hospital, and there’s some feeling that the whole thing is over.  Obviously it’s not, but does that mean the body-switching is going to resume with Nagase’s return to school, or is Heartseed going to raise the ante and take his experimentation to another level altogether?  On the personal side we’re also nowhere near settled.  While Aoki has confessed and Yui admitted he’s a “friend”, she’s still rejected him – and told him that Taichi is “way ahead of him” even in that measure.  And while Taichi and Nagase have mutually confessed, there’s still the fact that Inaba is in love with him, and I can’t imagine she’s going to be happy watching the two of them settle into a relationship.  With both the fantastical and the typically adolescent sides of the story still in flux, we can certainly look forward to much drama ahead.

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10 comments

  1. A

    "I guess I’m going to have to accept that these kids are going to have impossibly sophisticated and insightful conversations and suspend my disbelief – when Nagase can toss off “sophistry” like it’s nothing and Taichi gets her point exactly, it’s obvious they aren’t going for hyper-realism here"

    lol it might not be incredibly realistic, but it's damn good television, which is more or less why we watch tv in the first place =P

  2. T

    I am still on the hope that the guys get their characterization in the later half. We are approaching the halfway point so it there is still a chance that the next 3-4 episodes actually develop Taichi and Aoki into characters while using the girls as plot. The writers could easily use the answers of each respective confession to drive the mental exploration of the males while using the girls actions to probe around and flush out the characterization of the males. Then with the last 3-4 episodes to have 5 fully developed characters finish off the plot. This might all be wishful thinking but it could happen. Despite not being the best way to develop an ensemble cast it could still be very interesting and possibly fruitful as the show has proven that it can be very very good. Can't wait to see what direction they choose to go, I will probably love it either way.

  3. I

    Best episode of the series so far in my opinion. Tense emotional drama is KC's sweet spot it seems and it was a lot better than the badly paced personality confessions of the previous episode. I didn't think that Iori would die though simply because she's in the opening a lot. You don't kill characters in the opening until the end of the show.

    I was a lot more interested in the reactions that the others would show and surely Aoki's was the most surprising one and I would also like to know what made him speak out.

    The body-swapping is sure to return and for some reason I think it'll happen at a beach trip or with one of the characters in the changing room of the opposite sex. Somehow that would be the funniest way for it to return.

  4. A

    The show's really getting mileage out of it's ED. Talk about fitting it perfectly into a scene.

  5. S

    Best episode so far! In a way, it even repaired and made the previous episode look better retroactively (Taichi and Iori's scenes).

    I made some predictions at the start of this series and my ego is flattered that almost all of them has been touched upon (identity loss, impersonating characters). I'll make no bold claim on where it'll go next, I have no Idead, but I hope and think will get to see under the hood of Aoki soon, if not Taichi beats him to it. Taichi was in almost every scene here and we got to scrape a little bit under the surface on his problems, although he says he doesn't show emotions easily. Aoki also got to act and not just react in this episode.

    I'm glad you're being more accepting to the show, but in a way, anything else would be unbearable. You've been close-minded and prejudiced from the start, in a way you never were to R-15 and Usagi Drop.

  6. A

    I really doubt if this will happen, but what if Heartseed just continues to ramp things up…..to the point of murder? Its great watching a show that is completey unspoiled. It could go anywhere.

  7. H

    I think the tension of the second half of the show was provided to us, the viewers, by the sheer magnitude of the consequence. I *knew* there was no way they could kill off Iori. I knew this all the way to the core of my being. But the possible consequence, the permanent erasure of a person, was so great that I still had to consider that it was possible, and to still watch believing that it was probable that Iori would die.

  8. A

    And thus ends hito random, it's good that they didn't change much. So far this is a good adaptation, too fast paced though… You're right that this isn't finish yet, there many things to happen other than body-swapping. I can't wait for more!

  9. P

    Not meaning to crash the party, but didn't like this episode anywhere near I should have. And it goes back to what I said in previous eps about the whole body swapping elements feeling "tacked on" and completely random in its mechanics. It was consolidified in concrete this episode by Heartseed effectively basically admitting that he's a troll and he's forcing the characters to go through misery "for da lulz". If that isn't a idiotic, stupid premise/logic then I don't know what is one. I'm not exactly watching Kawamori/Okada trolling here.

    It's a pet peeve of mine, but I really don't appreciate why a lot of slice of life/drama animes have to add in supernatural elements. In more cases then not, it damages the series for me. Classic example – Clannad After Story, which absolutely DESTROYED the ending. Ano Natsu's sci fi/alien elements also hurt it more than it did good, particularly in the last 2 eps. Natsuiro Kiseki was guilty of this too, which pretty much resorted to solving any plotholes it had with "the rock". Heck even the e-famous Haruhi Suzumiya suffered for me considering I cool story bro'd the whole sci-fi/Haruhi being God premise and enjoyed it purely for the dialogue and character interactions.

    Now not saying this episode was bad. In fact, it had nearly all the goodness that it had in the previous episodes. The real key strength of Kokoro Connect is in its characters and drama that is actually worth something (actual issues such as attempted rape, divorce, lack of trust due to past betrayal etc.). It is indeed engaging and significant. But I do wonder if this body swapping gimmick was needed in the first place and definitely question why a "troll" like Heartseed has to come along and put everyone in misery for his own amusement. I wouldn't have mind if the body swapping gimmick was a just a side element, but now it seems to be coming to the forefront, which I thought I would appreciate if explained well, but in this case it isn't and it's hurting my enjoyment. It's seriously feeling like Ano Natsu all over again in that respect.

    There are some exceptions however, the most notable ones coming into mind being ef tale of memories and Natsume Yujinchou, whereby its supernatural elements weren't just gimmicks but integrated into the premise was explained adequately and most importantly used in a significant way that goes beyond a "gimmick".

    Maybe it's just me but I definitely respect it when shows of this genre try to make it good without resorting to somewhat "pointless quirks", relying purely on its premise and/or characters to make it interesting. It's the primary reason why I cannot enjoy this as much as say I'm enjoying Hyouka or Tari Tari this season and definitely less compared to Sakamichi was last season or what Usagi Drop and Wandering Son was last year. No halfass supernatural gimmicks in those stories, just pure characters and premise to drive the shows to excellence.

    TL;DR – If you're gonna put in supernatural elements into a slice of life/drama series, do it properly and don't half ass it like it is here in Kokoro Connect because it's hurting what is an ambitious teen drama that is actually dealing with interesting and significant issues.

    EDIT: Another thing I forgot to add is that Kokoro Connect is dangerously heading towards "melodrama" territory. Now, although melodrama isn't bad per se, the tension must be developed priorhand, used sparingly (don't just spam melodrama scene after melodrama unlike a certain anime that aired last year) and most importantly, has to have the right precise timing. Though I prefer it just doesn't go that direction in the first place since "genuine", "subtle" dramas are already rare enough in the anime medium and I'm really liking the balance it has atm. And most anime do melodrama poorly in the first place.

  10. A

    All I can say is Sawashiro Miyuki's acting during the farewell speech was pretty heart wrenching 😛

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