I’m loathe to even bring the subject up, but the matter of the Kokoro Connect bullying incident has been garnering so much attention that I don’t think I have any choice. I won’t go into great detail, but a good summary of the incident can be found here. In effect, producer Yamanaka Takahiro (note: this is not Yamakan, as some have mistakenly assumed) and seiyuu Hanemoto Hisako (Yui) and Terashima Takuma (Aoki) pulled an exceedingly cruel prank on lesser-known seiyuu Mitsuhiro Ichiki, publicly humiliating him in the process. In short, everyone comes out of this looking bad except for Sugita Tomokazu, a friend of Ichiki-san, who seems to have acted heroically in bringing the whole ugly incident to light.
The upshot of all this is that the fan community in Japan is afire with rage over this controversy. Some of it is just plain stupid, like the abuse campaign against Kitamura Eri because she’s the “favorite” of Yamanaka (which caused her to take down her Twitter account) and the calls for the boycott of the author and illustrator of the Kokoro Connect LN, who had nothing to do with this incident whatsoever. That says more about the dysfunction of the fan community than anything, but the legitimate anger over the petty and cruel hazing of Ichiki may very well hurt BD/DVD sales for the show. It wasn’t on track to do especially well anyway and a second season was always a long-shot, but it’s still a shame to see a good series tarnished by the stupidity and cruelty of a producer and two seiyuu.
And a good show it is, make no mistake, and this was an interesting and well-conceived episode. Effectively this was the transition from setting up the problem to solving it, and in making that transition the series confirmed what I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks: that the subject of whether altruism truly exists is the backbone of the arc (and of Taichi’s still largely unexplored character arc). Once again I think we saw some conversations that probably weren’t too realistic for teenagers, but they were undeniably interesting as they confronted this issue head on. I think things landed in a pretty sensible place: yes, there’s a fundamentally selfish aspect to Taichi’s – and anyone’s – desire to help others. We do it to satisfy some fundamental need within ourselves. But as Iori says, Taichi’s “head is usually in the right place”. If our fundamentally selfish need is satisfied by helping other people, isn’t that altruistic in the end – and something to be encouraged, rather than mocked?
Methodology is also at issue of course, and it’s correctly pointed out by Taichi himself that his methods for helping others haven’t always been especially effective. The power of the apology is at the heart of the episode, an oversimplification of course but one that feels fundamentally true to the story. It’s Taichi and Iori who patch things up first for obvious reasons (there’s a hint of resentment from her that after her attempts to keep the group together, he swoops in and brings them back to the fold), followed by Taichi and Aoki. We still don’t really get inside the heads of either of them as we do with the girls – it’s their actions that matter for the show, not their feelings – but I did think there was a nice contrast between their approach and that of Iori and Inaba. There’s a sort of bull-headed boyish directness to their solutions, which is effectively what was necessary to break through the walls everyone had erected around themselves. Yui says that Taichi has an “old-fashioned” way of thinking and this is a pretty astute comment as regards the series as a whole, which I think has a very old-fashioned way of looking at gender roles. Whether this is a deconstruction or not I haven’t yet decided…
As to Yui, it’s in fact Aoki who finally exerts himself in the story and takes the lead in bringing her back into the fold. His theory is that the desire not to hurt people is going to be stronger than the desire to do so, and as proof he states the fact that while he desires her physically (with great intensity) his desire not to hurt her is stronger. The business about going to a love hotel with her to prove it is pretty silly, but I think the larger issue is that the group is stronger when they’re around to catch each other (“Please protect me”) if they fall than if they’re on their own. I’m not sure how persuasive Aoki’s theory and Taichi’s “gibberish” really were, but I think in the end Yui simply wanted to be back in their company and was tired of being alone, and was just waiting for something convincing enough to allow her to come back.
With that, four of five are basically back together – ensconced in the clubroom with an avalanche of junk food Yui impulsively bought at the konbini – which leads to an orgy of gorging in the clubroom. I think this raises another interesting question, and that’s whether Kokoro Connect (or the characters at least) might be confusing desire with impulse. Can we really equate something like hunger or even lust with true emotional desire? In a sense I don’t think desire has been much of a factor in this arc at all, in hindsight – it’s really been about releasing impulses – but that’s clearly not the main focus now, as the conclusion of the arc is going to turn on the fifth wheel, Inaba (as we always knew it would).
Heartseed’s patience has worn out and he goes to Inaba’s house to call her out on her evasion of the group, and he’s right in that she’s effectively hiding in her room even if she is going to school. It’s not like he didn’t warn the kids what would happen, and in Inaba he has just the spark he needs to set the group dynamic to burning – her attraction to Taichi. In fact this is the real reason why Inaba has been avoiding the group and what Heartseed is pushing to unleash, and he makes clear in no uncertain (and sinister) terms that he’ll see that happen one way or the other. In a way he’s doing everyone a favor because with Taichi having confessed to Iori, Inaba’s feelings were a cancer eating away at the group anyway, though there’s sure to be some real fireworks once it’s out in the open. Heartseed also drops one more interesting nugget of dialogue, and that’s the fact that he’s chosen Go-sensei as his avatar because he needed someone who “won’t question blanks in their memory.” You can be sure that’s going to be a major plot point, perhaps not as Kizu Random concludes, but likely in the final TV arc.