We have a new OP, and a new OP with only only TV episode remaining – and in the middle of an arc, at that – was obviously not something in the original plans. Presumably Eufonius’ composer Kikuchi Hajime’s very bad month (inflammatory Twitter comments about Momoi Haruko and his role in the KC bullying disaster) led to the change, and this comes on the heels of the first BD/DVD release being delayed by a month to try and put some distance between it and the hazing controversy. It’s not as though the series was on track for good sales before all this happened but it’s still sad to see that its legacy will likely be defined by scandal, and not content. As for the OP, it’s forgettable musically but does have a few interesting visual moments, including Taichi seeming to grab two hands instead of one.
As for the penultimate TV episode itself, my reaction is a somewhat unusual one for Kokoro Connect. Generally I’m either quite riveted or sort of pissed off – without much middle ground – but I think this was the first episode of the series that didn’t make me feel much of anything. Part of it was possibly due to the focus on Yui and Aoki, hardly the most interesting cast members, but more than anything I think it comes down to what I’ve decided is the critical factor with whether an episode of KC works or not: was it natural? When this show works, the drama feels organic and flows from the characters. When it doesn’t, it’s usually because there’s a rote quality to it – actors reading lines and not much more. When a show relies on heavy drama every week it’s probably unavoidable that everything will come down to that factor, but I can’t recall too many series where it was obvious as it is with this one.
I don’t deny that Aoki and Yui being background characters up till now is part of the problem, and once again – as it did with Taichi being referred to as a Knight – the series plays with this openly, as Yui disparaging refers to herself as a background character. But while acknowledging it is fine, it doesn’t make an episode focused on them any more compelling, and though I’ve long hoped we’d see such as episode in the end it mostly left me cold. Everything, starting with Yui’s manufactured conflict with her old rival Mihase (Uchida Maaya) to Aoki’s silly Shinkansen journey for a two-minute conversation with middle-school crush Nana, felt very artificial to me. I’m just not buying into the emotion with these two, and it seemed like there was an awful lot of development crammed into the episode because it was necessary for the plot. I just don’t think you can make a character interesting in a 12th episode after they’ve been two-dimensional for the first eleven.
On the plus side, at least we weren’t subjected to scene after scene that appeared designed to do little more than pander to viewers with over-the-top cuteness, which was the biggest flaw in last week’s otherwise pretty solid episode. There was a brief bit with a toddler Nagase (a scene which proved once again that this show isn’t very good at comedy and shouldn’t even try) but apart from that and Aoki’s reversion at the very end (why is it that he always seems to revert to the same age?) nobody was younger than fourteen. The fact that Aoki remembered who Yui was is probably the most interesting plot element here, implying that by sorting out his issues he was actually capable of influencing how the reversions affected him.
It’ll be interesting to see just how much Silver Link decides to actually make next week’s ep a finale, given the looming BD/DVD arc. Regrettably Taichi seems more irrelevant than ever – he hasn’t been anything like a knight this arc but a babysitter at best, and he still sits meekly by as Iori and Inaba passive-aggressively fight over him like a piece of meat. I don’t suppose that we’ll get anything definitive in that triangle, but to be honest I don’t much care at this point – I just want to see Taichi actually become a real person and not a plot device. Whether that happens next week, in the BD arc, or not at all is going to go a long way in determining Kokoro Connect’s final grade as a series.