The first thought that pops into my mind after watching the first episode of “Michi Random” is “Random, my ass” – because more so than with any of Heartseed’s prior phenomena this one is clearly timed for maximum impact (though the others have hardly seemed random either). That Heartseed should be a liar is no big surprise, though I suspect he was telling the truth when he said “They’ve taken an interest in me” – though as I write this I don’t know just exactly what that means.
It’s fair to say I went into this arc expecting almost anything. Kokoro Connect is a pretty erratic show to begin with, and then there was all the ugliness surrounding the now legendary “incident” (I see no need to re-hash it again), which delayed this arc by several months. But on balance things got off to a pretty good start. Iori’s arc is the most interesting of the five as far as I’m concerned, and the additional focus on Go-sensei (or perhaps I should say “You go, Sensei!” after seeing him rip up “You’ve Got Rhythm” on sax) has potential.
This arc seems to have a lot going for it. The so-called “random” emotional transmissions are an interesting wrinkle, and the added elements of a group challenge and a potential rival for Iori’s heart in Shiroyama give the series some much-needed breadth of plot. I’m choosing to ignore the continued hints that Taichi’s sister is a brocon – “true love chocolate” indeed – as purely for comic effect (I hope so) but I like the fact that the show confronted what’s been the elephant in the room all along, namely that Aoki is a serious fifth wheel. “Most useless in the group” indeed – let’s see if he does anything with that information, now that Heartseed has thrown it in his face.
All that said, I think the second episode reveals some of the problems that have intermittently dragged Kokoro Connect down. It’s certainly no secret that the males are woefully underwritten and so is Yui to a lesser extent, but when things get serious on-screen it really becomes a problem. Aoki, after the promising end to episode 14, disappears into his usual mostly irrelevant butt monkey mode, and Taichi into his normal plot device function. Yui’s big moments tend to fall flat because her motivations never seem authentic.There’s also a limit on how much self-pity I really want to see in any one series. The cycle of the characters feeling sorry for themselves (the girls, anyway) and the other characters tying to save them really hasn’t changed much since the beginning – it just happens to be Iori’s turn now.
And boy, has she become insufferable. I don’t know whether that’s a compliment to the series or not, because she’s certainly supposed to be in this arc, but her transformation is impressively complete. Iori’s crisis plays out in pretty broad terms, because the simple truth is that what she’s going through is universal – no one is who others think they are. The only difference is that Iori has turned it into a syndrome, in her mind anyway. It’s not as though she doesn’t have extenuating circumstances what with her mother’s irresponsible behavior, but ultimately she’s a personification of normal teen identity issues. That makes it a little harder to feel sympathy for her – though I’ll make an exception for the moment she told Inaba off at the end of the episode, because I agree with every word she said there. Kokoro Connect still has a tendency to lapse into speechmaking the way Broadway musicals lapse into song, but this one at least rang true.
But here’s the real problem with “Michi Random”, at least for me. It comes down to the fact that Kokoro Connect just isn’t the kind of show you want to watch for two hours at one sitting. There’s a fatigue factor that sets in – there are only so many “spontaneous” heartfelt speeches and so many dramatic crises and so many Taichi bonehead martyr moments you can take before it all starts to become a blur, like the world as Yuki from Tsuritama sees it as he’s re-living his panic attacks. It’s not the show’s fault of course – this isn’t the time or manner these episodes were intended to be released under. But I still think it exposes a fundamental flaw in the writing – issues that have always been present, but were rubbed raw here, like a runner’s lingering injury that flares up because they do too many miles in one day.
If there was one moment from the third episode that summed up the issue as far as Yui and Aoki are concerned, it was “You two wait here!” That’s some unintentional irony right there. And the rest of the episode was mostly more of those dramatic monologues – this time Inaba confronting Iori and Iori finally cracking and baring all. People just don’t talk like that, especially teenagers. Drama is the heart of what Kokoro Connect is, I know, but it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief to take this seriously. When Heartseed’s phenomena are the least outlandish element, you know you’re got a series that’s pretty over-the-top.
This is all brings us to the finale, which is pretty much stock Kokoro Connect material – loud, histrionic, sort of compelling if you switch your logic circuits off. Iori’s “Let’s be friends” parlay with Setouchi after Inaba almost got raped because of her was the start of the insanity (interestingly, this is the second anime this year – Binbougami did it too – that had a heroine almost get raped because of the actions of a girl, who was abruptly forgiven for it as soon as the guys she put up to it were pummeled). I think my favorite absurd moment, though, was when Inaba said “Should we take you to the hospital just in case?” when Taichi woke up after getting knocked unconscious by a metal pipe. What do you think? And she’s supposed to be the smart one?
In terms of the phenomena, we don’t really get an explanation for all that – just a brief farewell from Heartseed where he indicates they’re probably over with – but there’s a substantial amount of unadapted LN material so that doesn’t surprise me. The romance side lands about where you’d expected – Iori and Taichi decide there’s no “there” there in the romantic side of their relationship, and he ends up with Inaba. We’ll see how that works out – hopefully for her sake Taichi doesn’t get tired of being physically abused for no reason and his imouto doesn’t decide to make her move.
As I step back and try and reflect on my reaction to “Michi Random”, I realize I’m probably being too bard on Kokoro Connect, for a couple of reasons. First off, this year has many examples of what happens when serious-minded teen series give us fully developed characters of both genders and not just one, and KC really suffers in comparison. I also think the show simply doesn’t wear well – all the headdesk moments, moemoe pandering and grand speeches start to wear on me after a while, and that’s only exacerbated when it comes out in movie format. I certainly give it points for being ambitious and trying to tell an emotionally powerful story using what’s undeniably an interesting premise, but in the final analysis there just aren’t enough things executed well for me to really call Kokoro Connect a successful series.