This is going to be another mostly glowing review, so let me get my one quibble out of the way first to clear the decks for happier things. I have a pet peeve about how cute girls can do the most vile and reprehensible things in anime, and at the slightest sign of remorse, all is forgiven. The most egregious example in recent memory happened in Binbougami-ga (if you saw it you’ll remember it), it happened in the last episode here when Mifune put Kotoura in a terrible situation here for selfish reasons, and it repeated itself this week when Moritani put a hit out on Manabe. No, it doesn’t work that way – cuteness shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail free card. Karma is a bitch, and so is Moritani for what she did to Manabe, and a few crocodile tears don’t change that fact. When Kotoura actually apologized (in her mind) to Moritani, I just about threw up – though in truth, it’s an indication of just what a gloriously kind person she truly is.
If there’s anything in the first three eps of Kotoura-san I’d call worrying, it’s that we’ve seen this pattern repeat itself two weeks in a row – the character arcs for Mifune and Moritani moved way too fast. Maybe that’s a concession to a one-cour format, and I can’t imagine AIC had any thought that there’d ever be any Kotoura-san beyond that – but here’s the surprising and happy news: Kotoura-san has all the earmarks of being a hit. The series is afire on 2ch, stalker points are rivaling the likes of Vivid Red Panties and Tamako Market, and the manga is out of stock all over Japan, the suppliers and publisher stunned by the spike in demand. Surely it’s not going to rival those other series that are a marketer’s dream when the actual sales figures come out, but that it looks sure to be a profit-maker is surprising enough, and seems to indicate that there could be more Kotoura-san down the line.
It seems almost impossible that this could be a 4-koma manga, given the emotional depth it carries. I honestly don’t know just how good the source material is, but I suspect part of this at least is the magic of Ohta-sensei – who similarly took delightful but lightweight gag manga in Minami-ke and Mitsudomoe and turned them into anime masterpieces. Kotoura-san isn’t as funny as those series, but it isn’t trying to be – and it’s embracing the darkness in a way not even Mitsudomoe did. This show means business – it’s hear to tell a serious story about serious characters, and do so without sparing them – or us – the pain that goes along with it. Surely Kotoura’s comments about how this was the happiest and time of her life and how her friends weren’t “slipping through her fingers” this time were the ultimate angst flag, and it was obvious at that point that this would be a sort of converse of episode 1, which started out grim and ended rather happily. It was equally obvious that Moritani would be the source of the problem, though not just how exactly it would play out.
If the first step in making drama work is to make us care about the characters, Kotoura-san has succeeded with the two leads – while there were moments that gave me hope that Mifune and Muroto have potential it’s Kotoura and Manabe who make this series special. Kanemoto Hisako and Fukushima Jun are superb here, and the characters are expressively drawn and written with intelligence and subtlety. I love the small moments such as when Kotoura unwittingly grabs the hem of Manabe’s jacket so he can’t leave – they tell us so much about her and the bond that already exists between them. If ever a boy was made for a girl, it’s Manabe for Kotoura. She’s a girl for whom everyone else is a pane of glass, but Manabe is transparent by nature – he hides nothing of himself and everyone can see exactly who he is. The way this series deals with eroticism is as refreshing and open as any anime in ages – as is the case with Manabe himself. It’s expressed, it’s acknowledged, it’s a part of the fabric of life – but it’s not all there is to it. The reality of course is that having erotic thoughts doesn’t make you a pervert or shallow – it makes you human. And being transparent doesn’t mean a person is shallow either. Still waters run deep, they say – and if Manabe were a body of water, he’d be Crater Lake, Oregon.
Yes, Kotoura-san is a comedy – and it’s a very funny one. The karaoke sequence, for example, is hilarious – especially given that Kanemoto Hisako is a wonderful singer and has performed many OP and EDs herself, including her contributions to the OP here (which just happened to be the song Kotoura-chan chose to perform, the perfect touch). That scene probably represents the apex for the series to date as far as being light-hearted and hopeful, but this show is able to dance back and forth between light comedy and tense, gut-wrenching pain as well as any in recent memory. To be honest, my expectations was that Moritani has told her goons to do something to Kotoura (I didn’t care to speculate on what) and I was on pins and needles as she was walking home. That she would direct her hate into revenge against the guy she’s in love with was a surprise, but certainly a safer move as far as the narrative is concerned.
It says a lot about Manabe that he said he was “glad” when the four dojo hit-men started to pummel him – because he immediately sensed that Kotoura-san was involved, and it was he that was being targeted. His goofball persona isn’t a false front, but there’s more to the guy that that – he’s incredibly perceptive and compassionate (and apparently a badass, too, judging by the way the assault ended up). For Kotoura, this is just more proof that anyone who connects with her pays a price for it – her forgiveness for Moritani is just a tragic reminder that she’s eternally unwilling to forgive herself, despite having done nothing wrong. It’s only natural for a girl who knows everyone she meets intimately – and knows that they resent it – to want to keep the world at a safe distance. But Manabe isn’t going to let that happen, and that seems to me to be the central pillar around which the series is going to be built. It’s a very novel and different take on a love story, and features two characters who’ve established themselves as few anime characters do. The possibilities for Kotoura-san as a series seem almost boundless – both in the short and long-term – and that’s something to be excited about.