This is a funny series, in both senses of the word. It’s usually funny when it tries to be funny, and it’s funny in that it’s weird – the tonal composition is quite unique in current anime. Kotoura-san is trying to walk a very fine line – a comedy that spends a good deal of the time focusing on hurtful and even tragic events and doesn’t shy away from expressing them in very dark fashion. Ultimately, I think Kotoura-san gets it – it understands the risks and potential rewards, and the payoff for the series is neither the comedy or the tragedy, but in the way each enhances the impact of the other. It’s a tough strategy to pull off, but they have the right director and seemingly the right source material, so I have high hopes.
The first thing I noticed this week was something small – Kotoura-chan wearing a cross. It could be completely meaningless, a simple character design choice, but it isn’t something you see in anime that don’t have some kind of Christian plot element too often. It was a big episode for Kotoura’s fashion sense actually, as she wore a T-shirt with a strategically placed “Don’t Look!” to the beach – but the meaning behind that was altogether more obvious given the theme of the episode. Kotoura-san seems to be playing up the club comedy clichés quite intentionally – we’ve already had a training camp arc, this time we got both a haunted house and beach episode – and I don’t think it’s coincidence. I won’t go so far as to say the series is intentionally mocking those tropes are trying to show some kind of dark underbelly that exists beneath the typical school series, but I do think there’s an attempt to twist them in a darkly ironic way.
Kotoura’s grandfather is proving a quite useful plot device in more ways than one, and he’s the one responsible for the “abandoned hospital” (this was far from the scariest use of that trope in anime this week) gag. It was all part of “Haruka Land”, the theme park he put together for the benefit of his granddaughter and her friends – silly, to be sure, but actually a rather touching gesture from the only member of her family not turned off by Kotoura’s abilities. These are, as he says, the “first friends” she’s ever had and brought home, and Grandpa is even taking the initiative to push Haruka and Manabe together – proving that his dirty old man routine is mostly an act for Haruka’s benefit, and also that he realizes a normal relationship with Manabe would do her enormous good.
My favorite part of Haruka Land (along with Grandpa holding his skirt down when he jumped from the parade car in his Kotoura costume) was the “parade”, when we saw the theme park versions of the ESP Club members – and Moritani was shown in tears, locked in a cage. My initial rage over Mori’s seeming free pass is slowly turning to respect over the way Kotoura-san is tweaking that particular anime trope. I’ve never seen it handled quite like this – we have neither overt hostility nor an “all is forgiven” scenario, but rather a kind of purgatory where Mori has been admitted to the group but is constantly reminded of her transgressions, and Manabe is still openly hostile towards her. Grandpa is too – his actions and words clearly show he knows all about what she did to Manabe, and he hasn’t forgiven her for it, knowing what Manabe has done for Kotoura-chan. This is mostly played for laughs but it, too is quite dark – a subtle reminder than our malicious mistakes in life can’t be smiled away and forgotten so easily as they can be in anime.
There’s some nice development in Kotoura and Manabe-kun’s relationship this week, and it continues to be the best part of the series. There are a lot of gags about Kotoura’s fixation on her small breast size, the best of them being the “chisai oppai” themed ED and seeing her turn into a hissing cat whenever Manabe tried to approach her while she was in her swimsuit. But things get quietly serious when she’s swept out into deep water by the current. This isn’t played up for overwrought drama, but when Manabe comes to rescue her he resists his temptation to revel in the ero of the moment when she hugs him. He sees how terrified she is and resists his impulses, knowing that it would be wrong of him to take advantage of her in that state even if it were simply in his mind. Yes, there’s the fact that she’d know what he was thinking – but the whole point with Manabe is that he doesn’t change his behavior or his thoughts because of that. Kotoura-chan’s ability is irrelevant – he simply is who he is, and who he is is a thoroughly decent guy who’s completely in love with her.
After we get that delightful ED, there’s an ominous moment to close the episode – Kotoura’s mother has turned up at the beach, and she doesn’t seem too happy to see Kotoura smiling and laughing with her friends. Kotoura-san has faced a lot of tests already, all of its own design, and this represents another and perhaps the last major one that could throw the series off the rails. How the show handles the potential drama in this situation is going to be very interesting to see – there are pitfalls on both sides of the spectrum. I’m not anxious to see Haruka’s mother welcomed back into her life after what she’s done, and though I’m looking forward to seeing some drama injected back into the show I finding myself hoping that her role in it is resolved quickly and decisively, and we – and Kotoura – can put it behind us for good.
ED3: “Tsurupeta (つるぺた)” by Hisako Kanemoto