In the first installment of my new article, tentatively titled “On the Stream” (suggestions are welcome), I want to do a quick spotlight review of the first four episodes of what is quickly becoming my favorite series of the current season: Kokoro Connect.
KC revolves around the five members of Yamahoshi Academy’s “Student Cultural Society” (or StuCS), a ragtag group thrown together by the school’s administration as a catchall club for the students who don’t join any other organization. Since enrollment in a club is a requirement of their particular school, bubbly Iori Nagase, bland protagonist Taichi Yaegashi, intelligent Himeko Inaba, and rather forgettable Yui Kiriyama and Yoshifumi Aoki, each find the StuCS clubroom as their new after school hangout. If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. KC is the most recent in the batch of shows that seek to capitalize on the popularity of “high school club” shows like K-On, Hyouka, and numerous others. In fact, it’s even joined this current season by Tari Tari (a much more overt emulation of K-On).
Instead of focusing on music or simple boredom, KC’s “shtick” revolves around a much older anime standby: body swapping. Yes, we’re moving into that territory. However, like the rest of the many aspects borrowed from other shows, KC seems to do their version slightly better than expected. Instead of using the movement of personalities as only a vehicle for gags, their predicament serves as a catalyst for plot and character development. The random movement between characters’ bodies serves as an analysis of individuality, personality, and trust. The audience is granted various ecchi gags, sure (what teenage boy who finds himself in his female friend’s body wouldn’t instantly reach for a boob grab?), but we’re also shown the emotional effects of such a conundrum. Any teenage girl should be fearful of a male classmate’s intentions with her body, and the characters are quick to mention their fears. And herein lies the major problem with the series: the drama is too apparent.
Possibly due to time constraints, the characters’ numerous emotional situations are revealed far too easily. Well-crafted drama is a product of organic tension via plot development, not open character confessions. However, it’s these very premature confessions that KC uses to advance its plot. The members of StuCS have little problem divulging their deepest secrets without much coercion from their friends. Ironically, each of them is conscious of the fact that they’re revealing their problems too easily, which leads to the question of whether the show is deeply intelligent or amateurish and cookie-cutter. Is the characters’ awareness a way for the writers to intelligently deconstruct drama, or are they really only trying to advance the plot quickly to finish the story within twelve episodes? This question arises frequently with this show.
Each character has his or her own character flaw, which is audibly expressed to the audience relatively early on. In a way, it’s almost as if the charcters are in a race to defend themselves for seeming like stereotypes, and the speed is to keep discerning viewers from leaving before they organically develop. Iori, the obvious “mascot” character of the show, meant to fill the role of the likes of Yui Hirasawa and Mikuru Asahina, epitomizes the girl who exists only to sell wall scrolls and statues. Yet, relatively early, her pure idol nature is shattered by portraying major family and emotional problems. She joins the ranks of the rest of the group as more realistic characters who deal with multiple problems. Unlike shows like “Friends,” the characters are just as messed up as any of us. Except for the body swapping, KC is more like an anime version “St. Elmo’s Fire,” where the focus is on pretty people living the lives we wish we lived, yet still elicit sympathy through their relatable inner demons.
And yet, it could all be on accident. KC is the odd type of scenario in which I find myself uncertain of whether it’s true genius, along the lines of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, deconstructing the numerous anime stereotypes it utilizes, itself, or a formulaic show that found its depth on accident. Like the characters’ body swapping, the show’s identity can’t seem to stay in one place. Is it serious or fun? Is it genius or formulaic? Are the characters deep or stereotypical archetypes? The well-timed comedy is fun to watch, and the way each character’s voice comes through, whether in their own body or not, is a well-crafted feat. I’m surprised at the relationships I’m cheering for, and am finding myself awkwardly fist pumping and cheering at the addictive melodrama. As the show moves along, hopefully the line between brilliant and average will become more apparent, with Kokoro Connect falling on the former’s side. But if it doesn’t, I’m happy enough with what it is.
On the Stream Verdict: Smooth Sailing!
See ya, moe-dramedy cowboys,
The Active Time Blogger