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Source: www.hanabee.com.au NB: M rated.

Source: http://www.hanabee.com.au
NB: M rated.

Kokoro Connect is an occasionally confronting anime that, like so many recently [1], tackles some fairly hard issues in a novel way.

Note that trigger warnings apply to the content of Kokoro Connect, but I’ll try to avoid mentioning details in the review below. There will be some minor spoilers ahead.

The Setup

Yamaboshi High School requires all students to be members of a club. To meet this requirement the five main characters end up forming a “Student Cultural Society”. Either the club they wanted didn’t exist, or the characters did not feel comfortable within any of the normal clubs.

The relative isolation of Taichi Yaegashi, Iori Nagase, Himeko Inabe, Yoshifumi Aoki, and Yui Kiriyama from the rest of the student body makes them ideal targets for the unknown being(s) [2] known as Heartseed.

Heartseed is at best an unreliable narrator, but claims to be seeking entertainment from the main characters by interfering in their lives in various ways. Suffice it to say that Heartseed, despite any good that may come from his/her/its meddling, is a character that rivals Nakago from Fushigi Yuigi for pure bastardry.

Hito Random

The first five episodes adapt the first light novel by Sadanatsu Anda [3] where Heartseed’s meddling takes the form of randomised Grand Theft Me.

In other words the five main characters will randomly bodyswap without warning. This can occur mid conversation, in public, and the Cultural Research Club has no control over this.

The gender balance of three girls and two boys is quite reasonable but does present challenges in terms of handling cross gender bodyswaps.  There was one exploitative incident in the first episode that I nearly bounced off [4].  However, subsequent episodes mostly avoided this, and delivered solid character based insights and developments.

These can range from the relatively trivial issues of using the correct bathroom, to more sensitive issues such as whether it is safe for a girl to be home alone at night [5].

I won’t go into the details of what is revealed about the characters, but there’s some nasty (and occasionally triggering) backstory that comes out along the way.

Episode 3 Jobber and Low Blow contains a scene that is effective, justified, and made me flinch in sympathy. Owww….

Episode 5 A Confession and a Death… deserves special mention in terms of Heartseed being a complete bastard. Parts of this episode will also be triggering, and provide a significant moral challenge to the characters.

Kizu Random

Episodes six to ten adapt the 2nd light novel. For this sequence Heartseed’s meddling takes the form of removing internal filters between desire and action.

If this triggers the character will act on the relevant desire regardless of the consequences, and will have to face them afterwards. Some of the desires unleashed in Kizu Random [6] are relatively minor, others had serious consequences.

In some respects Kizu Random violated free will more than Hito Random, and definitely made for some uncomfortable viewing in places. This is compensated for by solid character development, and the sense that the characters will ultimately benefit from Heartseed’s bastardry.

This is just as well: Kizu Random is the TV series arcs that came closest to making me want to drop the series when I was watching it on CrunchyRoll. It is worth it in the end though, particularly for how it gets through Inaba’s outer shell.

Kaku Random

The final TV series arc takes place over the winter holidays, and this is just as well all things considered.

Kaku Random involves members of the cast mentally, and physically, reverting to younger versions of themselves. Whilst the difference between 16 and 14 may not be that great, the difference between 16 and 4 (or younger) definitely is.

Having this arc take place over the holidays provides the case with the ability to hide out in an abandoned building, which is definitely necessary.

As always Heartseed (or a Heartseed [7]) is seeking entertainment and one of the conditions this time is designed to sow suspicion within the group. That’s a secondary concern though.

The real issue is that the characters always revert to critical, or stressful, periods and then clearly remember forgotten details when they return to their normal selves. Given that some of these details were suppressed more than forgotten, this is again a challenging period for the group.

This arc is well handled, and possibly a touch short at 3 episodes.

The Finale and the OAVs

I didn’t review the TV series back in 2012 because episode 13 As Long as the Five of Us are Together includes a trailer for the next arc. At the time I was expecting CrunchyRoll to stream these episodes, so I was caught by surprise when that didn’t happen.

Fortunately Hanabee have now released the TV series locally, and will be releasing the OAVs shortly.

In terms of completeness, As Long as the Five of Us are Together works quite well as a series finale. There is a sense of character growth, and unity, amongst the “Student Cultural Society” that wasn’t there at the start of the series.

Equally the trailer shows Iori’s growth has left her with unanswered questions that establish issues for the OAVs to examine in Michi Random.

I’m not aware of any plans for more Kokoro Connect to be made. I think that this is unfortunate as the series so far provides a solid basis for adapting the light novels into self-contained arcs of 4-5 episodes. Hopefully this will change if the first set of OAVs are successful enough, and maintain the same quality of storytelling.

Summary

Kokoro Connect is not always an easy series to watch; it has some confronting and triggering elements that may not be suited for all audiences. There is some fanservice, but it isn’t overdone.

Overall I’m impressed by how well Kokoro Connect stands up to a second viewing, and I’ll probably be looking to add this to my own collection [8].

Recommended for viewers seeking a serious anime with strong character work, and a novel approach to bringing hidden issues to light.



[1] See my review of Heaven’s Memo Pad for a partial list.

[2] It isn’t entirely clear as to whether Heartseed is one being or multiple, or some complicated combination.

[3] According to TV Tropes there are fan translations of the novels here. I may read these and review separately (but I make no promises).

[4] That example being a male character body swapped into the body of the, ah, largest of the female characters Iori.

[5] Yui is shocked to discover this (for good reason) but Iori doesn’t see why it is a problem.

[6] Which incidentally is the 2nd light novel in the series.

[7] See previous footnote re the complicated nature of Heartseed. This isn’t helped by the fact that Heartseed doesn’t actually physically appear in any episode.

[8] The review copy will be disposed of as per the Site Disclaimer.