As of earlier this week, body-switching, confess-to-yourself-in-a-girl’s-body anime Kokoro Connect has passed the more traditional checkpoint for anime reviews with the release of its third episode. Thus far, the majority has made it pretty clear that this show has a lot of issues; common examples include the clichéd plot device, somewhat shoddy animation, and miserable writing, and for the most part, I’d have to agree. The anime itself is just riddled with problems that are almost assuredly going to keep it from top-of-the-charts status. The complaints I can’t agree with, however, are the ones that attack the characters, or the way in which it accomplishes what a similar anime traditionally would accomplish. Interest (or lack thereof) in the characters or genre is a frontier dominated entirely by opinion—but there are still a lot of claims that either is extremely subpar in general. In my opinion, it’s quite the opposite; even amidst questionable writing and directing, I believe that the characters are incredibly realistic, and the underlying premise, while rather by-the book, gives us exactly what an anime of its genre should.
If we take a moment to completely remove the specific idea of body-switching, Kokoro Connect is left with something resembling a traditional basis for an anime: a group of characters who are brought together, tested, and tempered by some sort of catalyzing plot device. But whereas that concept typically involves a group of close friends, Kokoro Connect switches things up a bit by throwing together five people who are, in the beginning, straddling the line between acquaintances and friends. Ultimately, the characters in Kokoro Connect are telling us the story that never gets told—the reason why a group of close friends in a slice-of-life anime are as intimate as they are. Because of that, this anime starts with each of its characters emotionally distant from at least one or two of the others—and that distance allows for something else we don’t see quite as often in school life anime.
As viewers, with a little effort, we’re capable of recognizing a character’s flaws and personality traits, but a lot of the time, their close friends, who lack that level of separation, are unable to notice it, or if they do, are less likely to bluntly address the issue. For an example, we can look at Ami from Toradora; she was last to join the group, she took her time growing closer to them, and throughout much of the series, she was the one to call them on their bullshit. So, because of that distance between the characters in Kokoro Connect, the characters are far more likely to be confronted by their flaws—like Inaba’s comments about Taichi and Iori early in the episode, or Aoki pointing out Yui’s odd habits to Taichi.
Another major point of the traditional formula for slice-of-life/drama Kokoro Connect subscribes to is the effect a given plot device has upon each of the characters. It brings them all together with a sort of gravitational pull, but also bogs them down with stress and creates a heavy tension between them. Eventually, the tension will get high enough to snap, and everyone will be flung apart amidst a storm of heated emotions. The end result is that the characters will use the bonds they created with one another like guidelines to come back together, this time willingly—but that requires them to form those connections to begin with. KC’s characters have proven themselves to be entirely capable of that; in the third episode, we get a perfect example in the way Yui and Taichi grow closer together. That connection between them is likely going to cause a lot more things to come about before that ever happens, however. Yui could very well develop romantic feelings for Taichi, who probably won’t actually return them, but who will still catch crap from Aoki and Inaba—that one just on general principles—and, well…in short, the anime offers us still more drama and tension that will allow its characters to grow on their own and become closer together.
In addition to circumnavigating the major issues it has and doing right by the basic premise for a dramatic school life anime, Kokoro Connect also offers its characters a measure of immunity from the worst of the criticisms simply by making them a good deal more than passably realistic. Taichi’s character type—the ‘Jobber’, he calls it, and so we’ll call it too—isn’t necessarily all that uncommon in anime; to me, he feels rather similar to Araragi from the –monogatari franchise. But what sets him apart is his awareness of that personality. He recognizes that he’s the sort of pseudo-white knight character who lets himself get pushed around, realizes that it can potentially stand in the way of getting what he wants, and understands that it’s not really the best way to be. Nevertheless—and here’s the real kicker—he stays true to himself. We’ll probably see him grow over the course of the anime, especially in regards to that—but I highly doubt that selfless basis for his personality is going to change.
Another great example for the level of realism inherent in Kokoro Connect’s characters comes from Yui. Unsurprisingly, a major part of her personality, as we learned in episode three, comes from her fear of men. Now, I know that anyone watching can make claims of ‘unoriginal’ or ‘cliché’—however, I’d like to point out that people who suffer from this sort of phobia in real life don’t have those accusations thrown at them. It’s a perfectly logical consequence of being the victim of sexual assault, and in my opinion, we shouldn’t disregard personality traits such as this in fictional characters as unrealistic just because they’re somewhat cliché. If we want realism—if we want to watch realistic characters handle situations in realistic ways—we shouldn’t bitch about the manner in which it’s delivered. Regardless, I feel that what really sets her apart from other characters with similar phobias is the manner in which she communicates her feelings to the other characters.
During her body-swapped conversation with Taichi, Yui expresses several things concerning her fear: guilt at having worried everyone, that it isn’t in any way personal and, most importantly, that she wants to continue having fun with them. I think that this is really important, because whereas a similar character might react harshly and push others away, Yui embraces the honest concerns of other people. Despite her fear of men, she doesn’t violently reject Aoki and Taichi as friends—rather, she realizes that their gender does not inherently make them undeserving of trust. Ultimately, what Yui (and the series itself) accomplishes here is something that is extremely important to realism in a character: an aspect of her personality is left as an aspect, instead of growing to envelop her identity entirely.
I may not ever be first in line to complain about the problems Kokoro Connect has as a series, but I’ll probably be in there somewhere. Nevertheless, for all the things it’s so good at doing wrong, I feel that the things it’s doing right are worth taking note of regardless. All in all, while this show isn’t exactly the kind that will still be talked about, years down the road, it has a lot to offer viewers regardless—and from this point forward, I’ll probably be pushing for more and more people to realize that.