Kokoro Connect Ep. 4: Odd and unfinished

Kokoro Connect feels like an eternally unfulfilled promise that something interesting will happen, and it’ll throw the occasional bone to keep me patiently watching, but nothing ever does. Everything is there to make a fantastic anime except for the anime itself. To be fair, the show is competent, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s just a competent, relatively light-hearted story. Yeah, the girls have problems to deal with, but they’re your run-of-the-mill teenage issues. As I’m watching the show, I can’t help but imagine a superior anime in my head.

Inaba confides in Taichi that she has trust issues. When combined with the body-swapping predicament, you can imagine why she might worry herself to exhaustion. After all, what if one of Inaba’s friends commits a crime while he or she is in her body? Unfortunately, this is where the buck stops; Kokoro Connect seemingly refuses to tackle its premise head-on, opting instead for light-hearted but equally mundane resolutions. As a result, the show feels as though it falls just short of some grand epiphany.

Four or five times a week, I stream anime to my friends. Before I write a post about any of the shows I’ve seen, I will usually bounce my ideas off of them. For bad shows, like the Harem Hill contestants, we usually just shoot the shit, but that’s besides the point. Anyway, when Inaba was confessing to Taichi about her problem, my friends and I had the following conversation:

Enemaduck: This is retarded.
Fin: Yeah, this is really dumb.
Me: Well, If you switched bodies [with a guy], and [he] took advantage of that, you’d be pretty paranoid!
Enemaduck: If I switched bodies and masturbated, did I commit rape?
Me: Maybe.
Fin: Ya, that’s a solid maybe.
Enemaduck: What if I only watched while someone else did it for me?
Me: What does that even mean?
Fin: Well, wouldn’t it be the same as having sex with someone while they were asleep? That’s rape, so body swap masturbation would be too, I think?
Me: It depends on what you think constitutes personal identity.
Enemaduck: Well, if the 2nd party does not know it happened, is it even a crime?
Me: Sure it is.
Fin: That’s a zen riddle.
Me: That’s like saying if you get away with rape, it’s not rape.

Before the discussion could continue, Taichi tells Inaba a very personal secret, and this somehow touches her deeply. She eventually has a talk with the rest of the gang, and everyone’s all smiles and sunshine by the end of the episode. Basically, all of our talk was for naught. The anime stops just short of exploring the limits of its premise. Does it necessarily need to broach the issue of body identity vis-a-vis body-swapping? No, but that’s just one example. My point is simply that the anime could’ve done more. Instead, Inaba’s problem is just her inability to trust her friends, and the problem is either resolved or put on the backburner as quickly as it was introduced.

It’s not as though I find the show boring or stupid. I just think Kokoro Connect plays it extremely safe. The anime tantalizes you with some rather intriguing possibilities regarding one’s personal identity, which I’ve even touched upon in a post about two weeks ago. But that’s just the thing: the anime teases you with the possibilities of what it could be, but in the end, the show is just another typical romantic comedy with a wasted gimmick.

So where do we go from here? The episode leaves Iori’s trauma unresolved for now. Some very obvious questions spring to mind regarding her story: is it possible to construct multiple facades or are they all just different facets of a single ego? How can she say that there’s no real her underneath all the myriad personalities she puts forth? Even if we grant that those personalities are mere fakes, don’t they nevertheless need to ground themselves in something permanent and concrete?

But seeing how Kokoro Connect dealt with Inaba and Yui, I have little faith that Iori’s story won’t unfold in the same disappointingly cursory fashion. Even if I had liked how this week’s episode unfolded, wasn’t the resolution just so anti-climactic? After all, what ends up being the encore seems to be the idea that the typically brusque Inaba masturbates while fantasizing about Taichi. Oh, I guess she’s can be a girlie girl too. Whoop dee doo.

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9 thoughts on “Kokoro Connect Ep. 4: Odd and unfinished

  1. Andmeuths

    While it might be foolishly optimistic to me, it seems that Taichi’s solutions are deliberately written to be no more than small nudges in the right direction (Kiriyama) that enables moving on, at best, and is actually useless or even worse than useless at solving the underlying problem (Iori) at worst. Now, it’s clear from the PV that Taichi’s half assed attempt to help Iori may well backfire terribly – he made promises that I think he cannot make good on, and that’s going to be problematic.

    In the same way, I wonder whether Inaba’s Paranoid nature will bite hard down the line, even if Taichi proclaims his acceptance of it, and helps her deny that it is a problem to begin with.

    Neither Iori nor even Inaba’s trauma is anywhere near solved, I suspect. Inaba’s issue was two fold – she knew that her trust issues were a problem in itself. The second dimension to it was of course, the fear of not being accepted by her friends. Now, Taichi resolves the second dimension to Inaba’s issues quite conclusively, but I’m not sure whether he has still solved, or perhaps even worsen the first dimension of the problem, by providing an excuse for Inaba to deny she has a problem to begin with. If the anime wants to deconstruct the “Selfless Freak”, it’s a perfect set-up for such a run into character exploration.

    At most, Taichi provided a partial solution, and may have worsen elements of Inaba’s problem without realizing it.

    It’s still relatively early in the show though, and if Kokoro Connect was firing all guns right now, I’d really be worried that they’d run out of steam somewhere at the 3/4 mark of the Cour.

    As for the Masturbation issue, I see it as Taichi putting some skin into the game so to speak. It is a parallel to Taichi kicking his onself in the genetials the last episode, in a social, rather than a physical manner. So Inaba’s reciprocity might be a sign that she may be willing to move from complete distrust, to a conditional level of trust. (Ie: She’d trust you somewhat, if you invest some trust in her in return, or provide her with some leverage to hold you to your word. )

    A second equally valid interpretation would be that it’s an indirect reciprocation to a confession of mutual physical attraction. In other words, a flag, a bone for shippers to chew on.

    “I guess she can be a girlie girl” seems quite dismissive of what I see as a rather interesting development that could propel the plot in several potential directions.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      The problem isn’t really whether or not the girls have solved their issues. The problem is that their issues aren’t very compellingly portrayed in the first place. Like I said in the post above, Inaba doesn’t trust her friends, but it only goes that far. Likewise, Yui’s androphobia has only one dimension to it. If they expand on these issues down the line, fine. When that happens, I’ll change my stance accordingly, but that doesn’t change the fact that I find this episode unimaginative and undaring. And since I usually write about only one episode at a time, I’m only concerned with how this episode comes across to me.

      “I guess she can be a girlie girl” seems quite dismissive

      It is supposed to be dismissive, because I see it as the show pandering for some HNNNGing from the audience.

      Reply
      1. Andmeuths

        Which is problematic stance, since it seems to me that Episode 4 is an introductory episode to both Inaba and Iori’s issues. Did they set up both problems well enough, that it gave us, the viewers an idea what is going on? Does it seem to have potential to go places?

        As for the mutual-confession scene, I’d argue it’s both pandering, and plot important (in a non-pandering, fanservicey way), since like it or not, Romance does play a role in Kokoro Connect, as pointed out (indirectly) when joking about putting Kokoro Connect in the Harem Hill since Taichi seems to have assembled a harem around him.

        At least the pandering didn’t get in the way of the plot, and was merged relatively smoothly into the plot.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          Which is problematic stance, since it seems to me that Episode 4 is an introductory episode to both Inaba and Iori’s issues.

          No one’s contending that it isn’t an introductory episode. You’re not asking any questions I haven’t already asked before I wrote this post. We simply have different answers to those same questions. Did they set up the problems well enough? I’d say no. Just enough so that the viewers have “an idea” doesn’t do it for me. That should be a given. Do the stories have potential? Maybe, but I don’t feel as though the episode helped in this regard. That’s the entire point of the post above.

          As for the mutual-confession scene, I’d argue it’s both pandering, and plot important

          Who said it wasn’t plot-important? In the post above, I said that this scene seemed to be the episode’s encore. In which case, it felt like a poor encore. Nowhere did I say that it wasn’t plot-important.

  2. Ryan R

    Excellent review. I felt much the same way about this episode as you did.

    Although, for me, it’s not so much the specific issues that the characters have, but rather the way that they’ve been dealt with so far. Basically, Taichi’s way of dealing with these issues has been consistently very easy and very quick, which implicitly makes the issues seems less consequential. It turns what could be good drama into a bit of a bad joke, really.

    My own big hope for this show is that it’ll sort of deconstruct itself, and have it later revealed that Taichi’s quick and easy solutions actually aren’t working, and that something a bit deeper than groin-kicks and masturbation reveals is needed to resolve this issues.

    And yeah, I agree with you on the masturbation reveals being shallow HHNNNNNNGG pandering. That’s definitely how I’ve seen them received on places like Anime Suki.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      If it happens to be the case that Taichi’s solutions don’t work, then why not leave these issues open-ended? Why sacrifice these early episodes at the altar of shock and awe later on? How will a “twist” add anything to my understanding of the story or its characters? I guess, for some viewers, this works. I just don’t see the appeal in it. Yeah, I agree that it would be nice to see the show deconstruct itself later on, and I’ll gladly praise the anime then. These early episodes will still have their flaws though, and no amount of “it was all a setup” should excuse that. Take Natsuyuki Rendezvous, for instance. I have no idea if you’re watching the show, but in any case, it doesn’t feel the need to wrap every episode up with a neat, little bow. The story is on-going, and as a result, the drama is left open-ended.

      Reply
      1. Ryan R

        I agree that your preferred way of doing it would be better. Sacrificing early episodes to make later episodes have added shock value has always struck me as just not worth it. So yeah, it’s not like later improvement will excuse the weaknesses of these early episodes.

        But It would mean that Kokoro Connect’s vast unrealized potential would finally start to get realized a bit.

        This Summer 2012 Season is a different one for anime in that it has unusually good series premises (here in KC, the premise in SAO, the premise in Jinrui, etc…) but the execution is sadly lacking. Often anime is the opposite – Really cliche premises, but the execution is good at least.

        Reply
  3. Seihai-kun

    This is why I love anime. Unique and unexpected. I’m entertained as long as you can keep me interested and guessing what will come next.

    Anyway, I didn’t see a glaring need to set the narrative in the direction you mentioned. This isn’t like ano hana where a plot hole the size of Manhattan was begging to be filled.

    Reply

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