During Aoki’s confession to Yui, didn’t you just wish a body swap would occur right there and then? It’s the perfect opportunity to mess with the story, like throwing a wrench into a machine. Alas, it never happened.
All is not lost, of course. There’s a very interesting follow-up scene — for me, anyway. Inaba-as-Iori finds Taichi alone in the club room. She decides to just ask him straight up: “What do you think of Iori?” As the scene unfolded, however, I found myself asking, “Wait a minute, how can you be so sure that Iori and Inaba really have switched bodies? What if Iori is just putting on an act?” These are the moments where Kokoro Connect flashes its potential: the ability to play with our perceptions and preconceptions. After five episodes, do we think we know these characters well enough? Hell, Taichi’s one of the girls’ closest friends, and yet, can he tell the difference when the chips are on the line?
Taichi soon finds his foot in his mouth when Inaba enters the scene, revealing that Iori had been herself all along. In the end, it’s not just Taichi’s lame response: “I don’t want to mess up what we have now” — though seriously, I can’t believe he would say that sort of non-committal shit. You either like a person enough to date them, or you don’t. Don’t play mind games. But anyway, that Taichi would have been so easily fooled is sort of insulting, isn’t it? He never once questioned Iori’s identity. Does it justify Iori’s reaction though? Is she right to call out Taichi for his “lies?”
Taichi: “Because no matter what happens, no matter how much you change, I’ll always be able to recognize you for who you are.”
I suppose Iori’s young and emotionally fragile, and as a result, she took Taichi’s words at face value. I’m having a hard time believing that this shows without a doubt that Taichi had lied. Like I had asked above, can Taichi tell the difference when the chips are on the line? Should the chips have been on the line in this case though? I don’t know, but I don’t really think so. I’m inclined to think Iori overreacted.
In the middle of a tense moment, however, I don’t understand the anime’s need to take a short detour, so to speak, to talk to Fujishima: “Must we live in a world where a couple is defined as a man and a woman?” Yeah, uh, who gives a shit right about now? Ain’t nothing wrong with gay rights, but there’s a time and a place for that. It’s these moments that draw me out of the viewing experience. It definitely feels as though you could’ve just excised this entire scene.
But let’s get back to Iori’s problem. She claims that she can’t even decide which club to join because she’s constantly changing the role she plays. Taichi argues that this is no different from someone who merely likes a lot of clubs. Who’s right? This reminds me of an advice I had just repeated in a comment earlier today: “If you’re a shy person, just pretend as though you have confidence. At some point, you’ll realize that you had it all along.” What is the qualitative difference? What’s specious about this argument anyway? Does it matter if it’s sophistry if it gets the job done?
At one point, Iori comments that she admires Taichi for his stability. No matter what personality she chooses to put forth at any given moment, Taichi will always be the same friend to her. This got me thinking about anime archetypes. Aren’t the male leads in every anime usually the same? Are they usually similar to a character like Taichi? But does the main female love interest change roles as often as Iori’s character might suggest? Sometimes, you get a tsunderekko. Other times, you might get the girl-next-door type. After decades and decades of anime, however, we’ve run the entire gamut. We don’t feel as though heroines really change all that much. And on the flip side, is there really anything comforting about the male leads being so stable? Isn’t stability just another word for really-fucking-boring?
And just when Iori praises Taichi for his “stability,” he goes and confesses his love for her. He’s likely too boring to be fucking with her, but whatever happened to not wanting to mess up what they already have? Is this a big change on Taichi’s part? Did he not just do something different just because Iori made everyone think she was about to do something drastic?
Before we can really address the subtleties of Taichi’s character, which is actually sort of remarkable in a way, the Heartseed assumes control of Iori’s body and tosses it off the bridge the two friends were standing on. A love confession that would’ve changed the dynamics of the series is temporarily put on arrested development. Instead, we raise another issue that, while interesting at first glance, isn’t all that troubling when you really think about it.
To contextualize everything, Iori’s body is going to die as a result of her “suicide.” The Heartseed tells her four friends that one of them can nevertheless choose to swap places with Iori and thus save her soul, so to speak. Naturally, Taichi volunteers immediately. When confronted by Inaba, he reveals that he can’t bear to see others in pain. In other words, he’s selfless for his own sake. He claims to only do good deeds to make himself feel good. Is he then ultimately selfish?
Like I’ve said, this does seem like an interesting twist on the bland male leads plaguing nearly every anime series. Are these do-no-wrong, morally upright protagonists actually insane at some core level? But this is just like the confidence thing I had mentioned earlier in this post. Whether or not you do good deeds for the sake of the morally right, does it really matter all that much? Kant would say no, but he’s also an old fogey bastard. If I could get every multi-billion dollar corporation in the world right now to donate just ten percent of their proceeds to charity, who cares if these corporations aren’t acting out of the noblest gesture?
On a deeper level, we run into this cynical assumption of human motives because we conflate “satisfying our own desires” with “acting selfishly.” Just because I feel better as a result of helping you, it doesn’t follow that I am acting selfishly. It’s just a side effect that I ultimately find pleasurable. The second problem is thinking that this pleasurable side effect from doing good deeds is what I’ve been after all along. Let’s just use the anime’s example.
Taichi has just been informed that Iori’s personality will die with her body if no one switches bodies with her. He also gets this horrible feeling and he wants to get rid of it. He realizes that he can get rid of this horrible feeling if he switches bodies with Iori. As a result, his good deed is truly selfish. Swapping bodies with Iori was simply a means to an end, which was to make himself feel better. But is this what’s truly happening?
Taichi: “I don’t want to see anyone else suffer! It hurts me more than I can imagine when I think about the pain they must feel! I can’t stand it! I’d rather suffer in their place! Right, I’m not doing this for anyone else. I’m a selfish freak for my own good.”
The problem here is that Taichi’s wrong. Yes, he helps others and it makes him feel better, but the only reason he feels bad in the first place is because others are in pain. He can identify how to help others because, ultimately, his aim is to help others. Taichi have simply made a common mistake: what we hope to accomplish is not the same as the pleasure we get as a result of accomplishing what we originally set out to do. Taichi doesn’t like to see his friends suffer. He thus solves their problems and feels good as a result. This is not being selfish. Rather, it’s just being a good person. A selfish person, on the other hand, feels bad, then guesses at what he or she must do to get rid of that feeling. This is a far cry from what Taichi is trying to do. As much as I like to dump on bland male leads like Taichi, he’s not a selfish person.
The bottom line is this: can you think of a single altruistic act that doesn’t carry with it some form of self-pleasure? It’s difficult, isn’t it? Therefore, the focus should be on the causal relation between us and the good deeds we perform. The first thing out of Taichi’s mouth is “I don’t want to see anyone else suffer.” This sounds to me as though his self-pleasure is secondary to the primary concern: the suffering of others.
I find it strange how Iori ended up in Inaba’s body before responding to Taichi’s confession of love at the hospital. Did they feel as though it would’ve been too weird for her to remain in Aoki’s body? Too gay, even?
In the end, Iori wasn’t going to die; the Heartseed was just screwing with everyone. Why? Rather, do we need the conceit of the Heartseed’s prank to make this scenario even plausible? Can we imagine the same story without the Heartseed? We would thus have an emotionally fragile girl who tries to commit suicide because she likely couldn’t handle Taichi’s confession of love — what if he isn’t true to his word? Do anime series need a sci-fi/fantasy twist to make serious stories more palatable? Is it necessary to force people to swap bodies in order for them to confess their true feelings? This last question is what particularly interests me. When watching other shows (e.g. Sakamichi no Apollon), viewers have complained that no one communicates. As a result, misunderstanding ensues and we thus have drama. Is Kokoro Connect tweaking this same convention just a bit? I don’t know yet.
On an unrelated note, I enjoyed this episode.