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Kokoro Connect Anime Review
During my life, I've found stories that examine psychological norms or intricacies of any sort tend to be far more interesting than, say, the latest Michael Bay film. From Man and His Symbols to Neon Genesis Evangelion, man his proven that there are few things in existence that are as complex or delicate as a single human mind. Also, the differing (at times contrasting) cultures of the world have disagreed greatly upon just how important this idea is to the general audience or whether it is actually important at all. To further put this into perspective, if you were to surf the available English television channels (specifically U.S. and Canada. I'm not sure about the U.K., Australia and New Zealand television broadcasts) most of what you would find would be either a sitcom, reality television, or some drama of questionable quality such as Orange is the New Black. What all of these things have in common is their running time. Most western television series are either cancelled early on in their existence or go on for many seasons until they conclude one way or another. It seems that the goal of western television is to milk as much out of a particular IP as possible instead of trying to grace the public with a story that they aren't familiar with.
Contrary to this, eastern television (specifically Japanese) appears to have as many titles as there are musical artists. Not only this, but the entire philosophy when dealing with television somewhat contradicts the west, whereas they tend to like to tell a story with a definitive ending (much akin to the film industry in the west) and the themes presented in them focus more often on the thoughts, actions, and feelings that its characters encompass. It is within this domain that a production such as Kokoro Connect is allowed to manifest itself, it being a juggernaut as far as presentation and theme, in the western sense.
Setting & Characters
Kokoro Connect (literally "hearts connect" in English) is a 17-episode (with the final four episodes being OVAs) drama anime developed by Silver Link that is based on a series of light novels written by Sadanatsu Anda. Kokoro Connect is about five high school students in a group known as the Student Cultural Research Club who suddenly become victim of the will of an omnipresent being known as Heartseed (Balloon Vine in the English version). Heartseed forces the five main characters into fantastical situations such as randomly switching bodies with each other during the day. The series then goes on to show how each of these characters choose to react to the various phenomena, as well as what effects it has on their daily lives.
Taichi Yaegashi, the main protagonist, is constantly stricken with a desire to aid others. This trait alone proves to both make and break him during the series. He is also quite intelligent and is able to accept new views on things. Despite all these things, Taichi is still a fully three-dimensional character with flaws just like a real person. I somewhat consider him to be somewhat of a deconstruction of the "kind" character archetype as a whole, a sentiment that is explained early on in the series.
Iori Nagase is a cheerful girl who appears to be very empathetic. She also seems to lack an aura of seriousness.
Himeko Inaba is the voice of reason inside the Student Cultural Research Club since formalities don't really mean anything to her, making her quite blunt and rude at times.
Yoshifumi Aoki takes on the role of "the perverted guy" within the group. He's quite extroverted and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind.
Yui Kiriyama's personality is comparable to that of Iori, other than the fact that she is more interested in concrete ideas rather than general abstract ideals. In psychological terms, this makes Yui a sensor and Iori an intuitive.
Heartseed, the main antagonist of the series, is responsible for all of the weird things that happen to the protagonists. It also has the ability to enter the body of any living human being and control all of their actions and words while the person in question is put in a coma-like state during that time. It has a way of making the humans it possesses appear "lifeless" and hunch over oddly, adding an eerie and ominous feeling to it. Heartseed has no known physical form of its own, implying that it is a supernatural being of some sort.
Supporting characters include class representive Maiko Fujishima, other classmates, and family members of the main characters.
In Kokoro Connect, all of the characters, with the exception of Taichi, are dynamic in that their thoughts and beliefs change throughout the course of the story. This is because of the "experiments" that Heartseed performs on the main characters, which can be considered a bunch of "what if" scenarios from the dreams of people like Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs-Myers. This ends up making some of the situations in the show feel forced or formulaic at times, but this is overshadowed by some of the other merits it offers.
This video should give you an idea as to what Kokoro Connect is like.
What makes this series worth watching is how it forces each of the characters to challenge their perception of themselves and others, an idea that a lot of real people wouldn't accept even if it smacked them in the face. A question that I found myself asking while watching Kokoro Connect was whether not Heartseed was actually an evil character. I say this due to the fifth episode in which Heartseed tricks the protagonists into believing that it is capable of something that it actually isn't capable of, which causes the Student Cultural Research Club to grow closer as a result.
Each arc of the story (four in total) manages to show a different way of looking at each of the characters, with some characters having more focus on them sometimes. It's quite rare to find a story in which every important character is relatable, has strengths and weaknesses, and just generally feels like someone that you could actually meet in the real world. This is pretty admirable since the characters begin to feel complex even from the first arc of a 17-episode series, something that the average shonen series sometimes fails to do even within hundreds of episodes of character interaction. One scene in particular that involves the sexual thoughts between two characters of opposite sex seemed to put each of them at a level of mutual understanding that I've never really seen before in any story, making it one of the most memorable scenes in any anime that I've ever had the pleasure of viewing.
Another theme in this series is the idea of whether or not it is morally acceptable to cause mental pain to someone if it is meant to ultimately strengthen them, which is a common issue in most all cultures. All of this adds up to a rather satisfying and also disheartening conclusion that will leave tears within the eyes of many viewers (of course, there's some romance elements in there as well, but that isn't really the main focus of the series).
Animation & Sound
From an animation standpoint, Kokoro Connect is very standard. There is nothing to see here that is either completely shoddy or absolutely amazing.
The same goes for the soundtrack. The only track that really caught my attention was the first opening track, while the rest of the composition didn't really stick out in any shape or form. There is an English dub in existence. Actors that I've heard of that appear in it are Greg Ayres (Youhei Sunohara, Kaoru Yamazaki) as Taichi and Luci Christian (Nagisa Furukawa) as Inaba. I watched the whole series entirely in Japanese audio. However, I think it's safe to say that the English dub should be at least average since most of them have been pretty high quality since the English dub of Cowboy Bebop in 2001. Be wary of the possible minor changes in plot when watching in English, though (it seems that western productions seem to have a lot more swearing than eastern ones, and I'm not sure why).
Kokoro Connect is an anime series that throws out many ideas that could be challenging to some. Though there are a few flaws within the story, it's mostly a tale of some very realistic and relatable characters facing problems that aren't uncommon for actual people to experience, which is saying a lot considering the show's unrealistic plot. The animation and sound aren't anything special, but they aren't sub par either. This is a series that I think most people, with the exception of action enthusiasts, will like. If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend (especially if you're into shows like Clannad, Anohana, and Toradora!) that you put this very high on your "to watch" list.