Saturday, September 8, 2012

[Anime Survivor 2] 4th Place - Kokoro Connect (Blogger Random)

Yes, "Freaky Friday" was called "Fortune Cookie" in Japan.

We've seen this formula before, back when Lindsey Lohan wasn't a druggie and both Judge Nelson and Fred Savage were still inexplicably popular. The whole "body switch" thing. I mean, it's not so foreign a concept, and manga such as Your & My Secret already beat other shows to the punch. Hell, even off-the-wall comedies such as Excel Saga and Binbôgami Ga! gave it a shot.

But if the human body can be treated like a vehicle, why stop at just changing drivers? Why not see what happens if someone resets all the radio stations or puts diesel in an unleaded-only tank?

That's the concept behind the 4th Place...


Excuse me.

Hello to all of you people reading this blog. I hope you don't mind, but I've decided to involve myself. You all know me as "Heartseed", the real star of Kokoro Connect.

I noticed recently that the person who writes this electronic mumbo-jumbo doesn't have all that much to provide for fandom. His biases against harem shows are crimes against humanity at times, and he's grumpier than Clint Eastwood at an Ikea. He thought that Nobuna Oda show was worse than that show with the chrome-plated chests, and this was after he teased us with a review of Kids on the Slope that never actually manifested itself.

So I have decided to intrude and make things more interesting. From now on, this blog will switch with another blog randomly. No matter who the reviewer is, they must review the show without skipping a beat.

And that brings us to the show that comes in 4th Place in this season's Anime Survivor, Kokoro Connect. Let's see who shows up to review...


What a wild ride that was! For 10 days, starting on August 24 and ending on September 2, I watched the entirety of the Haruhi Suzumiya franch...wait. What? This isn't my blog!

What is the hell is this? I don't write the AniMaybe blog! I'm Krizzlybear, the guy that writes the Baka Laureate blog! Jeez, one second I'm writing about Endless Eight and now I'm here? And you expect me to say something about Kokoro Connect?!

Fine. But I'm spelling "centre" the right way.


Praise Random: Outside of the problematic concepts that Kokoro Connect presents in its writing, the presentation itself should not be overlooked. What would otherwise be another of many straightforward light novel adaptations (which by this point, should have blurred together into a quantum singularity of sexual antics and exclamatory sentences used as series titles), centred around harem-esque character dynamics gets by pretty well on the strength of its production, namely the voice cast. With five main characters, each with their own unique personality traits and speech tendencies, introducing a situation where characters were constantly switching bodies back and forth with each other places a high demand on technical performances from the voice actors portraying them.

As Roger Ebert once said, the stress of portraying characters in a body-switch situation "requires actors to confront an actor's nightmare, i.e., acting as if they were another actor." While most iterations of the trope involve two characters swapping bodies for the duration of the story, Kokoro Connect takes the switch to extremes by involving five characters and constant switching. Because the anime doesn't take the easy way out by swapping the voices as well, each seiyuu is potentially responsible for portraying all five characters, resulting in 25 different portrayal situations.


Most notable, perhaps, is the sultry Miyuki Sawashiro, who does the voice of Himeko Inaba. Despite her character's default traits of being logical, collected and remarkably blunt, Sawashiro is more than capable of taking on Aki Toyosaki's bubbly and boisterous vocal mannerisms when Inaba's body is inherited by the more boisterous and bubbly Iori Nagase. The contrast is as clear as night and day because the audience isn't given any external cues to when swaps happen. They don't need to, which is a testament to the quality of the vocal performances of the main characters.

Now, as far as...

Of course, in Pretty Cure it was the characters that sold me on the series, and while the characters in Smile don’t feel as intelligently...aaaaaand I'm not in my blog anymore. Creepy, man.

Gee, I thought I blew this popsicle stand months ago. Geoff has really let it go to pot. Maybe if he hadn't forced me to watch Kimi ni Todoke I'd still be here. He could really use the stylings of Bradley C. Meek, the awesome manager of the Those Damn Cartoons! blog, to be this site's savior. (Hey, "Geoff" typed that, not me!)

Now I have to write something about Kokoro Connect? Fine, but I won't like it.


Criticism Random: So credit Kokoro Connect for taking the difficult route of taking a gender swapping tale seriously. It is far more interested in what makes people tick than how very funny it is for a dude to fondle his new pair of bewbs. On balance, through, it's still more like a college bull session of freshmen wondering why the world is just so darn mean. It lacks the perception to really say anything resonant in a way that the concept demands. It tries to tackle weighty subjects, but undercuts its efforts with naivete.

Rape is the most cringe-worthy example. In one episode, a well-meaning white knight convinces a friend still traumatized years after someone attempted to rape her that she has nothing to fear, because all you have to do is kick a guy in the balls, and then you'll be safe. This trivializes the complicated trauma of rape. For instance, rapists are almost never a masked stranger who pin their victims down in a dark alley. Instead, they're someone the woman knew and trusted. Saying she can simply kick their attacker in the balls does nothing to empower anyone. In a comedy, this would just be an offensive joke, but in a drama with Kokoro Connect's ambitions, it leaves them unfulfilled.

Another problem is that its appeal is still firmly rooted in otaku culture, home to broad character types and a fetish for youth and cuteness. While the characters don't hew very closely to named stereotypes like tsundere, the inspiration is clearly there and interferes with every attempt at profundity. Inaba, for instance, is clearly inspired by Haruhi Suzumiya and other straight-talkin' gals with an unspoken crush for the main character. Taichi is almost the same character as every other hapless "victim" of the harem comedy set-up. You can give these characters traumatic back-stories and emotional burdens heavier than a fridge filled with cold lead, but that won't give them weight and resonance.

In the escapist fantasies and comedies that populate most of anime, these character types are fine, but when your searching human drama feels shallow and played out by broad characters that act nothing like human beings, what the hell do you have left to offer?

Hey, maybe I ought to tell you all how Geoff has this crush on Kirino from OreImo. Dude totally has a little sister fetish. In fact, I'm pretty sure he has a body pillow dakimakura of Mikan from To-Love-Ru. No? Well, he does now. Thanks, Geoff's credit card! Now what else...

...get me out of...! Wait. I'm back! God, about time.


Abandon Random: Not exactly sure what's been said about the series while I was away (Toronto's nice this time of the year, by the way), but I'm a bit surprised that Kokoro Connect has lasted this long in my list. Yes, the characters don't have any exceptional talents and fit a long list of tropes, but the first half of the season was pleasantly surprising. The players may not have been overly wrapped in sexual hijinks like any random "oh-my-GAWD-I'm-a-girl!" dôjinshi you'd find at a Toranoana, but you also don't have things locked away from each other. (Takes some balls for a guy to admit he masturbated with a friend's body while in it.)

The second half—the whole "Kizu (Wound) Random" arc—is something that was also startling. I was expecting the show to string us along with this "body switch" trick, only to have "Heartseed" pump up the Id while having the Ego and Super-Ego watch helplessly. It's a clever idea to introduce such a psychology to anime, but here's the problem with such a concept; it clashes with the ids of all the people watching the show.

Because of the drama that comes from all of these clashes between the minds and souls of our featured quintet, the comedy comes hard to appreciate when it does pop through. For years, the hikikomori has been a comic figure in anime, but it's a little hard to sit through a drama about the subject people like Inaba and the androphobic Yui attempt to shut the world down.

Most importatly, it's hard to determine what direction things will go. "Heartseed" is such a difficult "villain" to appreciate, as he seems so bored with his little game of human chess. No maniacal laughter, no disdain towards humanity, no false mask to hide his hatred behind—he's just...there. (My guess is this villain is actually something more plant-based, as his name would suggest.)

Without a villain we would love to hate, a direction that would shake the five out of their insecurities, or a real memorable character on the horizon, there's nothing that will keep Kokoro Connect afloat in this contest. A truly surprising turnaround after a lackluster beginning, but it hasn't the heart-tugging drama of a Natsuyuki Rendezvous, a gut-busting LOL-fest from Binbôgami Ga!, or the mind-numbing confusion of Humanity Has Declined. Fourth place is all it can muster, a win in itself.


Now, if you don't mind, I have to figure out how the hell I got a Mikan dakimakura...

Next time: Natsuyuki Rendezvous! Humanity Has Declined! Binbôgami Ga! Which two make it to the final round?!

 

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