So Kokoro Connect finished recently and I wanted to write about something that is actually a little timely for a change. The most common line of criticism I’ve seen levelled at it could be summarised too obvious, too shallow, too safe. I happen to agree with these comments, and generally think that the final product is mediocre, but one line in particular spoke to me a little, and raised some issues in my mind about criticism and intended audience.
Before I get into the meat of this post I’m going to give some background for those who haven’t seen the show or don’t know much about it. Kokoro Connect is a light novel adaptation by Silver Link, yet another high school drama-fest following the five members of the SCS, a sort of miscellaneous club for indecisive bastards who couldn’t find a pre-existing club they wanted to join. The twist is, and this is where the main hook lies, the members of this club start getting fucked with by this unexplained supernatural figure who possesses their home-room teacher. He starts putting them through seemingly random trials, for his entertainment, or so he claims. At first the characters start being randomly body-swapped with each other and I don’t think I really need to explain why there’s a lot of potential here. As E Minor points out in his final post on the series, besides gender roles, this also presents a golden opportunity to examine some of the anime character types that we’ve come to expect from these shows. There are three arcs in total, all with different supernatural phenomena. Body swapping for the first, uncontrollable unleashing of the id for the second, and reversion to a younger age for the final arc.
Naturally an exploration of gender roles gets left by the wayside, but surprisingly Kokoro Connect (KC from here on out) actually does use its first arc to explore the bland male protagonist with a messiah complex that we’re so used to seeing. Well, it explores is a bit, anyway, and this leads us into the second of the ‘three toos’, too shallow. Taichi’s compulsive urge to meddle in the affairs of those around him is shown to not be altruistic, since his actions are driven by the need to satisfy this urge rather than for the benefit of those around him. I’m not the sort to believe in true altruism, so I’m not disagreeing here, but when if comes down to it Taichi’s tendencies never really cause any harm, in fact despite KC’s protagonist commentary, Taichi proceeds to essentially solve everyone’s problems anyway. You can be self-aware all you want, KC, but I’m going to have trouble applauding it when it ultimately has no consequence.
Indeed, this case is indicative of the entire series. We never really scratch the surface of any of the issues presented before us, but I don’t want to dwell, so let’s move on to the real point of this post: too obvious. The second arc is probably the most guilty of this, but in general a lot of the drama feels unnecessary because the characters just won’t talk to each other properly. The problems presented really aren’t that complex or difficult, our five protagonists just keep complicating them with stupidity and poor judgement. This is a problem in and of itself, but what’s more it leads to obvious, uninteresting conclusions and aesops, and this leads us the title of this post.
In the final episode one of the characters is given the option to go back in time and redo certain aspects of their life. After a little deliberation, they give this response: “I am who I am now because of everything that’s happened. If I try to deny my past, I’m denying the person I’ve become.” This line struck me a little, because it’s very close to something I said once myself. When I was first starting Uni, a somewhat unfortunate sequence of events had left one of my close friends full of regrets. We’d discussed these recent events many times over the preceding couple of months, and they said they wanted to return the favour and help me talk through any regrets or issues I’d had. I responded that I was pretty happy, and that I didn’t have any regrets to speak of. They asked how I could have no regrets, and my answer went something like this: “Everything that’s happened to me has played a part in making me who I am. I like who I am, so I can’t regret any of it.” Had I watched Kokoro Connect back then or earlier, some of these “obvious” conclusions may have really spoken to me. Is it unfair for me, a 4th year Uni student to criticise KC for being unsophisticated? Just because it is presenting truths I now see to be self-evident, does that really devalue them? If its target audience is high school students, is there really a problem? After all, I wouldn’t say it puts out any hateful or problematic messages, just boring and uninspired ones.
Unfortunately for KC, the vast majority of anime is aimed at high schoolers, and while its target audience may defend it from some criticism of its themes, it does nothing to defend it from criticism of its writing, animation, or audio-visual direction, which are all mediocre. Even if we are to defend the complexity and sophistication of its themes, this does little to defend its choice of themes, which largely boils down to “the power of friendship”, which is the lowest of low hanging fruits. I think it’s also a mistake to equate younger audiences with a lack of complexity. I’m not sure artists should ever talk down to their audience, even if the settings and basic themes are tailored to be associable. High goals attract good company, as they say.
So I guess I’m willing to be a little lenient on KC, but at the end of the day, it’s poorly written, unambitious, and it does nothing other shows haven’t done much better. It’s a popcorn show, a pretty harmless little morsel of entertainment. Inoffensive, but juvenile and utterly forgettable.