Kotoura-san 01 – The road to acceptance is paved with perverted intentions, apparently
January 16, 2013 2 Comments
Mind reading is something that crops up from time to time, mostly in western comic books with super heroes who are psychic or those who possess other similar powers, although they do appear in manga and anime. The notion that reading peoples minds would someone be cool, or fun goes hand in hand with these sorts of characters, as if knowing precisely what people are thinking will somehow make your life better. But, let us approach this idea from the opposite direction and look at what might happen if, far from helping, the ability to read minds only caused conflict and hurt people. Kotoura-san looks at what might happen if you could read other peoples minds and all the negative effects that this sort of power could come with. Everyone keeps secrets or doesn’t say what they are thinking, many of them are actually politicians since saying exactly what your thinking would generally get rocks and other things thrown at you by a largely section of the population. However, the general ability to say one thing and think another is often essential for social interaction and getting on with people since it is arguably impossible to truly agree about everything, even with good friends.
For Haruka, her ability to read peoples minds is natural, in fact we are introduced to her at a very young age and she is reading peoples thoughts as easily as she talks, it is therefore an essential part of her. At first it is as if she is good at guessing the answer to her parents questions, and simple things such as Haruka pointing out that her father doesn’t want coffee, he actually wants tea seem fairly innocent enough. Indeed, her school life seems to be warm, friendly and inviting, with others simply thinking she is good at games such as Janken, rather than suspecting that she might be reading the minds. In a sense this is merely the innocence of youth, with her behaviour and ability to predict what is going to happen and read others minds passed off as something to do with her age. But, as she grows older, this ability is less acceptable, with others beginning to question why she says certain things and where it comes from. In fact as we are shown she is even accused by her teacher of being a compulsive liar, and because of her innocence she starts hurting others and turning the class against her. But this isn’t entirely true, because she doesn’t necessarily hurt others, rather, they hurt themselves and because of their embarrassment and having their secret crushes revealed to the class look for someone to blame.
Now, through all of this we are shown how far her parent’s relationship has deteriorated, and how far they have gone from the happy family we are shown right at the beginning, to one that is dysfunctional, but would never admit it. Haruka’s father appears to have a very traditional (some might say backwards) view of the family, and simply leaves everything up to her mother Kumiko to sort out. The way he dismisses any news to do with Haruka as if it isn’t important, and instead of attempting to help Kumiko simply says that it is the mother’s job to raise the child. While women have equal rights under Japanese law and in the constitution, there are still particular attitudes towards women at work and who looks after the home that remain. Numerous academics have argued that women in Japan, either socially on in terms of employment do not have true equality, in terms of Kotoura-san, we are introduced to a husband who effectively leaves everything about raising his daughter up to his wife and completely washes his hands of anything that could remotely be called ‘domestic’ work. He on the other hand is portrayed as the ‘bread winner’, working long hours, and with early mornings so that the household has money (although in this case you have to wonder about their work due to the size of the house in question). Through his comment about it being the mother’s job to raise the children we see Haruka’s father arguably expecting Kumiko to conform to the Meiji slogan of ‘ryosai kenbo’ (good wife, wise mother), and set an example by dealing with any problems without having to ask him.
As she drags Haruka around various hospitals and experts we see Kumiko gradually get worse and worse, effectively digging herself into a hole from which she cannot escape. She starts as a caring parent who wants to help her daughter, but eventually becomes someone who resents Haruka for something that she clearly doesn’t understand. We now have two separate issues, firstly Haruka can read minds, and through no fault of her own has upset others and been labelled as dangerous and a compulsive liar. But, now we have a family that is all but broken, with Haruka’s father staying at work overnight and not taking any active part in the family, instead leaving everything up to Kumiko, who for her part clearly feels trapped in a hapless marriage with a daughter who she doesn’t truly understand. By innocently reading her parents mind and confirming what they must have already suspected that they were both cheating, Haruka speeds up the inevitable, and her fractured family finally lets go and shatters. The look of hate and disgust on Kumiko’s face as she abandons her daughter to the care of Zenzou (her father, Haruka’s grandfather) we finally see how far things have come, and how spiteful Kumiko now is.
It is arguable that Haruka’s ability to read minds didn’t cause her family to split up, rather it simply pushed everything forwards with the actions of her parents as almost inevitable. At no point during this opening sequence are we given any indication that Haruka was somehow deliberately hurting others, indeed, until her mother’s complete rejection Haruka remains an innocent child who doesn’t really understand what is going on or what she is doing. Rather, we see a family that was collapsing as she was growing up, and parents who weren’t necessarily interested in each other. In fact, the almost complete absence of her father during this sequence, along with his frequent late nights already suggested that he was having an affair. Her mothers actions can partly be attributed to her position in the household, and the amount of pain, effort and stress that she had to deal with since her husband effectively abandoned all of his father duties and expected her to raise Haruka on her own. For all intents and purposes we see Haruka’s family as a single parent household, with her father having no active part in how she is raised and how things are dealt with. Kumiko effectively blames Haruka for everything that has gone wrong over the years, and by abandoning her there is the sense that she is attempting to run away and leave all of her mistakes behind her. But suggesting that Kumiko truly hates Haruka seems a little hard to believe given the amount of care she gave Haruka during her earlier childhood.
The problem is though that Haruka now blames herself for her families collapse and effectively closes herself off from the world, believing that getting close to others will only make the pain worse. The way she walks through life as if she were a zombie is heartbreaking to watch, especially as we know that she possesses a wonderful smile that can effectively light up the world. By moving schools Haruka is escaping from those who betrayed her, but instead of trying to start over again she further isolates herself by simply dismissing anyone and everyone that comes near her. In this respect she is creating a never-ending spiral of despair, a place where she can never enjoy herself or have friends due to her own fear. This all changes with the introduction of Manabe, a character of singular thoughts, and someone who seems entirely unfased by Haruka’s ability to read his mind. Rather than run away or ignore her, Manabe instead begins to talk to her and follow her, engaging in random conversation as if she were a friend. It isn’t until she sees how perverted Manabe’s thoughts are that we begin to see a subtle, but important change in Haruka.
Manabe is more worried about the idea that he cannot have perverted thoughts when around Haruka, rather than her ability to read minds and learn all of his innermost secrets. Indeed, his almost complete dismissal of her mind reading ability apart from that which pertains to his almost constant perverted thoughts comes as a shock to her. Here we have a character that genuinely wants to get to know Haruka and isn’t phased by her mindreading ability, something that has never happened to her before. This meeting is a moment of catharsis for Haruka, and marks the point where she can finally begin to accept her own abilities and live with them. His willingness to help her and the manner with which he deals with her abilities further reinforces the notion that it wasn’t Haruka’s fault that her parents split up. Rather, it was there fault, but Haruka was too young and arguably too innocent to truly understand what was happening and why. By shutting herself off from the wider world, Haruka only further reinforces her own negative emotions and the way she views herself and her power. By meeting Manabe, she now has a friend who doesn’t really worry about her abilities, and instead wants to get to know her for who she is. A powerful start to the series, and one that likely caught many people off guard, especially due to the roller-coaster of emotions that this first episode managed to get through. I am interested to see what will happen in the future, especially given the trauma that Haruka is arguably still carrying. The other members of the ESP club look rather fascinating as well, and it seems that Manabe’s perverted thoughts are going to make multiple appearances. I am particular curious to see what part Haruka’s mother plays in the series since she makes an appearance in the opening credits, and despite her terrible behaviour, I still find her to be a potentially interesting character.