Kokoro Connect and the mysteries of life

Kokoro Connect is a curious series; presenting us with five high school students, who are very different, yet share similar feelings and club duties. The concepts of gender-bender and body swapping are hardly new to anime or indeed manga, with numerous series either using then as a central element of the story or perhaps merely flirting with the ideas on occasions. As a concept it obviously allows for a certain kind of humour, along with a playful approach to characterisation and gender roles within the series. Kokoro Connect also plays with this concept; only it approaches the idea from a very different and quite unusual angel, one that might catch many people out.

On the face of it, Kokoro Connect is a classic slice-of-life series, following five high schoolers that are all a little odd and thus haven’t been involved in any club activities. In a similar way to other series they band together and create the Culture Research Club, a club with a very broad purpose, and one that appears to be more of a gathering place for these five friends rather than one dedicated to something in particular. Interestingly we are given brief, but informative glimpses into the family lives of our protagonists, showing us the multitude of experiences and problems that some carry around with them on a daily basis. While nothing is specifically said about each character it is clear to see that a couple of them have slightly more complicated family lives than the others. Whereas we see entirely normal family lives for several of the Culture Research Club members that have clearly had an impact on how they approach school and life in general.

Of particular note are Iori Nagase and Himeko Inaba, the characters with the most personality for very different reasons, and both with fascinating family lives from the brief moments we are shown. Iori, while incredibly cheerful appears to be a fundamentally lonely character, although she comes across as quite an air-headed character, she also seems to either ignore or side step anything that could be potentially serious or emotional. Our brief glimpse into her life outside of school shows us that she lives with her mother, who by virtue of working very late could possibly work as a hostess or other similar work. This of course is pure speculation, however, such late jobs tend to involve such work. Because of this we see her as this independent, but very lonely girl who has to eat on her own due to her mothers working hours and thus has little family or home life to speak of.

We are shown numerous complicated expressions whenever anything happens that could possibly bring up painful memories appearing on Iori’s face. Furthermore, her rush to leave the clubroom when the atmosphere gets particularly heavy and dangerous demonstrates that she cannot deal with such pressure and emotions. Her bubbly personality can therefore be viewed as being a mask to conceal the reality that she does not wish to face. Inaba on the other hand seems to be detached in a sense, focussing on whatever work she is doing on her computer and appearing to ignore what is happening around her. Her harsh attitude and cold personality give us some indication into how she approaches the world, and it is clear from her introduction that she is very forceful and set in her ways. While she clearly gets annoyed at the almost farcical nonsense that the other club members provide, she is also fair, and clearly likes their company.

We see an equally lonely home life for Inaba, although for different reasons, and it is clear that while Iori is from a working class background, Inaba is from a middle or upper-middle class family. The hallway to the house is large and clearly belongings to a significantly bigger house than the small apartment that Iori lives in. our brief introduction to someone that could possibly be Inaba’s older brother suggests that she may have a strained relationship with her family. Furthermore, the complete lack of anyone being present other than her brief interactions with this aforementioned brother also suggests that her family has little contact with itself and perhaps focuses on work and careers.  It is clear then that while she is a cool customer and incredibly blunt in her statements, there is something about this club that she enjoys in a similar way to Iori.

The way in which Kokoro Connect deals with the body swapping is rather abrupt but also fascinating. The sudden nature of the body swap followed by the interrogation and deductive reasoning of Inaba comes as a surprise, as if we are in the clubroom and experiencing the phenomenon as the characters are. We are given no warning or indeed any initial explanation like in other such series, with the body swap appearing to happen at random rather than at a preordained place and time. Similarly we are not given any context for these body swaps, with no magic or chemical appearing to be present. This is a rather unique and interesting way to deal with such an occurrence, and unlike many other series involving a similar theme Kokoro Connect seems to be in no rush to explain what is going on and why. We as the audience are stuck much like the characters wondering about what happened and whether it will happen again.

We are however provided with a brief, but also highly cryptic explanation courtesy ‘Heartseed’, someone or perhaps something that has taken over the body of Go-sensei, a teacher at their school. This body swapping then takes on an altogether more serious, but also more fickle nature, with the knowledge that this phenomenon is happening because this group of friends looked ‘interesting’. It is as if they are caught in a game devised by some other being in order to keep themselves amused and essentially past the time. Such a revelation coupled with the knowledge that they no longer have full control over their bodies come as a shock to our central group of friends.

Now that these five characters are all swapping personalities and bodies at random, with no apparent time frame for how long this phenomenon will last, certain questions have to be asked about whom they are. Furthermore, we as the audience much like the characters are beginning to learn that they did not know each other as well as they once thought. Regardless of how close you are as friends there will always be things hidden, or perhaps left unsaid – we see Iori not wishing to tell everyone that her parents are divorced for example. It is clear that this little detail, brought out by Yui swapping bodies with Iori shocks her, and everyone else. The girl who is always the liveliest suddenly has a dark past and a bleak home life, with no one around and a distinct feeling of loneliness about her.

It is clear that our characters are more complex than we first though, with hidden problems and things that they would rather be kept a secret. However, with this body swapping these secrets and differences are coming out into the open, and we see our five protagonists having to learn about themselves as well as each other in order to cope and survive. And there is also the element of trust; something that may have seemed inconsequential at first has become immensely important now. And yet simultaneously we have characters such as Iori begin to question her own existence, musing on the idea that it is the soul, personality and body that make up the person, and by taking one of them away you are changing something intrinsic in their character.

The question then is what it means to be Iori or Inaba, or even Taichi, do they remain the same or does this swapping ultimately change them completely. But more importantly perhaps, is this a bad thing, does a change in personality or circumstances destroy, or does it create a new, changing these characters and giving them a new perspective on life. Furthermore, with the sudden and random nature of the swapping we see misunderstandings take place, with simple actions such as volunteering for cleanup duty have more serious consequences than we otherwise may have though. While there is a certain comic element about girls and boys swapping bodies, there is clearly an element of trust involved here, with Inaba clearly wanting to know that neither Taichi nor Yoshifumi did anything inappropriate to or with their bodies.

This body swapping has therefore forced our protagonists to reassess how they approach this friendship, making them question whom they and the others are. At the same time it also appears to have brought them together, and through their new knowledge of each other we are seeing stronger bonds being formed. Due to the random nature of this swapping we are also beginning to see the characters start to reassess how they interact with each other, and in many respects learning to tell who is who incredibly well. What has made this series so fascinating until now has been this random element, coupled with the character development that is taking a curious turn due to the body swapping and the ramifications of this phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how Iori, Inaba, Taichi, Yui and Yoshifumi react and change over the course of the series, especially now that their private lives are being thrown open to the entire group.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

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