Boundaries and Secrets in Kokoro Connect
August 2, 2012 2 Comments
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. It is however a fascinating series looking at the intricacies of these characters lives and how they are all hiding thing from each other as well as from themselves. 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. What is fascinating however is the way with which our characters appear to take everything in their stride and accept that the body swapping is a reality. They may not agree with it, and are clearly angry with Heartseed for their current predicament, but their actions suggest an acceptance with the knowledge that they should now move forwards and cope with their current situation.
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. We are therefore shown that while these five characters may appear to be friends, they are still strangers, interacting during their club, but remaining separate during their home lives.
We learn that Iori, Inaba and Yui all have problematic family and personal lives, hiding their problems away from everyone in fear of the consequences should they be discovered. Yui for example suffers from Androphobia due to an attempted rape in her childhood, but rather than tell people she hides it, fearing that those around her would treat her differently. We see that she does her best to get along with everyone, attempting to live her life as if nothing were wrong. She is effectively running away from the problem rather than attempting to address it and work out a solution. By hiding it from everyone else and only telling Inaba about her problem Yui is demonstrating that despite the apparent close relationship she does not fully trust everyone in the Cultural Study group. What is interesting is seeing Iori’s reaction when she learns of Yui’s androphobia, shocked more so at herself for not noticing the symptoms than the news itself. She makes a fascinating point about being so close, and yet not noticing anything as if they were strangers walking past each other in the street.
Iori, while incredibly cheerful appears to be a fundamentally lonely character, and 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. Her home life is a almost solitary one, with a mother who clearly works very late into the night and no father. Seeing Yui’s reaction when she swapped bodies with Iori shows how much of a shock this is to her, as if she did not know who Iori truly was. To Iori we see the idea that she must not upset people or cause conflicts, which is clearly the culmination of years of neglected and a problematic family life. She feels that she should simply act in a way to fit in with people, blending in with the crowd and never standing out. The body swapping is therefore stressful and problematic for her, in part due to Iori feeling as if she is losing an essential part of what makes her a human and a distinctive individual.
She feels that by swapping bodies she is losing something fundamental about her character, something that makes her Iori and no one else. 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 constant jokes and messing around are used to disguise the unease that she feels at this sudden body swapping, along with her fear that if this continues for much longer she will lose something essential, something that makes her who she is. 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 is a character that embodies the problematic nature of this body swapping, someone who cannot, and perhaps will not trust anyone. To her everyone, and in particular Taichi are enemies, people who will be willing to push you to one side if it is to their advantage, regardless of the emotional or physical cost. She freely admits that the fear of what someone may do when in her body stops her from sleeping, constantly worrying about the potential crimes or other things that might happen. In many respects it is more a case that Inaba is unwilling to trust anyone rather than she cannot trust people. There is an element of her being someone who does not want to have the pressure and responsibility of trust and friendship, despite wanting friends. The worry that Taichi feels when Inaba is throwing up and her fainting and ill heath she how much he cares for her, but to Inaba we see the suspicion that he is simply doing this to gain something. By finally admitting to her problem and telling everyone in the club we see Inaba able to move on and learn from her experience, and in doing so getting a juicy piece of information on Taichi in the process.
It is clear that our characters are more complex than we first though, with hidden problems and parts of the life 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. Ultimately we see that these five characters are strangers, and that their friendship to this point, while important has also been superficial and in places shallow. This is largely because of the nature of their friendship, along with the attitude that certain circumstances and family problems are not important, or perhaps wish to be kept a secret.
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 anew, 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. By swapping bodies these characters are opening up to each in ways that they could never have possibly imagined, and while it is forced, it can also be beneficial, making them realise each other’s problems and working towards a solution.
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.