“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” –Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins
Yamaboshi High School’s Student Cultural Research Club consists of five members: Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi, whose lives are unremarkable until one day, they begin to experience the otherworldly phenomenon of switching bodies. As it turns out, an enigmatic being known only as “Heartseed” is behind this, desiring entertainment. Without a means of predicting or controlling the phenomenon they experience, each of Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi must learn to manage things and along the way, come to terms with one another, as well as their own thoughts and feelings – although the phenomenon, which extends to inhibition loss, age regression and thought-transmission on top of body-switching, places a great deal of strain on everyone and puts everyone’s friendships with one another to the test, over time, everyone comes to realise that so long as they can confide in one another and be candid in how they feel, they can overcome whatever challenges that Heartseed may send their way, discovering more about themselves in the process. This is 2012’s Kokoro Connect, an anime that had developed notoriety owing to a scandal surrounding Silver Link shortly before its release, and subsequently became forgotten owing to its unconventional storyline and a finale that had left viewers disappointed when the storyline had seemingly undermined a season’s worth of progress. While Kokoro Connect was certainly unconventional, the series is actually to be commended upon closer inspection. This anime had been a forerunner in portraying youth mental health in a time when mental health and wellness was not well characterised, and through four seemingly-unrelated phenomenon, Kokoro Connect actually presents a solution to some of the challenges youth face during a period when said problems were not always recognised as requiring intervention. However, contemporary viewers did not see Kokoro Connect in this fashion, citing the disjointed stories, lack of an overarching narrative and application of seemingly-underwhelming solutions as resulting in an unsatisfactory, unrealistic outcome. I felt it difficult to recommend the series because the romance seemed to influence things to a much greater extent than was necessary, pushing character decisions that ultimately came across as being more emotional than rational. It should therefore be not surprising that my thoughts of Kokoro Connect are not wholly correct, and that I was hasty in my dismissal of the series – when taking a more thoughtful and introspective approach towards Kokoro Connect, it turns out this series succeeds in highlighting one important piece to the mental health puzzle.
The choice of using dramatic phenomenon in Kokoro Connect, and the supernatural figure that is Heartseed, is meant to represent the murky depths of mental health. The phenomenon is a very visceral and visual show of how chaotic the world can become to those who have troubles with mental health, and because of its origins, Taichi and the others feel that they cannot speak with any adults in their lives about this. This aspect of Kokoro Connect has weight because it parallels the stigma surrounding mental health issues, in which people are often reluctant to talk about their struggles and problems for fear of creating trouble for others, or appearing weak. In Kokoro Connect, the phenomenon feels unbelievable, and this is why instructor Ryūzen Gotō, despite being a knowledgeable and helpful individual, is never considered as a resource – Taichi and the others do not feel that Ryūzen would believe them if they’d confided in him, and moreover, it feels jarring to speak with Ryūzen about things when Heartseed primarily chooses him as the vessel to possess. Similarly, although Taichi is close to his sister, Iori loves her mother dearly, and the others have varying degrees of closeness to their families, the unusual nature of the phenomenon dissuades anyone from sharing things. In spite of this stigma, Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi come to understand that they must necessarily trust one another: they share the same experiences and therefore will not regard anyone else with incredulity. By confiding in one another and trusting one another, the five do end up reinforcing their bonds; when there isn’t a need, or capacity to hide anything, everyone can be honest with one another, and this leads the five to devise creative solutions for managing Heartseed’s phenomenon. Early on, when Heartseed presents the group with a new phenomenon, Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi initially retreat, worrying that they’ll end up hurting one another. Over time, however, the characters decide to break the status quo out of frustration and, in coming forward with how they few, removes any doubt and ambiguity. Giving voice to their concerns, Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi often find that what they’d made a big deal of individually turned out to be something of trivial concern, or, in the case of more serious issues, being aware of a problem allows the others to find a solution. During the body-switching act, Taichi ends up helping Yui overcome her androphobia, and later, when impulse control is lost, everyone realises that speaking their minds isn’t always a bad thing, even if people inadvertently get hurt in the process. Similarly, when Heartseed instigates age reversion, Yoshifumi is able to reaffirm that living in the moment is what matters most to him, and Iori recalls why she decided to put on a façade when around people. With support from the others, Iori is able to help her mother find her strength in forcing out a violent partner. Kokoro Connect‘s original three acts concludes with the five realising that so long as they have one another, they can overcome anything. It is the case that with mild or moderate mental health problems, professional intervention isn’t needed, and sometimes, all one needs is a friend to speak to.
In this way, the Hito Random, Kizu Random and Kako Random acts reach resolution in a fairly cut-and-dried manner, and each time, Heartseed is content to let things end whenever the characters are no longer conflicted by their own internal thoughts, enough to open up a little more to one another. Michi Random, on the other hand, appears to undo this: when the characters’ thoughts are transited to one another, Iori begins to regress. For Iori, she’d come to define her identity as how she was perceived by others, and when the body-switching phenomenon begins, Iori wonders if, since she has no defined personality, she’d be lost. Taichi had mitigated this by saying he’d recognise her from anywhere, but as the relationships among the Student Cultural Research Club become more complex, Iori becomes increasingly lost. The question of what constitutes identity is another central piece in Kokoro Connect – people are preoccupied with their identities because it shapes how others regard and perceive them. For youth, this is a source of conflict because they are still learning about themselves, and the world around them. This is why cliques are so common amongst youth, who define themselves based on who they associate with and what their interests are. For Iori, who adapts her personality to fit a situation, she feels that she has no defining characteristics, and these phenomenon continue to erode at what she knows of herself. Taichi’s efforts to persuade Iori are unsuccessful initially, but after an incident that results in Himeko’s kidnapping, Iori ends up realising that what Taichi says had been correct the whole time: she’s defined by her actions. Kokoro Connect‘s conclusion is valid and consistent with how I approach identity; one’s identity is defined wholly by the sum of their actions. In my case, for instance, my self-image is based on how I treat people, and what I do to generate value for those around me. Choosing to put in an effort and ensure I put out work I can be proud of, spending time with family and giving the clerk a “have a nice day”, for instance, are things I do, and therefore, are things that I readily associate with what’s “me”. In the case of Kokoro Connect, the question of “who is Iori Nagase” can be answered in a similar manner. While Iori believes she’s always adapting to what she thinks others want, there is actually a counterintuitive answer: the Iori Nagase that is friendly, cheerful and always wanting to make friends of others is her real self, since this is how she acts. She desires to be happy with those around her, and her actions mirror this. In accordance with this, Iori’s identity was actually never in question, but when things became difficult, her own negative thoughts fuelled troubles. When guided by her friends, she’s able to reconcile with another girl in her class and reaffirms the idea that actions are what shapes one’s identity by promising to live on her own terms, which, ironically, is actually how she’d already lived previously; she just needed a bit of support to remember this fact.
Screenshots and Commentary
- A decade earlier, I had entered Kokoro Connect with no idea of what to expect, beyond the fact that Silver Link had brought Yukiko Horiguchi onboard as the anime’s character designer. Horiguchi had previously worked with Kyoto Animation on K-On!, and would later return to design the characters for Tamako Market. Seeing K-On! style characters outside of K-On! had admittedly piqued my curiosity in Kokoro Connect, and although I never stated as such at the time, this is actually why I picked up Kokoro Connect during a time when I was staring down the MCAT. I had originally intended to write about Kokoro Connect once I had finished the series, and when the first three arcs had concluded in September 2012, there’d been news of a fourth and final arc, so I decided to wait things out.
- The first three stories enjoyable enough, but once Michi Random ended, I was left at a loss for words, and a discussion never materialised; Kokoro Connect, I concluded, had been an interesting concept, but otherwise had not told a particularly meaningful story. During a revisit a few years later, I concluded that while the series was somewhat enjoyable, it was something I couldn’t readily recommend to others. However, I’ve recently been revisiting old anime with the aim of giving them another chance. 2012’s PapaKiki was a show I’d similarly had trouble writing about, but returning with ten more years of life experience, the story’s goals became significantly clearer. I subsequently wondered: had I also misrepresented the other two anime of that era (Kokoro Connect and RDG: Red Data Girl)?
- After all, if I was able to gain significantly more from PapaKiki and Kantai Collection: The Movie following a re-watch, it was possible that I might see things in Kokoro Connect and RDG: Red Data Girl differently, and so, to this end, I decided to rewatch both series. I was, however, quite busy towards the end of the last year, and while I’d intended to write about Kokoro Connect to coincide with the end of Michi Random ten years earlier, there hadn’t been enough time to do so. What eventually led me to return to Kokoro Connect was Eufonius’ tenth anniversary album, καλυτεροζ (Kalyteryz). This album includes Eufonius’ very best songs, and I’ve listened to the songs often while exploring this new side of town. In particular, the tracks Hikari Kagayaku Sekai and Paradigm stand out, and unbeknownst to me, Paradigm had actually been the first opening song to Kokoro Connect.
- My curiosity rekindled, I set about going through Kokoro Connect, which initially starts with body-switching (Hito Random) and uses this phenomenon to drive comedy, as much as to establish the extraordinary circumstances that the Student Cultural Research Club’s members find themselves in. Although Taichi and Yoshifumi are quick to abuse the situation by doing things with Iori, Himeko and Yui’s bodies that would raise a few eyebrows, Kokoro Connect quickly uses the situation to raise a few interesting questions about what constitutes as identity, and also giving the characters a chance to literally walk in someone else’s shoes to understand their problems. Here, Taichi and Yoshifumi, as Himeko and Yui, react after their antics are found out, leading to hilarious facial expressions that Himeko and Yui would never sport under normal circumstances.
- Although Yui had kept her androphobia hidden, once it gets out, Taichi makes it his mission to help her along. Taichi’s tendency to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong is initially viewed as a shortcoming, and Himeko believes that Taichi tries to help everyone to offset his own inadequacies, Taichi’s heart ends up being a vital asset for the Student Cultural Research Club as they experience the extraordinary. During the body-switching, he quickly works out that he can help Yui feel a little more confident in getting out of difficult situations with the classic nut shot.
- Yui is voiced by Hisako Kanemoto, who I know best as Ika! Musume‘s Squid Girl and Sora no Woto‘s Kanata Sorami. On the other hand, Iori is played by Aki Toyosaki (K-On!‘s Yui Hirasawa and Aoi “Inuko” Inuyama of Yuru Camp△). Each of the characters in Kokoro Connect have their own unique traits: Iori is defined by her bubbly and cheerful personality, while Yui’s a former martial artist. Yoshifumi prefers to live in the moment and does his best to win Yui’s heart, while Taichi himself is a fan of professional wrestling and is the first to react whenever a phenomenon manifests itself.
- A decade earlier, I gravitated towards Iori’s character, but in the present day, I concur with the consensus that Himeko is “best girl”: although Himeko puts on the façade of a no-nonsense, tough-talking individual who prefers to solve problems methodically and rationally, she’s actually quite kind and more caring than she’d care to admit. Miyuki Sawashiro voices Himeko, and I am most familiar with Sawashiro’s roles as Strike Witches‘ Perrine H. Clostermann, Masami Iwasawa of Angel Beats! and Sword Art Online‘s Shino “Sinon” Asada. As Himeko, Sawashiro delivers her lines with a mature confidence, but in moments where Himeko teases Taichi, her voice takes on a rather sexy quality.
- The question of identity is explored with the first phenomenon; body switching leads Iori to wonder if people only know and remember her for her appearance; when she was younger, she would try to act in a way as to minimise conflict after her mother began seeing a violent and abusive man. Over time, Iori believes she’s lost her original sense of self. While identity is something that gives even philosophers trouble, being a pragmatist, I hold that identity is governed by actions. Tachi isn’t quite able to spot this, and apparently, neither did I when I watched Kokoro Connect a decade earlier. Today, however, I contend that the best response to Iori is that how we choose to act is what defines us. For Iori, her true self is bubbly and energetic, and this is what matters.
- As memory serves, what had made Kokoro Connect infuriating was the being known as Heartseed; inexplicably appearing and causing trouble for the characters to little end beyond its own amusement, I had been sufficiently irritated by Heartseed’s actions that I ended up overlooking the obvious. Heartseed is a supernatural being that cannot be reasoned with, or trifled with; in discussions about mental health, people often report that when they’re in a difficult situation, it feels as though there are no options, and there is no one to talk to. Since Heartseed’s actions are implausible and unbelievable, Taichi and the others find themselves in a similar position; since they can’t talk to their instructors or family, Heartseed is in effect, forcing Taichi and the others to work out a solution with one another.
- Before delving further into Kokoro Connect, I will remark that most would consider any discussion of Kokoro Connect to be incomplete if the controversy is not mentioned. I have previously written about the topic, and while what happened was unprofessional, the internet’s response to things was even more immature and irrational. The incident had created many flame wars in the past, and if site metrics are to be believed, the topic is still a point of contention in the present day. I’ve previously written about my thoughts on the matter, and will remark that in this post, the controversy is strictly out of scope: I will not be entertaining any conversation about the incident here, and comments suggesting how I’m immoral for not being sufficiently outraged, or similar, will be met with swift deletion.
- For the present, my only comments are that I am glad that the controversy happened before social media had become ubiquitous as a means of deplatforming individuals and organisation for perceived slights. Back then, Twitter and Reddit’s reach was a fraction of what it is presently, and while furious discussions vilifying Silver Link were widespread, communities weren’t so coordinated that they could do any sort of tangible damage to the studio. In this way, Silver Link survived the controversy and has since gone on to become a respected studio; from Non Non Biyori and Brave Witches to Mitsuboshi Colours, Bofuri and even Yuri Kuma Arashi, Silver Link’s portfolio since Kokoro Connect is impressive.
- After the Hito Random act, Kokoro Connect moves onto Kizu Random, which deals with the sort of chaos that accompanies reduced inhibition control. The light novel describes this as “unleashed desires”, and per Heartseed, it strikes randomly, causing characters to act out in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise. The first instance of this was when Himeko is filled with a want to mess with Taichi, and later, Iori unexpectedly cheers out in class. While some desires are harmless, Yui ends up beating up several male students who were harassing a female classmate, and subsequently isolates herself from others for fear of hurting anyone else.
- Taichi, Himeko, Iori and Yoshifumi work out that stronger emotions make it more likely for one to act recklessly, but owing to disagreement in how they should best convince Yui it’s okay, rifts begin forming amongst the Student Cultural Research Club, which results in the phenomenon becoming more strongly felt. The loss of inhibition in this act is meant to show that it is natural to have questionable or frivolous impulses. Initially, everyone in the Student Cultural Research Club see these desires as an ugly side to themselves, and conflict brews as a result of how everyone’s worst seems to be brought out.
- However, there isn’t anything inherently wrong or shameful in having such desires precisely because as people, we have the agency to master ourselves. As such, even negative desires are a part of who one is, and what matters more than the presence of such desires is how one manages them. Taichi quickly realises this after he unintentionally slams Iori into a locker while arguing with Yoshifumi about how to best handle Yui’s situation. Once Taichi is able to understand how desires are a part of being a person, spots precisely this, and that one’s desires and how they go about managing things is what’s important.
- Throughout Kokoro Connect, Maiko Fujishima crosses paths with the Student Cultural Research Club. Although she counts Taichi as a competitor for Iori’s heart, Maiko is also a self-professed “goddess of love” and outside of her own eccentricities, is a studious and focused individual who enjoys helping others. On occasions, she offers advice for Taichi and the others, and I found her character rather likeable because, even though she isn’t fully aware of the phenomenon impacting Taichi and the others, her pragmatic advice does provide Taichi and the others with a bit of support nonetheless.
- With this, Taichi decides to apologise to Yoshifumi, and the two end up reconciling. Although I’d picked up Kokoro Connect purely for the fact that Iori and the others resemble K-On! characters, revisiting the series has allowed me to appreciate what the anime had strove to accomplish. The episodic phenomenon means that Kokoro Connect lacks a traditional story structure, and cannot be readily approached from a conventional standpoint: this is why reception to the series was so varied during its airing. Random Curiosity’s Cherrie, for instance, indicated that Kokoro Connect‘s draws had been presenting relatable circumstances and using the supernatural to drive things forward, but the series also dragged things out as it continued.
- Managing one’s impulses is exactly the answer that Yui needs: although she can indeed put the hurt on, she is shown as not wanting to do so. Taichi indicates that one’s intentions are just as important, and that Yui might be able to fight off her impulses if her desire to not hurt someone is stronger than her wish to beat down someone. This is a clever way of approaching the problem that Heartseed poses, and once Yui realises this, she’s able to return to classes. Meanwhile, Himeko struggles with a newfound problem: although Taichi’s in love with Iori, she’s developed feelings for him and worries that if this becomes known, the Student Cultural Research Club would fracture.
- It turns out this is not the case, and once Himeko tearfully admits this to Iori during a class trip, Iori simply decides that the better girl wins, speaking to the importance of communication: what had been a show-stopper for Himeko turns out to be something that could be managed in a satisfactory manner. The presence of relationships in Kokoro Connect is why Cherrie felt that the series was ultimately a romance-drama that presents five youth as they struggle with their problems, which have been dramatised to illustrate how they must feel from a youth’s perspective. Although Cherrie had been on the right track, she never mentions youth mental health; this is something that I found common to almost all period discussions of Kokoro Connect.
- A decade earlier, all conversations surrounding Kokoro Connect dealt with the characters individually. While such analysis allows one to understand why characters may act the way they do in a given moment, without a larger context, it becomes difficult to see what the story as a whole seeks to accomplish. It’s easy to criticise characters for struggling with making a decision or feel like they’re backed into a corner whenever a new phenomenon arises, but it’s much more difficult to see why the story has its characters making the choices they do.
- A part of the reason why period discussions couldn’t quite hit the nail on the head, and consequently, why reception towards Kokoro Connect had been quite polarising, then, was precisely because people had entered expecting a romance comedy rather than a coming-of-age drama, and because, rather than one unifying narrative, Kokoro Connect breaks things up into distinct acts. Learnings from a precious act appear to be thrown out the window whenever a new phenomenon appears, and any progress appears undone. However, this is done deliberately to show how mental health issues aren’t something people can always prepare for.
- I do not fault older discussions for drawing incomplete conclusions because mental health awareness was not really well-characterised a decade earlier. My alma mater didn’t begin pushing for mental health awareness until 2014, and I myself didn’t study mental health extensively until my first start-up began looking at mental health three years later. Better exposure to mental health and wellness in the present means that Kokoro Connect‘s themes and execution makes more sense than they had previously. It is fair to say that the me of a decade earlier didn’t fully appreciate or understand what Kokoro Connect had aimed to convey.
- The third act of Kokoro Connect deals with age regression and the return of old memories from childhood. Although this particular phenomenon appears little more than a nuisance at first glance, as it can be easily managed (Heartseed indicates it’ll only affect someone between 1200 and 1700 JST, and Taichi is supposed to be immune to its effects), Yoshifumi, Yui and Iori become distraught when childhood memories come back to them. This causes Yui to wonder if Yoshifumi loves her for who she is, or if he’d fallen in love with her simply because she resembles his childhood crush.
- For Yui, memories of when she’d been assaulted are fresh on her mind, and Iori struggles with recalling how she’d felt when her mother began seeing an abusive man. This act gives Yoshifumi some focus, and he decides to visit his old crush to see if his heart still feels as it once did. While the age regression itself isn’t particularly bothersome, everyone’s old memories are a source of trouble for them. As people age, and new memories are made, the more painful or embarrassing memories begin fading away, so one can imagine how difficult it’d be for these thoughts to resurface.
- How Yoshifumi ends up dealing with things is a more dramatic variant to the solution I hold as being appropriate: what’s past is past, and these things can’t be undone, so one’s only real responsibility is to make the most of the present and conduct themselves accordingly. For Yoshifumi, he chooses to live in the present because he’d always worried about dying before he could do anything of note, after a classmate had unexpectedly passed away. To this end, he makes the most of every moment so if anything should befall him, he’d be able to make peace with his past and depart without any regrets. For someone who had looked pretty laid-back and carefree, this moment shows another side to Yoshifumi and explains his actions throughout Kokoro Connect.
- While Taichi had started Yui’s journey towards overcoming her androphobia, it is ultimately Yoshifumi who finishes things: he reaffirms that his feelings in them here and now are for Yui and Yui alone. Seeing Yoshifumi so sincerely expressing himself prompts Yui to embrace him. It turns out her fear of men had stopped her from participating in a karate tournament some years earlier, and this is why another girl had been quite unhappy with Yui, as she’d broken their promise. With this, Yui and Yoshifumi’s are resolved in full.
- The phenomenon that Heartseed creates is to an unknown end, and while Kokoro Connect‘s anime adaptation never explains what this end is beyond Heartseed’s desire for entertainment, it does precipitate accelerated growth amongst the characters by forcing them to confront their worst selves and work out a solution on their own. In this way, Kokoro Connect‘s first three stories actually do a fantastic job of showing how important it is to have people in one’s corner. Even though Taichi, Himeko, Iori, Yui and Yoshifumi lack any support from adult figures in their lives, having one another still lets them regroup and talk things out.
- Thus, when Heartseed reappears after Himeko forces Taichi to reveal Heartseed had rendered him exempt from the phenomenon and introduces chaos, the five continue to deal with things as they have, and Iori even declines Heartseed’s offer of helping Iori sort out her past. This single moment shows Iori has being someone who’s figured things out now, and with friends in her corner, it does feel as though she’s able to overcome any problem. Throughout the age regression (kako random), Iori was forced to relive memories of her time with her mother’s second husband, and when he returns unexpectedly, Iori is torn between trying to appease him and helping her mother.
- With Yui, Himeko, Taichi and Yoshifumi in her corner, Iori decides helping her mother matters more, and she ends up voicing their concerns to her mother. As it turns out, Iori’s mother had also worried about her, and once Iori had spoken up, she puts her foot down and throws the other man out, surprising everyone. This outcome suggests that although youth won’t be able to directly take on issues in the lives of those around them, it’s still important to speak up, since adults can often act where youth cannot. Of course, as adults, one does have a responsibility to listen and act where appropriate, and good communication underlies this.
- Had Kokoro Connect ended here, the anime would’ve been satisfactory. I wrapped up Kokoro Connect in September; by this point in time, the MCAT had been done, and my undergraduate thesis project proposal was accepted, allowing me to start things off in earnest. Kokoro Connect fell to the back of my mind: although I had been looking to return and write about things once Hito Random finished, what happened subsequently appeared to have undone and contradicted the progress that had been made throughout Kokoro Connect up until now.
- With a decade’s worth of additional life experience and a new perspective on things, I now find that Michi Random was meant to achieve two things: address the question of what counts as identity, as this question disappeared in Hito Random after Heartseed forces Iori to leap into a river and sending her to the hospital, and secondly, illustrate that the journey of both mental health and light novel was an ongoing one. Had Kokoro Connect wrapped up with a happily-ever-after ending, the series would’ve suggested there are points in life where mental health is no longer a concern, and one is “cured” of their problems once they find something. Life doesn’t operate in this fashion, so continuing the story and showing one more instance of the Student Cultural Research Club dealing with a phenomenon as the stakes increase was the anime adaptation’s way of showing that, even as things become more difficult, Taichi and the others can still handle things.
- Michi Random is the result of this, and while the phenomenon of thought transmission would, on paper, be one the Student Cultural Research Club should have no trouble handling, it is also the one that brings the club closest to the brink of destruction: instructor Ryūzen learns that scheduling conflicts may result in his being forced to choose between the Student Cultural Research Club and the jazz club. When thought transmission begins, the Student Cultural Research Club’s members don’t think much of things and set about preparing an exhibit of local attractions to convince the instructors they’re worthy of having an advisor.
- However, Iori’s troubles threaten the club’s project. Although her troubles appeared to be solved since the events of Kako Random, the transmission of thoughts suddenly has Iori doubting her identity again: she worries that the persona she projects and her actual thoughts, being incongruous, means that Taichi and the others won’t understand her true self. When Iori turns down a male student from the jazz club, she earns the ire of a female classmate who’d also had a crush on him, and this precipitates a conflict Iori wants no part of. There is more drama in Michi Random than the other stories, and it became difficult to reconcile the events here with what had happened in the earlier stories.
- Things come to a head when the female classmate’s friends convinces her to send some goons from another school to trash the Student Cultural Research Club’s work. Although Taichi, Himeko, Yui and Yoshifumi are quite unbothered by this (to them, they’re confident that they can start over and still do a good job since everyone’s been pitching in), Iori all but suffers a breakdown; she’s furious that her actions have caused trouble for others. After Taichi and Himeko catch up to her, Iori finally explains herself: ever since the phenomenon started, she’s been struggling to understand who she is.
- Michi Random thus seems to come out of the blue since Kokoro Connect had given the sense that Iori’s problems had been addressed to a satisfactory extent. However, after Heartseed took over her body and injured her in Hito Random, matters of identity were set aside as Taichi strove to make his feelings for Iori known. The question of what constitutes identity is therefore never fully resolved in the context of the first three acts. Because Kokoro Connect had already shown the Student Cultural Research Club as having significantly stronger bonds as a result of the previous phenomenon, the only way the anime could show the difficulty of this new scenario was by raising the stakes: anything less, and viewers would comment on how it should be easy for the Student Cultural Research Club to manage things this time around.
- The need to do this was why Michi Random feels so out of place compared to the remainder of Kokoro Connect, and it also illustrates a challenge that light novels face when being adapted. Although some story ideas work well in the written format, as an anime, their progression might feel unnatural or forced. In the case of Kokoro Connect, this is exactly what ended up happening: Michi Random is important in that it resolves the problem of what is identity, but the way it happens feels gratuitous. After Himeko spots some of the male students bragging about their handiwork, she confronts them, but they end up kidnapping her.
- Fortunately, thought transmission allows Yui, Taichi and Yoshifumi to save Himeko; Iori overhears everyone’s thoughts and chooses to act despite her own feelings of guilt. She too exploits the phenomenon to help buy enough time for everyone to rescue Himeko. The male students’ actions appear irrational, written purely for drama’s sake, but folks familiar with some of the more macabre crime stories in Japan would get the chills from their presence; when Himeko is rescued, one cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief that no serious harm had come to Himeko.
- In the end, Iori reconciles with both her friend and her classmate: it takes extraordinary circumstances to help her to spot this, but the important detail here is that she does recover. This is another piece of the puzzle that mental health awareness has made easier to address: while wellness can be maintained or improved through non-clinical support (mainly social contact and self-care), there are situations where professional intervention may be necessary. Kokoro Connect doesn’t mention this explicitly, but the more extreme events of Michi Random do reflect on how sometimes, conventional methods don’t always work.
- The mental health piece is precisely what I was missing when I watched through Michi Random, and this was ultimately the reason why I had a difficult time in writing out my thoughts for Kokoro Connect, as well as why I didn’t initially feel justified in recommending the series or giving it a fairer chance. The me of a decade earlier, however, did not have this additional knowledge, and this is why a revisit has proven valuable in helping me to reassess a series I’d previously dismissed. While I am doubtful that my comments in this post will be read by folks who’d watched and written about Kokoro Connect a decade earlier, I believe that this exercise remains a worthwhile one in allowing me to revisit some of my old thoughts and see if time has changed them.
- The Michi Random storyline draws to a close on a positive note: although one of the male students ends up injuring Taichi, thanks to Maiko’s father being in law enforcement, the three students are taken care of, and when the time comes to give their presentation, the Student Cultural Research Club performs extremely well to the point where Ryūzen is allowed to continue advising for both clubs: the extent of the Student Cultural Research Club’s efforts show that they do contribute to Yamaboshi’s student experience without the need for supervision, and in this way, Kokoro Connect ends in a satisfactory manner.
- Opinions of Kokoro Connect are subjective and unique to the individual, so it is not my place to judge other perspectives on the anime. However, I am allowed to challenge my old thoughts and decide whether or not they still hold true in the present day. After revisiting Kokoro Connect, I am happy to say the anime is significantly more meaningful and enjoyable than I recall. The series’ reputation following the controversy was quite undeserved, and while the story has a few frustrating moments, overall, it is a sincere and valid portrayal of youth mental health. As a result, I retract my old remarks about Kokoro Connect and indicate here that, contrary to what I’d previously said, there is merit in watching this anime.
Because of the increased awareness for mental health amongst youth, it is unfair to look back at these old opinions and dismiss them as being wrong; I reached my conclusions about Kokoro Connect based on the information that had been available a decade earlier, as did the numerous other reviewers that similarly felt disappointed by this anime. Two years after Kokoro Connect began airing, students on campus had begun campaigning for improved mental health and awareness, and following my graduation, I began working at a health information start-up. Among the projects we were involved in was a potential partnership with the local mental health association, CMHA. CMHA provides mental health services to those who pass through their doors, and whereas traditional mental health treatments entailed professional support and medication, CMHA promoted the idea that mental health must be constantly looked after. Their surveys would almost always encourage people to consistently maintain strong, postitive connections to people, be open about any problems and talk things out with those in one’s circle. Kokoro Connect deals precisely with this and treads into territory that wouldn’t be explored for some time. In the presence of this knowledge, the anime had done a remarkably solid job of presenting another perspective of mental health, and more importantly, some solutions people might be able to take. As an anime, Kokoro Connect ends up deserving more credit than it received, and for this reason, I rescind my old conclusions of Kokoro Connect: while it’s quite unconventional and can be frustrating at times, the journey it shows is a plausible one. Kokoro Connect ended in December 2012 with relatively limited fanfare, and has since been forgotten, but of the stories it did portray, it has done a satisfactory job. There is presently no continuation of Kokoro Connect that adapts later volumes of the light novel, but this is actually for the better – Kokoro Connect‘s anime works only because it shows four phenomenon that challenge the characters in different ways, but once Taichi and the others get a handle on things, they resolve things in a fairly consistent manner, using similar steps. There is only so much the story can do before things get repetitive, and in the light novel, to keep the stakes high, the Heartseed phenomenon must become increasingly outrageous. This does not advance the theme any further and may create a scenario where the story stretches credibility. It was for this reason that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was not adapted past the Disappearance volume. Once Kyon accepts his enjoyment of Haruhi’s adventures, there is no further growth to his character. Here in Kokoro Connect, after Taichi and the others find their footing, getting through the phenomenon is a given, and the outcomes end up being identical, so concluding the animated adaptation with Iori reaffirming her sense of identity was an appropriate conclusion, rounding out the questions that first came to mind when everyone began switching bodies early on.