Kotoura-san – Episode 12 and Final Assessment

So! Last episode of the most inconsistent show of the season. Although at this point, I guess it has developed a kind of consistency, in that I’ve always been somewhat disappointed with how things are resolved, but like the characters and writing enough to be hopeful for the next thing. They completely, abruptly, kind of ridiculously concluded the mystery plot last episode, so I guess we’ve got a whole episode to deal with Mommy Dearest. I think I know how this one ends. Let’s see it off!

Episode 12: Kotoura-san Discovers it was Old Man Smithers All Along

2:00 – Full disclosure: I have not once skipped this OP. Fuckin koshi…

3:30 – I seriously love every goddamn thing Muroto does in this series. I mean, it’s pretty much a one-note joke – he’s deadpan and serious, but perfectly willing to entertain the absurdity of his friends. But something about it completely works for me.

5:40 – Okay, this one was a little too on-the-nose (they lingered too much on Manabe “getting” Kotoura’s look), but I think this is one of the things this show grasps at well from time to time – characters that actually respect and somewhat understand each other, with a bond the show has taken care to convey to us. This is why the Mifune/Muroto scenes are almost all my favorites – there’s something so effortless and natural about their exchanges that really evokes the actual rapport of two long-time friends or lovers. Characters that are different, but play off each other that well and display that level of trust with each other, are just a joy to watch. This is one part (of many) of why Toradora is so successful, and such a feel-good show – the relationship between Taiga and Ryuuji reaches that state of absolute trust very early on in a very believable fashion (after all, outside of around the ostensible objects of their affection, neither of these two act very guarded at all).

It’s something more romantic comedies should try to evoke; many shows rely very heavily on characters not understanding each other to maintain tension and drama, and not only does that mean the plot can’t really develop very far or go in interesting directions (the way Kotoura and Manabe’s very believable argument about her safety did a few episodes ago), but it means there’s just never that much interesting chemistry between the characters you’re supposed to believe are falling in love. An understanding of this dynamic is one of this show’s saving graces.

7:10 – Wow, that scene was fantastic. People have rightly brought up the question of how Mifune could have hid her scheming from Kotoura all along… I can’t believe it never occurred to me that Kotoura obviously would never have called her out on it, even if she knew about it. Her personality is too forgiving, and her desperate appreciation of her friends too great, for her to begrudge Mifune those motives. Brilliant.

8:25 – “And I don’t have any plans to move… yet.” YOU CAN’T TIE THIS MAN DOWN, MIFUNE. Oh my god he is amazing. Also, this casual banter between Mifune/Kotoura mixed with the mind-reading really seems like how this show should have been using her power all along – but then again, I guess the characters weren’t actually comfortable and honest enough with each other for mind-reading to not be a big deal up until now. So I guess I’m just glad they finally reached this dynamic after all.

10:00 – Mifune in the headphones makes this joke still work the second time around. Spin your references, comedies! Don’t just reference them!

11:05 – “I came to eat at a nearby restaurant, but it was closed! TH-TH-THAT’S THE ONLY REASON I’M HERE!” Yeah, sure, tsun it up Momtoura.

12:06 – “How’s the food?” “IT’S NOT LIKE I… D-D-DON’T LIKE IT, OR ANYTHING!” Okay I’ll stop.

15:05 – Okay, I actually really like the argument they had here, and Kotoura standing up for herself, as well as the scene afterwards, was really well done. That said, even though I joked about it, they really were characterizing her mother as no more than a classic tsundere, and this is a woman who abandoned her daughter for like, eight years, plus she’s tried to emotionally sabotage that daughter at every turn. That is some fucked up stuff. Not something a pillow fight and heart-to-heart about taste in men can really handwave away. This seems to be a theme with this show – first with Moritani’s assault, then with policelady’s series of assaults, and now with her mother’s abandonment and history of mental abuse. It becomes harder to take a show seriously when it itself is unwilling to take its own characters’ actions seriously, and this is definitely not a straight comedy – it wants to say something about people. Maybe it’s just assuming people are fundamentally worse than most shows are willing to believe, and thus even such huge lapses in character as these should be considered forgivable? Maybe this is all a reflection of Kotoura’s personality, and how she’s willing to forgive anyone because she’s so afraid of being alone? I don’t think this show is that smart. I think this is just some weird-ass storytelling

18:02 – Interesting. The love story between Kotoura and Manabe has always been more central to this show than her relationship with her mother, but the stakes were so much lower that I always assumed the big “final conflict” would be with her mom. Instead, they actually ended up using the resolution with her mother to help her come to the final emotional realization necessary for her relationship with Manabe – a neat trick that affords this last episode some actual linear narrative progression, as opposed to the disjointed series of “wrapping up loose ends” many shows resort to. Classy work.

And Done

Wow. That episode was great. I have literally zero complaints. The only issue I had, the problem of redeeming her mother, was just a necessary result of how they’ve characterized her this far – there was nothing this episode in particular could have done to fix that situation, and everything that was in this episode’s hands (ie, the resolution of every single character conflict and the tying of them into a satisfying conclusion), it knocked out of the park. This episode vastly exceeded my expectations, and has in fact significantly improved my impression of the show overall.

Final Thoughts

So where does that leave Kotoura-san? I’d say in hindsight, it’s a smart, loveable romantic comedy bogged down by a few too many episodes. Much like Ano Natsu, you could cut the middle stretch out of this show and lose absolutely nothing, while gaining better pacing, more momentum, and more consistent humor and character growth. But how much does that hurt this show?

Honestly, not as much as I thought it would – I think the cast and characterization is strong (and often subtle, a welcome rarity), I think the writing is well above average for the genre, I think the humor in the good parts is quite snappy (though it suffers pretty terribly in the middle acts as well), and I think overall it tells a good story with flair and some degree of finesse. The themes aren’t complicated (the necessity of forgiveness, the imperfect nature of our ability to relate to others, and the importance of trust/support) but they’re consistently represented and tied neatly together. It holds up much better in retrospect, when I’m not bogged down by expectations of what I wanted the full picture to be, or by fear that the ending will be as poor as the center stretch.

I feel my rating here will somewhat reflect the caliber of the show minus that middle stretch, but I honestly can’t think too poorly of a show that would be excellent in the absence of 3-4 episodes. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable ride, and cleaned up very nicely at the end.

Final Kotourating: 7/10 (Good – Not excellent, but definitely has some inspired ideas. I’d recommend it)