Kokoro Connect’s second episode has arrived, and with it an “explanation” of sorts for the show’s body-swapping shenanigans. Apparently, their trials have been prompted by a mysterious figure known as Heartseed, who possesses the body of their teacher Goto to explain his reasoning. Or lack of reasoning, as the case may be – Heartseed comes off as aimless and apathetic, and his tormenting of the show’s stars is framed as no more than a whim of boredom. They can’t tell others about their secret, because that would be a bother. They can’t hope to end their struggle, because it’s just going to end when Heartseed tires of it. All they can do is keep on keeping on.
I’m sure this non-explanation came across as pretty infuriating to many viewers, but unsurprisingly, I kinda prefer such a vague tether for the conceit than something more structured and goal-oriented. This clearly isn’t a show about the fantasy mechanics of body-swapping (offhand discussions of the soul/body relationship notwithstanding) – this is a show about people, with the body-swap conceit largely being used to stir the pot of their self-image and personal relationships. As long as the body-swapping operates according to some internal logic, focusing any more on the mechanics will simply detract from what the show actually cares about.
And beyond the value of minimalism, I actually liked the tone set by Heartseed’s ethos as well. Heartseed comes across as more dangerous of a villain precisely because he’s so vague and lethargic; he has no clear goals and no known limits on his power, so in truth he could basically do anything. The cast of Kokoro Connect are now hostages, and their conversation with Heartseed came across like an actual fraught negotiation. In that context, asking about what they could do to break the curse actually seemed like a bad idea; better to just let Heartseed do his thing than to give him any potentially terrible ideas.
Outside of Heartseed’s big arrival, this episode stuck largely to the strengths and weaknesses of the first. On the negative side, Kokoro Connect’s appeal as a sex comedy continues to be hampered by the fact that anime sex comedies are just generally not very good. Nagase learning that Taichi fondled her boobs is followed by a “how am I supposed to get married now,” Aoki responds to that reveal with “how big were Iori’s boobs,” and Inaba follows that up with “she’s a C cup, also I’m a B and Yui is an A.”
Real teenagers don’t talk like that. Real teenagers don’t speak in light novel cliches, fragments of tropes collected from a long history of inhuman comedy assumptions. Even when a single viewpoint character is speaking in the language they’ve adopted from anime, it comes across as aggravating and inhuman – when an entire cast does it, it comes across as every single character speaking with the author’s own, deeply insular voice. And when your show’s fundamental goal is “convey engaging character drama and evolving personal relationships,” having all your characters occasionally break out into light novelese is a damning flaw.
Fortunately, the actual human dialogue was also as strong as ever. Even the offhand and impersonal conversations, like the cast’s early conversation with Goto, felt grounded in real human observations – Goto didn’t come off as an “anime teacher,” he came off as a laid-back and somewhat immature teacher who aspires to be as much a friend to the students as he is a mentor. Other scenes let the characters riff playfully and naturally off each other, or again emphasized the stark differences in body language when they possess each other’s bodies. And one of the episode’s final scenes, where the group all met outside of school to discuss their first week of switches, offered an ideal capstone to everything the show is good at.
The first thing that impressed me about that late scene was the smart use of costuming. The characters didn’t really get much opportunity to visually express themselves at school, since they were all wearing default uniforms, but at home, each of their outfits said something about their self-image. Nagase is confident and likes to show off her body, so she stretched out in booty shorts – in contrast, Inaba is both insecure and self-serious, so she hid her figure in a bulky sweater. Both Yui and Aoki are somewhat preening and ostentatious, and so Yui’s tasteful dress was matched by Aoki’s dashing vest combo. And the lethargic Taichi doesn’t really consider his appearance at all, so his clothes leaned towards the simply comfortable.
That scene also offered one of the first glimpses of the ways this body switching will shake up their relationships, as Yui challenged Nagase on living alone. What I liked best about that argument was its aftermath; having pushed too far on what she realized too late was an awkward subject, Yui ends up apologizing herself in response to Nagase’s totally unnecessary one. And that act of managing boundaries was echoed on the way home, as Nagase returned an apology (in Aoki’s body) when Yui backed away from her attempted physical contact.
Stuff like that, where the body-swapping conceit leads to understated human connection, is exactly what I’m here for. It remains to be seen whether that stuff can rise above all the wonkier material.
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