Kokoro Connect’s fourth episode is about: I D E N T I T Y.
The show’s always about identity to some extent, of course. The fundamental conceit plays directly into that topic, with body switching facilitating not just romantic drama, but also questions about “true” selfhood and perception of self. It’s one of the reasons I expect my readers picked this one for me to write about – many of my favorites obsess over how we define ourselves, and how we navigate the impossibility of conveying our truth to others. Kokoro Connect uses a classic conceit to facilitate those conversations, and this episode’s conversations center on two of its main characters: Iori and Inaba.
The episode opens with Inaba and the gang in the nurse office, just after her collapse from last time. Inaba is clearly not doing well, but she waves off her friends’ concern, saying that it’s “nothing I would have gone to the nurse’s office for.” In the following scene she again tries to push off their support, first saying that she can walk home by herself, and then changing the subject to Taichi’s confrontation with Yui. The overall effect of these scenes firmly defines Inaba as someone who likes to keep her own secrets, and who dislikes feeling vulnerable – a preference that’s fundamentally incompatible with the inherent vulnerability of body-swapping.
This scene is also a fair example of Kokoro Connect’s satisfyingly layered personal interactions. Not only do the characters in this show have a refreshingly frank rapport, but their comments and responses always seem to evoke at least two simultaneous responses: an immediate reaction appropriate to the ongoing conversation, and an expression shift reflective of their underlying feelings. That layered approach couldn’t be more valuable than in a show like this, which is obviously obsessed with the differences between our fundamental self, perception of self, and performance of self.
Inaba’s concluding lines here reflect that layered approach to character writing. She first states that “you two would make the perfect couple, because you need each other.” On a surface level, that’s both her pushing her friends together, and also her pushing away from the personal, self-focused topics that make her uncomfortable. On a perception of self level, that’s almost an underhanded jab, as “needing someone else” seems to be the one thing Inaba could never stand. And on a fundamental self level, it’s likely she’s punishing herself, and running away from her own feelings for Taichi. A line like “never forget that kindness can hurt as well as help” offers a warning to Taichi while also giving us clear insight into Inaba’s own psychology.
Inaba’s parting shot is a cruel one – following on Yui’s (still very bad) trauma drama, she breaks Iori’s trust by asking Taichi to help her as well. And so we soon learn that Iori’s genki persona is truly a persona – one of many she’s adopted over the years, prompted by an abusive father who taught her it’s easiest to simply be the person others want you to be.
Iori and Taichi’s conversation nicely highlighted my contradictory feelings towards Kokoro Connect. On the one hand, this is the stuff I love getting shows about, and I appreciate Kokoro Connect’s very frank approach to its dialogue. On the other hand, this conversation is coming roughly eight minutes of screen time after another heroine just told Taichi she was almost raped, and includes lines like “on his deathbed, my fifth father told me to be myself.” Topics like this demand a delicate hand, and Kokoro Connect can come off as frustratingly clumsy at times.
But even if this sequence’s execution can be wonky, it’s still full of the details that make Kokoro Connect compelling anyway. First off, the show overall has done an excellent job of establishing Iori as someone who plays an imagined version of herself without that coming off as hackneyed or unnatural. Pretty much everyone “plays a version” of themselves – even if we don’t entirely deny our underlying feelings, we pick and choose the ways we express ourselves so we can do our best to interact with society in a positive way.
You don’t need to adopt a new persona entirely to be playing a part, and Iori’s general exuberance has felt somewhat insincere without also coming across like an entirely invented person. When Iori says “after spending most of my life acting the way someone else wanted, I’d forgotten what I was like,” it feels completely relatable. Iori’s problem hits the key dramatic junction of personal and universal. Not everyone is terrified of performing a persona at all times, but almost everyone can understand the fear of not knowing who they are or want to be.
Taichi’s response to Iori’s problem is classic Taichi. He assures Iori that no matter what happens, he’ll be able recognize her, fulfilling his general “font of infinite, baseless confidence and selflessness” role. I’m guessing that Taichi will eventually have to account for his own issues, but for now, he’s allowed to get away with himself.
The next day sees us bouncing over to Inaba’s problems, as a brief switching of Inaba and Taichi leads to the two of them talking in the clubroom alone. Based on just this episode, the conflict of their characters is perfectly clear – Taichi is a person who can’t stop himself from helping others, and Inaba is a person who refuses to be helped. After hemming and hawing around the issue and complaining about her own failings, Taichi ultimately calls her on her fatalistic asides, and Inaba drops the truth.
My feelings on this whole sequence were far less ambiguous than Iori’s material: frankly, this was the show at its best. While Iori and Yui each let Taichi take the lead during their therapy sessions, Inaba actually holds her own against Taichi, making this sequence reflect effectively on both of them. Inaba is excellent at finding the weak points in Taichi’s feel-good arguments, but also expresses her own desire for help in her constant self-recrimination and general negative comments. Taichi wants to help his friend, but also expresses a failure of imagination in lines like “if you can’t tell us why you’re in so much pain, you can’t think of us as friends.” That argument is untrue in a way that makes for excellent character writing. People who have difficulty trusting others obviously don’t get over that feeling in the company of friends, and will often actually be most afraid of disappointing the people they care about – but to someone as committed to positive thinking as Taichi, that fact wouldn’t even register.
While Taichi exhibits the emotional intelligence failings of constance positivity, Inaba finds herself marooned at the other emotional pole. Inaba’s “problem” is that she can’t trust others. She hasn’t suffered from any single traumatic event like Yui or Iori, but she still can’t trust that her friends aren’t messing around with her body, and she hates herself for that. Her feelings here reflect an opposing truth of emotional realities – the near impossibility of seeing ourselves as “normal,” and being forced by circumstance to compare ourselves to those around us. Inaba sees her distrust as a poison in her personality, but in truth, her feelings are just another version of Iori’s quest to find the “normal me.”
Once again, Taichi finds the right words to cheer Inaba up, something that also left me slightly unsatisfied. On the one hand, I was very happy to see Inaba’s feelings here addressed with maturity and compassion – her friends rightly acknowledged that her concerns are totally normal, and she ultimately was left wondering why she’d been so worried. On the other hand, Taichi has now had three major woman-saving setpieces in a row. Shows about emotional truth can’t really get away with wonderboys hovering at the center, so I’m hoping there’s a reckoning for Taichi coming soon.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.