And so Kokoro Connect’s first arc comes to its irreputable close. I’ll spare you the suspense: I didn’t really like this episode.
I didn’t like it for reasons that are likely predictable at this point, but still really harm the show’s emotional grasp. For one thing, Taichi is still just too damn good at what he does. While listening to him effortlessly disarm Iori’s lifelong anxieties, I wasn’t filled with respect or admiration – I mostly just wondered if the show was really going to make it that easy for him. It’s rare that a show prompts me to think “I wish Araragi were here,” but Kokoro Connect actually demonstrates how much Araragi’s myriad flaws add to his narrative. Araragi’s attempts to “help” his friends actually demonstrate his weaknesses, and thus his humanity. Taichi’s attempts are all successful and all based in “I just want to help people, okay,” which really doesn’t offer me anything to hold onto outside of imagining myself as his eternally competent self. Thoughtful character dramas can’t have Kiritos as their protagonists.
This episode actually did offer one nice riff on Taichi’s personality, when Inaba rightfully yelled at him for volunteering to die in Iori’s place. When Inaba correctly diagnosed his selflessness as self-serving in its own way, Taichi didn’t disagree – instead, he simply said “so what?” I think that’s a far stronger response than attempting to deny he’s helping people for his own emotional benefit. We all help others for our own emotional benefit – that doesn’t make us horrible people, or invalidate the merits of those acts. Taichi stating he wanted to help others because that made his own pain more bearable was easily one of the most human, satisfying things he’s ever said.
Unfortunately, my issues with this episode don’t really end with Taichi. More critical to the central drama is the Heartseed problem – the fact that this show thinks a good followup to a romantic confession is to have an ineffable god-presence take over one of the character’s bodies and force them to attempt suicide.
You hear the term “forced drama” thrown around a lot when it comes to character dramas, and most of the time it’s a pretty easy complaint to disregard. For one thing, it’s not actually a critical term – like “deconstruction,” it’s essentially been turned into a Discourse for Dummies catch-all for a wide variety of dramatic effects. It also often reflects an audience belief that drama based in our contradictory personal feelings isn’t “real” – that only dramatic external stimuli warrants dramatic response. “I wouldn’t act that way, thus this is forced drama” is pretty close to a meaningless statement.
But if “forced drama” is a term that could ever be applied with anything approaching weight, I’d say it works for “now we’ll force one of the characters to enter a coma and all of you have to choose who dies.” Heartseed’s dramatic intrusions don’t facilitate the show’s personal conflicts in a natural way, and generally just seem to inject misunderstanding or tragedy straight into the narrative’s vein. Drama feels satisfying when it emerges from the fundamental variables of a conflict, much like how “twists” feel satisfying when they smartly reflect on the things we’ve learned before. There are times when running a bus straight into a character out of nowhere is a useful dramatic choice, but if you keep sending locomotives into love interests, someone’s going to start questioning the bus routes.
That sense of artificiality hangs heavy over this episode’s whole second half. There were legitimately great conversations between Iori and the others, but concepts like “I want to speak to each of you one at a time before I die” just don’t feel appropriate for what’s theoretically a nuanced, character-focused narrative. I’d like to care about these characters, but the world they’re in is run by sociopathic wizards, and “a sociopathic wizard did it” cannot form the bedrock of your dramatic material.
So yeah, that’s the stuff that colored my overall impression of this episode. But I’m guessing this is the last Kokoro Connect I’ll be covering, and there actually was plenty of nice material here, so let’s not end on a sour note. Let’s instead recognize the fact that even if Taichi’s advice was a little on-the-nose, good personal messages are good personal messages. Iori hates herself for wearing masks, but we all wear masks – like with Inaba last time, sometimes the feelings we’re most ashamed of are actually integral to our common humanity. Let’s also acknowledge that “if I cry, you won’t be able to” is a perfectly phrased articulation of what makes Taichi’s ethos noble. Acting as a contrast to Inaba’s “your sacrifices are a hypocrisy,” Taichi’s line there is genuine selflessness, and exactly what Iori needed to hear.
There were other small pleasures to be found here. I liked much of the framing in this episode – the use of Taichi’s bike for setting up shots was excellent, and there was still plenty of the incidental posturing that makes this cast feel real. Overall, I can’t really say I had the best time with Kokoro Connect. But there’s still something to appreciate in everything.
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