That episode really didn’t work for me, but I feel kind of bad for saying so.
I admire the fact that Kokoro Connect is setting its sights higher than its competition in many respects. This is a show that’s really trying to tell a serious story, and to craft something that’s both plot and character-driven into a cohesive whole. It isn’t just trying to be fun, or funny, or create a whimsical and relaxing atmosphere of innocent times at school. But the downside to that is that there are times when the show’s reach exceeds its grasp, and this week was definitely rife with examples.
There are a lot of things about this episode that really bothered me, though I have to temper that with respect for the fact that the writer really is trying to do something difficult here. The exposition around Yui’s character last week mostly worked – apart from the silly crotch-kick and the implication that it “cured” her deep-seated trauma. But for me the “revelations” surrounding Inaba and Nagase totally fell flat. They sounded like actors reciting dialogue, completely unnatural, but I don’t think the seiyuu were really the problem. It’s more a question of format – the whole thing had an “OK, first it’s Nagase’s turn” quality to it. Where Yui’s interaction with Taichi flowed from the story in an organic way, this week’s events felt completely forced and artificial.
I also have several issues with the implications of all this on the characters themselves. In the first place, another problem with the dialogue is that it sounded way too self-aware for adults, never teenagers. Yui sounded halting and unsure, but I could never in a million years believe Inaba and Nagase reciting the litany of their personal melodramas the way they did this week. It sounded rehearsed, if nothing else – and Inaba’s story particularly had a self-importance to it that far exceeded the merits of what she was saying. At the very least, the rest of the group deflated her bubble at the end and made her realize just how absurd she’d sounded.
Of equal concern to me is the comment an episode like this makes on the gender roles. Effectively, KC seems to be telling us, the girls are all wrestling with deep existential trauma, which they all heroically expose to Taichi by bravely baring their souls. The guys? Well, Aoki so far is just a buffoon, and Taichi’s great secret? He uses the girls to jerk off to. This is a fairly ugly – and silly – stereotyping of gender roles, and it doesn’t reflect well on either the girls or the guys. Taichi’s role in the story is reduced to being a father-confessor – a guy so selfless that he’s willing to rack himself to help a girl in need and listen endlessly to every girl’s trauma – and then his dignity is completely undercut by painting him as a typically shallow teen male obsessed with his junk. And Aoki never had any dignity to begin with. So the girls are all tortured souls, and the guys are all basically subtle as a sledgehammer and obsessed with sex and wrestling, existing mainly as foils for the girls. That kind of nonsense is one thing in a silly harem comedy, but in a show purporting to be a serious character drama it’s totally unacceptable.
Essentially this is a serious show, and I like that about it – that totally worked in episodes 2-3. This time serious became self-seriousness, and that’s never a good thing. I liked each of the characters less after this episode (not so much Aoki and Yui, as they were barely in it) – especially Taichi and Inaba – and that’s definitely not a positive development. When characters become devices (Taichi is the worst example, but not the only one) problems inevitably follow – and I really hope this is a bump in the road, and not a roadblock. Given the statement of purpose KC has made in the last two weeks and the preview for episode 5 I don’t expect it to step back to dealing with less dramatic conflicts in the weeks ahead, so I guess the best thing to do is hope it regains its footing in how it presents the drama. And a huge step in the right direction would be to move past the extremely limiting gender stereotypes the characters seem to be trapped in after this week. Can it succeed in doing so? There’s still every reason to hope so – but plenty of reason to worry, too.