For Kokoro Connect, this was an episode that gave off a very different vibe than any that came before.
There was some interesting stuff here – as I’ve said before, this show never fails to be at least interesting. But for me this ep felt a little flat, and that’s not a word I would’ve expected to use often when connected to Kokoro. It was partly a lack of hard drama, of course – that’s been such a component of most episodes that its absence here leaves a discernable void – but as much as anything it seemed to me that there was a bit of an edge missing as the show slipped into more traditional anime patterns.
That’s another word that springs to mind for me in looking back at this ep that isn’t one I would have thought applied to KC – traditional. In watching this week it really strikes me just how caught up in traditional gender roles this series can be. The “Ah-Hah” moment was the conversation between Taichi and his little sister, specifically where she said “Boys are stronger than girls so they need to protect them” and Taichi agreed without a moment’s hesitation. Setting aside the fact that in the average case a teenage boy is going to be physically stronger than a teenage girl, I think there’s something deeper going on in the way Kokoro Connect portrays its characters – and indeed, in the way Rina-chan intended the statement.
Certainly, this can play out in the way the released inhibitions are portrayed. Taichi and Aoki are all about anger and physical violence, while Nagase’s impulse was food and Inaba’s was first frustrated attraction for Taichi, then righteous anger at Yui. There’s the matter of Yui’s repressed anger manifesting in physically assaulting boys – that might be interpreted as a response to a societal assumption that girls are weak – but as in many ways, she’s an oddball in this cast and remains very much outside the orbit of the others. And Taichi’s “white knight” impulse seems to have a strong gender component to it – or, at the very least, we’ve seen no evidence of any interest on his part in applying it towards helping Aoki or any other male. Indeed, Aoki and Taichi’s hissy-fit this week was a sort of tussle over the alpha male role. In their uninhibited states Taichi asserts that Aoki is “useless”, and Aoki retorts that Taichi is “freak” for helping others for selfish reasons, and perhaps even more tellingly for the sake of the story, a glory-hound.
I think that last jibe cut uncomfortably close to the truth of the matter. Fact is, Aoki has been pretty much useless thus far, though I blame the writing for that – and Taichi is only saying what most of us were already thinking. As indeed is Aoki, and I think a growing theme of this arc - as I mentioned here last week - is that the desire to help others is fundamentally selfish, a drive to satisfy some urgent need in ourselves. In effect what’s happening now is that the group is splintering, each retreating into their own head-space, with only Nagase overtly arguing to keep everyone together. And it seems obvious that in her case, it’s out of a fear of abandonment and a loathing of being alone (which she’s experiencing far too much of at home, thanks to her flake of a mother).
This has led to what could be an interesting development, which is the expansion of the cast to include Fujishima and increasingly Taichi’s friend Watase-kun (Ono Yuuki). The interaction between the core group and outsiders has been sparsely explored thus far, so this could be healthy dramatically – though I confess I found Fujishima’s role in this episode had a somewhat contrived and artificial feel to it. I still don’t find KC especially good at comedy, and her comedic moments tend to fall flat – and there’s a quality to her character that suggests a “writer’s best friend”, someone to plug in whenever the plot needs a little push. Yuri gag? Check. Friendly advice? Check. Smooth things over with the cops? Check. Whatever you need, Fujishima’s on the case.
Lastly, there’s the matter of Go-sensei. When he entered the classroom where Taichi was moping, my immediate reaction was the same as his – “Is it Heartseed?” My second reaction was that this was indeed Heartseed, but for the first time pretending to be Go-sensei – trying a new tack to make things interesting by getting the group back together. In hindsight it seems unlikely, but I still wonder if that wasn’t Heartseed for at least part of the interaction. What makes this difficult to unravel is that his advice as a teacher could be seen as quite solid, though his goals would be the same as Heartseed’s – to stop everyone from feeling sorry for themselves on their own and get them back together. Even his last “So – did I sound like a teacher there?” could as easily be a quest for validation from an insecure man as a subtle jab from Heartseed. From a viewer’s standpoint it doesn’t really matter, because this episode did have way too much of the individual CRC members sitting with their head in their hands feeling sorry for themselves – and here my goals align with Heartseed’s, because that’s a lot less interesting than seeing them interact with each other.