Friday, January 11, 2013

First Impressions - Kotoura-san

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It’s ironic that only two premières this season have been exceptional, and Ohta Masahiko is directly connected to both of them.


OP: "Sonna Koto Ura no Mata Urabanashi Desho? (そんなこと裏のまた裏話でしょ?)" by Megumi Nakajima
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I’m getting a bit tired of saying “That wasn’t what I expected” about seemingly every premiere this season, but it sure applies here.  But the other thing they’ve almost all had in common is “This could go either way” – and that definitely does not apply to Kotoura-san.  Based on the first episode, this is an absolute keeper, with potential to be one of the best series of the year.

The two best premières so far have been Ohta-sensei’s old alumnus, Minami-ke Tadaima (which was great because it recalled the greatness of the season Ohta-sensei directed), and this series.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, directors really do matter – perhaps as much or more than any single element – in the chances an anime will be really good.  Minami-ke Tadaima was a great experience, but it was like a happy reunion with a long-lost friend – there’s something special about that first premiere of the season that really excites you in unexpected ways (every season, no matter how weak, always has one) and Kotoura-san was it for me this Winter. 

In watching this episode play out, I couldn’t help but think of the famous story of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, known to history as “Diogenes the Cynic”.  He was known for carrying a lamp in full daylight, and when people asked him why, he would answer “I’m just looking for an honest man.”  The stakes are rather higher for Haruka Kotoura-san (the unsurprisingly excellent Kanemoto Hisako) whose ESP abilities have systematically estranged her from almost everyone in her life from the moment she was old enough to speak – ultimately including her parents. 

The emotional tale that takes up the first half of the episode is played out in fairly broad and familiar terms, though for me it was extremely effective.  Watching the gradual breakdown of Kotoura from a cheerful, outgoing person to an an outwardly emotionless shell is pretty brutal stuff.  There’s a subtler message in her story, though.  The fundamental problem for Kotoura is the disconnect in everyone else’s lives between what they think and desire and what they say and do – and no one likes to be reminded of that disconnect.  Kotoura isn’t just an esper, she’s also naïve and honest – perhaps as a direct result of her ability, she initially sees no reason why what people think shouldn’t be what they project to the world.  It’s the truth, so why hide it?  Not surprisingly, this leaves her isolated from the schoolmates she systematically alienates by spilling their secret crushes and grudges to the world.  It drives her already distant father out of the house, and after an increasingly desperate search for a way to “cure” her daughter (even extending to Buddhist exorcism) her mother finally abandons her to her Grandfather – the one person who hasn’t retreated from her ability – with the ultimate in motherly curses, “I should never have given birth to you.”

Enter Manabe Yoshihisa (Fukishima Jun please note that this is not Fukuyama Jun, thank goodness), a boy at the school Kotoura transfers to.  If I were to pick one word to initially describe Manabe, it would be “transparent” – and this makes him a perfect match for Kotoura.  Unlike all the others in her life, Manabe-kun actually says what he thinks – he’s even open about his ecchi thoughts and realistic about how they’re simply a part of his makeup – and thus, Kotoura-san isn’t a threat to him.  Her ability is actually “cool” – and despite her efforts to push him away, he stubbornly refuses to be pushed – slowly breaking down her resistance with goofy humor and sheer persistence.  It’s a really winning and likeable relationship, right from the very first moment – both these characters are well-crafted and identifiable, and already form a rock-solid core around which to build the series, which is going to include several other members of the ESP Club.

Ohta-sensei is known almost exclusively for comedy, and with good reason – in Minami-ke and two seasons of Mitsudomoe he’s delivered arguably the three consistently funniest cours of anime in the last five years.  So I wasn’t expecting the first half of this episode to be so serious, and in a heartbreaking way – but a closer look at Ohta’s comedies reveals that he’s shown a sure hand at honest sentiment, though never so overtly or for such an extended period as this.  Kotoura-san is generally referred to as a comedy and I think that will be its primary mode, but I suspect this will be a more somber type of comedy than Ohta has delivered before.  I have absolute faith in his ability as a director if given the right material, and the premiere only confirms it.

There were several moments that stood out for me in this first episode, but I think the most spectacular was when Kotoura first looked into Manabe’s mind and saw no fear or revulsion there, and the dark world she inhabits shattered like a pane of glass – a perfect symbolic representation of what that meeting means to her.  That may or may not be in the manga, I don’t know, but it was beautifully shot – and while this isn’t going to be a series that wows us with KyoAni or P.A .Works visuals, AIC has proved more than capable of delivering given the right source material.  Ohta has brought some of his Mitsudomoe team with him, including character designer and animation director Ookuma Takaharu, and that may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I like that look (though it took some getting used to with Mitsudomoe).  The chemistry between Kanemoto and Fukushima is excellent – he’s a relatively new voice in anime as far as major roles are concerned, and that’s welcome for its own sake, but the fact is that Fukushima-san delivers a likeable and amusing performance here.  There’s just an awful lot to like in Kotoura-san, both in terms of the pedigree and the product on-screen.  If the source material is as good as the premiere seems to indicate, this has a chance to be special.

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ED:
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27 comments:

  1. I am so glad that you also loved this ep - it is one of the three series I was most looking forward to this season (together with Tamako Market and Vividred Op), and it certainly delivered.

    There is a LOT here for thought and reflection, and I thought it was well done too. :)

    - Flower

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    1. I confess I'm surprised to see you list VRO as one of your most anticipated, TBH - I find the promo campaign for that series to be among the most demeaning and offensive of any series in years. I can feel a little part of me dying every time I see an ad for it.

      Delete
    2. I've found another good series in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha. You might want to check out the 1st 2 episodes. Most people compare it to Spice & Wolf (which I liked).

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  2. Sleeper hit of the season for me. 24 minutes just flew by watching it. The quick but engrossing build up to how Haruka becomes a tundra is so much more effective than say making it a pointless back story in a few episodes or even for the finale. Her eventual breakdown was quite heart-breaking too.

    I also completely thought it would be FukuJun doing Manabe but the different voice caught me by surprise and a good one at that as Fukushima Jun does a great job so far.

    While I expect a harem to build up, I'm expecting one more akin to that of Seitokai no Ichizon than a typical harem around Manabe. Looking forward to more.

    Great directors can take a good story and make it grand.
    - Ishruns 1/10/2013

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    1. He was last seen as Jin in Aquarian Evol. Mostly seemed to be the supporting role guy, its nice to see him get the male lead.

      This series wasn't on my radar (and like Girls Und Panzar last season) and came out of nowhere. So far so good. Looking forward to more episodes of this series.

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  3. It really surprised me
    I didn't expect it to be great and emotional
    Just hope that the first half emotional part will not become double-edged sword
    A pervert can also be nice lol

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  4. This isn't wait anime set out to be.

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  5. Yeah, I agree that its definitely a keeper. I expect there will be some really dark moments ( a few of them arising from a possible love triangle).

    This one looks like it could really beat all other romance anime airing this season.

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  6. This show reminds me of Puella Magi and the second half of Guilty Crown. Breaking characters is an art. So is the subsequent redemption. I never seen a show trying to do both in one episode.

    Pretty good job, AIC.

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  7. This one was one of my top 5 of the season, and I am glad that this first episode delivered -- it made me feel sad and chuckle at the same time, and both protagonists are likable. The EP isn't bad either -- I quite like it.

    ~Ronbb

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  8. I was a bit apprehensive, seeing as the Mitsudomoe (not a series I rate highly) team was behind this, but decided to check this out anyway.

    Have to admit I was mildly impressed. It just works. Also, this is probably the first time I've seen an anime dude actually use dirty thoughts to get a girl to come to him. LMAO!!

    Plot could go either way, but I hope they maintain the balance between dark, poignant and funny like this first ep did. Looking forward to more.

    Thanks, Enzo.

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  9. I like AIC's rich color palette when they break it out like with Acchi Kocchi.

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  10. It's not every day you see a show start out with breaking the cutie. Usually that happens over the course of the show, or we start out being shown a broken person. That was really effective through the first half of the show to get from cheerful baby and happy parents and bubbly school friends to everyone hating her and abandoning her and her resolve to never let anyone else get close to her again. And that shattering effect was about perfect, as well as doing all of that in the cold open and holding that happy OP (is it really an opening if it's halfway through the show?) until after the art shift.

    What a wonderful surprise show.

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  11. It's a love comedy they said..5 minutes in ;__;

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  12. I thought the frist ten minutes had me back in [i] Higurashi no Naku Koro ni[/i] for another iteration but pleasantly surprised about how much depth this one looks to have plus some very intentional/unintentional comedy.

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  13. While the emotional resonance worked (I wanted to slap the mother really badly), the problem with the "Break the Cutie" run at the beginning is very straight forward: everyone Kotoura has interacted with until this point in her life are brain dead idiots.

    Brain dead idiots.

    It would take 15 seconds of humoring a 2 year old that has ESP before you figured it out. 2 year olds, especially, are brutally honest and repeat what they hear. Thus, for the few 2ish years of Kotoura being able to talk, she'd be repeating everyone's thoughts back to them.

    Brain dead idiots.

    Other than that, I did like what they were up to, and I think our male MC should be fun. And quite honest, which will be nice.

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    1. Gimme a freaking break! Like you would act any different if you're an elementary schooler and a classmate girl is reading every thought of your mind. What's with this pretentious attitude of calling these children "Brain dead idiots"?? Ditto for the parents and school teachers. Pretend all you want, but this is the typical reaction, so save the piety and come down from your fake moral high horse. They are not brain dead idiots: they are normal earthlings.

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    2. Yeah this kind of dampened the episode for me. The whole doctor visits thing was just a little too much. Sure I'm supposed to suspend disbelief, but there is no way Haruka would have made it to that age without someone figuring out she was reading minds. Perhaps because I didn't know to expect a comedy it doesn't have the same impact (would be like a person already knowing to expect Madoka Magica's shift in tone). Coming from a totally oblivious perspective that first half, while dramatic, seemed to drag on by the end. But as long as they don't require that type of extension of suspending disbelief in the future this was a pretty good start.

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    3. @anon:

      No, they're brain dead idiots. A group of 4 year olds would complain to "stop reading my brain!" very quickly. Most of the kids would be terrified and that one smart one would start testing it. The social dynamic would be obvious to any semi-conscious adult watching the children.

      Further, you humor small children all the time with chatter. She has a family and extended family. It wouldn't have taken more than a few days after she could really talk (around age 3) when she's responding to what you're thinking, without saying it, before you realized something was really off. You've spent your entire life having to tell people things you want/need/would like; if a child suddenly "knew", it would be so out of the norm that you would realize it very quickly.

      This is known as "fictional conceit": the things you have to accept for the world of the work to function properly. Also called "hand waving" important details. The reason you don't show this stuff in detail, in a fictional work, is normally the logic isn't tight enough to withstand a basic read of the situation. Thus, "brain dead idiots" is the problem. There is 0 ways for a child to grow up in a normal social setting and have the ability to read minds actively functioning. They have to be completely removed from society or have it start later in life. (The X-men setup)

      The emotions still worked, but even Haruka knows she can read minds and *she tells people*. It shouldn't have taken until Manabe to really put the pieces together. And even he was a bit slow about it. (Though, he used a great test case, haha)

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  14. Hey do you plan to keep blogging this show? I don't think doing so was a part of the plan, but while the subsequent episodes may not be as good as this one, this episode was the best start of an original show (i.e. non-sequel) of 2013 winter so far. That first 12-13 min was a pure gold. Shame that won't continue.

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    1. Hey, if you read my preview, Kotoura-san was always a show I had high hopes for because Ohta was directing. Blogging it was always a strong possibility, and after that premiere I can't imagine that I won't.

      Delete
  15. WHAT! YOU LIKED THIS!!! this was so over the top and horrible that it became laughable. and that opening was the worst op in history. the jokes were terribad and I didnt enjoy anything about it. this show is a troll!

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  16. Waaaah. they look sooo cute! after reading your positive review, enzo, i have decided that i will give this a go :)

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  17. This series seems to have great promise, and one of my few hopes of getting a drama show out of this season, provided it manages the drama and comedy well.

    I especially enjoyed how the writers/director trusted that the audience would "get" some of the scenes, what with Kotoura breaking down in horror after she read that old lady's mind during the cat scene.

    As I've said on twitter, what's with the Natsume Yuujinchou school of introductions, where everyone is evil/mean and only good, decent people show up in a new surrounding. And the parents both have affairs and abandon her. And the grandfather presumably dies. Its a bit needlessly suicidally depressing. People aren't douches and usually have mostly neutral thoughts after all, especially when meeting new students. /rant
    To its credit, I still got quite alot of feels though, but it's just so dark.

    But I'm glad I read your review and picked it up. Lets hope the drama and the character development holds.

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  18. The best opening ever! though seriously I couldn't stop crying it was too emotional for me. The plot is probably one of the main things that make it really interesting as compared to most anime's the plot seems so simple and kinda 'been there done that'; Kotoura-san seems completely new and unusual. If you ignore the suggested themes of suicide (where she screams at the sky) then loads of emotion is created within the anime; the atmosphere changes from dark to light giving the anime a positive outlook.
    Can't watch for the next episode. Lets hope the drama continues.

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