Friday, January 18, 2013

Kotoura-san - 02

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While I might be able to nit-pick a flaw or two, episode 2 proves that the premiere was no fluke – Kotoura-san is the real deal.


What an excellent start this series is off to.  It’s definitely quite different than what I was expecting, but that’s perfectly fine.  It appears that the premiere is going to be a model for the overall tone of the series rather than an aberration, because this week’s follow-up was another deep dive into some pretty dark waters.  This is a comedy, but it’s a black comedy that isn’t afraid to expose some painfully raw nerves among the cast and make a few observations about the uglier side of human nature at the same time.

While AIC is no guarantor of quality, they don’t get the respect they deserve – this is a studio that can really do some fine work, and they put their best series in the hands of really strong directors like Ohta-sensei.  As with Jinrui, Kotoura-san is impressive visually not so much because of lavish detail and fluid animation but because of creative flair and splendid facial expressions.  There’s certainly a hint of the creative team’s past work with the two Mitsudomoe series in the character designs, but it works perfectly with the material here.  I’ve been impressed with Ohta’s comedic sensibility more times than I can count, but this is a different sort of show for him – he’s handling the emotional barrage as well as he handles the light moments, which thus far are the change-of-pace, rather than the other way around.

At first, it appears as if things might be quite a bit less intense than in the first episode.  Kotoura and Manabe continue to get closer, and what really comes across at the beginning is Kotoura’s sheer joy at having human contact again.  We don’t see who she’s speaking to at her seemingly empty house – Grandpa, perhaps – but she’s smiling.  What’s clear is that this is her true personality – bright, cheerful, open – and it’s only the pain and isolation her powers have caused her that have imposed the cold and brittle shell she’s been forced to wear for the past several years.  Meeting Manabe has revealed her true nature like sunlight causing a flower to open, and it’s lovely to see – surely the happiest moments of the series so far are the first five minutes of the episode.

The introduction of a couple of new characters brings a change to all that.  After an odd introduction, it seems for a while as if Mifune Yoriko (Kana Hanazawa) is only going to add to Kotoura’s newfound happiness by bringing her into her ESP Research Society (with the creepiest clubroom ever – probably a poor choice if you’re seeking acceptance).  There we also meet Vice-President Muroto Daichi (Shimono Hiro), a seemingly sensible and mild-mannered fellow who happens to look like a 4th-grader (as Kotoura-san rather tactlessly points out).  Manabe-kun tags along of course, though he has no ESP abilities himself – he’s simply there in his self-appointed role as Kotoura’s protector.  But it quickly becomes clear that there’s another side to Mifune-san, and that it’s going to spell trouble for Kotoura-chan.

Also causing trouble for Kotoura-san is Moritani Hiyori (Kubo Yurika).  She’s an osananajimi of Manabe-kun, and she’s carrying a blazing torch for him.  You can see the trouble coming from a mile away here, and this whole scenario feels very much like something out of a shoujo romance – the jealous girl with the two henchwomen who cause trouble for the heroine.  If it follows that course we’ll see Moritani redeemed soon enough, but for now she’s a real terror – her vitriol against Kotoura for “stealing” Manabe seems to be paired with a genuine revulsion at what Kotoura is, and she and her friends quickly descend into genuine bullying against Kotoura.  This eventually prompts the best scene in the episode, as Manabe-kun proves his worth as a character once more by dithering and dallying not in the slightest – he springs to Kotoura’s defense as soon as he discovers what’s happening, and lays into Moritani with every bit of ferocity that she deserves.

The funny thing, though, is that Moritani was absolutely right about one thing – her “poor thing” remark while Kotoura was telling her fortune.  Mifune-san is in fact using Kotoura for her own ends – in fact, she’s quite literally turning her into a sideshow freak.  Mifune has her reasons, and they’re rooted in her own sad story – her mother was a clairvoyant who became famous, then was declared a fraud by the press and hounded into suicide.  That, however, doesn’t justify the fact that she knowingly exploits Kotoura and puts her at risk of bullying at the worst moment – she forces Kotoura into the worst possible situation for her, with predictable results.  Kotoura knows this instinctively but she’s so grateful to have “friends” who don’t judge her as a freak that she plays along against her (and Manabe’s) better judgment.  It’s really tragic, but it says a lot about her nature and just how lonely she’s been – and while Moritani is the villain in terms of plot device, for me it’s Mifune who’s the real villain of the episode because she’s someone of all people who absolutely should have known better.

This is all exposited splendidly, and on balance the episode is excellent, but I was struck by how rapidly all this happened – this really felt like it should have been at least two episodes worth of conflict.  I think that’s especially true of Mifune, who goes from friend to villain to redemption with whiplash-inducing speed – I really think the whole “forgive, forget, hug” cycle with her was rushed (frankly, she deserved to suffer a little more for what she put Kotoura through).  I also wonder what role Muroto-kun is going to play, as he’s basically a virtual narrator here – he passively stands by and watches Mifune screw up, comments on it, but does nothing about it.  I’d also rather have seen different seiyuu for the two sempai in the club, though that’s personal preference.  Shimono Hiro doesn’t bring a lot of credibility to chibi teenagers at this point, and as for KanaHana, it’s just that she’s in so damn many shows.  She’s very good, but one of those seiyuu that’s more of a personality than an actor – she pitches most of her characters within a narrow and recognizable range, and as a result it’s hard to escape the awareness that you’re constantly listening to KanaHana do a KanaHana voice.  It’s a bit of a distraction for me, especially in a show like this one, but I’m sure that will lessen with time.

The heart of Koutora-san, certainly, is the relationship between Kotoura and Manabe, and that continues to be a marvelous thing to see.  While the larger theme of the series seems to encompass an almost “X-Men” like commentary on the way people with unusual abilities are treated, for Kotoura this is a very personal story – and Manabe-kun is an antidote to everything she’s suffered in her painful life.  He’s honest, direct and loyal – someone who isn’t ashamed of who he is and what he’s feeling, and is perfectly willing to let Kotoura-san see his true nature.  I can almost see a Nazo no Kanojo X vibe here in a very broad sense, where we see magical realism (call it paranormal here if you prefer) used as a catalyst to shed insight on the nature of communication between boys and girls.  Kotoura-san is a comedy and it’s certainly funny, but make no mistake – this is a serious show too, full of serious ideas and complex emotional development.  After two episodes, it looks as if it has a chance to be one of the best series of the season.

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17 comments:

  1. How nice of hanaKana to finally land a gig.

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  2. this show is proving to be great social commentary pertaining to the fact that, although most people put on masks to hide their true thoughts and natures, there are a very few amount of people who embrace their nature and stay true to themselves. Also gotta give credit to how natural manabe and kotoura's interactions are; she genuinely laughs around him, even when she is peaking into his mind. That in itself is already milestone achievement because nothing worth laughing over has ever come out of kotoura reading someone's mind throughout her life so it must be bliss for her to finally hear someone's thoughts that actually bring her solace or that actually reflects what the person feels on the outside. I also love the subtlety of manabe's interaction with kotoura in that he knows that no matter what he does he cant hide his thoughts from kotoura, so why bother feeling awkward about it. I hope in future eps this show delves into both the good and bad of being able to peek into ppl's thoughts and how that can affect a relationship over time.

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  3. This series reminds me of Magical Girl Madoka Magica in that the character designs look to be some brainless moe show and the series ends up being anything but that.

    This show wasn't even on my radar but I always watch the 1st episode of any new series before deciding to keep watching or not. I'm glad I do that because this is turning out to be a decent show.

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  4. This series has managed to capture my heart more than any other non-sequel this season. The mix of darkness and comedy is so well balanced. Truly a pleasant surprise for me.

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  5. Thus far, Manabe's contributions to the show have been about perfect. And for a guy who was seemingly painfully oblivious to Moritani and the rest of the class, he has seemingly found the person that he completely syncs up with in Haruka.

    I am actually finding that HanaKana voices can do well fitting different characters, and only really get that deja vu when the character itself seems to close to the other ones. So I didn't really notice that Mifune was her, although I'm sure I will now.

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  6. This ep didn't have quite an impact on me compared to the first ep. As mentioned, there was a bit too much drama stuffed into one ep, with both the bullying and Mifune's past being addressed.

    I'm also a bit bothered by how Kotoura is easily surprised, considering that she can read minds.

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    1. I agree, the pacing was too fast. But can you give me an example of where Kotoura's surprise seems off?

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    2. I guess she's not so much surprised as she is bewildered by all the events happening around her. I expected her to be more stoic and less affected by other people's actions. I would have thought that she would know what other people might do before they actually do it.

      Maybe I think her mind reading powers are stronger than they actually are. Just started watching Kino no Tabi (finally) and one of the episodes with mind reading is still fresh on my mind.

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  7. That's a hell of an ESP "ability" you got there, Manabe!!

    2 eps in, I'm liking this much more than I thought I would.

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  8. My only problem with this show, and indeed this bothers me in a lot of shows where this kind of subject matter comes out, is how passively Kotoura takes the bullying. I understand that there's an element of psychological abuse here where the victim learns over time to be submissive but it causes a disconnect with me. If I could read people's minds, and someone was bullying me, I would use my power to revenge myself upon them at the first opportunity. Letting bullies have their way just signals to them that it's okay to go right ahead and keep doing it. I always hate to see characters who just roll over and take it like Kotoura does in this episode.

    Other than that nitpick this show is friggin' awesome, biggest surprise of the season for me.

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    1. Lol "if I had a gun, I could have stopped the killer"
      your nitpick is a hero complex

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    2. Standing up for yourself and not letting people push you around is a hero complex now? I would argue that your belief system implies that you have a spineless coward complex, an argument backed up by the fact that you hide behind the label of "anonymous while criticizing me. Feel free to go away now, Anonymous Coward, you wouldn't want anyone to think that you have a hero complex because you decide to stick up for yourself.

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    3. I don't think anyone who's ever been bullied would say "Why doesn't the victim just stand up for themselves?" In the real-world that's far, far easier said than done.

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    4. You'd be wrong about that then. I'm a nerd that likes unpopular music and watching anime. I have thick glasses and in high school had braces. In addition, I'm epileptic and in middle school suffered the misfortune of having a full blown seizure at lunch time right in front of all of my classmates. Believe me when I say that I got my share of persecution. It wasn't as bad for me as media makes it out to be because at my school the nerds were smart enough to clump together and travel in packs to make us harder targets, but that is only a sometimes deterrent, not a solution to the problem. Luckily the bullying I got never got to the level of physical violence, and part of that was because when people gave me verbal abuse I gave it right back and they'd usually move on to an easier target.

      So don't tell me it's easier said than done. That's a post-facto justification used by people raised in a society that increasingly considers docility to be a virtue. It's not easier said than done as long as you truly believe that it's the right answer to the problem.

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    5. I've never known anyone who was bullied - I saw plenty of it in middle school and high school, and got a little taste of it myself - for whom the experience was as you make it sound. Every possible thing you could do seems likely to make it worse - there are no answers. There's no help. That's the trap of bullying.

      I'd congratulate you on your success in beating it, but you seem to pretty well have that covered yourself. If only it were that easy for the rest of the world.

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    6. Also, don't forget that this is Japan. Different culture, different bullying, different response.

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    7. I think its wonderful that you are able to stand up to bullying Beckett, but just because you were strong enough, doesn't mean everyone is like that. So while personally, you may be right in blasting the "easier said than done," technically that is not true and can (Not necessarily is definitely) a sign of ignorance to the big picture. (And quite honestly can be taken as an insult to other people who suffer bullying)

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