Kotoura-san is still the best non-sequel of the season, but it’s pretty clear that the issues that keep it from reaching greatness aren’t going away anytime soon.
It’s a shame the folks at AIC don’t have some paranormal abilities themselves, because if they’d known how well this series would be received they probably would have handled the show a bit differently. I suspect there was an expectation that this would be a fringy series, with minimal sales and not a lot of attention, and the plan was to cram as much into 12 episodes as possible and boost the manga sales. As it stands, this series may well be an outright hit, but seems certain to have BD/DVD sales strong enough to be profitable at the very least. It’s a shame, because as good as the first third of Kotoura-san has been I’d like to have seen how good it could have been with proper exposition (as was apparently present in the manga).
The net result of the frantic pacing is that I buy neither Moritani or Mifune’s redemption, and Kotoura’s flight to her family estate and eventual return to the bosom of her friends seem quite rushed and lose some of their emotional impact. Quite frankly I still don’t like either Moritani or Mifune, and I don’t think either of them has done nearly enough to redeem themselves for their actions (especially Moritani, and they were apparently toned-down drastically for the anime). This is a bigger problem in this episode than in the previous three, because it’s not as dependent on the drama of events themselves as in the way the characters respond to them. Moritani’s supposed “apology” is the key to the ep’s conclusion, yet feels hollow and self-serving. And Mifune pretty much plays as a bully who’s mainly interesting in manipulating others to get what she wants. I think the anime staff is doing the best they can with the time they’ve been given, but they’re not miracle-workers – not even Ohta-sensei, as superb a director as he is – and those imposed limitations are the gap that exists between good and great for the first arc of Kotoura-san.
In spite of those not insignificant flaws this is still an exceptionally interesting series whose virtues far outweigh them. There’s great appeal in the relationship of Manabe and Kotoura, which is rooted in emotional bedrock in a way the series isn’t when it extends to the supporting cast. It’s a very humanistic and compassionate show, yet pretty fearless in its willingness to show the dark side of human nature, and no interest whatsoever in political correctness. Witness the behavior of Kotoura’s grandfather Zenzou-san (Nishimura Tomomichi), who can’t stop talking about how much he loves his granddaughter’s butt and thighs, and about “the breasts she might or might not have”. It’s interesting to note that the two males in Kotoura’s life who love her most unconditionally are also far from immune to ecchi thoughts, and while they’re obviously an order of magnitude less inappropriate coming from Manabe, there’s still a larger statement being made here about how we tend to waste too much time obsessing over perfectly natural human impulses and can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to what’s really dangerous.
We already had some indication that Kotoura was from a wealthy family, but the sheer magnitude of wealth only became obvious when se saw that the village she fled to was served by “Kotoura Station”. After Muroto hacks into JR’s security cameras to track down Kotoura’s escape route the ESP Club follows her, ending up staying overnight at the temple where Kotoura’s mother took her to see if the Head Priest, Oshou (Nakano Yutaka) could exorcise her demons. Oshou is a compassionate fellow himself, and became interested in ESP after seeing what this strange little girl could do. This gives him a connection with the kids, who quickly realize that Kotoura has been there before, and he agrees to introduce them to Zenzou-san at his gargantuan estate.
The reunion is fairly predictable, and again, loses some of its punch because of how rushed Kotoura’s emotional arc has been. But the best scene of the episode is the one where Kotoura – after fleeing upon seeing her friends – eavesdrops on Manabe’s thoughts as he apologizes for his inability to protect her, then slips into a fantasy about spanking her “I’ll rub your swollen behind after I’m done”). This sequence is the two sides of Kotoura-san and the two sides of Manabe-kun in all their glory – sentimental and warm yet also wholly realistic about the human animal. Love has many facets, and Manabe definitely loves Kotoura. The strength of the series is the depiction of the pain she carries inside her as a result of her parents’ rejection, and the transparent honesty of Manabe as he tries to break through it. As long as the series stays close to that wellspring, I suspect it won’t run dry.
It seems tempting to believe that we’ve reached the end of the “serious” part of the story, and may get into something more like a traditional school comedy now that Kotoura-chan has returned to the school and Moritani (sigh) has been completely absolved for her crimes. But I don’t think so – it seems that Kotoura-san is actually a fairly serious show altogether, and that’s actually a plus in my book. I confess I’m very worried about the return of Kotoura’s mother (who’s ominous presence in the OP can’t be ignored), given the way the anime has dealt with Moritani and Mifune. If we get the same kind of express redemption for a woman who abandoned her daughter and told her “I wish you’d never been born”, that will be a pretty serious strike against the series in my book. I don’t want to assume the worst and I won’t condemn the series for something it hasn’t done yet, and as good as the show is most of the time there’s reason to hope it will steer clear of that impending disaster. But I won’t deny I’d be more optimistic if I didn’t know that character was coming back. It may be a ways off, I don’t know, but how Kotoura-san deals with that return may ultimately be what determines just how close to greatness it can ultimately reach.