Is this a new beginning for Kotoura-san, or just a change-of-pace?
It’s fitting that this episode started with Kotoura settling into her new apartment, reflecting on the events that led up to that moment, before flashing “The End” as the boxes fell on top of her. That’s because for me this was the first episode that really felt like what I thought the series was going to be in the first place – a quirky school-life comedy with a bit of romantic subplot. Too much has happened already for me to believe this is a permanent personality shift – I think a breather is likely closer to the truth, though I think it’s deserved and probably needed after the intensity of the first four episodes.
If the question is whether Kotoura-san can pull off being the sort of show it was this week, I think the answer is yes – but then, with Ohta Masahiko directing that was never in any real doubt. It was interesting seeing him try and lighten the mix considerably without pretending the ugliness of earlier eps never happened, and I think it was mostly successful. Moritani, especially, presents an obvious challenge given the water that’s already passed under the bridge. It’s heartening to see that Manabe hasn’t gone into “forgive and forget” mode – that would have been even more insulting than the whitewash that occurred last week – and the result is an unusual dynamic where you have the male lead harboring a barely-disguised (and sometimes not even barely) contempt for a female character, and the potential love rival befriending her.
What I sincerely hope doesn’t happen is that the series descends into a conventional love triangle scenario. It seems possible given that Moritani clearly hasn’t given up, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Manabe could possibly renounce his feelings for Kotoura in favor of Moritani. Instead, Moritani is mostly the butt of the jokes this week – from Manabe’s reveal of a bit of her embarrassing past to her horrible cooking – and if you believe in karma that feels about right. I think it’d be fun to see that dynamic continue as it would be a highly unusual one for anime comedy, and I’m hard-pressed to see Moritani having much of interest to do if she’s neither the designated loser or a true live rival.
As for the rest of the cast, I don’t see too much development yet. Mifune is still safely in her bossy Taichou mode and Muroto is still mostly comic relief. That absence of character movement leaves the episode mostly dedicated to laugh moments, of which there are several – among the best of them a “Scanners” parody as the gang gather at Kotoura’s new apartment to watch scary movies about psychics. That evening is also notable for Mori’s surprise at finding no porn mags at Kotoura’s house, and Mifune finding something that elicits a pity moment about Kotoura’s breast size. Kotoura and Manabe continue to inch ever-closer to each other – quite literally in the sense that she’s chosen her new place because it’s closer to his, and spiritually in the sense that she’s obviously pleased when he as much as refers to her as his girlfriend. The pacing continues to be blistering as we get an entire sports festival arc in about 7 minutes, with Kotoura’s klutziness on full display (the funniest part is that she thought any of her friends were unaware of it) after the sleepover at Kotoura’s house is finished.
All in all, Kotoura-san remains a highly entertaining series that’s a bit of a puzzle. Content-wise it seems a very odd fit with the 4-Koma format, and I think that discordancy is evident in the anime, as both a strength and a weakness. Developments happen in the blink of an eye, character emotions turn on a dime and most of the gags are visual in nature. My main question at this point is just what sort of show it’s going to be for the rest of the run – a pure club comedy, a romance, a return to seriously dark drama (as hinted at by Kotoura-mama’s presence in the OP)? I won’t claim to know the answer, though it will certainly be interesting to find out. For me, the more the story focuses on Kotoura and Manabe and develops their relationship the more potential the show has to be truly exceptional and not just good.
ED2: "The ESP Club's Theme" by ESP Club [Kana Hanazawa, Hisako Kanemoto, Jun Fukushima, Hiro Shimono and Yurika Kubo]