Kokoro Connect: A Glass Half-Empty

Management: While my opinion of the show is generally positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay, in particular, is about Kokoro Connect’s final arc, Michi Random, though the show does contain specific references to its first arc, Hito Random.

Kokoro Connect 5

As much as viewers of Kokoro Connect such as I may exclaim from the top of their Internet lungs Himeko Inaba being “GREAT SO GREAT WHY IS INABA SO GREAT” forever infinitum eternity etc, in truth, I don’t personally find her the most relatable character in the show. To be friends or even more-than-friends with someone like that in real life (if not with Himeko exactly) would likely be a dream come true for many fans of her character. Consensus-wise, the character that I found most relatable is decidedly less liked, not in the least due to her to her rather souring behavior in the show’s last animated arc, Michi Random. A girl so considerate, even-tempered, and sweet suddenly making an about-face and turned into this really sullen, angry, nasty bitch.

A lot of viewers felt disgusted by this newest attempt at “forced drama” gone too far. They felt betrayed that this bright and social character they liked or tolerated suddenly become bleak and anti-social. They couldn’t understand where her shift in attitude came from. They turned their backs to the story, deeming it contrived even in light of the show’s premise. They turned their backs to her. They might have gone back to waiting for Himeko to be adorable or awesome again, except this girl’s raining on Himeko’s freaking parade too.

So why do I find her relatable?

The simple fact is that Iori Nagase’s me.

Or a more extreme version of me.

But before I go anywhere with this line, some context would be helpful.

Kokoro Connect 6

Kokoro Connect’s an interesting genre “connection” of teenage romance and adolescent coming-of-age. A midst the Cultural Club’s struggles to “connect” (okay, I’ll stop) with each other in more significantly relational ways (whether that’s platonic or romantic depends on the specific bilateral relationship), they’re periodically beset by paranormal afflictions set upon them by a mysterious troll-like entity called Heartseed. Presumably disembodied in normal circumstances, he (?) pops in the narrative at crucial times, usually through possession of the Cultural Club’s teacher supervisor. Heartseed usually clues the characters at the beginning of a new paranormal episode about some of the details of their new paranormal conditions, and he appears every now and then afterward often times overtly taunting and inadvertently (?) counseling them.

Counseling, I say? Heartseed explictly states that he trolls Himeko and Iori as well as Yui Kiriyama, Yoshifumi Aoki, and Taichi Yaegashi because he finds them “interesting.” And in terms of ice tea-chugging (I don’t eat popcorn) drama, it’s certainly entertaining. The show’s this whole emotional whiplash of cordial interactions, some more typically anime than others, and intense emotional displays of escalation, exhaustion, and catharsis of relationship issues that cut deep in each character’s hearts. They would be issues that remain hidden to everyone save to the individual that issue personally pertains to had they otherwise not be forcibly advertised (hence “forced drama”).

Kokoro Connect 7

There would be undoubtedly less drama had they remain hidden, but the positive bonds between characters, if not completely inauthentic, would be tainted from becoming close or intimate. Had they manifested naturally later in life, in times of overwhelming distress, the distance barriers these characters have left standing upright may very well prevent them from confiding and supporting each other in those sensitive moments. And so each arc of the show follows a formula of identification, struggle, and ultimate resolution of a few of these issues on with the Cultural Club becoming closer for it.

As to what paranormal phenomenon Heartseed’s decided on this time in Michi Random to extract his newest craving of juicy “forced drama,” he settles with emotion transmission. In a nutshell, seemingly random thoughts that flash past characters’ minds are transmitted to one, some, or the rest of the members of the Cultural Club. It soon becomes clear that emotion transmission isn’t exclusive to embarrassing thoughts as rather harsh and damning soundbites begin circulating from an unexpected source: Iori. It starts with Iori rejecting Taichi’s love confession. It’s at this point Iori’s genial demeanor turns for the worse, as the personal masks she referred to back in the first arc, Hito Random, as constantly adopting are revealed for what they are and shatter. Unable to keep up pretensions, she discards them altogether and sinks into general moodiness, a melancholy she describes to her friends as her “actual” self.

This isn’t saying that the masks people wear when interacting or the split less-than-noble thoughts we have about different people are wrong in themselves. They may be even reflections of the facets that comprise you. However, it becomes a problem when we rely on masks to the point that we have to stress maintaining them constantly. We are more than just our masks and soundbites. We may be are some and more, a gestalt. When we think otherwise, we’re bound to have our disingenuousness crack at some point in time. Heartseed just finds it entertaining or constructive (?) for that mask to break now.

Kokoro Connect 2

Now, it may not be the most obvious thing in the world to the people who read and follow me on the various social networking platforms I frequent, but I’m a naturally negative guy. More so when I was younger, but I’m still a pretty cynical individual. I’m naturally inward-looking and naturally self-deprecating. I tend to see the glass half-empty rather than half-full, and while I may hope or wish for the best in people and processes, I always end up suspecting ulterior motives and deficiencies, both in others and in myself. Worst of all, I have this persecution complex that activates whenever I’m under a lot of mental and/or emotional stress where I see daggers in people’s words and gestures where there may not be any meant, especially on the subtextual level. And then I suffer from a guilt complex whenever I think something ugly that I know I shouldn’t.

I’d like to think of myself as mature and/or jaded enough not to bother with that kind of stress, but I’m occasionally seized by it, by depression and paranoia. I say “seized” because I want to emphasize that I don’t like feeling this way. People like me and Iori don’t like feeling this way at all. We can’t help it though. It’s the result of either one significant trauma, or many, many grievances that, before we have the time to fully destress, if it’s possible for us to fully destress (which is really hard to do) just go a grievance too far.

Kokoro Connect 9

People like Iori and I generally react in certain ways when we happen to get into this level of disenchantment. Through Iori, Kokoro Connect demonstrates two of these reactions:

– First is our automatic impulse for others to leave us alone, with the rationale being that we’ll get over it if you give us time to cope and recover, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge the dubious efficacy of this approach to climb out of our emotional ruts. It differs on the person and the circumstance, but solitude isn’t guaranteed to be an efficient cure, much less an effective one. Compounding this concern is the fact it’s rare that we can distance ourselves from pressing obligations or important bonds without causing damage to our reputations, perhaps irreparably so. In academic settings like Iori’s, grades are threatened to drop from disengagement, and in personal settings, friends unaware of our complexes may distance themselves from us, if not entirely break ties with us. It’s all a Catch-22. We can’t insist being left alone without some person approaching us and making us feel frustrated, but if we offend that person by turning that person away, we end up making ourselves feel frustrated.

– Second is our automatic impulse for others to take us seriously, with the rationale being that we become fed up because nobody understands us or our grievances. Iori feels constantly harassed throughout the arc from friends that continually confront her, either via emotion transmission or deliberate speech, how this negativity is unlike her, and that she should return to normal. As well-meaning as these suggestions may be, to us, it represents a dismissal, a delegitimization of both how we define ourselves and what we consider important. These suggestions come off an incredulous trivialization of our woes, a rejection of the real us, with all our flaws, for an image of us that’s considered ideal. Those perfect images aren’t us, and they can never be totally us however hard we try to present ourselves as such, and that fuels both resentment and despair.

All this anger can build and build until we snap and rage, and when the explosion’s over and done, we hate ourselves for losing control and putting the worst of ourselves out there, fearing all the while that people will reject them because all they imagine when they think of us are those visible and audible soundbites of frustration. We end up hurting someone.

Kokoro Connect 1

We don’t want to come off like this. We don’t want to feel like this. We don’t want to hurt other people. We don’t, but there’s a certain point that our field of vision becomes so oppressively narrow that we can’t help it.

So what should be done about our complexes when they go into overdrive? Solitude as a solution, as I already mentioned, isn’t particularly reliable or healthy. It’s not really a solution as much as it’s an indefinite deferrence of said issue. The issue still lingers. Telling us that we’re being abnormal or unreasonable is probably the worst thing you can do. There might be some measure of truth to the unreasonableness of our behavior, but that’s not going to go very far since we believe our grievances have some measure of reasonable merit.

Kokoro Connect 4

Kokoro Connect answers back with mutual understanding and concession. Iori begins to realize the damage she’s caused and the hurt she’s inflicted, intentional or otherwise, because of her attitude. The Culture Club, with Himeko and Taichi in particular, learn to accept this Iori as a friend regardless of their previous misconceptions of her.

Iori reminds me of how much that means to me and people like me. People like Iori and I may tend to look at the glass half-empty, but like most people, we still want water. We want to have friends and laugh and smile, but we want that those connections, experiences, and expressions to be sincere.

Kokoro Connect 8

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9 thoughts on “Kokoro Connect: A Glass Half-Empty

  1. I stumbled upon this blog back in July and thought it was interesting. Very well-written and discussed more complex topics without making me yawn while quietly thinking “Such pretty words” before leaving. Then i completely forgot what the site was called. Then I found your Twitter and here I am again!

    Just wanted to say I loved reading this little post and it makes me want to rewatch the Michi Random arc of Kokoro Connect soon. Personally, I always felt the series was rather flawed and more built on ideas rather than a natural progression – interesting, albeit not very engaging – with a jerky pacing as a result. Not bad, just not as good as it could’ve been. I do remember being annoyed at Iori when watching Kokoro Connect at the time, mainly as it was so jarring – a rather natural reaction (especially as I thought the series was very “arc-y” and this felt a bit like “Whelp, it’s time for Iori’s descent into madness!”). I can’t say I found her boring, however, and she interested me. I wonder if I would be able to relate to her story in Michi Random better today than before. Earlier there were only parts I could relate to vaguely, perhaps because it were only minor things or because I lied to myself, but today – after changes to my life in general – I think I would relate to it a lot more. So I think I’ll rewatch it.

    Awesome post! Gonna follow this blog closely from now on!

    • By your tweets, it sounds like you’re relating better. For better or worse.

      I feel similarly about the show in a lot of ways. I had a hard time getting through the initial arc of Kokoro Connect because of how tonally dissonant the melodrama was to the juvenile anime comedy. There was also a lot of exposition with not a whole lot invested in me to care about the effect the exposition’s content had on the characters outside of their roughly one-note gimmicks.

      Light novels and their adaptations tend to work better narratively the more experience, space, and time authors gets toward working out the finickiness of their creations’ characters and make some finalizations of their creations’ narrative plans. I definitely feel that the show’s casts are better characterized, the characters’ interactions and introspections carry greater weight, and the plot is written more tightly towards the show’s themes.

      That doesn’t fix the disjointedness of the show when reflected on high, but I was able to better connect to the kokoro… err, hearts… of the characters.

      Thanks for the warm comment. I’ll be sure to continue stoking the blog’s fire.

  2. Pingback: 12 Days of Christmas 2014 #06 – Kokoro Connect and Understanding Iori Nagase | Anime Viking

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