Episodes 1 through 5 (First Arc – Hito Random)
Availability: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks for digital distribution and eventual home video release. Currently simulcasting on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 5 of 5
Synopsis: (From Crunchyroll)
Five members of the school culture club – Taichi Yaegashi, Iori Nagase, Himeko Inaba, Yui Kiriyama, and Yoshifumi Aoki – encounter a bizarre phenomenon one day when Aoki and Yui switch personalities without warning. The same begins to happen to the other club members, throwing their daily lives into chaos. At first the five students find some amusement among the confusion, but this connection also exposes the painful scars hidden within their hearts… When their calm lives are shattered, the relationships between the five students also begin to change!
Impressions: [I will try to use as few spoilers as possible]
When you see ‘body swapping’ or ‘personality swapping’ as part of the description of a story, you probably think immediately of something like Freaky Friday or Trading Places, or if you are of a more literary bent, The Prince and the Pauper. In any case, your mind probably gravitates to stories about two people of very different mind sets or backgrounds changing places and learning about the other person and themselves in the process, frequently laced with broad comedy. If you are of a certain sub-culture in our society, namely the one we are all members of here at this site, your mind may gravitate to more prurient content, with images of eechi moments and broad sexual humor with a man switching into a woman’s body and vice-verse. If you went into Kokoro Connect with that in mind, you would probably be surprised with what you find.
Sure, there are a few moments where the ‘guy in a girl’s body’ wonders what this weight his upper body is that… ‘OMG! They’re breasts!’ [feels them] ‘Yep, they’re breasts alright, and darn nice ones at that! Always wondered what they felt like!’
But those moments are few and pass quickly. What follows is a fairly serious story, told with care and a fantastic amount of realistic dialog, about five people who are friends by chance who get put into a seriously strange, potentially dangerous, emotional, frightening, and confusing situation and how that experience brings them closer and makes them deal with issues they would rather not have to face, especially in front of others.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How are these five ‘friends by chance’, as I called them. They go to a school that requires that everyone belong to a club. But, as Taichi Yaegashi, narrating a section early in the anime, says: “every organization is bound to have a few rogue elements.” For instance, Taichi, a diehard wrestling fan put the “pro-wrestling society” on his form. Unfortunately, that club doesn’t exist. Yui Kiriyama loves anything cute and put the “fancy club” as her choice. It had closed down. Yoshifumi Aoki fancies himself a ladies man and signed up for the “player’s club” because he was gullible enough to believe the upperclassmen who told him it existed. Himeko Inaba, an intellectual and distant girl, joined the computer club, but quit almost immediately after, due to an argument with the club president. Iori Nagase couldn’t decide which club she wanted to join, so she let her teacher pick for her. These five misfits ended up in the same club: the “Cultural Research Club”, where they, for the most part, do nothing after school, have tea, talk, and occasionally put out a student newsletter that appears to be more of a gossip rag than any actual cultural research effort. So, even though these five didn’t have anything in common to begin with, they have become friends due to the fact that they spend every afternoon together after school.
One day, Aoki and Yui come to the club room with an unbelievable story. The previous night, the two of them woke up in the other person’s body. The other club members are pretty sure they are trying to pull a fast one on them, but then, after Iori realizes she left her notebook in her classroom, Taichi finds himself looking into Iori’s desk with a rather strange heaviness to his upper body and a high pitched voice when he talks. It is true, and now it has happened to two of the others.
Things go on like this, with much of the natural humor that one expects surrounding this type of thing. People going into the wrong bathroom when in someone else’s body, the aforementioned breast groping (and offer to assist by the obviously yuri class rep) and so on. Then one of their teachers shows up at the door of the clubroom talking in a deadpan voice, explaining that he is a being referred to as Heartseed and is merely using this teacher’s body. He explains to them that he is causing these personality swaps because he thinks this is an interesting group of people to mess with and that it will continue until they no longer entertain him. It is random and they have no control over it.
As these personality swaps continue, we find that there may be a reason these five individuals ended up in a club for people who don’t belong anywhere else, they all have something in their past or their basic personality that has left them scarred in some way, some rather deeply scarred. Himeko seems to be fairly close to both of the other girls and identifies Taichi as the person needed to help each of them with their problems (though we are given plenty of hints by the end of the arc that he has his own issues that he could use help with), and eventually tells him hers as well. As Taichi works selflessly to help the girls, we get insight into the personalities of all of the people in the group, including Aoki, as Taichi talks with him about stuff as well.
Eventually, Heartseed decides that they are too boring and that he needs to spice things up. The method he uses to add a bit of spice to his dull existence is brutally effective and results in the 2nd best episode of anime this season, in my opinion.
The show is billed as a “love and teen pentagonal comedy” and that is a fairly accurate description, except that there is much more drama than in most comedies (but also more comedy than most dramas) and the pentagon looks, at this point, to be a triangle and two points with a dotted line between them. If you enjoy romantic comedy, very interesting character development, and slice-of-life story telling with a wry wit and a slight edge, give this a try.
In particular, I find the interaction between the kids and the nature of the problems of a couple of the characters are a breath of fresh air. They way the characters interact reminds me very much of how my son and his friends talk to each other. (Having spent an entire trip to Washington DC with him and his high school orchestra, I got a pretty good feel for the way the modern geek communicates with like minded peers.) The problem that one of the girls is dealing with is of a nature that is different from most anime, and one that personally hits pretty close to home. When that character is chosen by Heartseed to be the one he creates a crisis for in the climax of the arc, it was particularly effective for me.