Kokoro Connect [Anime]: A good little off-beat high-school drama

I reviewed the 17-episode school-life/supernatural anime Kokoro Connect (lit. Hearts Connect) (2012) for this week.

Kokoro connect

What’s it about?

Taichi Yaegashi, Himeko Inaba, Iori Nagase, Yui Kiriyami and Yoshifumi Aoki are five friends who make up their school’s Student Cultural Research Club. Their world is turned upside down one day when they start to randomly swap bodies with each other. They are informed by the mysterious being “Heartseed” (aka “Balloon Vine“) that the strange phenomena will occur until he is content with the group’s reaction. Little do the group of friends know that this is just the beginning of their problems… Can the friendship between the five survive the ordeals they are put through?

The Positives

One of the strengths of this anime is its interesting, off-beat atmosphere. It’s really a story about five friends getting to terms with who they are as individuals, as well as adjusting to the changing dynamics of the group. It focuses on growing up and has themes in it that you’ll see in countless other anime, movies, and teenage shows, such as self-identity, stability of personality, and romance with friends. However, instead of waiting for these themes to play out naturally, Kokoro Connect deals introduces Heartseed to create (or magnify?) problems that the five can only over-come by dealing with such themes. Personality-switching is only the first of four phenomena that Heartseed creates, and it is interesting to see just what conflicts result from the phenomena, as it is not always apparent from the start.

With such a strong focus on growing up and friendship, there are plenty of times in the anime where the characters clash, leading to dramatic and intense moments (of the high-school variety). However, there are also plenty of funny and more mature moments to keep the anime moving and prevent it from being typical crappy, teenage drama.

The characters in Kokoro Connect are very strong. Each one has a lot of attention paid to them, and the viewer learns more information about each one as each phenomenon is dealt with. Although more emphasis is placed on Taichi, Himeko and Iori throughout the anime, by the end all five characters are very detailed, unique, and realistic. The five also work well as a group of friends, and are fun to watch when they interact, especially when they are just behaving as normal teenagers.

KC group

(Clockwise from top-left) Iori, Himeko, Taichi, Yoshifumi and Yui

Finally, the soundtrack and art is pretty decent in this anime. Nothing spectacular, but the art is detailed enough to enjoy watching, and the music is fitting for both fun comedy scenes, and serious, dramatic scenes. However, don’t expect to be amazed by the opening or ending themes.

The Negatives

Obviously the drama in this anime is one of its main selling points… but there were a number of times where it was irritatingly over-the-top. I especially found this was the case with Iori… particularly in the last few episodes (although she does annoy me earlier on- such as when she pretends to be Himeko in front of Taichi in episode five). Personally, I didn’t like her character that much, but that’s probably only personal taste. Sometimes, the anime’s believability is a little stretched (beyond the whole supernatural thing, of course), and I also found the plot to slow down a little in the middle of each arc, but it’s barley noticeable with only 17 episodes.

Iori uhhh

Ugh… so irritating at times…

Conclusion

Art:  8/10: Good character styling, and overall nice quality

Story: 7.5/10: Interesting twist on what you’d normally fine in a high-school drama (drama being the key word here), with plenty of intense and funny moments alike.

Characters: 7.5/10: A lot of detail goes into each character, making them very realistic, but with varying levels of likeability.

If you’re a lover of high school anime and drama, then you’ll appreciate the interesting twist that Kokoro Connect offers. With detailed, realistic characters, themes of growing up and finding yourself, and good art, this anime has a lot to like about it. Overall, I give it a 7.5/10.

-S

My favourite phenomena

My favourite phenomena

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Ouran High School Host Club [Manga]: Cute and a lot of fun

Sorry, it’s a day late out of pure laziness! I recently finished reading this manga in a blur; reading the last 50 or so chapters in two night. This shoujo manga is 83 chapters long (in 18 volumes) and was created by mangaka Bisco Hatori (2002-2010). I actually watched the anime first, but turned to the manga for more. 

Manga Chapter 1

What’s it about?

Haruhi Fujioka is a “commoner” who got into the super-rich Ouran High School on a scholarship. She is looking for a place to study when she stumbles into the Host Club, run by six male students to entertain female students. She accidentally breaks a vase and has to work for the club to pay back the debt. Because she doesn’t take care of her appearance, the host club members mistake her as a boy, and when they see that she has natural talent with girls they decide to promote her to a host, allowing her to work off her debt even faster. When the boys do figure out that Haruhi is a girl, they decide to keep it a secret, leaving her to continue posing as a boy (which she doesn’t mind doing). Yes, it is another take on the ‘girl pretending to be a boy’ story, but this time most of the major characters know about it by the end of the first chapter.

The manga then follows Haruhi’s adventures at the school as she starts to befriend the boys. The other hosts include Tamaki Suou, the founder and “King” of the Host Club, as well as the “princely” type; Kyoya Ootori, co-founder and “Shadow King”, described as the “cool” type; the mischievous identical twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin, whose gimmick in the club is their “forbidden brotherly love”; Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka, a senior student who is the “lolita-boy” type; and Takashi “Mori” Morinozuka, Honey’s cousin, senior student, and the “wild” or “strong and silent” type.

The Positives

I found most of the characters in this manga fun and loveable. It’s nice to have such a likeable and interesting female main character, breaking the mould from other shoujo. Tamaki is just the right mix of overly-dramatic, stupid and kind to be perfect. The twins Hikaru and Kaoru are probably the most interesting in terms of their personality, and I really liked reading about how they started to branch out from their own little world and learn how to connect with others. Initially I didn’t like Kyoya, but that changed when I learnt about his true nature in later chapters. Although Honey and Mori don’t play a major role compared to the other members, they transition into more mature characters that give out advice and observe the younger characters, and I thought this was a really nice touch. Main characters aside, a lot of the other characters are very likeable and appear in more than just one arc, as fitting for a school manga.

The Host club members; (R-L)

The Host Club members; (R-L) Tamaki, Kyoya, Hikaru (I think), Haruhi, Kaoru, Mori and Honey.

Because I found the main character(s) so likeable, it was easy to enjoy the plot of this manga. The pacing is very good, and I wasn’t bored even for a moment. In the first half there are a lot of fun adventures, and in the latter half there’s more exploration of the characters (although still plenty of adventure!). Throughout the whole series comedy reigns supreme; even in the more intense scenes there’s still comedy to lighten the mood, however, there are also a couple of places where I came close to shedding a few tears. The love story is sweet and cute, and drives the plot in the second half of the manga. I found the idea of the characters not realising their feelings for each other interesting, and I think the mangaka did a great job with the tension around the male characters realising how they felt. The climax of the manga (including, amongst other things, Haruhi’s confession), was incredibly well-written, intense, cute, but also a lot of fun. The ending of the manga overall… well… all I can say is that it ends in true Host Club fashion.

*begins to tear up again*

*begins to tear up again*

This manga gets a lot of its comedy from the fact that it doesn’t take itself very seriously, and likes to poke fun at its own genre. This is obvious in the archetype host members, but also when the manga deals with cross-dressing, yaoi and yuri themes.

A quick note on the art: yes, it is typical shoujo art, but I actually quite liked it, especially in the second half. What I really liked is the fact that the Host Club members dress up so often in many different costumes (resulting partly from Tamaki’s over-the-top personality and the fact that the manga doesn’t take itself seriously) that are visually pleasing and lovingly detailed.

The Negatives

I didn’t find too much to complain about for this manga. One thing that annoyed me is that a number of side characters get annoying when they (re)appear; namely the all-female Zuka club from a different school.

Thankfully they didn't come into it too often, but I really didn't like the

Thankfully they didn’t come into it too often, but I really didn’t like the Zuka Club

However, if you are not a fan of shoujo and all of its elements or you aren’t prepared to read far enough to really get into the psychology of the characters, you will have a number of issues with this manga.

Conclusion

Art:  8/10: A bit awkward at the start, but the mangaka pays a lot of attention to detail, and, by the end, is really good.

Story: 8.5/10: Great pacing, fun, and sweet.

Characters: 8.5/10: Yay for having Haruhi and not a boring shoujo main! The Host Club members are all well thought out, and even minor characters are well done.

At first glance this is just another silly shoujo manga, but its strength lies in its comedy and the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters are all likeable, and the fact that Haruhi isn’t the “I’ll do anything for the guy I like!” female lead is a bonus. There is some interesting psychology going on with some of the characters and it is explored well in later chapters. Overall, this is a fun manga with a good pace, and I recommend it to all shoujo fans, as well as anyone looking for a sweet story; 8.5/10.

-S

Oh dear, Haruhi, looks like you're in trouble now!

Oh dear, Haruhi, looks like you’re in trouble now!