By Sadanatsu Anda and CUTEG. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialized in the magazine Famitsu Comic Clear. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
Generally speaking, if you’re going to be releasing a manga series based on a light novel that stars a group of high school students in a strange club, you’d better have something extra to bring to the table in order to distinguish yourself from packs of similar series. And Kokoro Connect does have a premise that shows promise, particularly if it goes the dramatic direction that it seems to be hinting at. Three girls and two boys are friends in a club, till one day they discover that the five of them have begun to randomly switch bodies, without warning and for unknown periods. After having the reason explained to them by an exposition who happened to be walking by, they have to figure out how to deal with this, particularly as they are all rather fragile teens, and many have hidden secrets.
The leads are all likeable but flawed. In fact, in possibly the most annoying part of the volume, we have the flaws explained by Himeko, the ‘serious student’ of the club. Our hero is told how he tends to put the needs of others before himself, and in fact is directly called a “self-sacrificing bastard”. The trouble is we’ve only known him for about 90 pages before this, and the only evidence we see is that he volunteered for cleanup duty because no one else wanted to. Likewise, one somewhat insecure, thought-provoking monologue does not really measure up against the previous scenes of a girl being happy and outgoing, so hearing that Iori is “the most likely to crack” seems a bit out of nowhere. Kokoro Connect has a “tell rather than show” problem.
This is a bodyswap manga, and so it can sometimes be difficult to recall who is in which body at the time. The usual manga shorthand is to see either a ghostly presence of the real person behind the swapped one, or to show a SD-caricature of the real person in the speech balloon. This volume does both, and I think the latter works better, as the doubling can look confusing. Other than that, though, the artwork is appealing and cute. There’s also a healthy dose of humor scattered throughout. I could have done without the ‘oh my god teenage boys are perverts’ stuff, but if I wanted to avoid that I’d have to drop manga altogether. And the “solution” to Yui’s issues with men did make me laugh, I will admit. As for romance, it seems to be a ‘one guy and two girls who kind of like him’ story, with a ‘backup couple’ thrown in. The backup couple get the most development here, which tells me that the majority of what’s to come will likely focus on Iori and Himeko.
Mostly, though, I think this first volume made me hope that things improve in the next four (It’s a 5-volume series). It’s an intriguing premise, and I think it does show promise that it could take advantage of that, but right now it feels like it’s trying too hard. Let’s hope it finds its feet in the next volume.