Kokoro Connect: Nise Random

By Sadanatsu Anda and Shiromizakana. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Molly Lee.

This volume had its work cut out for it, at least in regards to me. The title translated as “Random Fakes”, and it’s not spoiling anything to let you know that we get a pile of “Heartseed’s magic lets me impersonate another person so that I can quietly destroy their lives”. This plotline makes me very uncomfortable, always has, and so I was cringing through a large part of the first third of this book. Fortunately, the author knows that our heroes have been down this road before, and we eventually end up going in a completely different direction. What the book really is is an extended character study of the new first-years, going into their personality quirks (and flaws) in a much deeper and more traumatic way than the short story volume ever could. The book trusts that you will go along with the author’s good judgment and understand that these are good kids at heart. Unfortunately, with Chihiro, I worry the reader may give up and just quietly hate him.

We pick up after the start of the plot has happened offstage. Chihiro’s narration reveals that he has been approached by Heartseed (who, let’s remember, the main cast has NOT QUITE told the newbies about yet) and offers his usual “I will give you a power, entertain me” bargain. The power is the impersonation tactic I mentioned above. Unfortunately, Chihiro is still dealing with being cynical, arrogant, and bitter, so he resolves to screw up the Club as much as possible. Fortunately, there are a few plot twists that get in the way. The first is that the club (minus Taichi, who admits he was being stupid) have been down this road too many times to not realize something’s going on with Heartseed. Secondly, when it comes right down to it Chihiro is a lonely kid who breaks pretty easily, and when he realizes that things are going bad and they’ll catch him, he tries more drastic tactics. Which have more drastic effects.

Chihiro is not the only main character in this book, of course, as we also get Enjouji’s POV for several scenes. She’s a more tolerable type, being the “why would anyone be interested in me when I am so normal and ordinary” girl. This is why she admires Taichi so much, besides his voice, as he has that ability to unite everyone around him. (This comes as a surprise to Taichi, who is still going through a bit of an identity crisis, and this book REALLY doesn’t help.) I liked the constant ship tease between her and Chihiro, even though it may not go anywhere – we’ve all seen the two friends who everyone just assumes are a couple even though they really aren’t. As for flaws in the book, well, Chihiro pretending to be Taichi and getting Inaba to strip was a bit beyond the beyond, and I kind of feel she didn’t get mad enough at him afterwards. (You could argue he wasn’t punished enough for his actions, but a) everyone agrees Heartseed is really to blame, and b) he already hates himself so much punishment would feel odd.) Honestly, lovesick Inaba really doesn’t work for me at all. I like her with Taichi, but not like this.

So despite its premise, this ended up being an excellent volume in the series. It’s definitely worth picking up, especially if you liked the anime.

Kokoro Connect: Clip Time

By Sadanatsu Anda and Shiromizakana. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Molly Lee.

Well, I did ask for more wacky school antics in this volume of short stories, so you can’t say I didn’t bring it on myself. This is definitely a volume that gets better as it goes along. The first story, where Inaba decides to help out two teachers in a secret sort-of relationship by publicizing it over the entire school, is the sort of plot that made me think “and then the club was disbanded and Inaba was expelled”, which didn’t happen. The chapter where Yui gets confessed to by a girl and dates her alternates between trying its best to handle the subject properly and making stupid “OMG, gay!” jokes, which, to be fair, they are teenagers, but it’s still pretty excruciating, especially Aoba and Iori. The third story features Inaba, between the second and third books, working herself into an emotional frenzy regarding the love triangle. It’s fun if you enjoy Inaba flipping out. That said, the REASON to get this book is the final story, which takes up half the volume.

Those two characters on the cover next to Taichi may be unfamiliar to the reader, as they’re new first-years who the Cultural Research folks are trying to recruit to the club… sort of. It’s one of those situations where, were this a normal club, there would be no issues beyond “I like the bond the five of us have and don’t want to risk upsetting it”. But of course, this isn’t a normal club, and our main cast are unconsciously pushing the new recruits away because they are worried about bringing Heartseed into someone else’s life. This is not an easy problem to solve, but they decide eventually that they do want these kids in the club, and that they will tell them about its more supernatural aspects… provided Heartseed doesn’t get there first.

As for the new kids, well, Chihiro is deliberately written to annoy the reader, I suspect. He’s standoffish and arrogant, annoyed at the school’s “you have to be in a club” policy, and not particularly enamored of anyone in the group apart from the “gorgeous” Iori. That said, it’s pretty clear from the narration we get from hi8m that a lot of this is defensive and a front. The cliffhanger implies the next book will delve further into him. As for Enjouji, she’s a very entertaining combination of fluffhead and blunt, and I admire her dedication and her desire to be with those that she admires the most. That said, her obsession with Taichi’s voice is both strange and hilarious. They both look like good additions to the club. It’s also highly unusual to see a major plot point happening in a short story collection, and I once again emphasize that if you’re following the novels you do need to read this one as well.

I’d honestly skip the first two stories in this book (though the Yui story was popular enough to get adapted into the manga AND a PSP game). The final half, though, is very strong, and makes me eager to read the next book in the series.

Kokoro Connect: Michi Random

By Sadanatsu Anda and Shiromizakana. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Molly Lee.

A running theme of both Kokoro Connect and Book Girl, a series I’m finding it very easy to compare to, is that, unlike your typical anime or manga, problems and traumas are not magically “solved” or gotten over just because the characters now realize they exist. The first volume of this series had Iori talking about how she’s never been able to really figure out who her true self is, and theoretically she had moved past that. But it’s not that easy, especially when you’re a teenager, and Kokoro Connect is pretty much using a sci-fi plot to examine the mindset and foibles of emotional teens. And the phenomenon this time around, where the five protagonists occasionally broadcast their thoughts to each other, is the absolute worst for someone like Iori who’s hiding her darker self. As a result, everything blows up after Taichi decides to finally confess to her on Valentine’s Day. The confession does not succeed, but that’s only the start of everything being terrible. Oh, and they also have to save their club from losing its advisor.

The rest of the cast also gets a good look in. Yui and Aoki both have POV scenes, which is important as they both individually meet Heartseed, something that’s unusual. Yui in particular is getting a lot more aggressive and natural, and is slowly coming to terms with liking Aoki, though despite her inner thoughts she’s not ready to act on it yet. And of course Taichi confessing means Inaba is on the losing end… but let’s be honest, most readers never saw Taichi and Iori as the main couple, mostly as, due to her core issues, Iori is a lot less developed than Inaba is. I think Taichi is better off with Inaba, particularly if he’s going to remain as stupid as he is in this volume, sacrificing first his reputation and then his body in order to solve the issues. Sure, Inaba’s main character description is basically “hot mess”, but at least the two are sure of themselves. That said, we aren’t even halfway through this series of books, so who knows?

I was not all that enamored of the dramatic ending, which featured Inaba getting kidnapped and tied up by thugs (somehow I doubt THAT fear will linger into future books) and everyone coming to the rescue. Better was confronting Iori, which amounted to Inaba basically yelling at her until she broke down. It’s something that should be obvious, but the entire book talks about how it’s easier to think of solutions than to actually put them into action. The book also amusingly has a lot of “but this isn’t fiction, this is real life” references, which I might have appreciated more were it not for the rescue from thugs fictional drama. That said, the dialogue (wonderfully translated as always, though with Inaba in this book it’s at least an R rating just for language) is fantastic and quotable, and I really like these kids. Next book is short stories, so perhaps we can take a break from teen angst and move into teen comedys being SNAFU.

Oh yes, and “Random Paths” seems to be the translation of the title.