Kokoro Connect: Yume Random

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

Oy. I’ve had several reviews of this series where I’ve talked about Taichi, how annoying he can be, and the way he and everyone else around him struggle to have him be more than just “generic visual novel protagonist”. Which means I need to find new things to say about THIS book, which finally takes all of this and turns it up to eleven, destroying Taichi so that he might be reborn. (No, that is actually what one character does.) When we finally get to that point, it’s fantastic. The setup for this book is also great. The middle second and third quarter of this book, though, while well-written and necessary, felt like I was stabbing my legs with forks constantly while reading it. I’ve mentioned I’m not a big fan of cringe comedy, and it turns out I don’t like cringe drama much either. If you have trouble watching people make bad decisions while watching the other shoe about to drop for pages on end, this will be a very difficult read.

Heartseed shows up and says that this will be the last time he messes with them (I know this isn’t true, there’s four more books after this). This time they (they being the core five, the first years are exempt) are given the ability to see other people’s hopes and dreams. This very quickly divides the group in two, with Taichi and Kiriyama being on the “we should use this to help people” side, and Inaba and Aoki being on the “we should just let this be” side, with Iori, as always, in the middle. Because they are in high school and surrounded by teenagers, most of these hopes and dreams end up being love-related, and Taichi and Kiriyama get reputations as “love gurus”. This despite the fact that Kiriyama still has not managed to tell Aoki how she really feels, and that this may be the last straw in Taichi and Inaba’s relationship. Oh yes, and everyone’s about to go on the class trip. But, most importantly, Taichi is determined to make up for the fact that he feels empty as a person by sticking to his guns on this decision, even if that turns out to be the worst thing possible.

As I said, how much you like this book depends on how tolerable you find Taichi attempting to finally realize that he needs to have his OWN hopes and dreams. His dilemma reminded me a lot of Tsubasa Hanekawa from the Monogatari series, who is verbally shredded by Senjogahara (the Inaba of that series) for not having anything she really dislikes… or, as it turns out, likes. Similarly, Taichi is so used to turning his attention to others that the mere sight of a future career survey can paralyze him. This is what leads him to decide to make a decision and stick with it, even if it’s a bad one. Fortunately, by the end of the book he seems to have come to terms with the ability to actually think about himself for once, let people deal with issues on their own, and actually tell Inaba he loves her out loud. Oh yes, Kiriyama and Aoki also get together, in a very sweet confession that spurs Taichi on, and almost makes up for another subplot involving Aoki’s family that I will gloss over as I don’t want to stab things.

It’s odd that I sound like I’m bashing this book, which is very good. You’re frustrated and angry, but in a way that makes sense for the characters and plot. I will note that if this had been stretched to two volumes, I might actually have been unable to continue. Fortunately it isn’t, and we have another short story volume next time. I need it.

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.