Kokoro Connect: Precious Time

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

This final volume of Kokoro Connect, as you might guess by the ‘Time’ subtitle, is a short story collection, with one shorter story and three longer ones. It’s a fitting finale for a serious that has really dragged its cast across razor blades at times, and fortunately is not nearly as stressful as previous books in the main series have been. The series has always been, to a degree, about growing up and moving forward, and this final volume really emphasizes that, with each story hammering the point home. The first three don’t have the main cast as the regulars, although they do get narrative voice at times. Fittingly, the final story is in Iori’s narration, the one member of the CRC not paired up (OK, there’s Uwa and Enjouji, but come on, we all agree it’s just a matter of time, right?) and someone who’s still excellent at putting on a mask to disguise her own pain. Fortunately, there are answers for her here.

The first story is the shortest and the slightest, as the CRC are coming over to Taichi’s house one afternoon, and his sister Rina decides she’s going to interrogate… erm, interview them all to make sure that there’s nothing wrong with them. This is, for the most part, amusing, and of course the real issue is that she feels he’s growing up and leaving her behind. The longest story in the book, Fujishima organizes a giant couples-only battle royale event, mostly to give the third years something “unique” to remember the year by. This is the most CRC-focused of the stories, though it includes the entire school cast, and does finally hook Maiko up with a guy (sorry, fans of her glomping Iori). The third story is the weakest, though its themes are good, as we get an introverted first-year determined to “fit in” at high school but unable to expend any effort to do so, finding a home in the CRC, which just did that the previous year with Uwa. Finally, Iori’s future is laid out for her… so why is she so depressed?

There’s no real drama or conflict in this story, which fits given it’s basically a final “present” from the author to the readers. I did like seeing Gossan as an actual slacker teacher (who still gives good advice when he needs to) rather than the usual “I have been possessed by Heartseed” version we’re used to. Heartseed are blissfully absent from the whole book, as is typical with SS books but also as it’s the final one. Our heroes are getting ready to graduate and move on, and hare making decisions about what to do with their lives. For the most part, they’re good ones (and I do wonder how long Inaba and Taichi are going to wait before getting married – the tsun and dere of Inaba’s personality are perfectly blended here, and it’s a definite highlight). Taichi is not leaving his little sister behind, but the cast is leaving us behond, as they go off to do whatever they want to. (Technically there are fanfics, but alas, very, very few.)

Despite the fact that it seems I spent most of these reviews talking about how angsty and depressing everything was, in the end Kokoro Connect, was a wonderfully solid series with a terrific cast. Kudos once more to the translation by Molly Lee, which really gives you the great sense of a bunch of teenagers having terrific conversations. I’ll miss this a lot.

Kokoro Connect: Asu Random, Part 2

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

This is, as the author notes, the longest book in the series. It’s not as long as some other light novels in my collection, but in terms of Kokoro Connect it’s pretty chunky. And it does what we’ve always known the series does well and want it to continue doing: traumatize our protagonists as much as possible. They’ve gotten their wish to be put in the place where the other students are trapped, but I’m not sure they were prepared for everyone to think of them as the villains who won’t tell the truth about why they’re really trying to do this. (Because if they tell the truth, they lose.) Even worse, the student council seems to be their adversaries, friends they’ve known their whole high school life are breaking apart, relationships are fracturing, and, yes, people are STILL losing their memories. Kokoro Connect is VERY good at making everything seem completely hopeless about the halfway point of each book, and that’s what we get here. That said, the real hopelessness comes with the special bonus round.

Given the series is essentially a metaphor for teenage hormones and growing up, it’s less of a surprise than expected that the conflict in the first three-quarters of this book is “should we punch each other till we forget everything and disappear?”. Needless to say, the CRC are not in favor of punching. Unfortunately, it turns out “guys, we just have to stand together and unite!” doesn’t actually achieve concrete things, while the punching, while no one knows if the things it causes are good or bad, is at least something to do. What’s more, of course, the CRC are being painted as the suspicious, untrustworthy kids, which, well, is not 100% wrong? Through no fault of their own, they can’t open up about this. That said, the solution they do come up with (start small with their closest friends, then work outward) ends up being fine. Well, almost fine.

Whoops! The last quarter of the book is the seeming worst case scenario – Heartseed does a takeback and everyone really does lose their memories. This is not as emotionally volatile as the first section of the book, but hurts more, because seeing the club interacting with each other like they’re casual acquaintances is just too depressing. Fortunately, all the things they did in Book 9, while mostly erased by Heartseed and company, do manage to clue them in that something is wrong (kudos to the first years) and they end up retracing the steps of the moments in the series where they became the closest of friends… and, for two couples, where they confessed. Kokoro Connect always reads like a roller coaster where it’s just one big down and one big up, and this is the same. It’s a feel good ending.

That said, there is one more book of short stories still to go. But man, this was one of the most emotionally draining light novels I’ve read, managing a lot of supernatural content while ALSO being a slice-of-life high school romance series. Highly recommended, especially to anime fans who want to see what happens next.

Kokoro Connect: Asu Random, Part 1

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

Here we are, folks, the final arc of Kokoro Connect. (There’s another short story book after this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s more of a victory lap than a plot mover.) This one is big enough to be divided into two books. When you finish it you will see why. Everything that the Club has been doing for the last year and a half – every victory, every heartwarming moment, every time they managed to win out and not completely lose it – has now turned into a liability, as it turns out that they’re simply TOO STRONG for Heartseed. And so there are new dangers on several fronts: other students are now suffering bodyswaps/emotional rages as they once did; people are finding out about the Club’s real activities, particularly their families; and there are now FOUR Heartseeds, some of whom are (supposedly) good guys now, and some of whom are determined to erase everyone’s memory of the last eighteen months. Even if that means destroying lives.

These books have always had a high amount of teen drama, and this one is no exception, though for once our main heroes aren’t actually part of it. By design. (Actually, I was rather surprised that the two main couples didn’t reflect more on the fact that their budding relationships might soon be completely undone, but to be fair they’ve got a LOT going on.) Indeed, all their secrecy is now coming back to haunt them, as it’s fairly easy to see them as the cause of the problem. There’s also a lot of brainwashing in this book, to a disturbing degree. Everyone has heard rumors of the school vanishing, but no one knows where from. The teachers don’t seem to care that everyone’s skipping class… or not there at all. Even Iori’s mother and Taichi’s sister, tho literally go to the school to investigate, end up being influenced. And then there’s Misaki, who serves as the test case for what’s going to happen to everyone – after talking with the Club, she loses her memories, and is mow merely casual acquaintances with her former best friends. It’s scary.

If this sounds a bit over the top and unrealistic, well, the Club points that out as well, as to how big an undertaking it will be to do this and not have the world notice. What’s also interesting is that they have not one, but TWO former enemies seemingly on their side – I say seemingly merely because Heartseed, as always, is deeply untrustworthy, be in the first or the second one. But they admit what I’ve been suspecting for a while – the reason they’re doing this so much is to see the emotions that humans have, and the Club has been influencing them more and more to try to retain their observations and emotions. As I said, the Club is simply too good at being emotional wrecks, in both good and bad ways. Now the entire school is in anotehr dimension, along with most of the first and second years, and it’s up to our heroes to rescue them.

Will they do it? Probably, though if any series was going to play with a tragic ending it would be this one. We’ll see what happens in the 2nd part. In the meantime, get reading for a shipfull of feels. (Speaking of ships, is it me or does polyamory feels REALLY natural with these five?)