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?)

Kokoro Connect: Step Time

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

I get the feeling the author needed a break from the angst as much as the reader did. The last few regular volumes of Kokoro Connect have been rather excruciating, if well-written, and all signs point to the next two books coming up as being even worse. (There are some hints and foreshadinwg in this book as well, the only really serious moment in it.) As a result, even more than the last collection of Short Stories, Step Time allows us to relax and enjoy the cast being together without the threat of Heartseed hanging over them. It also allows the author to go back and take care of some business. Kokoro Connect began with the Cultural Research Club fully formed, our heroes all in it and friends with each other, and Iori and Inaba best friends. So here we get to see how that happened in the first place, in two stories which read like one part destiny to eight parts slice of life.

The book has four largish stories in it. The first, as I suggested, deals with how the CRC was first formed by their teacher (still a normal lazy teacher at this point) and Taichi and the rest talking and realizing they don’t share many interests and all want to be in different clubs anyway. That said, there’s clearly something about these five kids… it’s not the most subtle story in the world, but does a good job of showing why the CRC hang out with each other in the first place. It’s part of a mini-theme in this book of “don’t overanalyze things”, which brings us to the second story, where Inaba and Iori tell the CRC how they came to be friends. This is probably the strongest story in the book (the lack of Taichi POV helps), as Inaba’s natural grumpy cussedness hits up against Iori’s “I am already losing my ability to pretend” complexes and the two have to deal with a stalker of Iori’s.

The third story is also good, though you kind of want to take Kurihara and throw her into the nearest lake. She’s one of the group of girls in the class who aren’t Iori, Inaba or Yui, and she’s very frustrated at the fact that, although there are now three couples in their little group, none of them are having lovey lovey date time. As such, she and an enthusiastic Iori decide to have the three couples (Taichi x Inaba, Yui x Aoki, and that other girl x that other guy) do a triple date, supervised by Kurihara herself. The best part of this is Taichi and Inaba, who really are a terrific couple, as they find out. The last story focuses on Fujishima, who is once again brilliant at everything except ordinary social interaction, and her attempts to figure out why others in their school consider the CRC members “cool”. She’s joined by the two junior CRC menbers, Shino and Chihiro, both of whom are equally socially awkward. What follows is, again, “don’t overanalyze things”, with a healthy dose of Fujishima being oblivious to her own powers of attraction. (She also confirms she is bisexual, almost offhandedly.)

So again, if you love the cast but hate seeing them suffer, this is a terrific volume to pick up. And if you enjoy seeing them suffer… well, Volume 9 should be coming soon.

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.