Kokoro Connect: Kako Random

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

Kako Random stands for Random Past, and sure enough that’s what we get here – though not from Heartseed for once. A 2nd Heartseed has shown up, possessing Taaichi’s classmate, and later his sister, to explain what’s going on… well, sort of. They pretty much only explain that if Taichi says anything, it will get much, much worse. Then, at club, we find the members suddenly getting younger, at random, for a five hour period. It’s everyone except Taichi, and can be varying ages – including babies. Needless to say, this is far more inconvenient than the first two, and our heroes end up holing up in an abandoned building for several days to avoid families. Unfortunately, the regression also brings with it memories when the person returns, some of which are not always so welcome, especially when Aoki reveals that Yui, the girl he’s professed his love to multiple times, is very similar to a girl he used to date a couple of years ago. Is she just a replacement? And has he really moved on?

Aoki and Yui get some needed depth here, as we knew that if they were ever going to be a real couple sher was going to have to either acknowledge or reject his overtures. The series has been very good at showing Aoki as being not overly creepy about his love, and he has some serious reflection after the regressions start to happen and he’s reminded more and more of Nishino, the girl he once liked. As for Yui, the fact that Aoki might actually NOT be in love with her after all annoys her far more than she’d like to admit. This despite the fact that she’s also dealing with her fear of men coming to the fore again because of the unwanted memories… as well as memories of her martial arts, which are helped along by an old rival that shows up and is pissed off. These two were my favorite part of the book.

Taichi continues to be irritating, as you’d expect – his character development is something that’s going to be happening over the course of the series, so here he mostly hems and haws and worries about telling everyone the bad news. (Honestly, I think it’s a good thing he shut up – as does Inaba, once she realizes what’s going to happen.) The narrative oddly switches to Iori for its climax, as one of her old stepfathers has returned and is being abusive and awful. After reaffirming the power of friendship, and confronting her mother, who turns out to be very much like Iori, the resolution is almost comically easy – though I will admit fairly satisfying. As for Inaba, since she got development last time, here she mostly gets to show off how she’s opened up to everyone since the first book.

This remains an excellent light novel series, especially for those tired of isekais. Also, kudos to Molly Lee’s translation, which is consistently excellent.

Kokoro Connect: Kizu Random

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

The current fashion in North American releases seems to be not to translate something if it’s already better known to fans by the Japanese. I suspect that’s why we see each subtitle in the Kokoro Connect series this way: Hito Random meant Random People, which fits well with the bodyswapping nature of the book. Now we have Kizu Random, which I personally think might have had a greater impact were it translated, as it means Random Wounds. Likewise, due to the nature of the bodyswap, the first book out of necessity had to keep the group as mostly a tight-knit group of friends. This book, however, is darker in tone, and shows how easily such friendships can be sabotaged – mostly by overthinking things, or self-loathing, or any number of details that add up to “we are teenagers”. Indeed, what Heartseed is doing is something I think ideally suited for teenagers, who are going through this kind of thing anyway, and you could argue it’s just helping them along. Of course, you could also argue Heartseed is a sadistic jerk.

A couple of weeks after the events of the first book, our five heroes are told by the alien that is toying with them that they’re going to have moments where they suddenly lose control of their emotions and desires and act on them. Having experienced this sort of thing before, and not looking forward to it at all (mostly as she was the first to be affected, stripping and getting on top of Taichi in the clubroom), Inaba convinces the others that they can get through this as long as they keep an even emotional keel and just try really hard. That… doesn’t work, and soon Yui’s beating up delinquents (which causes her to shut herself at home), Taichi has a lot more desire to “save” people than he normally does (which is amusing, given it’s quite high to begin with), and Inaba is forced to deal with a fact that she’s been avoiding for quite some time. Friendships can be fragile, especially at this time of your life, and by halfway through the book no one is speaking to anyone.

The strengths of this book are once again the writing of the characters, who feels their age and also sound it. There’s a lot of angst and melodrama here, but it’s never really overwrought except where it’s supposed to be. For the most part the book is 3rd person Taichi POV, but we also have several chunks where it’s first-person Inaba, and those show off how screwed up her mindset is and how easy it can be to filter everything you say or do through a negative, self-loathing filter. And then there’s the “love triangle”. Taichi and Iori like each other, but don’t want to date while Heartseed is messing with them. Inaba finally admits she loves Taichi and confesses, but is rejected – for the moment. It’s a very “mature” rivalry so far, but that’s mostly because it resolves itself after a huge outpouring of emotional release from both Iori and Inaba, and I’m curious as to how messy it might get in the future.

Kokoro Connect remains a well-written teen drama, and is a refreshing change of pace for those who are bored by the idea of yet another isekai. Even if you’ve seen the anime, you should pick it up.

Kokoro Connect: Hito Random

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

I had enjoyed the manga version of Kokoro Connect when it came out a few years back, so was delighted to hear that I’d get a chance to read the novel version that spawned it. And for the most part it does not disappoint me. Ostensibly a book about an alien being who toys with a high school club by causing them to swap bodies at random (each book, in fact, will have the title _______ Random), in reality it’s a good example of the turbulence that is life as a hormonal teenager with issues, some of which are larger than others, but all of which are the most important thing in the world for that person. It also has a very likeable cast, including a fascinatingly flawed hero (Taichi is our 3rd-person viewpoint character, so I’ll call him a hero even though the series is about the five kids as a unit) whose selflessness is called out as nothing of the sort.

The club is one of those sorts that was created mostly because everyone HAS to be in a club, and it functions more as a hangout for the main cast than anything else. Iori is happy, joking, and energetic; Inaba is serious, foul-mouthed, and seems to exist in a perpetual state of near-fury; Yui, who is a pint-sized powerhouse whose knowledge of karate can’t quite make up for a terror of men; Aoba, the big goofy guy who loves Yui but is mostly there to be “the friend everyone picks on”, and Taichi, who I’d mentioned above, another serious guy whose function so far is to be “the male lead”, something I suspect we aren’t quite done with even as the cast does call out his “martyr complex” over the course of this book.

But of course the point of the book is that each of these kids are more complex than you’d expect. I love series where the protagonist is boggled by the fact that their friend may have more than one side to them, and we get that here – in fact, Iori’s main concern is that she’s spent so long showing other sides to people that she can’t remember who she’s supposed to be. Her monologue about loss of identity is one of the highlights of the book, along with the climax of the book where the characters all have to decide, literally, who lives and who dies, and Iori shuts them right down. Meanwhile, the most interesting thing about Inaba (who is my favorite, sorry to be predictable), whose panic about her own personal issues, which are not related to a “traumatic past” like Iori and Yui, is that everyone will hate and pull away from her, is that it really IS overblown. This is quite a funny book when it tries to be, but the funniest line may be Iori’s blithe “So basically… you have anxiety?”.

I also want to give props to the translator. These kids sound like high school kids, and their dialogue does not read like it’s written by someone who grew up in a different time. It’s also not afraid to get coarse for realism – Inaba is meant to curse like a sailor to a degree, and she does. That said, the main reason to pick up Kokoro Connect is the characters, who make you root for them and want to see how they handle whatever’s coming next. I’m very happy this is being released.