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.

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.