This is the last of a two-part series where i consider 6 animé that were adapted from novels. The first can be found here.
Think, for a moment, about those little mysteries that pass you by every now and then. Little things that bother you for a few seconds, which you then ignore so that you can continue on with your otherwise uneventful (or eventful) life.
Oreki Houtarou is very good at this. He lives by the principle of energy conservation. He recognises that it is possible to lead an exciting and eventful life, and does not begrudge others for doing so. He will have no part of it himself though, and will therefore not do anything unless he really has to. And if he has to, he will get it over with as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for Houtarou, he meets Chitanda Eru, who is wholly incapable of ignoring even the smallest, most insignificant mysteries. Impressed by his skills of deduction, she will happily pester him into helping her solve every small and big mystery she encounters.
Additionally, Houtarou is persuaded by his older sister to join the High School’s Classic Literature Club to prevent its abolishment. The club room serves conveniently as a quiet room for Houtarou, and a head quarter of sorts for their mystery solving antics. Houtarou and Eru are joined in the club by Satoshi and Mayaka, another slightly odd pair.
Eru falls unfortunately somewhat into the manic pixie dream girl trope: Houtarou leads a fairly uneventful live, Until Eru suddenly and quite forcefully intrudes into his life and forces him into gear against his will. Some amount of romance ensues, etc., etc.
And if it wasn’t because everything else is done so brilliantly, I might have actually been more annoyed by that. As it is though, there is very little I can fault. For all of Erus frequent manic pixie dream girl-ness, every character (including Eru) act almost surprisingly human. It’s a mystery series, but there are no murders. Some of the mysteries are inconsequential, and have quite mundane explanations. Somehow, it’s still really interesting just to see the threads unravel. Some of the mysteries are also gateways into both larger and smaller social conflicts on the school. The feelings of the characters sometimes lie just under the surface of their social interactions, hidden from plain view. Sometimes, they surface, and maybe you will be surprised at first, but then you will look back and go “oh, yeah, that actually makes sense”.
It’s eerily like trying to interpret what’s going on with people around you in real life. You may think you’re good at it, but many people are also good at hiding their feelings, and you may not be as good as you think at sorting out what’s going on under the surface.
Balloon Vine, a supernatural entity of sorts, has taken an interest in Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yoshifumi and Yui, five friends making up the cultural club at their school. Balloon Vine wants to be entertained, so he starts in the first story arc by having them switch bodies every now and then.
Balloon Vine is a very blatant plot device, make no mistake. He exists in the story simply to give the main characters ordeals to overcome, and thus to accelerate the development of their relationships. But it works, and quite wonderfully. There is never a boring moment in Kokoro Connect. It’s a mix of comedy and deeply emotional interaction. Pretty much every one of the characters have some deeply rooted anxieties to deal with. Over the course of the series, they become much more open about this to each other. They find, quite simply, that the best way to counteract Balloon Vine’s hijinks is to be more honest and build greater trust between each other, which is refreshing when the default mode of action so often is to attempt to keep things awkwardly hidden from each other, out of a fear of what even your best friends might think of you. You find yourself thinking that many relationships would be well served by the levels of honesty and openness often exhibited by the characters here.
Of course, their solutions to Balloon Vine’s assholery does not discourage him in any way, and by the end of the first arc, asshole that he is, he tests their friendship in one of the most imaginatively horrific ways possible. I do not often shed tears over a fiction, but this was one such time. Not because of the dilemma itself, but because of the way it was resolved. It just felt right. I can’t say much more without spoiling it.
Oh, by the way, did I mention? Balloon Vine really is a complete and utter asshole.
Shin Sekai Yori
(From the New World)
Shinsekai Yori happens in a future where humans have developed the potential for psychokinetic powers, and have built a society, essentially, to cope with this. That’s the short and mostly spoilerfree version of the premise. I will attempt not to spoil anything important.
Throughout the series, we follow a group of kids (with Watanabe Saki acting as the main character), as they grow up in this society. While the story has its bright points, I would classify this as a horror series. It wont always seem like that, but there is always something that will bug you, even as most of the characters act perfectly normal.
This is about a bunch of kids who grow up in a society and slowly recognise the horrors of how that society works, and the helplessness as some of them attempt to find the truth behind the practices of the society, and maybe some way to fight the reality of it… In terms of pure adrenalin-inducing scares, there really isn’t much. It’s more like a dark cloud hanging over most of the story, rearing its ugly head every now and then. Many of the most horrific events happen offscreen. We are often just treated to secondhand accounts, leading to an eerie kind of disconnect from the true horrors, and a sense that if you just close your eyes and don’t think too much on it, maybe it will pass, and everything will be okay.
Alongside humans live another intelligent species, the queerats. And while they are pretty much completely absent from the beginning of the series, they start playing an increasingly significant role as the series goes on. Just as you think that you are at least getting a grip on the world these kids are made to live in, the queerats start showing you a whole new chapter of horrors.
And when the dust has settled, and it’s all over, try and see if you can figure out who to blame for it all. And if you think you have an answer, then please, I would love to hear it.
As a last comment, I will note one of the few positive aspects of the society presented in the series: Everyone is actually bisexual. There is in fact a reason for this that I wont spoil. Suffice it to say that even though it seems a positive thing, the actual reason behind it is horrific in all its cynicism. But perhaps partly because of this aspect of their society, sexism appears thankfully to be a thing of the past. But with everything else that’s going on, these are small comforts.