This is part of a series of reviews of Anime which I think people should be more aware of. For that purpose I'm using the tag Ani-NOW, meaning Anime No One Watched, (and I hope that in time it starts filling nicely).
This series is somewhat different in the sense that is a show who many people have indeed heard about, but that not many know that there are 4 additional episodes, that were originally scheduled to air as part of the original Anime run but, that because of a certain incident, were pushed back. Those episodes aired on December 30, so this is my way to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of the "end" of the first season of what would become one of my all time favorite Animes: I'm talking about Kokoro Connect, the "pentagonal" love polygon dramedy.
Also this time the Random Fact section will be a special edition covering the details of said incident who would latter be known as the Ijime Connect incident.
Summary: The story involves five high school students, Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yoshifumi and Yui, who are all members of the Cultural Research Club. One day, they begin experiencing a phenomenon in which they randomly swap bodies amongst themselves. As these five friends face many different unusual phenomena at the whims of a mysterious being known as Heartseed, their friendship is put to the ultimate test.
At the time this was one of the most talked about series in the Summer lineup because of it's simple premise and limitless possibilities, and the series did not disappoint in making a first impression. The first episode is strong and it introduced the status quo, the conflict and the characters pretty strongly, and the characters are actually what makes this Anime so great, so let's talk about them first.
Mid Spoilers ahead
The anime is divided into four arcs, each arc covering the 5 characters being afflicted a different phenomenon, body swapping, unleashed desires, age regression and emotion transmission. But those events are just the catalyst of the real appeal of the series, and that is the interaction of the characters and the way they try to deal with each event.
The anime has five characters, two guys (Taichi and Aoki) and three girls (Inaba, Iori and Yui). The interaction between the characters is very smooth and eye catching. Their blending is so perfect that the comedic aspects of the anime shine pretty brightly. You will notice that there is also some romantic tension between some of the characters. Each and every character had a certain quirk that is special to them so to see them act in another person's body brings out more hilarity in the anime. With each new arc, we learn that each character has their own flaws and how they deal with their past and identities. Even side characters turn out to have interesting insights on the Cultural Club's experiences and friendships (like Fujishima Maiko), which are realistically fluid and constantly evolving - an aspect of real-life relationships that is well-handled here, more than most school dramas.
If you can relate with the characters, and each one of them has a trait you can relate to, the emotions will intensify, everyone showing a range of emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, and sympathy.
Great: The personalities of each character are well-established at the beginning of the story. Hints of Taichi's self-sacrificing and kind nature and Yui's Androphobia are subtly revealed in their interactions at the beginning. Iori revealing that she is hiding a dark past through her behavior throughout the series is something you may see coming but to actually witness her break down so thoroughly is really something else. Kokoro Connect does a perfect job of maintaining character growth and development, and avoiding the problem of the insta-hero which plagues many other series. Also the voice acting is just great.
Half Full-Half Empty: You can't underestimate the level of emotional impact some of the these scenes have, and I noticed that this has caused some extremely dividing opinions about the show, some love the show very much, some hate the show very much. I think is a matter of being able to relate with the characters and that is something the show does very well IMO. Also at times delicious narrative.
Bad: Heartseed, he's just a catalyst because at any moment you feel that the real enemy of the characters are each others feelings. Also there are some plot holes in here and there, and the 2 arcs in the middle are somewhat lackluster in comparison with the other 2, also at times characters acts a little forced.
Verdict: Don't judge a book by it's cover, it has a nice theme of friendship capturing the ups and downs of the relationship. It also captures the feeling of falling in love pretty nicely. The dialogue it's incredibly sharp and insightful. Excellent cast of characters, with issues that play off each other really well and lead to quite some interesting drama, specially the first and the last arc.
In one short sentence: An emotional rollercoaster with well-written characters and a story that flowed almost seamlessly.
At the end of the show, there is a little teaser for more, since two of the new characters are shown, so there's hope for a second season, except for:
This is actually a very large read, so if you want you can skip it, though I recommend read it, since is such a very interesting topic:
June 24 2012, at an advance screening event of upcoming Anime Kokoro Connect, Mitsuhiro Ichiki, who had auditioned for a character role, was invited (he went apparently by recommendation of the Silver Link production team) to the event with the excuse of being announced as a surprise cast member. The character he was supposed to play was an original character that does not appear in the original novels, but when he got there he was received with an unpleasant surprise. Series Producer Takahiro Yamanaka revealed to Ichiki that said audition was actually a Candid Camera-style joke and then he was forced to watch a video of himself auditioning for a role that didn't exist before a live audience including people of the production staff, and fellow voice actors like Takuma Terashima (Aoki Yoshifumi) and Asuka Oogame (Rina Yaegashi). In the video he can be seen forced to say embarrassing after embarrassing line. Also they revealed that instead of being selected as a Voice Actor, he would act as the Head of Public Relations for the series (for those of you wondering, he indeed did accept the offer). Some days later he was also laughed at by Hisako Kanemoto (Yui Kiriyama) at a variety show and by Kikuchi Hajime, one of eufonis members, at his twitter account. He appeared some days later in a radio show hosted by Tomokazu Sugita to talk about the bad experience, and Tomokazu defend him by saying that he would have "kick everyone asses", were he present at the event. Also Asami Imai showed sympathy to him, saying that he used to suffer from the same things when she was younger (Really guys, that's not nice). The incident was supposed to end there as a friendly joke but people got wind of the incident in the most unexpected way:
One day famed voice actress and singer/songwriter Haruko "Halko" Momoi commented on his twitter account that one of his dreams had come true because her songs were chosen by people to sing at karaokes. Such an innocent comment received a reply by Kikuchi Hajime, saying that that was "a silly dream". That caused the rage of Halko fans, who then began to investigate Kikuchi's account and found out the next message "So many people are chasing their dreams in this business but because of that they're desperate and easy to use. Because he didn't realize it himself he was easy to fool, that's why he won't get hired". They rapidly make the connection with the Ichiki incident. Now Internet knew about the incident and flame wars began.
Japanese fans began a campaign known as Ijime Connect (Bullying Connect) in order to boycott the Anime adaptation of Kokoro Connect. A lot of them cancelled their BD/DVD reserves (some sources show that the number of pre orders went from 5,000 to 1,000). Hate messages filling online forums like 2chan and 4chan and blame was being passed from one individual to another.
The damage was already done and the series would suffer from the consequences. In the words of Kotaku's Toshi Nakamura: "Sadly, at this point, no matter the quality of the anime itself, the damage may already be irreversible"
Then things went even more out of control. Eri Kitamura (who doesn't even appear in the show) got a lot of backlash when people found out that she apparently had a romantic relationship with man of the hour Takahiro Yamanaka. People even started to post pictures of male members and even one bukkake (if you don't know what this is, don't go searching for it, it's disgusting and totally NSFW) picture in her twitter account, which forced Kitamura's management team to close her Twitter account.
This forced Kokoro Connect staff's to release an statement, asserting that there was indeed a plan to have Ichiki traveling across Japan over three months of the Anime's broadcast for the promotion campaign. However, due to "selective alterations" of comments made in events and radio programs related to this campaign, comments "differing from their original intention" being posted to the Internet, widespread misunderstanding and confusion, the campaign was cancelled. The statement ended by promising that the entire staff of the series will seriously reflect on the incident in their future work on the program and apologizing for the whole deal.
Of course there was more consequences. A planned radio show to promote the Anime (Kokoro Connect Bunkenshinbun) was cancelled, an Itasha car tour and a 3 month long Caravan event called Tochi Random were also cancelled. Videogame adaptation Kokoro Connect: Yochi Random release date was postponed citing quality assurance issues as the cuase (Yeah, right). And then there is Hajime Kikuchi, after the incident he decided to put his career in hiatus, leaving eufonis citing "reckless statements" he made regarding the incident, and asking for forgiveness for all the troubles he caused the band and the fans of eufonis. The production committee also decided to replace the original opening for the release of the BD/DVD (Only the song was replaced, the new song being Kimochi Signal by Sayuri Horishita, the animation sequence is the same), also the release date for the BD/DVD was pushed back one month.
But the most notable of the consequences was the abrupt end of the series at 13 episodes of 17 planned. Those 4 episodes were postponed and released until December 30th, 3 months after episode 13 did.
As for Ichiki: he wrote a post on his official blog regarding the incident. He began by apologizing for the worry caused by the incident, as well as the damage that has occurred as a result of it. He then asserted that while news websites were calling the situation involving him a case of "Candid Camera-style bullying and abuse-of-power harassment," he did not feel that either has taken place. Ichiki said that his appointment as a PR head, rather than as a voice actor , was a surprise to him, but he and his talent agency accepted the job after considering the situation. Also he asserted that he believes that if the situation were a true case of bullying, then the fans present at the June screening in question as well as its over 20,000 online viewers, along with the listeners of the later radio programs in question, would have reacted negatively at an earlier point in time. Ichiki also expressed his feelings of sadness that colleagues he has worked to build relationships with have been "slandered" online as a result of the situation and due to articles online that "twisted the truth" and "edited videos" that "tricked" users. He also wrote that he has no feelings of ill will toward anyone involved in the series, including series producer, Takahiro Yamanaka. He even went to an event that reunited him with Terashima and Oogame.
At the end he did end up playing one role in the series. Shōto Shiroyama member of the Jazz Club, a character who in fact appears in the original novel and that has a role in the last arc, which is covered in episodes 14-17.