Manga Review – Kokoro Connect

Kokoro Connect Volume 1

Kokoro Connect
ANDA Sadanatsu (story), Cuteg (art)
Shounen – Drama, comedy, romance, supernatural, gender bender
3 Volumes (ongoing), 5 Volumes (Japanese, complete)
Seven Seas

Summary:

The five members of the Student Cultural Society (three girls, two boys) spend their days hanging out and writing a school newspaper. One day, two members announce they switched bodies the previous night. The others think it’s a joke until they start swapping bodies, too.

Note: this review has been updated and can be found here.

Review:

Kokoro Connect is a refreshing take on the body-swap genre, but the pacing is awkward.

In most body swap manga, the switch is (unknowingly) triggered by something, and the characters (often a male and female) spend the rest of the series trying to get their original bodies back. However, Kokoro Connect is almost the opposite. The characters are given a brief explanation of their circumstances after the switches start, and the swaps are seemingly random and sudden. The club members get their bodies back after a short period of time, so there is no “how do I go to the bathroom” type scenes. The comedy is light and limited to the girls’ tsuntsun sides or making the guys (particularly Yoshifumi) their buttmonkey. The main focus of Kokoro Connect is on what the club members learn about each other, not the struggles they go through during the body swaps.

In three volumes, each of the girls are forced to confront their issues…and they handle them. In three volumes. OK, so the problems aren’t officially over, but by the time you take out the setup and scenes with the guys, the problems just seem pretty much resolved too quickly. I wish they were dragged on and play up the characters’ mysteries a little bit. Dragging the series a bit would also prevent some lengthy dialogue and strange chapter endings. Too often it felt like the proverbial curtain fell in the middle of a conversation. “This is a meeting.” Chapter end. “I’m not okay.” Chapter end. These are not a dramatic, climatic moments to end the chapter with; the conversation is just beginning. Some of this may be due to the source light novels, but the breaks just feel (and look) awkward in manga form. The chapter breaks are not too much of a problem when read in one sitting, but I think it would be noticeably more rough if you are the kind of reader who reads a chapter or two on a break.

This manga is very character-driven. The Student Cultural Society members are all teens trying to define themselves. Some have issues from their pasts, and others are just trying to handle typical teenage problems. The five members are mischievous Iori, straightforward and practical Himeko, cute-lover Yui, nice guy Taichi, and  Yoshifumi, the one with a crush on Yui. The five are not just typical cliched characters. They are more complex without having to dive into melodrama. Himeko, for instance, is too calm and collected to be a typical tsundere, so she seems more like a kuudere. However, she also has the quick-to-the-punch violence of a tsundere. The characters are a nice mix of the usual tropes. The friendships between the club members are a key part of this series, and it is easy to understand why they are all drawn to each other. Nobody comes off as a selfish jerk or the type that leads the others into crazy situations. When they learn about each other, the other four feel somewhat guilty for not recognizing their friend had a problem. It’s a touching dynamic and what makes up the heart and soul of the series.

Characters are drawn quite cutely. The character design is very much align with the moe style of series like K-On. The cast members have large eyes and almost nonexistent noses. The designs are quite consistent and look like they came straight from an anime. Backgrounds can be quite limited. I forgot the setting in some cases because there just wasn’t a lot of details. Even the school uniforms are some of the most boring I’ve ever seen. In contrast, the artist makes frequent use of inking. But, more importantly, bless the artist, editor, or whoever decided to add little faces to the dialogue boxes. This makes it much easier to determine who is in whose body. It’s easier in Japanese since the language has several different personal pronouns and speech patterns, but in a language like English, it would be a nightmare to translate and adapt. The  artist occasionally implements the “true form as a shadow” technique, but the little faces are extremely effective in keeping the art clean and easy to follow.

Translation:

Honorifics are included, but the characters hardly use them anyway. No guide is included. Japanese name order is kept, which is very rare. However, no explanation is included. Translation and adaptation are always open for interpretation, but I felt like it was a bit too Americanized to the point of wordiness. Again, the original is also pretty dialogue-heavy, but there were times I think the rewrite would have been more effective and easier to read without so much text.

Final Comments:

Despite the less-than-stellar pacing issues, this series features great characters in a fresh twist on the usual body swap tropes. With the focus on the characters rather than the situation, I enjoyed Kokoro Connect.

The original light novels are significantly longer (11 volumes vs. 5 volumes for the manga), and I would buy an English release.

The series was also made into an anime, released in the US by Sentai Filmworks.

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