ANDA Sadanatsu (story), Cuteg (art)
Shounen – Drama, comedy, romance, supernatural, gender bender
5 Volumes (complete)
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. Do they really know enough about each other to pretend to be one another?
Kokoro Connect is a refreshing take on some standard ideas, but the pacing is awkward.
Kokoro Connect is based on a series of light novels. The manga seems to roughly cover the first two light novel volumes out of eleven. As you might expect, the characters’ adventures just kind of end. The group here deals with a couple of major problems, but their futures are still unwritten. The ending acts more of a preview for the light novels, teasing you to find out what other problems they’ll face and what misadventures they’ll get into. Unfortunately, since the light novels aren’t available in English, this effect is lost.
But let’s talk about what the manga covers. There are basically three arcs. First is the infamous body-swapping arc. This covers the first three volumes. Then there are a couple of chapters on one of the members before a new problem emerges for the club members. Each section is given a conclusion, but, again, the manga’s ending is pretty open-ended.
The first arc is arguably the most interesting. However, just by reading the manga, it seems like author Anda wasn’t sure if Kokoro Connect would continue. The body-swapping chapters feel like they could have stood alone. Anda puts nice twists into the standard body-swapping plotline. In most similar series, 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 of the standard. Firstly, there’s a group of them, not just two. The characters are given a brief explanation of their circumstances after the switches start, so they aren’t in the dark about everything. The swaps themselves are seemingly random and sudden, but they are also relatively short. This prevents a lot of the usual “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 not the struggles they go through during the body swaps but rather what the club members learn about each other.
In the first 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 they’ve all taken a huge step forward. By the time you take out the setup and scenes with the guys, the problems seem resolved too quickly. I wish they were dragged on and play up the characters’ mysteries a little bit. Three manga volumes per light novel volume is pretty standard, but slowing the series down 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 conversations are 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 in their free time.
Once the fourth volume starts, the focus turns to Yui. I really enjoyed following along with her personal struggle. The topic isn’t covered a lot in general manga, and I think of lot of readers can relate to her identity issues. As I was reading, I was expecting all (or at least most) of the club members to get some page time along the same veins. These chapters read like a lengthy side-story, so I thought the rest of the manga would be like this. This is not the case. The gang has to deal with a new issue that affects their daily lives, but this case is forced to be wrapped up quickly. Without reading the light novel, I have no idea if the Yui chapters were that long or given that much focus. The second mystery the group encounters is wrapped up rather quickly (about a volume and a half). This manga is very character-driven, but some of the impact is lost when the plot is speeding by. I know Kokoro Connect is based on a light novel, and five manga volumes (in total) isn’t going to cover much of an 11 volume book series, but perhaps all five manga volumes should have been spent on the first volume of the light novel. I ended up not enjoying the final arc nearly as much as the first or even the Yui mini-arc. It just didn’t have the same impact.
The Student Cultural Society members are all teens trying to define themselves. 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. Some have issues from their pasts, and others are just trying to handle typical teenage problems. It’s also nice that although I gave them a brief description, each member is more complex and less cliched than in most manga and related media. 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. And while the girls tend to boss the guys around due to their more outgoing personalities (and they outnumber the guys three to two), no one comes across as a jerk or egotistical manic. 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. When they learn something new about a club member, 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.
There’s only a couple of other named characters in the series, and this keeps the focus on the club members. These characters bring up the subject of being gay/lesbian. I do like how these characters are not presented as stereotypes nor do they provide the comedy in Kokoro Connect. They just happen to have feelings for someone of the same gender. While their scenes are short, they do help give a couple of the club members a push forward. This was a nice touch.
Characters are drawn quite cutely. The character design is very much in line 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. Obviously, Cuteg wasn’t the one to come up with the characters’ looks, but they’re pretty standard: Yui is the short and cute one, Himeko the strict has sharp eyes, etc. However, backgrounds can be quite limited. I forgot the setting in some cases because there just wasn’t a lot of artistic details. Even the school uniforms are some of the most boring I’ve ever seen. In contrast, Cuteg makes frequent use of inking. Lots of dark-colored pages add contrast between the cutesy characters and their serious situations. 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. 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. Bravo, whoever made this decision. Anyways, how much you like the art pretty much rests on how much you like the moe style.
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. The original is also pretty dialogue-heavy, but there were times I think the rewrite should have been shorter. I think it would have been more effective and easier to read without so much text.
Despite the less-than-stellar pacing, Kokoro Connect features great characters that focus on them instead of their situation. I do wish I could put my money toward the significantly longer light novels though, so this may be a better series to borrow than to own. The first three volumes are the strongest, so you can just pick those up without missing much if you’re on a limited budget.
The series was also made into an anime, released in the U.S. by Sentai Filmworks.