In the summer anime season of 2012 I was still fairly new to simulcasting and chose to watch a show called Kokoro Connect. Although the story wasn’t hugely original, it still managed to capture my interests, and since the anime ended I’ve not forgotten it. Thinking the light novels it was based on would never be licensed (especially back then when light novels were usually doomed to fail), I resigned myself to never knowing how the story would end. Now, six years after I first watched Kokoro Connect, the first volume of the light novel series has been released by J-Novel Club. Is the story still all that I remember it to be or has time changed my opinion?
The story follows the five members of the Yamaboshi High School Student Cultural Research Club: Taichi Yaegashi (the protagonist), Iori Nagase, Himeko Inaba, Yui Kiriyama and Yoshifumi Aoki. After having no real preferences towards which school club to join, the five were put together to create the cultural research club by teacher Ryuzen Goto, who also became its advisor. Despite not being friends to begin with, the group now spends their days happily dealing with their club duties and generally enjoying one another’s company – that is, until a mysterious incident changes their lives forever…
One day the members of the club begin to randomly swap bodies, and although they initially treat it as fun and games they quickly realise the situation is a nightmare. With no idea why this is happening nor how to prevent it, the group struggles to cope. However, after a couple of days of body-swapping, they’re confronted by the mysterious ‘Heartseed’, a being who has temporarily taken over the body of Goto. Heartseed informs the club that they’re going to keep experiencing the body-swapping until he grows bored and they’ll just have to put up with it. Frustrated with the answers, club leader Inaba goes to punch Heartseed, who instantly swaps her into a different body – proving that he holds all the power here.
The concept of body-swapping is certainly nothing new and since Kokoro Connect’s light novels began in Japanese in 2010, it’s become even more prominent a theme in Japanese media. I’m sure many of you have heard of a little movie called Your Name for example? I can’t deny that Kokoro Connect falls into a lot of the tropes of the genre, such as using the body-swapping phenomenon as an excuse for a little fanservice and flustered young men who have to cope with having breasts. However, that’s not where the meat of the series is by any means and Kokoro Connect brushes away these tried and tested tropes in favour of something deeper.
The story this volume really wants to tell is how body-swapping mentally affects the cast. They could swap anytime, anywhere, thus have to be prepared for any situation they could find themselves in. Swap at home? They have to act ‘normal’ around the original person’s family; people who are alien to them. Swap at school and they have to deal with classes and classmates who aren’t necessarily their own – and what happens when tests approach and their futures are on the line? Heartseed’s antics are set to completely destroy these kids as they struggle to keep up appearances and keep their inner secrets from one another. It’s tough and heartbreaking at times, but captivating to read.
It has to be said that author Sadanatsu Anda has done an incredible job with all of the characters in this book. They’re all down to earth with problems and issues relevant to their age group. Anda’s talent extends to the overall narrative, too. Rather than feeling like a fictional story, Kokoro Connect makes it easy to get behind the idea of the body-swapping being something that could actually happen. It’s Anda’s realistic and life-like storytelling that really shines through and allows you to get attached to the cast and the story they have to tell.
The translation for the volume has been handled by Molly Lee and reads extremely well. Overall the quality of the writing is more in-line with higher quality works such as the Monogatari series compared to your average light novel, and this is no doubt in part to having such a great translator on-board. Lee deserves extra praise for handling the tricky aspect of the characters switching bodies and keeping it clear who is who, which she manages exceptionally well.
As mentioned earlier, Kokoro Connect is being brought to English thanks to publisher J-Novel Club. If bought through J-Novel Club themselves this release includes textless colour illustrations as well as a “translator’s column and editors row” (something we at Anime UK News haven’t seen and so are unable to elaborate on), which is something you don’t get if purchased through a different retailer. Speaking of illustrations, these have been drawn by Shiromizakana, which is the pen name of Japanese animator Yukiko Horiguchi, who works for Kyoto Animation. Shiromizakana’s images are presented in a beautiful watercolour style and really project the emotions of the cast well. It’ll certainly be fun to see her work as the series continues!
Overall Kokoro Connect is everything I remember it being and so much more. Although this first volume is playing with a concept that is sure to be familiar to many, the strength of the writing brings everything together for an insightful and moving story. This is a release not to be missed for fans of drama and slice of life.