Picking up where the series proper all too abruptly left off, the Kokoro Connect OVA collection follows StuCS members Taichi, Himeko, Iori, Yui, and Yoshifumi as they’re subjected to another one of Heartseed’s experiments: emotion transmission. Random thoughts (the kind normally kept to oneself) are variedly transmitted between all five friends, but this pushes one particular StuCS member over the edge. Amidst this chaos, the gang must overcome the resulting strain placed on their individual friendships and cohesiveness as a group well as Heartseed’s self-serving, antagonistic goading.
What They Say:
They’ve already had their bodies swapped like musical chairs, had their ages changed at random and experienced their deepest desires taking control of them without warning, but if you thought Heartseed was finished with Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Yoshifumi and Yui, you’ve got another think [sic] coming! Now there’s another affliction going around, and the name of this particular bug is emotion sickness. As in, suddenly your emotions jump out of your body and sic someone else! Needless to say, that’s more than simply awkward if you’ve got a deep rooted phobia like a fear of men or repressed emotions that you’ve been trying to keep hidden, but in some situations it can literally be deadly! What is Heartseed up to this time, and why is he making our heroes involuntarily share their innermost dirty laundry? Get ready for another trip through the emotional wringer in KOKORO CONNECT – The OVAs!
Although Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 and English 2.0 audio tracks are the only available options for this OVA series, there should be no complaints; nothing regarding the content actually calls for 5.1/7.1 audio. It’s a clean and smoothly delivered experience without any noticeable drops or distortion. On headphones, everything connects as it should, which is especially important given the subtle variations between directly spoken dialog, inner monologs, and “transmitted” thoughts.
The four OVAs comprising this 2013 single-DVD release, presented with 16:9 anamorphic aspect ratio, aired in Japan in December 2012. There are no visible grading issues; every scene played flawlessly on a widescreen 1080p HDTV. There’s nothing especially exceptional concerning SILVER LINK’s animation that would require higher resolution. That is to say the depiction of the protagonists’ daily lives is not limited nor defined by in terms of the animation itself. There is a Blu-ray release available, but I’d consider it extravagant.
Kokoro Connect comes in a standard Keep Case with single-sided insert that features distinct front and back cover art. The front features the five protagonists, lit from behind, jumping (mostly) with arms raised on the rooftop of their school. The back features a series of select screenshots and a larger portrait of one character who serves more or less as the focal point of these 4 OVAs.
Adhering to the aesthetics of the series, the menu screen features an instantly identifiable Kokoro Connect title graphic, complete with ECG trace, and a still image of the protagonists. A snippet of the song from the OP provides background music. Available navigation options include the four included episodes (alternately differentiated by pink text on black and grey backgrounds), language selection, and Special Features.
There are no extras above and beyond the standard: a clean version of the opening (OP) and ending (ED) credits, Sentai Filmworks previews (6), and DVD Credits. One noticeable and very annoying aspect is that the Special Features menu seems to only have a 3–4 second background music loop. Due to the slim pickings within this specific section, however, I doubt many will even notice.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kokoro Connect is a series of 11 (as of September 2013) light novels by Sadanatsu Anda and Yukiko Horiguchi, and the first 13 episodes of the anime adapt the first three novels. This OVA set covers the fourth novel (Michi Random) in four episodes and starts with Taichi’s unrequited confession to Iori on the day before Valentine’s Day. Picking up where the series left off, the OVAs continue Iori’s soul searching about her sense of self and whether she actually loves Taichi or not (a cliffhanger that was a preposterous “end” to the simulcast and what will be, I suspect, the impetus behind many people buying this collection). But these OVAs aren’t all about Iori. As with each arc that preceded it, this installment leverages a phenomenon, caused by the entertainment-seeking, alien entity Heartseed, that strains the bonds between each of the members and their own sanity.
During this particular phenomenon (emotion transmission), random thoughts from random StuCS members are spontaneously broadcast to recipients within the StuCS. There is no proximity limit, the transmitter knows exactly who is on the receiving end, and those on the receiving end do not know if anyone else has heard the broadcast. This phenomenon most directly relates to the unleashing of desires (arc 2/Kizu Random). But whereas the unleashing of desires insinuates a betrayal of secrecy between immediate intimacies (a certain person at a certain place at a certain moment), this phenomenon divulges private thoughts without regard to any context other than what’s going through the broadcaster’s head at that particular moment—be it spurred on by circumstance or casual pontification.
While the execution of this phenomenon is excellent, its utilization can be muddled. Sometimes the points at which the transmissions come through are a little too convenient—say when the thoughts of someone separated from those who hear it correspond perfectly to the conversation they are having at that time and occur within a pause in conversation to boot. A stronger series would be able to pull off some truly great anachronisms with this concept. That said, this effect is occasionally leveraged for the precisely intended ambiguity the notion affords and sometimes even results in an intensely funny revelation of self—how badly the viewer wanted what was waiting beneath the surface to come out gangbusters despite (and on top of) conscious dialog.
The first 13 episodes of Kokoro Connect grow the characters at a relatively slow pace (albeit a bit erratic regarding particular cast members), but these OVAs employ a cast that have since grown from their previous experiences: Yui’s no longer afraid of men (she even takes a gradual interest in them) and has more self-control, Taichi doesn’t butt into others’ affairs as much to fulfill his savior complex, Iori’s more confident being herself (whoever she thinks she is at that moment), Aoiki’s painfully self-aware of his lightness of being within the series, and Himeko grows more conscious of self as each episode goes by. But individual growth spurts on a collective scale are not all this new set of OVAs bring. The club, as a group of afflicted individuals who’ve undergone a shared trauma, has also grown stronger. Bolstered by one another, the members of the StuCS are fired up to deal with this latest phenomenon, resolute, not the panicky kids they once were. While this may seem a sudden growth, it is a natural and acceptable leap taking into account the events of the episodes that precede it.
Something that honestly feels contrived is that, for the first time, the SutCS mentions/does something club-related as a main plot point. Even Himeko points this out after all is said and done … which makes it brilliant? …or at the very least self-aware (which happens at a few points, negating the accusation of accident). The inanity of it all is leveraged for a yuk after the viewer undoubtedly sighs, “then this really didn’t matter at all?” Oh, look, we agree what the show did was stupid (laughter ensues). The problem is that the series is just charming enough to pull off this kind of stunt and nullify consequence to the casual viewer. In reality, the self-awareness serves no real purpose and is ultimately just something employed by the series to excuse its own ridiculous excuse for a plot.
While they employ sporadic and very effective instances of comedic relief, these OVAs are not one to leverage the phenomenon, nor its consequences, for extended levity; things get emotionally tense pretty quickly. The trigger is the love triangle, but there’s a lot more going on in terms of which slips of the tongue (mind) affect whom. Iori’s identity crisis is central, which would be a tired tune if she was to be portrayed as the same character solely defined by expository dialog. However, the effects of Iori’s inner conflict are internalized and reflected distinctly and individually by all the members of the club. What’s more, the attitude Iori adopts is one of cold-natured, artificially implemented inner strength (for better or worse). Such a complex psychological issue, much less how earnestly and intimately it is portrayed, seems rare in a light novel-based series. And much praise is deserved for casting a perceived malicious light on well-intentioned characters trying to restore a façade despite the individual’s apparent contentment in its wreckage (as opposed to positioning their desire to bring the afflicted “back to normal” in a positive perspective).
While leveraging inner conflicts is handled with an expertise viewers should expect (and be pleasantly surprised by) based on the series thus far, these four episodes are not without their obvious shortcomings. For example, the nonchalance with which the group comes to handle the spontaneous transmissions—character X offhandedly saying “Don’t say anything, character Y”—is wonderful. The fact that the script repeatedly points out transmission directly after it occurs (an in-your-face “GET IT?!”), however, is as exhausting and insulting for the audience as it is completely unnecessary to the scene. (Is it too much to ask to just animate characters’ responses and assume the audience has half a brain to figure it out?) And again, plot continues to be something with which must be dealt as opposed to that which is fluently integrated.
The preposterous vengeance scheme that comprises the climax, while serving as a metaphor for hubris vs. being (Iori’s sense of face vs. self), is a wholly stupid reason for such an emotional and dramatic conclusion … but such is high school. The intent and consequential implications behind Himeko’s ordeal seem an obscene and almost unforgivable vehicle for the sake of plot, and the reactions thereto seems ultimately shallow and counterproductive. Following swiftly, the resolution is quick but forgivable seeing as the focus was never actually dependent on the plot’s climax but rather the character’s development. Likewise, loose ends wrap up neatly, albeit a little disappointingly (bluntly), and with almost a total lack of enthusiasm. I doubt, however, that fans like myself, will regret a single moment spent watching. Execution and plot aren’t the only scapegoats however.
While individuals grow by both inches as well as bounds and the group ultimately learns to depend on each other in order to leverage the phenomenon to their advantage, some of the individual character development either comes out of nowhere or betrays the entire lesson. It’s a travesty Iori is never shown with a balanced temperament. Post revelation (which happens almost as at the flick of a switch), she’s all smiles all the time—even when palm-striking unsuspecting hostages, and this negates the end lesson of this particular arc.
Regarding localization, the script for the English dub takes some liberties but fits excellently. I’ve not watched the original series with the dub, so the casting was a little rough to drop straight into. Still, the VAs find their characters’ essences pretty quickly—enough to seem spot-on appropriate by the end of the first episode. Even VAs who were initially grating or off, for one reason or another, grow on the ear very quickly. Even Mr Goto, who as voiced by David Matranga cannot seem to maintain a monotone delivery to save his life, worms his way into endearment. A special mention must be made for Luci Christian as Himeko; she nails every line every time—absolutely brilliant.
If you enjoyed Kokoro Connect, watching, nay, owning this OVA collection is mandatory. Despite its flaws, these four episodes offer the closure sought after being so underhandedly short served by the cliffhanger of the third arc. There is many a laugh to be had. You will choke up and shed many a tear. It’s not as tight as the first arc, but these episodes have a lot to offer. This is what you were waiting for, and there are no excuses not to finish.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation, Sentai Trailers
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: C
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: December 10th, 2013
Running Time: 100 minutes
Video Encoding: NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic
Toshiba 40” LED 1080P HDTV, Panasonic Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080P, Sony 5.1 home theater system.