What They Say:
15-year-old Haruka Kotoura has the ability to read minds. This gift has caused her to distance herself from others until the day she meets Yoshihisa Manabe, who sits next to her in class. Despite his perverted fantasizing, he encourages her to open up her heart. With the help of the ESP Research Society, Haruka and Yoshihisa discover that life can be full of heartfelt laughter, even when things seem hopeless.
The audio presentation for this series is straightforward and definitely solid as we get the original Japanese language track only using the uncompressed PCM format. The show is one that is largely dialogue based with some wacky moments that gives it a bit more life, something that the forward soundstage handles well in its design. There isn’t a lot of action per se in the classic sense here but the wild takes and other reaction moments ramps things up nicely and the mix delivers it in a really good way. The show deals with a small group of people in general and usually just two at a time so it’s well positioned with where the sound and dialogue is coming from while the incidental sounds are placed properly as well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and the opening and closing sequences present some very warm numbers.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second, which is also where the extras reside. Animated by AIC Classic, the show has a kind of basic look about it but it uses the quality of the animation in a good way so that it doesn’t look cheap. There’s some complex pieces mixed into this that shows some really good attention to detail, but it also covers it in simpler trappings and designs. It’s the kind of show that uses stronger colors in general with solid choices to them, but it’s also using a softer palette to do it. The animation has some good smoothness for the high action sequences it deals with and outside of some minor line noise during a few digital panning sequences there’s little to really complain about here. Colors look great throughout and maintain a solid field without noise or breakup, resulting in a very enjoyable visual experience.
The packaging design for this premium edition release of the series is certainly spot on and fans of what NIS America will be pleased. We get the heavy chipboard box that really feels like it has some weight to it here as it holds two DVD-sized cases inside plus the hardcover book. The front of the box gives us a good image of the main cast together, showing off the designs well but also some of the quirks to it as well. The back panel is a bit more upbeat with them all walking towards the school under the cherry blossom trees, which naturally gives it a lot more pop of color and overall brightness. The spine section works well with its orange polka dots and the colorful logo across it that has a very silly feeling that’s wholly appropriate for what’s here. The bottom provides the technical details that lists everything in a clean and clear – and accurate – way.
Within the box we get the two clear DVD cases that holds the two Blu-ray discs where each of them brings together a different configuration of the cast, such as the first one wit the three young women in street clothes. The second goes for Mifune and Haruka with our lesser known male character here and with the purple splotch of color it gives it a little more darkness set against the white backdrop for both. I also like that they used an outline version of the logo instead of the various colors from the cover as it would have been too much. The back covers go for some color-themed striped patterns with a number of shots from the show and some cute chibi character artwork. Between that is the breakdown of the episode by number and title and applicable extras. The reverse side gets the same character artwork as the front, but it’s zoomed in and done in either orange or purple hued tones.
The other item included is the 64-page hardcover book, which is definitely just as strong as past releases. With a cute look at the main cast here done similar to the keepcase covers, the handbook covers a great range of material. There’s an extensive section of character artwork through the first half that also has some interviews with a few of the voice actors that are fun to read. Supporting cast get their time in the sun here with their designs and we get some good visual sections of the various settings and more from the series. The big extra here though is the inclusion of several pages of full-color bonus four-panel manga that’s just utterly adorable to add to the overall view of the set.
The menu design for this release goes with some cute moments to it and the main menu itself won me over handily from the start in terms of setting the mood and tone of the show. What we get is a white field with grayish-purple circles for the background while in the foreground we get the main cast walking together in chibi form towards the viewer. Drop the series logo on top of it and the colorful navigation along the right and it sets you up for some silly feelings right from the start. The navigation itself is quick and easy to move around in and it works solidly both as the main menu and as a pop-up menu during playback. It’s definitely colorful and fits in with the general color themes of the series itself in a good way.
The extras here have a little of the familiar and a little less familiar. The familiar comes in the form of the clean opening and closing sequences, which are nicely handled. Less usual is that we get a fun little tour of the town that the series takes place in with a stuffed Haruka being placed about familiar locations like a little travelogue. The we get is a ten-minute piece called Haruka’s Room wherein we get Haruka basically acting as a talk show host in her room talking to other characters. It’s kept simple, but it’s cute, silly and mindless in the end.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the four-panel manga series by Enokids that began in 2010 in Manga Gccha and ended in 2015 with seven volumes total, Kotoura-san is a twelve episode series animated by AIC Classic. A lot of four panel manga have been adapted into anime over the last few years, but the majority of them have felt like they’re being done in the two to five minute format more than the full-length episode form that we get here. Falling into the romantic comedy genre, the show has plenty to offer with an interesting look about it that certainly does give you a particular kind of feel as we’re introduced to a young Kotoura who is bright, outgoing and happy as we see here at the start.
What we see from here is a bit more than that, though, as her childhood years show that she has a special ability. In kindergarten, she just seems lucky when it comes to games like rock/paper/scissors, but as they get into elementary school, we see that Haruka actually has a far different ability, one that lets her see into the truths of people’s minds. It’s reported to the adults as though she’s a compulsive liar because nobody admits what she says, and that leads to a whole lot of tests that don’t bear any fruit. For a young girl like Haruka, it just pushes her further and further out socially since nobody wants to do things with her. To complicate matters, her parents are struggling with their own issues and with Haruka, causing a solid family breakdown as time passes on. Even worse is when she starts pulling out truths from within her parents that make them even worse off.
The first half of the opening episode is brutal as we see the slow descent of Haruka’s life in a way that she can’t understand. It plays out with some good visuals in how it gets darker and darker, lonelier and lonelier for her. So much so that when we get a big emotional moment involving a kitten, it stands out in a way so few shows do. But her life can’t be all about this, and we do see a change happen when she gets older and goes into a new school. While everyone seemingly takes and instant dislike to her and she’s simply dour because of how her life has progressed, she ends up discovering something fascinating when she meets Manabe, a young man in her class. The symbolism is obviously blatant, but the way his mind shatters her world is just striking because of what the first half does.
While Haruka keeps her distance from everyone, she has no problem in just being a dour girl and answering the unasked questions that pop into people’s minds. But she does find that because of how some of them act, she slowly gets to know them, particularly Manabe and his odd ways. While everyone has an idea about what she can do, he’s the one that asks it flat out and is really curious about it. She tries to keep him at a distance, but he uses his imagination in order to get her attention in some fun ways, including an awkward moment where his dirty thoughts bleed out and she catches on, freaking her out. Though this does happen, it opens the door more for him to try and get her to understand that she’s not just some creepy girl but someone of value and worth, not because of her ability but because of who she is. It starts an intriguing friendship that has its challenges ahead because of what Haruka can do.
With her making a friend in Manabe, even with his perverted thoughts available to her that definitely do disturb her, they’re getting along well and add a bit of energy to things. The rest of the class is kind of unnerved by it all, though, which is interesting to see as they really don’t end up changing that view over the course of the series. She doesn’t become the class treasure but rather sticks to this small group that coalesces around her. While her school life gets a little better because of him, her school life changes in another way when a girl from another class, Yuriko, shows up and invites her (and Manabe) to join the ESP Society since she figured out the truth of Haruka’s abilities. This also introduces us to Munato, a pint-sized student the same age as Yuriko who is the calm and collected side of things with his intelligence, but he’s also fascinated by the world of ESP and what it offers.
The introduction of Yuriko does give us some of her past and explains her own fascination with ESP, since her mother was denounced as a fraud over time when she was a child and she had to suffer through seeing her mother commit suicide. The ESP Society doesn’t quite come together smoothly in a way, it’s kind of glossed over, but with Yuriko knowing that Haruka saw this in her mind, it makes it easier for them to get along and for Haruka to understand her potential new friend well enough. When they do a fortune telling event at the school, it’s interesting to see how Haruka handles being on the front lines of things as there are many people interested in it, at least until they start to realize that she’s the real deal. Then they want to get a lot closer to her since it’s all a novelty. This plays out well overall, though it also leads to a confrontation with another student who has quite the grudge against Haruka. While that is an expected route, what makes it work is that it helps to reinforce the bonds of the ESP Society itself and to push Manabe to defending her all the easier to do.
Though the show doesn’t do much in having the bulk of the class rally to Haruka’s side as it goes on we do get something of a redemption arc to it. This comes in the form of Moritani, a classmate that was quite interested in Manabe but who never gave her the time of day. She’s fairly popular but not overdone in a way that’s welcome. Seeing him being infatuated with Haruka sets her to trying to ruin her of course, but it’s something that plays out in a way that’s a little more honest and real – even if done with some solid comedy – as she sends some of her judo club lackeys to rough him up. That’s supposed to scare Haruka away but it ends up drawing her closer because the lackeys overdo it. Where the redemption comes is that it’s even too far for Moritani and she ends up completely devastated by it with some very human moments. Moments that allows Haruka’s ability to really understand the honesty of what she’s feeling and in turn allows her to become a friend to her. A friendship that really grows well here with only some minor adversity along the way. Moritani’s character type is one that I typically get frustrated by but she its it all very right here.
A lot of the structure of the show is one that’s familiar as we get Haruka’s problems in coping with now having friends while also dealing with her abilities that keep her separate and unique. Yes, we get those that are familiar with them and wanting to be around her so it’s a positive overall but there’s a lot of good if smaller moments where what she has to face is like a ton of micro-aggressions thrown her way on a daily basis. But now that she has these friends she’s able to handle it a lot better and seeing the changes in her from when she was younger to the start of school and then to the end of this series is really great. Haruka’s a resilient character that actually manages to grow up here to a good degree and even realizes that she was truly being a child before. When she has a moment in spending time with her mother towards the end, some difficult material to be sure, that realization is powerful – and empowering. It lets Haruka begin to chart her course anew not only for herself but in relation to her mother.
What also works with this show for me a lot is the character of Manabe. While he is your usual male lead in many ways, he’s also not like a lot of current male leads that are kind of hapless and just going with the flow. Here, he pursues Haruka and even doubles down on her when he discovers that her powers are real. He does try to obscure his thoughts from time to time but since he has a real attraction to her there’s that part of him that wants her to know in a way that’s very, very hard to express verbally. It’s silly and over the top most of the time but it also plays to the horny teenager angle that is so often downplayed in anime. There’s a lot of romantic love series out there and a lot of outright wacky ones that doesn’t get anywhere because it’s a harem thing but they find a really good balance here in their own way.
The show has a lot going for it and it definitely has a lot more going on than I’ve talked about here, with Mifune’s backstory being positively disturbing and a serious arc towards the end that was slowly seeded and builds to an interesting place. But at its heart it’s a series about a young woman that had a childhood that’s indescribable in a sense with what it could do to her. That she came out of it as she did with a largely positive attitude and ends up in this stronger position is really engaging to watch. She doesn’t do it alone but she has a lot of moments where she stands for herself and forces herself to do things she knows she needs to do no matter how much it may hurt her. Haruka is that pint-sized package that’s a real powerhouse of emotion and character and she’s well supported by the cast that assembles around her. I loved this series in simulcast form and marathoning it just makes it all the strong. NIS America has put together a great package here for a show that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle or not released at all. It’s definitely one of those little treasures that you love to share if you can get folks to take a chance on it.
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Haruka Exploring Kotoura Town, Haruka’s Room, Clean Openings and Endings, Japanese Trailers.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: August 4th, 2015
Running Time: 288 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.