OP: 「そんなこと裏のまた裏話でしょ?」 (Sonna Koto Ura no Mata Urabanashi Desho?) by 中島 愛 (Nakajima Megumi)
「琴浦さんと真鍋くん」 (Kotoura-san to Manabe-kun)
“Kotoura-san and Manabe-kun”
Romantic love comedy my ass. In a good way of course.
Damn. Hot damn. Going into this, there were mentions about Kotoura’s struggles, yet I was expecting that to be a slight side-plot, where the dominant theme would be comedy and cheerful antics. The character designs and color palette suggested nothing too serious, and all the promotional videos suggested nothing beyond happy happy happy! I knew that ESP and mind-reading were going to be the “hook””, so I decided to pick this up to intro looking for some good supernatural shenanigans.
Yet, as soon as I finished the episode…my image of this cheerful comedy is suddenly shattered.
Immediately, for a good half of the episode, we are taken through Kotoura Haruka’s (Kanemoto Hisako) terrible life. When we are asked as kids what superpower we would like to have, I’m sure we’ve heard the answer ‘mind reading’ to be on that list. Kotoura would stomp on that answer, blank her eyes, and cry. The privacy of our own minds and, more importantly, the peace we have from other people’s minds, gives us an important barrier that allows us to filter our thoughts from leaking into our actions. It allows us to be civil despite the terrible feelings we may harbor. When that barrier is willfully broken…while it might be cool for trivial things, such a breach can go wrong oh so very fast.
The world that Kotoura-san paints in the first 10 minutes, I’ll admit, is a bit exaggerated. Doesn’t it seem that Japanese schools are places where 99% of people are cruel, fake, and speak in obnoxiously loud whispers? However, I must concede that, even as an optimist, I have to agree with the general idea portrayed. The mind is a private place where we are allowed to be our worst–when the worst bits slip out…shit happens. Kotoura suddenly makes all attempts at controlling one’s demeanor, one’s terrible mind, useless. Politeness, self-control, all of that crumbles as Kotoura is able to literally speak other people’s minds. No one can fool her and as such, must face the brute truth inside of them…something that not many of us are willing to face.
People who refuse to face their problems disassociate themselves with her and call her a liar to cover up their own mistakes. Social norms are constantly violated, where people are suddenly faced with information they were not prepared (if ever) to face. Upon watching this, I found myself reinforcing the idea that much of our contemporary social interaction heavily relies on our self-control, whether apparent or not. Even the most outspoken and vocal people have thoughts that they do not wish to be heard by anyone. Proper self-constraint allows us to avoid unnecessary hurt towards ourselves and others, especially for resisting the erratic thoughts of the mind. This is 100% torture for Kotoura, especially growing up as a child, unable to understand how people who say one thing in their mind could possibly say something else.
By the end of it all, without that filter to ignore the darkness of others, Kotoura reaches the brink of despair and insanity, with her power to delve into a person’s most intimate consciousness ending up ironically stripping her of any intimate relations with anyone. Her parents’ unstable marriage collapsed at an accelerated rate due to her honesty, which ends up mentally unscrewing her mother. Her school shuns her for being a weirdo and liar, causing her to transfer schools. The only person she could find sympathy with–her grandfather–cannot be with her as she transfers to a new district presumably too far to travel with.
Thus in the end, she is alone, both physically and emotionally. That is, until someone with the most random and perverse of thoughts, Manabe Yoshisha (Fukushima Jun), shines with his honesty, where his thoughts and his speech do not clash…most of the time. He is apparently the only sane person on this show to immediately think that mind reading is cool beans instead of shunning Kotoura like an animal. Of course he’s got the adolescent hots for Kotoura, yet he’s being honest and genuinely caring for who Kotoura is: another person, rather than a troublesome and malicious creature. It is here that the OP plays, where expectations are finally met again, where we sigh and say…”I was NOT expecting that.” We then end the show feeling uplifted and variably relieved–while we were absolutely expecting a savior to come (it would be WAY too depressing if one didn’t), the cliche was a warm welcome to contrast the first half. Manabe is a funny guy and I appreciate his transparency–the combination of honesty and empathy is one of the pairs of traits I adore in people.
Kotoura-san, I can say right now, is the dark horse of the season. It’s by no means perfect, that’s for sure though. If you look at the show from a hardlined angle, it can be reasonable to conclude how this was forced melodrama. Kotoura does not show self-constraint when she probably should have earlier in life, the asshole-meter definitely was put on max for maximum rage, and Manabe is just too convenient a character to save Kotoura. However, the premise still rings hard in my ears, loud enough to drown out the flaws sufficiently. The bravery of the show to transform this premise from a 4-koma to something entirely different is an amazing move that not many could have predicted.
If you were looking for a comedy to cheer up your day, turn back now. With the direction this is heading, I already predict that plot will play a heavy part in Kotoura-san, though comedy will of course stay a part of the show. If you found either the comedy or the character designs of Mitsudomoe, Yuru Yuri, or Minami-ke to be enjoyable, you’ll find those aspects here as well, intermixed with the inevitable drama to come ahead. Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the surprise the show presented, though the drama may not work for everyone and those honestly looking for a pure comedy may not be as receptive.
This opens huge doors for the world of Kotoura-san to explore, now that the show has shown that it can and it will employ the tremendous potential in examining human interaction with this plot device. That is the reason why I will continue to blog this show a bit longer since I’m still on vacation, in order to continue facilitating discussion about this surprising show, even if it’s only for two weeks or so. Even if it’s for a short while, I am in your care, and I hope we can watch this and expect a great deal of emotion and honesty to come from this unexpected show…a show that I now consider my favorite of the season.
Edit: I’m covering this show now! The schedule gods have spoken!