I’ve hit a quandary with this anime. Watching it the first time was a strange case of mood whiplash and I really needed to rewatch it again without as much personal bias as possible, because at first my reception towards it was overly negative. Now that I have a better comprehension of the episode, there’s a couple things I can say for and against it. I like the premise, for one, and it’s not like the drama was completely unfounded. There’s certain reasons that I have for wanting to like this anime. However, there’s a lot of problems that I have with Kotoura-san too. Problems that, for the life of me, I cannot overlook.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve said earlier that I have a personal preference towards drama, so when Kotoura-san turns on the high-octane rage machine I can do little else but welcome it with open arms. Kotoura is a girl who is born with the ability to read minds. This, combined with the brutal honestly of a child, is only asking for trouble. She lacks tact because she doesn’t realize that other people cannot read minds. Reading minds comes so natural to her that she barely considers the possibility that no one sees things like she does.
There’s a similar story in a recent book I’m reading, Moonwalking with Einstein, where the story introduces a man labeled as S who had both synesthesia and an amazing memory. During a press meeting at his job, S’s editor pulled him aside to berate him for not taking notes, only to be taken aback at S’s ability to recall everything that conspired in the meeting word for word while the rest of the journalists were scribbling on notepads. He could associate numbers with personalities, colors to smells and textures, and many other offsetting associations that do not normally come to mind. Since he had this condition since birth, he was more taken back by his editor’s outburst than the editor was about his skill. His own skills came so naturally to him that he just assumed that everyone could do it. He had not been taught that the world worked much differently than what he experiences. His life isn’t so much fun and games either. He’s so good at memorizing that it’s almost impossible to differentiate important information and trifling information. Analogies make no sense because his mind associates things in a different way. Poetry becomes impossible to enjoy unless it’s completely literal. His abilities are both wondrous and alienating, it made him alone.
In Kotoura’s case, her circumstances push her towards a harsher fate than was S goes through. She’s oblivious to the social damage that she deals with her power. Secrets are exposed at inopportune times. The careful bonds that people cared about quickly fall apart and they are forced to deal with the emotions in public. Fear and anxiety grip her peers’ hearts and they reject her. The resulting shame, then, only affects her parents. The whole things plays out like a tragedy, except the events fall together a little too conveniently and pull at the heartstrings a bit too mechanically. Did the father really have to be in an affair? To be fair, if it weren’t for that Kotoura’s mother would not have fallen as far as she did, but she still would have fallen regardless. All the consternation and indifference from the school, the doctors, the priest, and her husband culminated and fed on the increasing pressure for Kotoura’s mother to “fix” her child. Now that alone could have been enough to justify her directing her anger towards her daughter. However, the anime takes it a step further and makes Kotoura’s ESP the reason why her mother finds about about her husband’s affair. Of all the things that led up to the moment where her parents couldn’t handle Kotoura anymore, that was the part that felt the most skeevy in terms of its purpose on the audience.
I’ll reiterate my original point: I think there was merit and sense in the premise, and I think Kotoura has a lot in common with, say, Natume in Natsume Yuujinchou in terms of the suffering and the shaming they both had to go through during childhood. They can’t help being different because they had no chance to understand how the world worked to the majority’s eyes. While Natsume eventually became indifferent to humanity, Kotoura grew to resent it. She only realized too late that she was the only one who could read people’s minds, and the damage that she dealt to both her peers and to herself was a revelation that also came too late. She effectively ostracized herself with her own honesty. She self-destructed her friendships. And, to top it all off, she blames herself for her family falling apart. I think there’s a lot of depth to be had if it were given the proper treatment.
That’s the problem, though. Kotoura’s descent into despair and dejection was not given the proper treatment.
Somewhere along the lines, the anime thought it would be a good idea to pile on as much shit as possible onto Kotoura’s life. Dad’s affair was one thing. The mass unrestricted and open bullying in middle school was another. The cruellness of her teacher thinking “good riddance” is yet another. Her mother openly regretting giving birth to Kotoura is still another. What really got to me, though, was the end of this ten-minute dramapalooza. She attaches herself to a stray kitten because it was the only thing that couldn’t be hurt by her mind reading powers, and that it seemed to be as alone as she was. Soon, however, the stray is taken away into a shelter.
Her reaction is outlandish, but can still be explained. One possible reason was obviously that she lost her last chance at establishing a meaningful connection with any sort of life form (which is weird because obviously her grandpa is still around to take care of her). Sure, it’s silly to think that this reason to break her because technically the cat is now in a safer environment, but since Kotoura could not even find refuge in this small window of hope it also served as the catalyst to her mind break.
Another interpretation is a bit more sinister. Kotoura may be agonizing over the fact that the kitten was provided care and treatment and not her. That, after all her suffering, her hardships, and how the world forced her to grow up, her worth is now apparently less than that of a stray kitten. She thought she had kinship with the kitten because it was alone, like she was. However, it was a bad comparison to begin with. Cats aren’t exactly unwanted, while Kotoura has only known the feeling of being unwanted. By taking the kitten away, she basically felt not only despair and anguish but also betrayal and disgust towards the one thing she poured her remaining hope in.
Yet, as beautiful and heartbreaking as all of this sounds, I laughed. I laughed in the face of her despair and her repeated misfortune. I honestly do feel bad about it, about her, but the drama was too transparent for me to appreciate any of it. It felt, and I hesitate to say this, forced. Did Kotoura honestly need to go through that much shit in order to turn her into the sour bitch we saw in the beginning of the second half? Is one air-headed pervert enough to really, truly brighten her world again? After everything she went through, all the time and effort spent into ruining her life, and the anime decides that a boy-meets-girl encounter is enough to fix this? I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stop laughing for the wrong reasons. As much as I like the premise, the backgrounds, and the themes it tackles, Kotoura-san lacks the execution needed in order to fully justify going as far as it did in breaking Kotoura. Unfortunately, this does not mean I’m going to drop it so early. Being a dramaphile is suffering.
- We do not speak of the second half of the anime.
- Did I really just type over 1k words on the first 10 minutes of Kotoura-san without mentioning the term Pathos Porn?
- As crazy as this sounds, I hope the anime goes back to being moody and dark. As flawed and silly as it is, it’s much better at doing drama than the bliddy excuse for a romance.