Rating: 4/5 – What If You Could Be Someone Else?
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.
One of my favorite poems – Hap, by Thomas Hardy– speaks of vengeful gods taking pleasure in the suffering of mere mortals. With such knowledge, a human might be able to cope with the misfortunes encountered in a lifetime. Unfortunately, Hardy’s gods are neither evil nor good, nor do they seem to really care what happens to us poor mortals. Hap immediately sprang to my mind when reading Kokoro Connect, and while the gods (or in this case, perhaps aliens) are certainly messing with humanity, it’s too early to tell if their intentions are noble, diabolical, or something beyond good and evil.
The Student Cultural Society at Yamaboshi Academy plays host to five outcasts of the school – three girls, two boys – who band together more out of a need to meet a quota than anything else. At Yamaboshi, all students must belong to an afterschool group, but when they’re unable to successfully blend into any of the established ones, these five create their own. Friendships are forged, the students become comfortable around each other…and then the weirdness begins. Randomly, uncontrollably, and without warning, the students begin swapping bodies with each other, with no regard to gender. Male students inhabit the bodies of female students, and vice versa. Sometimes only two people trade off, sometimes all five of them switch out.
At this point there’s any number of ways a manga could have taken this situation. The boys could begin “making discoveries” about their newly inhabited female forms (and to be fair, so could the girls!). There could be countless comedy of error moments where awkward situations are made even more awkward by an ill-timed body swap. Yet Kokoro Connect chooses to go down a different path, heading into Thomas Hardy territory. When a popular guidance counselor shows up claiming to be possessed by the otherworldly beings responsible for these shenanigans, he offers little in the way of comfort, support, or even advice. If there’s a purpose behind what’s happening, the gods – if that’s what they are – aren’t talking. But they are messing with these students, that much is clear.
The book then dives a bit deeper, looking into the psyches of different characters through the eyes of the people inhabiting them. One character has a knack for self-deprecation, but doesn’t confront it until he sees it while outside his own body. Another character, a girl who fears being touched by guys, has a very good reason for being afraid, but is able to overcome it, albeit only a little at first, with help from a friend in possession of her body. Throughout this first volume, artist CuteG provides strong linework to convey the emotional ranges which need to be shown by these kids. My feeling is we’ve only scratched the surface of what they’re going to encounter.
Kokoro Connect provides something the current manga climate sorely needs – a bit of difference. When the words “high school” and “body swapping” are mentioned, most readers pretty much know what to expect from the story before they even read the first page. Kokoro Connect doesn’t give them what they’re expecting, and that helps it stand out from the herd. If you’re looking for something a bit different from the usual supernatural school story genre, this is one worth picking up.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – firstname.lastname@example.org
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