Today we are doing another episode review, taking a deeper look at why my favorite episode of Kotoura-San is in my opinion an execeptional work of storytelling. If you’re worried about getting spoiled for the series you’re in luck because we are going to be looking over the first episode… Hopefully I can hook you in if you’re unfamiliar.
K…. why are you reviewing something that’s old news, this show came out years ago? Now I’ve gotten to know quite a bit of people on the scene when it comes to blogging about both film and anime (tons of wonderful people out there) and it really makes you wonder…. where do I fit into all of this? Certainly it wouldn’t do anyone any good if I was just regurgitating the same topics and talking points you could get somewhere else…. but better. So when it comes to what kind of role I play in the larger scheme of things…. I’m pretty much just this cat.
Okay…okay onto the review.
The opening to Kotoura-San is simply incredible. Right out of the gate you’re treated to some incredible visual story-telling, a creeping slow reveal of the important plot elements of the show and an emotional roller coaster that functions greatly to garner your investment before even hitting the 10 minute mark. While the visual storytelling is cheated a bit by being made very explicit in the show’s dialogue but so many scenes are just filled with flavor-enhancers of the visuals showcasing certain plot elements better than any dialogue could.
The image above is seconds into the show and before we get a single line of dialogue or even see the character’s face we get a pretty apparent idea of this character’s world view and how lonely it is. Besides for the melancholic color scheme that is very common to open an anime with, we get a pattern of pedestrians walking that is interrupted by the formation of a empty space with one person centered in the middle.
When we flip over to our protagonist’s perspective, we see another layer of detail added that not only is she isolated from those surrounding her, but she garners a lot of attention.
I appreciate the diversity of the peanut gallery in this still, it could have been easy to animate the group of onlookers looking generically mean and spiteful but that’s not necessarily the case. The girl’s on the left are spreading some gossip, we got a side look from the guy behind them and my man in the middle looks somewhat concerned. The truth of the matter is unwanted attention and knowing how despised you are to some is an understandably terrible feeling.
A important aspect that is very crucial to why I find Kotoura-San tragic backstory so… well tragic is because Kotoura has to fuck up her life at an early age. So in a very cute scene of Kotoura besting her friends and teacher at rock-paper-scissors do we see her innate ability to always win because she “hears them say what they’re about to play”.
Screenwriting guru Syd Field advocated the concept of the suspension of disbelief. The theory originated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that in fiction the audience is obligated to abandon reality based logic and judge fictional work on its own merit.
While there is some debate as to whether the suspension of disbelief is more the burden of the writer to craft a logically consist universe or the audience to be open-minded to fictional plausibility I do think it functions as a sort of tolerance level to be aware of. It’s why nitpick culture and the sins of Cinemasins are so hotly contested now, because they’re essentially narrowing the range we are willing to enjoy without questioning the integrity of the fictional universe.
The reason why the willing suspension of belief plays a huge role in the effectiveness of Kotoura-san’s opening is because it heavily leans into childish ignorance. Kotoura is an example of cognitive estrangement (Darko Suvin’s philosophy) in that we’ll never understand how having mind-reading abilities would alter our life but Kotoura seems like a realistic depiction of how it could have devastating and lasting effects from one’s early childhood.
One thing that bothered me slightly was, why doesn’t Kotoura learn to distinguish that lip movement can tell her whether someone will get angry with her or not? As much as cute Kotoura seems like a ploy for being the victim of a Disney-esque childhood trauma backstory segment, it needs to be this way so Kotoura can not understand her powers, social cues, and severity of mature subjects like infidelity.
An interesting element during the flashback and the show in general is perspective warping reality. For instance, Kotoura’s father is never shown completely always framed like Ms. Bellum from the Power Puff Girls or Wizard Kelly from the Proud Family. However, it’s not for a inside gag or to show how extraordinary tall he is, it’s because from Kotoura’s memory he’s nothing but a vague recollection. That works for every element of design: the colors, mood, framing of emphasis all align with how Kotoura remembers that moment in time and its effective in causing us to see the world through empathetic eyes.
So we learn that Kotoura’s parents are…. awful. The image from earlier is all you need about her dad but what about her mother. A fun fact, Kotoura’s mom is voiced by Kikuko Inoue who I’m familiar with as the voice of Sanae Furukawa from Clannad. Sanae was literally the best mom ever… that’s why it’s kind of funny that Kumiko is the worst mom ever. My scale of rating anime moms is now from Kumiko to Sanae.
How is Kumiko the worst? It escalates kind of quickly, but after being unable to cope with her failed marriage and that her child might suffer from some mental/personality defect or disability (compulsive liar or otherwise) you know what she decides the best course of action is? Becoming an alcoholic, followed by straight up abandoning her child pushing her to the floor and making sure it’s as traumatic of a separation as possible by also calling her “a monster that she wished she never gave birth to” damn that’s heavy…. and kind of really dark.
This is the traumatic experience that Kotoura returns to throughout the series and from our first witness of it do we as well feel its impact and a lot of that is in the details. From the sound of the impact, to the shocked reaction, to the close-up of the delivery of her mother’s final words it cements itself as the crux of Kotoura’s sorrow.
However, after rain clouds comes a rainbow. Kotoura is bullied by just the meanest kids for her whole life to the point that the only solace she has is in this alley cat she found that is discarded and in need of hospitality. We finally get to see fate shine on Kotoura as being a pet owner can be cathartic and taking care of a downtrodden kitten might be symbolic of the affection you need to build yourself up.
Wait…. what was that? We’re not done kicking the puppy yet? I don’t know show she’s kind of been through enough don’t you think, maybe let her have this? No… you’re going to make some mean old lady come and not only give her cat to a shelter but tell her to buzz off. That’s just mean show.
Is Kotoura okay?
The execution of this moment of the weight of the world finally breaking the camel’s back and the sorrow that Kotoura’s been burdened with is… practically perfect. If you have not seen this episode already then what you need to know is the scream is silent. It’s an amazing artistic choice as it really portrays that no noise or voice performance could capture the visceral devastation Kotoura is suffering from.
I also feel it goes back to reality from Kotoura’s perspective making her lack a voice as she’s been ignored and forsaken… therefore her pain is silent. The way they portray the rain almost draining the color from her hair to the lifeless void in her eyes, its a frightening image that perfectly captures how defeated and distraught our character is in this moment.
It’s a moment that’s effectiveness is exponentially grown by every second it lingers, it holds on this scene for a couple seconds more than necessary but it helps build that discomfort.
I’ve seen a complaint of this scene and the show in general being that the drama is too hyperbolic. That the show essentially overcompensates and while a couple of the events of this flashback montage would have given us enough of an idea of why Kotoura is ostracized and alone with the mean cat lady being unnecessarily cruel being overkill. I’m not going to shy away from it, I think that’s a valid complaint and one that relies a bit on the aforementioned suspension of disbelief.
This show is undoubtedly hyperbolic: characters, and mood is very defined and it’s lack of nuance or depth can be a rightful turn off or deterrent for some viewers. As for me, you’re probably starting to realize that I’m willing to ignore sense of unrealistic happenstances if the hyperbolic fiction is appealing and effective. I understand if this is too much to accept as logically occurring or earned without outrageous manipulation but I’ll stand by Kotoura-san’s use of empathetic catharsis through extremely charged emotional scenes only achievable by a work of fiction.
An Unexpected Swerve
So if you’re someone reading this trying to learn about the series, you might be thinking that since I called this show cute and funny you might assume… I’m kind of not a nice person. Hold your horses, because we are about to take one of the sharpest left turns I’ve ever seen.
So Kotoura goes to school where it seems like she’s about to be the victim of more vitriolic rumors, when she approaches her seat and wishes she could just be ignored by everyone like this brooding gent, Manabe.
5 seconds later…
WHAT THE HECK IS THAT? WHY HAS GUMBY’S WEIRD COUSIN CRASHED MY ANIME? It’s a nice introduction to the simple theme that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover and there’s always more than meets the eye. This is supposed to be the complete tonal 180; you’ve been bathing in your tears and the show has come to crack you over your head with the wooden humor chair.
It delivers with this really absurd fantasy. Gumby here has some real plasticity to his movement, they use really crude sound effects, and surreal imagery to make him the shock to the system that literally shatters the reality we’ve been set in this whole time.
So What’s the Deal With Mind Reading?
Learning more about Manabe, we see him approached by MORI! Manabe seems uninterested in hanging out at Mori’s dojo…. she seems to take that well. MORI! isn’t in this episode much but she’s one interesting character. You’ll hate her, you’ll love her and there’s a lot of comedy that happens at her expense that overall I enjoyed her inclusion.
I find how certain elements play interesting roles within the narrative. Mori’s karate dojo is a detail that is constantly a reoccurring factor that factors into both plot progression and character relationships. It’s more than a quirky fact and seeing it reveal so much about how characters change throughout the series is interesting.
Manabe thinks that she must want to know about his EPIC MOVES but Kotoura calls him out for being rather oblivious. This marks the beginning of Manabe’s attempt to befriend the new girl.
Comedy and Drama
I’m not the biggest fan of the “perversion as humor” brand of comedy, but this show does a pretty nice job of it. Manabe eventually exposes Kotoura’s ability to read minds by getting caught up in his gutter thoughts.
They say that when writing an annoying/obnoxious character, they have to annoy the characters around them more so then the audience. If Manabe’s fanatasy are going to create a level of discomfort, it has to make the characters more discomforted then the audience. The comedy is in the reaction.
Kotoura always has an over the top bashful reaction, the fantasies get progressively more silly, and Manabe is presented as such a goober and is constantly mocked by the other characters that this brand of comedy works and makes sense given the mind-reading element of the plot. Its a running gag that runs a little too rampant, but it has its charm.
Manabe now fully believes in Kotoura’s ability to read minds and has a very naive perspective on the matter.
As someone whose always thought of the negative aspects of mind reading as a power, I thoroughly enjoy how this show uses it. It is a constantly thought about element, it doesn’t feel abandoned in scenes or something used conveniently to push the plot forward. The depiction of mind reading is fairly interesting as it is well explored throughout the series but dictates who Kotoura is more than the plot of each episode.
Kotoura gets a scrape on her leg and Manabe insists that the two of them go and get it bandage up. It’s a touching symbolic gesture that no matter how small or insignificant, Kotoura needs to mend her wounds and how Manabe is willing to help her do so.
The Perfect Resolve
I feel that people don’t see the writing of this show as being good, but I’m actually impressed how there are solid moments of very dense and purposeful stretches that not only make memorable scenes but make defining statements about the series. By breaking down the interaction that ends the episode, do we see how purposeful all the dialogue really is.
See now wasn’t that a very nice and touching moment…. of course let’s undercut it with a return to some comedy.
What About the Rest?
So this is my favorite episode of Kotoura-San and hopefully I’ve done the show justice that if you enjoyed this review you might be curious enough to check it out if you believe it is for you.
Does the rest of the series hold up to the same level? Not really, I find this opening to be exceptional, the series never achieves the same highs as this episode did but is still very much enjoyable and I do recommend it. The characters are enjoyable and there’s so much wacky and zany antics with a childish wonderment and humor I’d be lying if I said I didn’t adore it. Plus the last few episodes turn into Criminal Minds… what’s more fun and unexpected than that.
of course it wouldn’t be an anime review at K at the Movies if we didn’t crown a best girl. While I do like the side characters that I didn’t get to talk much about, make no mistake that this is Kotoura’s show and it’s her growth and likeable personality that propels the show forward and makes it such a heart-warming and fun ride to follow.
However, I can’t shake this feeling that with: the traumatic backstory, short stature, short apricot pink/orange hair, and timid klutz personality that I’ve already loved this character in the past. But I mean look at her, just an absolutely cutie who’s come so far in just one episode.
I’m going to end this here, thank you so much for reading, let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you promise to hit that follow button then I’ll promise I’ll write a shorter piece next time. Have a good one and until next time I’ll see you, at the movies!
Images used are from “The Troubled Life of Miss Kotoura” [credit: Anime International Company, Chubu-Nippon Broadcasting Company, The Klockworx]