Kokoro Connect and the art of fucking it up kinda dangerously

It was suggested to me to put trigger warnings here due to the nature of this post, and at the risk of sounding flippant, I don’t usually do that — but the subjects of rape, rape culture, PTSD, and institutional crappiness in anime are covered.

Statistically speaking, you know a rape victim. Or three. Or more. It depends largely on how many women you know, and some of you don’t get around them much.

I promise this is the last time in this post I’ll derive humor from stereotypes about our kind. Besides, it’s also possible, even probable, that one or more victims you know is actually male.

But I digress. Do you think that it’s easy to spot them? Kokoro Connect’s Yui is lauded for being extremely good at hiding her trauma, which by the way was not a rape but a near-rape (so she’s not ruined for marriage — if you think this is even worth touching on in an anime discussion, you haven’t been watching anime long enough), and yet it was uncovered in a mere three episodes, then solved in the space of one! This is happening all around you all the time, though you may not be party to it. You never noticed that one of your friends was androphobic and she just needed to be aware that a good kick in the nuts would solve her psychological issues?

What’s more likely?

Do you think it’s actually possible that Kokoro Connect, an anime, handled psychological trauma/PTSD in an overly simplistic way? That they simply made Yui androphobic without any of the other real, long-lasting, deep-seated effects? That it can’t simply be willed away by a kick in the balls?

Effects of the kind of trauma that Yui experienced can be pretty wide-ranging and everyone responds differently, but considering her young age at the time it’s possible that she would be unable to even recall the details. Speaking from a mix of armchair psychology and what I’ve anecdotally observed in a disturbing number of close friends, overt androphobia is rarely the sole marker. Maybe she’d be unable to hold down a decent relationship, which could be an indicator of androphobia. Maybe she’d simply be an irritable, detached person. Maybe she’d have an overly developed sense of justice. Maybe she’d be the kind of person who has to control everything around her — in fact, Inaba reads more like a trauma victim than Yui, but my point is that a one-note shying away from physical contact with men is a problematically simplistic depiction.

To sum: yes, I think it’s altogether possible that Kokoro Connect, an anime, handled PTSD in an overly simplistic way. Shocker, I know.

Who can fix you?

So what? We’re used to anime simplifying things. It’s a medium in which a character’s hair can be enough of a personality signifier that the designer might be more responsible for characterization than the writer. But “genki girl” or “robo-loli” or what have you are different from “rape victim.” Shorthands can work to a writer’s advantage, but the idea that you can effectively white-knight a rape victim by teaching a little basic crotch empathy is actually dangerous.

But hey — Taichi’s a dude. Let the man fix this. Never mind that Yui’s been studying martial arts for years. I get that Kokoro Connect’s central narrative device allows for a new kind of empathy, but teaching a woman how frail a man’s body is… does that even qualify as treating the symptoms? It’s not just simplifying, it’s trivializing, and it’s so brazenly male-centric it’d be laughable if it weren’t so shitty.

Was SVS right all along?

Here’s a question that’s been in the nerd news recently with the new Lara Croft game: Is rape an effective character building technique, or an insensitive and inaccurate shortcut to “depth” with a side of closeted titillation? Put more concisely in an in-joke that nobody gets anymore (paging Dr. Lolikit), is rape a horrible plot device, even in the past? I still believe in case-by-case evaluation rather than absolutes, but if this is how anime’s going to handle it, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to suggest we pull it out of the writers’ toolboxes until they learn not to hammer their thumbs with it.

Aside: I guess I’m blogging again? Thanks to Vuc, AJthefourth, the_patches, and 8c at Altair & Vega for their invaluable help.

Image Credits

  • Cast of Kokoro Connect by its illustrator Shiromizakana

Fuck these (18) Comments.

  1. Fencedude says:

    I’ve expressed my thoughts on this already, and while I was quite disappointed in how it was handled, I’m not willing to write the show and this plotline off entirely. If it does turn out she’s “cured”, then yeah, thats fucking shitty writing. If this is just the first step, well…thats better, at least.

    I will say this, it could have been soooo much worse (and still can, come to think of it).

    • otou-san says:

      So far Kokoroco has used a few words here and there to say “hey, maybe it didn’t completely work” but in a sideways, “this is no longer relevant to the plot because we already covered that” kind of way. That feels like a problem to me still.

      I will say this, it could have been soooo much worse (and still can, come to think of it).

      I suppose that’s true, but it’s if that’s the best one can say for something, it ain’t much.

  2. VucubCaquix says:

    We’ll always be available to help out, pal.

  3. foshizzel says:

    Yui is one of my favorites due to voice actors, but anyway the whole “cure” scene was kind of lame and if she is over the trauma that fast I just say bad writing is at fault, but I wonder if Working!! Got it right with Inami’s androphobia? Then again that character is stuck in a comedy series where she basically beats the crap out of guys and I don’t think she was a rape victim of course that and Working!! not in a drama series like Koroko Connect.

    I figured at least a few of the characters in Koroko Connect would have strange backgrounds and yes even trauma, but going as far as rape wasn’t really in my mind. That said I was going into this series thinking it was just another moe show, but so far I enjoy it even if they decided to throw in rape as some random plot to build around certain characters.

    Yeah that Tomb Raider thing was like huh what are you doing to this new game!? I understand they want to be edgy and keep it fresh, but there are better ways I would think or they just want to shock everyone? I bet they are not the only studio to have those kinds of “plots” for their characters.

    WB to blogging! Well besides Eureka Seven Ao posts <3

  4. bluemist says:

    Consider the culture of social Japan (I’m vastly stereotyping based on all the jdorama I watched but) where bully-guys can just talk to the girl on the street and invite for some karaoke or something. Then something goes wrong and the guys suddenly become so pushy towards the girl. If that is what Yui encountered in her supposed near-raep I would not categorize it as a strong trauma and the quick cure is possible.

    Besides, if it were so serious to her she would be crying more in her scene with Taichi.

    • otou-san says:

      See, the fact that you’d think this is exactly why I think that kind of plot element is problematic. There’s not really such a thing as “not a strong trauma” or one that can be dealt with via quick cure. And now Kokoroco seems to have an admission that it’s still a problem but that it’s no longer worth focusing on.

  5. omo says:

    I’m not going to take CocoroKo too seriously until it can demonstrate to us the ability to take serious subject matters seriously. I think doing it the other way–taking something not serious seriously–is not only misconstruing the subject matter, but it also takes the fun out of it.

    Of course, you might have a reason to take this androphobia curing thing seriously, I don’t know. It’s not really a main theme in the story and it sounds like they wanted to use it just as a plot device, not some kind of central theme. But without knowing the details (if there are any more to know) behind Yui’s backstory and the subsequent result of the ball-kicking exercise, who knows?

    • 8C says:

      “It’s not really a main theme in the story and it sounds like they wanted to use it just as a plot device, not some kind of central theme.”

      I keep hearing people bring this up as if it’s not a problem in and of itself to reduce sexual assault to a token drama amplifier. If not ugly and offensive, it’s at least terrible storytelling.

      • otou-san says:

        Especially in an anime that should be a gold mine of better story elements.

        • omo says:

          I don’t believe there has been a body-swap … anything with good story elements. But I don’t know, I’m not particularly fond of them back in the 80s and 90s. Don’t think why that should change now.

          • otou-san says:

            Fair point. In this one, at least it was hinted at, which is more than I can say for your typical “boy I learned empathy for someone” Freak Friday situation. Heartseed is trying to “make things interesting” but ultimately he’s been pretty nice even after he does ostensibly fucked-up things.

      • omo says:

        I can go with that. I don’t think anyone is crowning Kokoroco as the next great drama or whatever. There are lots of other crappy plot developments in the show, too.

        I suppose I can’t fault it for not ballsy enough though. Or can we? Maybe.

        • otou-san says:

          We can do whatever we want. We could demand better.

          At times, it does feel like a cut above, writing-wise, but at others it feels even worse than average. I have strong feelings occasionally, but the net result is still kinda “meh.”

  6. Andmeuths says:

    I am of the view that the only reason why we would even think these problems solved is because the anime is being told very strong from Taichi’s PoV. Taichi thinks the problem is solved. Is it? I’d like to think not, and I think proclaiming and condemning that the anime is just going to brush this aside when no more than 3-4 episodes have been shown is a little too premature.

    But Kokoro Connect, with this set-up could just as easily turn the tables around, and no-one would be crying plot-hole.

    • otou-san says:

      proclaiming and condemning that the anime is just going to brush this aside when no more than 3-4 episodes have been shown is a little too premature.

      Perhaps, but that’s part of the interesting thing about writing about still-airing anime, you put this stuff out there and you either get proven right or (in this case, hopefully) wrong. I don’t mind eating my hat if I’m wrong, although the way the show’s currently brushing it aside as if it’s not a solved problem but not worth focusing on leaves me with the same taste. Disappointing, as there are some really strong writing chops being used on this show.

      I am of the view that the only reason why we would even think these problems solved is because the anime is being told very strong from Taichi’s PoV

      I think that this may be true in the scope of the plot of the anime, in fact the club is turning into the old Lead, Sidekick, Haremette dynamic more than I feel happy about. But in the scope of “this is a thing that we’re watching and it’s projecting a particular message” it’s largely irrelevant. If the anime tells its story from Taichi’s perspective, then Taichi’s perspective is the message we’re receiving from it.

  7. jreding says:

    Sorry for belatedly commenting but I just discovered this post. I totally agree w/ you that Kokoro Connect is oversimplifying psychological trauma/PTSD. But at the time I think it’s not utterly objectionable.

    First, b/c it actually deals w/ the topic of trauma and how it changes peoples’ behaviour in earnest. There are quite a few series where some character acts like a trauma victim and no explanation or background is given making the character just seem odd or even comical (Working!! has been mentioned above). You point out: “Inaba reads more like a trauma victim than Yui” Indeed and this also applies to Iori. Both Inaba and Iori wouldn’t stand out at all in your run-off-the-mill series and I think it’s generally positive that a series asks about how characters came to be what they are like.

    Second, Yui’s case is special, though, as social taboo adds to the trauma. You mention: “[…] but a near-rape (so she’s not ruined for marriage — […]” True. As a sidenote, we don’t even know if Yui does not underreport the incident out of shame or fear for social consequences. (I know, this is a work of fiction!)

    Mostly, it seems to me, in anime the trauma victim indeed ends up nonelegible for the happy marriage and either dies a tragic death or becomes a revengeful lunatic (or both, e.g. in Mirai Nikki. Eva is a special case imo.). For its many flaws I think it’s positive that Kokoro Connect tries to deal w/ trauma seriously and tries to show a positive ending for Yui. Bakemonogatari (Senjougahara had a similar background) also comes to mind. I think anime would be good medium to deal with topics like PTSD and if Kokoro Connect turns out to be a first if flawed attempt to do this I would appreciate that.

    • IchigoRadiance says:

      I could be very wrong, as I haven’t seen this series, I just read this page on a whim. But I agree with the article. Society has a pretty messed up view of rape. And from what I read here, it seems that this anime doesn’t really deal with the issue that seriously. Sure, if a guy is being a douchebag, he has a ball kicking coming to him. If she’s androphobic, she’s more likely to just kick any guy that comes near her even if they don’t mean any harm. When you’re afraid of something, you avoid it, or smack it if you can. Take spiders for instance. They’re easy to squish, and yet squishing them doesn’t make me any less afraid of them, actually their weakness to shoes makes me more likely to squish them. Same for Lions (I know big jump). If I could easily slay a lion, I’d still be terrified of them if I saw one in my house. So a girl easily dealing with a fear of men by kicking them in the balls is highly unlikely. It’d be like arming me with a bigger shoe to fight off those rampaging spiders. Real therapy for that kind of situation (a near rape), would probably take years. A large part would be showing that not all guys are like that. And it would have to happen over a large period of time. Because of one guy’s actions, she would have felt damaged, and indeed he would have almost ruined her life (especially if she would be considered “ruined for marriage”). It’s things like that that kind of make me want to not be a guy. Of course I later then just joke that I should be a Hideyoshi instead. In all seriousness though, it sucks when it almost seems like you are being held responsible for some asshole’s actions. If a girl is afraid of me for that reason, it’s like being the whipping boy.

  8. Josh says:

    I didn’t get the impression that Yui’s trauma was suddenly fixed, or that her androphobia vanished. In the “Desires Unleashed” arc, her main issue was that she feared she would not be able to keep herself from hurting other people as a result of her androphobia. The only reason it may appear to be “cured” to some is because she is more trusting of both Taichi and Aoki. They accepted her despite her problems and bent over backwards to show that she could trust them. This does not mean that she is comfortable around all guys, just these two. Naturally, being a short adaptation, the anime is a bit rushed. That’s why I’ll be reading the manga next in the hopes of more character depth.