The anime industry is constantly moving, churning out show after show. For many of us, that means we often only have time to watch the most ‘hyped’ shows, just so we don’t miss out or waste time watching something useless. This can lead to a lot of anime being skipped or perpetually on the ‘watch later’ pile. In 2013, Kotoura-san graced the anime scene only to be ignored over some big names (Attack on Titan, anyone?). While at first glance it seems like any other shoujo romance, it definitely counts as a show that gives us the infamous ‘feels’. This isn’t one to be skipped based on appearances.
Haruka Kotoura has been able to read minds her entire life. This resulted in her parents losing face, fearing their daughter, and divorcing, blaming Haruka in the process and abandoning her completely. She is relentlessly bullied at school and ostracised by everyone she meets – until she transfers high school. There she meets Yoshihisa Manabe, who is unfazed by her ability and encourages her to socialise and come out of her shell.
One of the gems of studio AIC (whose other works include the cringeworthy guilty pleasures: Girls Bravo and Heaven’s Lost Property), it was originally a manga by Enokizu. None of these are names as well known in today’s market as KyoAni or IG, but that’s not a reason to overlook it. Neither is its length, its age, or its small number of pitfalls.
You’d expect the show to start at the point where she transfers school – after all, the backstory always comes later. Instead, what we get is an emotional assault. The first ten minutes of the first episode are spent detailing Haruka’s traumatic childhood, parental neglect and other juicy elements of backstory that we all love. Your heart goes out to her, and you barely know her. Cut to the rainbow-coloured credits and fast forward ten years, and the real plot begins.
Kotoura-san seems to have borrowed Clannad’s opening scene here. Upon Haruka’s first encounter with Yoshihisa, the scene begins in monochrome, showing her bleak outlook in life. As soon as their eyes meet, colour spills into Haruka’s world and the bright tone is established. Although Clannad did this masterfully and much better, it still has the same effect in Kotoura-san. We know that this guy is here to stay. From the first scene, we know exactly what kind of tone Kotoura-san is going for.
This emotion is an element of anime that stays with you long after you watch a show. Far too many shows these days forget that a simple yet powerful message is sometimes all you need to emotionally involve the viewer. Shows like this try their best to use very simple elements to bring much-needed realism to a plot that is out of this world. With Kotoura-san, Haruka’s mind-reading ability is explored as something that utterly devastated her family life, making the important concept of loneliness is the main theme in this anime. We’re rooting for Haruka from the first scene right until the end – nobody would want such a sweet girl to live her life alone!
If it had focused just a little bit more on the tragedy as well as the comedy, it could be right up there with the great romances like Clannad or Angel Beats. If there’s one thing to criticise about Kotoura-san, it’s that it reaches its emotional peak within the first ten minutes and relies on that to drive the rest of the show. With some better pacing, it could have been pretty much perfect. That’s not to say that the comedy isn’t brilliant. It is. Yoshihisa is the perfect remedy to Haruka’s nervous, sullen demeanour. Though their relationship is nothing that special, there’s something about the way the characters play off each other that makes you keep watching. It’s addictive and easy to marathon- if you’re ready to ride a short but intense emotional rollercoaster.
Kotoura-san is short at only 13 episodes (unfortunately by 2016 standards, that’s the norm), but the creators attempted to flesh the characters out as much as they could in this time frame. If we, back in 2013, had given Kotoura-san a chance, we wouldn’t have been as disappointed as we thought we would be. We were all far too busy watching Attack on Titan to notice other great shows passing us by.