There’s average anime, and there’s bad anime. What’s the difference? As always, a big peice of it is personal enjoyment. In addition to that, though, what matters to me in giving a rating are the various parts comprising story and themes. If an anime can’t give me a good story, I look to the sound/audio component. If that fails, and the audio isn’t memorable, there isn’t much hope left for the show. I’ll still examine the other elements like artwork and character development, but series without good stories are usually without good characters, and artwork alone cannot save an anime. Not for me.
Art-Style and Animation
Let’s begin with the visuals in Kotoura-san. It was animated in 2013, and it definitely looks like it has that post-2010 shine to it. There’s better resolution, clearner linework, and in this case, brighter and more varied colors compared to most anime of the ’05-’10 range. However, the visuals are still only about average for their day. Studio AIC Classic was trying to stay true to the manga, but the art-style was a major failure. Granted, evaluation of art-style is something subjective by nature. For me, it’s too cutesy, and it looks cheap.
The colors are blinding, the characters are chibi, and some of them have lazy designs (example: Muroto). The character ideas are either overused (like Manabe) or too weird. (Example: why does Mifune have bright blue hair when the rest of the cast has natural hair color?) The uniforms are the definition of generic, the backgrounds are boring, and there is very little movement– smooth or jerky– to speak of. Everything looked too cutesy and comic to me– it’s a primitive sort of art. About all it’s good for are some reaction images or memes, because the face expressions are so over-the-top and so “anime.”
Now, I liked the art in Nichijou (made in 2011), even though it was also overwhelmingly cute and sort of chibi-like. What’s the difference? The color palette for normal scenes is calmer and more subdued. In other scenes, there’s a ton of creativity in movement, color, and action. The quality is above average. Also, Nichijou is purely comedy and slice-of-life, while Kotoura-san, is romantic comedy, SoL, and drama, with elements of fantasy and mystery, too. A show that variable needs more than just cuteness and noisy colors.
In 2014, Isshukan Friends came out. Like Kotoura-san, it was a SoL anime with more a bit more romance and serious drama compared to Nichijou. The artwork in Isshukan Friends was quite good for its genres. It could be serious or funny, and the characters looked more like people, with a greater range of subtle expressions. If Kotoura-san had opted for a similar look, I’d have no problem with it. In short, Kotoura-san‘s art didn’t work and was substandard because, on top of being only average quality, the style didn’t fit.
It’s similar with the characters in that, ordinarily, I would consider them “average,” but other crucial elements drove them down to “poor.” I’m not talking about liking or disliking them (though it is true that if you like the characters, you’ll spend more time analyzing them and come up with a more positive review of them). Except for the old pedophile, the cast was likable enough. That made it all the more of a let-down when they turned out so one-dimensional. Manabe’s only personality is that he’s cheery, loves Kotoura, and likes ecchi fantasies. That’s it. Nothing deeper. Mifune and Muroto seemed interesting at first, but any progress in their stories took way to long to come.
As for Kotoura, she wasn’t believable because she went from zero to a hundred so fast in the first episode. She seemed like she had major depression, apathy, feelings of emptiness, and hopelessness. And no wonder. Even if she had a peaceful school and family life, Kotoura would grow up feeling isolated because nobody else in the world could understand her particular issue (uncontrollable mind-reading). The moment she was greeted by Manabe, though, Kotoura recovered from all those years of despair. Sure, she’s still a timid girl, unused to being confident, having friends, or being a friend, but she’s totally over her depression. I guess it wasn’t that serious then.
Story Structure and Themes
We’re moving on to the story next. The concept is fine, or even good. A girl who can read minds has a troubled life and the love interest and friends at her new school must help her get her head back in the game. But the makers messed that up by covering way too much in episode one. It’s not just a problem for the character potential of Kotoura– it’s also a sign of remarkably poor series planning and structuring. It would have been much more powerful and interesting to design the story so that scenes of Kotoura’s past were scattered over the course of the series in flashbacks or conversations.
The first episode isn’t the only case of inferior storytelling. The whole plot felt poorly pieced together, or made up in a hurry. Did events happens the same way in the manga? It’s hard adapting 4-koma manga into anime, but that’s no excuse. There was virtually no need for Moritani’s character in the story. I liked her, but she really served no purpose. Episodes 5-7 weren’t really necessary, either. After Kotoura decided to return to school at the end of the 4th episode, all that was needed was an episode showing Kotoura able to go on a date with Manabe, like in episode 8. In eps 9-11 there was all that murder mystery stuff that didn’t fit with the rest of the show.
I do have to say that the finale in episode 12 was actually really damn fantastic. That episode is the one and only reason I consider the story average and not just plain bad. It also raised my overall enjoyment ranking from 2/10 to 3/10. The somewhat shaky reconciliation of Kotoura and her mother is pretty believable, unlike many other aspects of the story and characters in this series. Still, not even an amazing finale is enough to correct for so many other components of the show being substandard.
Kotoura-san is partly a comedy, and that means a piece of the story quality is dependent on the content being funny. This is where many series fail, because to some people they’re hilarious and to others they’re boring, annoying, or saddening. Kotoura-san‘s “humor” wasn’t for me. Repeated gags like the Mori dojo stance didn’t make me smile. I’m tired of the trope of punching or tying up the boys when they misbehave. Manabe’s erotic fantasies were funny because they’re so typical of anime; but it annoyed me when all of the show’s comedy became his fantasies and Kotoura’s predictable reactions.
Last of all, there’s the walking piece of slug shit intoduced as Kotoura’s granpa. Manabe isn’t a pervert, since he is a highschool boy fantasizing about sex with a highschool girl. However, the grandpa is a pronounced pervert and a pedophile. He lusts after his grandaughter. It’s just anime, so there’s no need to get angry about that fact, but I’m also under no obligation to like it or find it remotely comical. Even in a fictional 2d world, pedophilia doesn’t make me feel amused or entertained.
With poor ordering and presentation, Kotoura-san ruined the potential for a good drama show. Story elements did not fit well with each other. (Compare the parts about Mifune’s mother hanging herself to the general light-hearted banter in the club room.) The comedy is hit-or-miss, and it was an epic miss indeed for me. It had themes and messages I liked, but they were unoriginal. Friendship, trust, reconcilliation, love, having fun, and forgiveness were all positive motifs. You can see the exact same themes, though, in countless SoL, school, drama, and shoujo anime. Kotoura-san didn’t present its messages in a unique or memorable way, so it fades into the crowd of hundreds of similar anime.
There were also outdated themes or ones that piss me off– I really just mean one, the whole “men are wolves” thing. I lost track of the number of times Manabe was compared to a wolf, or sexual lust compared to a wolf’s humger for prey. First of all, that’s seriously insulting to men. Second, wolves are my favorite animals, and I can’t bear the way they’ve been wrongly potrayed and fiercely hated throughout history and even in today’s cartoons– even from a country that has no surviving wolf population!
Some humans are scared of or hateful toward wolves because the animals are so smart and so similar to us with their sociability and complex ways of communicating. Even though wolves don’t hunt humans, they may go after livestock (not nearly as often as coyotes do, though). These things anger the simple-minded humans. Thus, throughout history, they have endlessly tried to demonize wolves, making them the symbol for lust, greed, hunger, violence, and uncontrolled rage.
Outside of persecuting them in stories, humans in the U.S. have tried many times to wipe out wolves, under the guise of protecting livestock and game animal populations. (Science doesn’t agree, by the way.) Some even hunt wolves for sport. In the last few years, American Gray wolves were forcibly stripped off the endangered species list, even though they were not at a stable enough population, all so the hunters could go at them. I’m not exaggerating, either. Well over a thousand wolves have been killed in the few years alone because of hunters and trappers. So anyway, even if it’s only in stories, society needs to stop painting wolves as demonic creatures.
The sound wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special, either. The instrumental OST wasn’t memorable for me. The Kotoura-san OP annoyed me, or at least it isn’t a song I’d go back and listen to by choice. The endings were alright, but not my cup of tea.
The cast is made of highly talented seiyuu, which is why I think the sound category is overall above average. Kotoura is voiced by Kanemoto Hisako, who I recognized as Haru from Akuma no Riddle, and who is known for playing Squid Girl from Shinryaku Ika Musume. Shimono Hiro, or Muroto-senpai, is best known for being Connie Springer in AoT. And of course, I have to mention that Hanazawa Kana played the president, Mifune! She’s been in hundreds of anime series and I bet you know her voice even if you don’t know it. For one example, she was Anri from Durarara!
I’ve already mentioned a lot of things that I didn’t like, such as using a raging pedophile as comic relief, structuring the series badly, making the art too cute and silly, and the way Kotoura healed from major depression in just one episode. Oh, there’s one other to mention. I was hoping Kotoura-san would have imaginative, thought-provoking takes on what life would be like for a mind-reader. However, the show explored this topic very little. Saiki Kusuo did a better job at showing the daily inconveniences of mind-reading. There was some exploration of the theme of mind-reading to solve crimes, but that possibility shuts down because this is just a SoL and not a thriller.
So putting that, aside, what are the things I did I like in Kotoura-san? If there was nothing, I’d put enjoyment at 1/10, but I’m giving it 4/10. Here are three things in particular I loved about the series. First, I enjoyed hearing Kotoura’s voice, Kanemoto Hisako. Secondly, Kotoura’s reunion and interaction with her mother in episode 12 really moved me. Thirdly, the face expressions of the characters are awesome on silly scenes and serious ones.
Kotoura-san Scores: Art 4/10, characters 4/10, story: 5/10, sound: 6/10, enjoyment: 3/10.
Total score: 4.4/10 Poor or Unsatisfactory.
In the end, this anime was ruined by by substandard storytelling, an art-style that didn’t fit, weakly developed characters, and lack of good humor. I don’t recommend Kotoura-san, not even just to laugh at it, because it’s not that funny. If you happen to start it for some reason, though, you should finish it just to see the touching final episode.