By Sadanatsu Anda and Shiromizakana. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Molly Lee.
I had enjoyed the manga version of Kokoro Connect when it came out a few years back, so was delighted to hear that I’d get a chance to read the novel version that spawned it. And for the most part it does not disappoint me. Ostensibly a book about an alien being who toys with a high school club by causing them to swap bodies at random (each book, in fact, will have the title _______ Random), in reality it’s a good example of the turbulence that is life as a hormonal teenager with issues, some of which are larger than others, but all of which are the most important thing in the world for that person. It also has a very likeable cast, including a fascinatingly flawed hero (Taichi is our 3rd-person viewpoint character, so I’ll call him a hero even though the series is about the five kids as a unit) whose selflessness is called out as nothing of the sort.
The club is one of those sorts that was created mostly because everyone HAS to be in a club, and it functions more as a hangout for the main cast than anything else. Iori is happy, joking, and energetic; Inaba is serious, foul-mouthed, and seems to exist in a perpetual state of near-fury; Yui, who is a pint-sized powerhouse whose knowledge of karate can’t quite make up for a terror of men; Aoba, the big goofy guy who loves Yui but is mostly there to be “the friend everyone picks on”, and Taichi, who I’d mentioned above, another serious guy whose function so far is to be “the male lead”, something I suspect we aren’t quite done with even as the cast does call out his “martyr complex” over the course of this book.
But of course the point of the book is that each of these kids are more complex than you’d expect. I love series where the protagonist is boggled by the fact that their friend may have more than one side to them, and we get that here – in fact, Iori’s main concern is that she’s spent so long showing other sides to people that she can’t remember who she’s supposed to be. Her monologue about loss of identity is one of the highlights of the book, along with the climax of the book where the characters all have to decide, literally, who lives and who dies, and Iori shuts them right down. Meanwhile, the most interesting thing about Inaba (who is my favorite, sorry to be predictable), whose panic about her own personal issues, which are not related to a “traumatic past” like Iori and Yui, is that everyone will hate and pull away from her, is that it really IS overblown. This is quite a funny book when it tries to be, but the funniest line may be Iori’s blithe “So basically… you have anxiety?”.
I also want to give props to the translator. These kids sound like high school kids, and their dialogue does not read like it’s written by someone who grew up in a different time. It’s also not afraid to get coarse for realism – Inaba is meant to curse like a sailor to a degree, and she does. That said, the main reason to pick up Kokoro Connect is the characters, who make you root for them and want to see how they handle whatever’s coming next. I’m very happy this is being released.