[Review] Kotoura-san

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Kotoura-san has the makings of an exceptional show. It has the ambition to be both an emotional drama and an uplifting comedy, to be an experience full of highs and lows to keep you engrossed to the end. It even has an intriguing premise providing a solid foundation for its narrative.

Regrettably, it is clear from the very first episode that not only is Kotoura-san plagued by atrocious writing, it furthermore has the entirely wrong attitude when it comes to the use of drama in general.

Kotoura-san tells the story of Kotoura Haruka, a girl with the power to read people's minds. Whilst one would expect such a power to be a gift, this unfortunately couldn't be further from the truth for Kotoura, who goes through tragedy and strife. As more and more people reject her, she sinks into the depth of loneliness. Abandoned by her parents and afraid to get hurt, she moves from school to school, keeping people at distance. But upon transferring into yet another school, she meets Manabe, a perverted yet honest individual who accepts Kotoura for who she is, and tries with the help of others to get Kotoura to accept herself.

With such a promising premise, how did it all go wrong?

Kotoura-san, bless its poor, forsaken heart, knows nothing of subtlety. When it comes to the drama, the show's writers want you to know for certain what's happening on screen is tragic, and they are not leaving it up to chance. Kotoura-san makes sure you know by shoving it in your face, being incredibly melodramatic, and blaring histrionic orchestral music at your ears. You can practically hear the director shouting "ARE YOU SAD YET? BE SAD NOW!". The writing is so heavy-handed in its approach that the scenes often don't even make sense, as elements designed to make the scenes even more full of anguish are carelessly introduced without proper thought. At worst, things get completely out of hand as you are bombarded with one melodramatic scene after another.

The very first episode is a perfect example. Kotoura's tragic backstory is told, where each depressing event in her life is immediately followed up by another one, aiming to be even sadder than the last. Eventually it escalates into a ridiculous scene in which Kotoura-san, previously finding her only solace in a stray kitten, breaks down because she is informed that the cat has been taken away, leaving her alone. This would be acceptable, however the woman who informs Kotoura proceeds to shout at her, telling her to "Leave and never come back!" for no apparent reason. This is one of the many contrivances used to easily make the scene more emotional, which are the defining hallmarks of Kotoura-san.

The complete lack of subtlety in Kotoura-san's drama is replicated in the fanservice as well. The fanservice consists of eponymous Kotoura being cute, a rather innocent and likable form. However, when the show wants you to notice how cute she is, it again makes sure this is impossible to ignore; once again you are assaulted with one cute scene of Kotoura after another. Kotoura would be more endearing if not for how persistently the show confronts us with it. That said, the fanservice is still a relative highlight of the series, even if poorly executed like the other aspects.

Unfortunately, the comedic aspect of Kotoura-san is also lacking. The essential joke of the series is that the male lead Manabe has a perverted fantasy of Kotoura; who will then get embarrassed and annoyed at him. This joke is then repeated throughout the entire series. Funny as it was the first few times, by the fiftieth iteration of the joke it was getting incredibly tedious. It is fortunate that the show invested in other jokes, however these are also repeated frequently and whilst some of the jokes were funny enough to withstand constant repetition, the majority were not. The repetition of this poor comedy becomes a dull monotony for the viewer. Additionally the humour comes at often inopportune times, causing a large emotional whiplash when placed right in the middle of a dramatic scene, a problem that pervades the entire show. If you are the sort that likes "perverted humour" then the comedy will most likely be more amusing, and will sustain its freshness for much longer.

For the writers, all that seems to matter is the result. They appear not to care if the story makes little sense or is filled with plot holes; so long as the dramatic scenes are saturated with sadness and woe, they consider it a job well done. This attitude is ultimately what's responsible for the terrible writing. It is indeed unsurprising that the writer who was unable to come up with enough jokes to last the series, was also unable to write more than one pattern of character development. Kotoura-san is rescued from her depression by her friends (notably Manabe) at least three times. This wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that it's the same issue every time, simply disguised by a different context. Ultimately what happens every time is that Kotoura becomes self-loathing and depressed because she blames herself for bad events, only to be "saved" by Manabe and the rest of her friends. Call me a cynic, but although it is clear that Kotoura suffered a tramautic past, the drama feels insincere when Kotoura is saved by Manabe through the same process multiple times.

The comedy, romance, and drama that make up the plot of Kotoura-san were in shambles. The quality of writing is dismal, it desired the story to end up a cohesive mix of these disparate narrative elements, but either they couldn't be bothered to actually put in the time and effort to make it work within a story, or they were simply unable to. Whatever the reason, the sheer quantity of inconsistent tone and plot holes is almost insulting- it's a depressing thought that this standard was deemed acceptable.

The art and character designs were of low quality, they both look messy and have very little detail. For the comedy segments this is not so much a problem, as the 4koma style character designs suit it well. However, when it comes to the dramatic scenes the character designs are in stark contrast to the melodrama, and appear incredibly awkward when the art gets in your face. The music is generic and lacks subtlety, dramatic scores being employed ruthlessly in every single scene bar one notable exception that verges upon melancholy. The opening is cute and likable, if not ultimately forgettable; the ending is simply nondescript.

On a more positive note, the characters are all pretty likable. They evoke sympathy from the audience even if they are well defined by a limited number of distinctive traits, and are at times enjoyable to watch; you certainly shouldn't have a problem with any of them. Well, perhaps apart from Moritani. She starts the series as an antagonistic figure, only to have her personality overhauled, leading to an abrupt and irrational character change that is poorly explained. Again, the attitude of the writing shines through once again. However, there is one facet of Kotoura-san that was done right, and that was the romance. The relationship that develops between Manabe and Kotoura was surprisingly well done over the course of the series, despite it's repitious nature. Their interaction isn't complex or deep, but in a show where characters can just change personality at the drop of a hat, it was a real highlight.

To conclude, the incredibly forceful attempts to evoke emotion in Kotoura-san is stifling, demonstrating an extreme example of the "tell not show" attitude to drama. If you can ignore poor writing, and relish heavy-handed drama and comedy, then this show will probably be of great enjoyment to you. If, on the other hand, you loathe over the top melodrama and care at all about plot progression, then Kotoura-san is nothing more than a trainwreck.