A supernatural rom-com? We’ve all seen probably more than a few in this genre, but it still sounds like such an odd mix. And this anime does a pretty good job with it. Fairly interesting characters and pretty artwork adorn this rather unusual storyline, keeping your mind and heart engaged throughout. I enjoyed it even though I felt it was a bit lacking at times.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 7

These characters have a great deal of potential. To be the typically diverse set of Japanese highschoolers, they play their roles pretty well. However, they did not particularly exceed that “ordinary” status. As many difficulties as these characters went through, it was not easy to sympathize and connect with them.

Anything that Miyuki Sawashiro touches is going to exceed its potential. She does a great job once again as Inaba Himeko. Though not the main character, she is the best of the characters in my opinion. As typical of Sawashiro’s characters, she has a calm and cool exterior, and a hella lotta storm within. She is prone to outbursts of temper, adding to the feeling of instability in her character. Initially in the show, we had a selfless-selfish dynamic going on, particularly between her and Taichi. I thought this presented some interesting possibilities. But it was either neglected entirely or the outworkings of it flew over my head, because I never saw it amount to much after that one conversation between Taichi and Inaba when they were picking up litter early in the series.

And in some ways, this is a good example of what a lot of characters experience. Some interesting aspect of their character just more or less disappears, or does’t really tie in effectively with any undercurrents in the show. Aoki is clearly single-mindedly in love with Yui, but that gets muddled later with a previous girlfriend. Yui clearly has problems interacting with guys, but once that’s resolved she’s just kind of there. Iori never really gets to the heart of not knowing her true self. It all appears for dramatic effect and then melts away without amounting to much.

If there’s anything consistent in this show, it’s the screaming. The girls do a lot of it. Emotions are strong in romance genre shows for sure, but that’s the primary thing I remember about this anime. And while I don’t want to ever underestimate the pain people feel, it seems like they react too much. Their pains are quite real. Yui’s traumatic experience and Iori’s unhappy upbringing are both terrible to hear about. Inaba is unhappy with her plight and can’t seem to find a positive outcome to it. But through it all, I simply remember the outbursts, and less remember the characters’ unhappiness. Inaba keeps noting how their current set of trials could cause any one of them to “break,” and as frustrating as these events could be, the writers don’t do a good job really explaining how that could happen, or what would happen if one of them did “break.” Presumably Inaba is mostly talking about herself when she says this. One of her defining traits is that she does a lot of observation of others, but often projects her outlook into her observations. Nevertheless, neither she nor anyone else ever gets there. And frankly I don’t think they would. Yes they’re difficulties weigh on them, and yes adding another stress could cause people to snap, but it’s not easy to see why these particular occurrences would cause that.

That’s kind of my complaint with the characters I guess. They all have some individual traits that have some depth and interest, but often don’t amount to much, nor contribute to any part of the story. Mostly they’re just kind of moving within the story. If Heartseed is looking for entertainment, I think he was ill-served. He’s an interesting character by the way. As the catalyst-type character, he is appropriately mysterious, although I wish we’d had some measure of his background and motivation. The split personality thing with Number Two lacked any basis as well.

So I think the characters could be better. As always I will enjoy being around any character Sawashiro voices, but that’s all that saves these characters from being very underwhelming.

Artwork

Rating: 8

I love this style of art. It’s one of the things that kept me watching this show to the end. I love the typical hair and eye colors, the slight differences in hairstyle and uniforms, and the minimal shadowing. But it’s the eyes that get me the most and define this kind of style.

These eyes are extremely expressive. The high-arching eyelash shape and the less than 50% white space is really pretty. They’re relatively large without straying into crazyland. And as is appropriate for this genre, they’re very glassy. I think Inaba’s eyes are the best example. There’s a lot going on there. You’ve heard people say eyes are the window to the soul, and we can see a lot of that in Inaba. Dark, dark eyes, very sad, but lively just like her occasional outbursts, they show a lot of pain but a lot of hope. She may not even be conscious of her hopefulness, but I can see it in her eyes. This is very nicely done by the artists.

You know I like to harp on this, but these characters give you a great sense that they’re real. Of course no one has eyes this big, and of course no one has such invisible noses. Yet through it all there’s no question these people are human. So many different expressions and emotions flash over these characters’ faces, all with subtle changes in eyes and mouths and coloring. You don’t have the slightest doubt that when Inaba is talking about Taichi being at the most risk of breaking that she’s really talking about herself, as her eyes darken as her thoughts turn inward. You don’t have the slightest difficulty seeing Aoki’s sincere love for Yui through is open gaze. Iori’s confusion is pretty clear even from her often forced expressions. It’s pretty well done.

As you’d expect, there isn’t a great deal of motion in this show, so animation itself isn’t a big effort. I found it interesting that Sawashiro did the best job syncing her speech to Inaba’s lips, which is to be expected of someone as renowned as herself (everybody wanted her when this show was made back in 2012). The scenery is ordinary and does its job. I guess I could quibble that, to have a supernatural element, nothing in the artwork particularly shows this. This art could pass for any romance anime. That’s not a bad thing, I love this artwork for this genre. It’s just that if the artists wanted it to have any kind of supernatural feel, it isn’t obvious.

But they succeed in making everything very pretty. You will cry with every character that cries in this show. They genuinely look like their hearts are overflowing with emotion. It’s really sad to watch, and it will keep you watching, hoping everything can work out for these girls and boys. Hence I think the art is the best thing about this anime.

Story

Rating: 5

The plot is essentially that this group of five friends, who somewhat randomly find themselves together, has to undergo this bizarre set of trials of switching bodies and personalities, having their inner desires unbridled, and finally regressing in age. It’s an interesting idea, but I think it misses its potential.

First, Heartseed is just kind of there. He’s the catalyst and no more. While I don’t insist on an outright explanation of his reasons, nor of who or what he is, we don’t get anything like that. He’s just causing all this trouble and it feels abusive, but then they portray him as not wishing to cause trouble. And his strange name doesn’t seem to have any basis. It’s pretty frustrating.

Second, I think you can go one or two ways with this kind of plot device. One, it can be comedic, setting up all kinds of awkward or sticky situations and causing a lot of uproar and hilarity. Or, you could create all kinds of human drama from it. This could just wear these characters out emotionally and physically. But the authors choose to try to do both. While I can admire their attempt to tread this fine line, it doesn’t end up doing either very well. What we get is a lot of awkward situations that wear a little on the characters’ emotions. While this is probably the most likely outcome in real life, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story here. They even could have done something where it makes for hilarity in one or two of the characters, while wearing down the others. That might highlight their bonds a little better, more so than them all essentially experiencing the same results does. And any additional highlighting of the emotional and physical cost to these characters would better highlight Heartseed’s heartlessness. Such a situation might also put a spotlight one who is a better match for who romantically, and that could cause some tension. Imagine if Taichi and Iori react in a purely comedic fashion to all these occurrences, but Inaba only feels pain from it. Imagine how that could add to the drama of their love triangle! Or what if, in a bizarre twist, all these difficulties ultimately ended up lightening up Inaba, but brought Taichi down from his niceness a little? I have the benefit of hindsight of course, but I feel like this whole situation could have been handled differently.

Lastly, and probably the best example of what I mean in the previous paragraph, the “unleashing of desires” was poorly handled. Our first encounter with this phenomenon, before we knew what was happening, took the form of Inaba trying to seduce Taichi right there in the club room. It was very out of character for her and told us a lot. After that all we got, essentially, was these “unleashings” happening around food a lot, with everyone trying to take everyone else’s snacks and whatnot. So we went from getting a major glimpse behind the curtain for these characters to comedy. Yeah the thing with Yui goes on a long time, and you realize it’s because of her actions during the first encounter with the phenomenon that Inaba is avoiding everybody for a while, but that’s all there is to it. Meanwhile they’re all eating too much. It belittles their “inner selves” too much, if that could be reduced to wanting a particular snack. Even something as simple as Aoki not really being affected by this phenomenon outwardly would have been interesting, since he’s so forthright with his feelings already. An angry Iori during all of her “episodes” would have been a big wound in all our hearts. But all of this opportunity is missed. And that’s a big miss for this show.

Overall: 6

This show is heartfelt and beautiful. Watching the characters as they deal with these events is a very human experience. But overall it does feel like it’s missing something. As you’re watching it, this is less of a problem, as each episode you’re watching intently to see what strange happenings are about to occur. But once it all ends, then you realize it could have been better.

So far there hasn’t been a second season, and as I’m writing this we’re going on nine years since this anime was released. I fear it didn’t do well financially. And I can understand why. If you’re going to go with a plot of the extraordinary invading the ordinary, the result has got to be extraordinary. And this series missed on that. A lot of fun to watch, a lot of heartfelt moments to prod your emotions, but that’s all. It could have been so much more. For the title to more or less mean “connected hearts,” it doesn’t connect with ours as well as it could. I hope a second season, if it ever happens, could make that happen more.

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