I really didn't expect another series in 2012 to suck me in the way Ano Natsu de Matteru did - I'm a sucker for the rom-com/drama genre in general, and Ano Natsu did that exceedingly well. I'm not saying Kokoro Connect tops it so far, in part because I think Ano Natsu had more geniunely funny moments (Kaitou's "MY GOD!" in Kanna's delusion about him and Ichika always cracks me up even thinking about it). But Kokoro Connect is still off to a pretty amazing start.
To be honest, I didn't think the premise was all that promising - take three girls and two guys in high school, and have them randomly swap bodies for brief periods of time due to some unknown force. It's a unique plot device I guess, but I was more than a little skeptical going in. I'm happy to say though, that once you accept that premise, the body swaps actually do move the plot along and make things interesting. Granted, in episode one Taishi does what you'd expect a guy in a girl's body to do and he gropes herself, but aside from that it really doesn't go the servicey route that it could have taken, and by episode three, we're well into drama instead.
If I've learned anything in watching anime from back in the day when Star Blazers was on Saturday mornings up to the present, it's that whether I like a series or not really depends on if I like the characters - if I don't like them, I just can't watch it. If I do like the cast, then almost any genre I'll get sucked into, but especially if there's a rom-com side to it. I think that's where Kokoro Connect excels - it has a genuinely likable cast. The girls all have real-world problems, with Iori living with just her mom after her parents' divorce and feeling lonely, Yui having a traumatic event in her past, and Inaba...well, we don't know her whole backstory yet but I'm guessing something made her the way she is. Giving your characters problems is a good way to suck in your audience to rooting for them, and it works on me every time. Although it's true on the guys' side it doesn't seem like Aoki and Taishi really have any serious problems to speak of (unless you count Taishi volunteering for things too readily). No Tomoya from Clannad here.
So I like the cast, which helps - and beyond that, the story is interesting, and the way the swapping moves things forward, I think, is done really well. So far, at least, the swappage seems to be moving the cast closer together, although with at least one love triangle popping up, and Taishi turning into a flag-setting machine, it's very likely the conflict will be coming soon. Technically, the animation quality is good, and the character designs are in the Kannagi/Sorawoto/K-ON school, which isn't my favorite (Denpa Onna, Oreimo, and others I think have better looking character designs) but they don't look bad, and unlike Natsuiro Kiseki or Cabbage Love they're not drawn by Curious George on acid so they look consistent.
So is this going to be my favorite anime for the summer? It's possible - but a couple things scare me. This is based on a light novel series that runs for *eight* volumes, so the odds of a clean one-cour resolution to any drama/love triangles are low. Which brings me to Taishi - while I like his character so far, he's also being set up for Masaki Tenchi Syndrome if Inaban and Iori both end up liking him like it seems they do/will. There's nothing worse in anime in my book than a wishy-washy guy who's incapable of choosing between girls who like him and just ends up hurting everyone in the process. If Taishi becomes That Guy, Kokoro Connect's stock is likely to nosedive for me.
Through three episodes though, I'd say I've definitely fallen in love with
Iori Kokoro Connect. Here's hoping they keep this up for the rest of the season, and that we get a good resolution versus a completely open ending.