Haruka Kotoura was born with the power to read people's thoughts. Unfortunately, she also has a habit of blurting out said thoughts, making her an outcast both in school and even to her parents, being abandoned by both. Living on her own now, she starts high school depressed and cynical, avoiding contact with everyone. That is, until a nice but perverted boy named Yoshihisa Manabe gets her to open up, using her mind reading to tease her, thinking of her in perverse situations. Despite being embarrassed by his thoughts, Haruka and Yoshihisa become friends, and soon she joins a club called the ESP Research Society, run by a senior student named Yuriko Mifune and her friend Daichi Muroto.
A character with the ability to read minds has been done before in fiction. Far less seen is the character facing repercussions for said mind reading. Kotoura-san is a series that could have done a lot of things with this premise, which is refreshing in this day of high school being either Oreimo clones or just gag comedies. Unfortunately it decides to spend much of its twelve episode runtime on lewd jokes and exchanging abrupt switches of comedy and drama more often than a game of musical chairs.
The first half of episode one of Kotoura-san is depressing. However, it also does a good job of explaining the troubles and tribulations of a girl having psychic powers can have. But a fated encounter with a pervert with a heart of gold changes her life around for the better by episode's end. Soon after meeting Manabe, Haruka also "joins" (more like forced) a club by Yuriko and her friend Daichi, who are interested in her ESP abilities. After that there's an arc about Haruka dealing with a violent redhead named Hiyori Moritani that again shows the difficulties with her abilities.
Up until the end of Hiyori's arc, Kotoura-san is a pleasant but unremarkable show. It follows many of the same routines high school anime do: festivals, beaches, fights, perverted male fantasy sequences, and parent troubles. Haruka is a likable, sympathetic girl, and Hisako Kanemoto's adorable voice acting really helps add to any scenes involving her character. I didn't care much for the rest of the cast, but especially not Hiyori, who goes back and forth the whole series being violent to the (usually) underserving Manabe and just plain whiny.
Kotoura-san suffers from one large problem; pacing. This series has no pacing whatsoever. One minute we're watching Haruka's inner conflicts with her powers, the next we're watching Manabe think lewd fantasies of her. Or Yuriko exploring her powers/teasing her just for her selfish desires. Or Hiyori smacking Manabe for being a pervert. It's very jarring and out of place. And while it doesn't affect the more relaxed, humorous middle episodes of the series, it becomes increasingly jarring in the final four episodes.
Then in episode 9 the series switches from a comedy to a full-fledged drama. Suddenly we're dealing with someone attacking high school girls violently. What a seamless transition! And even then we still have jokes of Mananbe lusting over Haruka. Why? Because that's his entire character's shtick. That, and being a nice guy despite being a pervert. It stops being funny after the first 100 times.
In the next episode the series goes back and forth between unfunny comedy and overplayed drama with Hiyori. It's like Persona 4 if it was written by a bunch of bored teenagers, with even similar twists! There is one funny scene with Haruka using her psychic powers on a police detective to get him to convince her she does have them, which is the only true highlight of the arc. The only other upside is that Yuriko finally has a purpose again in the series, after spending most of it just teasing others and failing to get her male friend Daichi to pay attention to her.
During this arc we also get some much-needed glimpses into the characters' pasts, which is nice. But all that is cancelled out by the second half of episode 11, which has the attacker of the girls revealed when she tries to kill Haruka. Following this is a really stupid, off-putting scene that rolled my eyes so much back I could see the back of my hair.
I'm not going to lie when I say that the 3-episode mystery arc of Kotoura-san decimated any goodwill the series tried to recover from itself after the middling middle episodes. It easily rivals H20 ~Footprints in the Sand~ for the biggest mood swing changer I've seen in a long time in anime. It really wouldn't be so bad if they just stuck to one emotion, but they don't. It's as if the writers were afraid to leave one mood for more than a few minutes at a time. It's quite vexing, to say the least.
And Kotoura-san doesn't even have good art to back itself up on during the series' weakest moments. The characters are very crudely drawn, the scenery is generic, and the animation is barebones at best. Aside from maybe Haruka herself, the girls don't even come off as that cute due to the awkward art style of the series. And Manabe always looks ready to sleep/eat.
Another irritating problem in the series is that nothing is really resolved. Yes Haruka does open up to others, but so many other characters' arcs are left unfinished or just brushed off. One noticeable character is Hiyori, who bullied Haruka to the point of making her throw up, outright lied to Manabe about bullying her, but is somehow forgiven and even befriended/pitied by Haruka over the series. Even the villain of the mystery arc I just talked about above is forgiven in a similar pattern.
But those complaints are all minimal compared to the series' biggest copout; the resolution with Haruka's mother Kumiko. While initially treated in a sympathetic light the first few minutes of the series, she eventually dumps Haruka with her grandfather, tells her she regrets having her, and is treated as a villainous bitch for nearly the rest of the series. It's not until the penultimate episode we see her and Haruka in person again, and they still barely talk until the final episode. The kicker, though? When Haruka and Kumiko finally meet and have a conversation with each other for the first time in the good part of a decade, they get less than half the episode with each other. In the final episode, mind you. It's just so rushed. Like the director remembered, "Oops, we only have 12 episodes, and we spent 6 or so of them on pointless nonsense" and had to think up something quick.
For me, this was the last straw at ever thinking Kotoura-san was even mediocre. I don't care if it did wrap up her mother's arc or not; it was so rushed and so thrown together, it almost came off as filler than what it was supposed to be; one of the single most important scenes in the entire series. Would it have killed the writers to devote the entire episode on resolving the catalyst for Haruka's depression in the first place? Did they seriously need to eat up so much time on Hiyori slapstick, Yuriko teasing, or Manabe dreaming of Haruka half-naked?!
Despite a strong start, a good heroine, and an occasional funny scene, Kotoura-san is sadly more trouble than it's worth. Only die-hard fans of the manga and Hisako Kanemoto will find time worth spending here.
And a very low two at that. A likable heroine and a few funny scenes are all that save it from an one-star fate. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Older teens and up, due to copious amount of fan service, though mostly through Manabe's fantasy scenes. The last few episodes feature noticeably darker elements than the earlier ones, and there's even a joke about pedophilia in the final episode.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream from Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subtitles.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Kotoura-san © 2013 Enokizu / Micro-Magazine Company / Midori~keoka ESP Research & Support Assocation
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