Wow. That was a journey. Apparently this show has fans who joke that it has twelve seasons, not twelve episodes. The show's tone and mood changes are so striking that these fans claim there's as much per episode as there is a full season of anything else.
They're exaggerating, but I see what they mean. The title character, Kotoura-san, is:
(a) a small, cute, orange-haired schoolgirl who's well-meaning to a sometimes painful degree. She's shy, vulnerable and kind-hearted. She gets indignant and has adorable reactions to things. She's a dreadful singer. She gets comedically flustered and embarrassed when Manabe acts like a pervert, which is most of the time. (Disturbingly, her grandad thinks she's sexy too, but he's also harmless and her only supportive family member when in trouble.)
This version of Kotoura gets involved in light comedy. You'll laugh. She's funny and heartwarming.
(b) a telepath who can't turn off her powers and grew up without ever having been told not to blurt out everything she hears. Her friends at school all disowned her and had her labelled a compulsive liar. Her parents got divorced. Her life was absolutely destroyed... and that's just in the first fifteen minutes of ep.1. What happens there will make you angry. No one tried to understand her. No one ever had any reaction to her powers except horror and self-serving repulsion. Her powers should have been a gift, but instead she ended up believing that she was a monster, only capable of hurting people. "I thought the world would be better if I'd never been born. Sometimes I even felt like I should die."
SHE WAS A SMALL CHILD. No one made any effort to understand. All she'd ever needed was one person, just one, to explain to her that there are things it's better not to say to people's faces. Even trying to help a cat in ep.1 gets it (probably) killed, thanks to an old lady.
Yeah. It's extreme. And the show's doing both of those. Any episode is capable of taking you through sincere, comedic, heartwarming, shocking emotional pain and "Kotoura took that frighteningly seriously". In about five minutes. This show could have been a train wreck, but in fact the horror strengthens the goofy comedy. You know how much it means. You know how appallingly true it is when Kotoura says, "this is the happiest and most enjoyable time of my life."
And then we have...
(c) character development. Ep.12 Kotoura is unrecognisable from ep.1 Kotoura. She's grown. She has some confidence (as opposed to being a black hole of despairing self-hatred). She can say things that would have been impossible for her earlier self. She's not the only one, though, with Hiyori Moritani being almost as dramatic an example. That girl goes from vile bully who pretty much tortures Kotoura to... well, watch ep.11. Wow. Most shows would be feeling pleased with themselves if they had a character with just half of Moritani's character journey.
I blasted through this show. It's twice as good as everything else I'm watching right now. It's a shame it's only twelve episodes long. (Mind you, there are reviewers out there who could hardly watch the show's more depressing material, or alternatively thought its comedy was half-baked.)
Oddly, almost everyone in her life has a name that starts with "M". (Grandad's the only exception.) These are:
MANABE = horny idiot schoolboy. He's pretty stupid and he can't stop having sleazy fantasies about girls (especially Kotoura). This isn't good when the main object of your fantasies is a telepath and you're standing right next to her. (Unusually, this makes Manabe one of a tiny number of horndog cretins in anime who are actually funny.) Everyone's fifteen, by the way, so none of Manabe's fantasies will be happening any time soon and even he will become a gentleman when circumstances call his bluff. However his shallowness is also what makes him great, because he likes Kotoura immediately and doesn't care about the complicated stuff. He's the first friend she's ever had who didn't run away. On the contrary, he promises never to leave her and will defend her from anyone who behaves more as she expects.
MIFUNE = president and founder of the school's ESP Research Club. Cartoonish ham and over-energetic buxom loudmouth. Her mother committed suicide.
MUROTO = cleverest student in their high school year, but looks as if he's still in primary school. Mifune's been in love with him for years.
MORITANI = spoilers.
KOTOURA'S MOTHER = ...bloody hell.
Is there anything I don't like here? Well, the attacker arc (eps.9-11) does some things I hadn't expected, some of which are disconcerting. Genre convention means you know where the storyline's going, at least in broad strokes, so the heavy stress on leaving everything to the police feels odd and Manabe's excessive protectiveness in ep.10 just makes him wrong. Basically, though, this show is special. What it does with pacing and tone is extraordinary. Mostly it's a goofy anime comedy, though, and based on a four-panel web manga. It starts dark, then gets ever lighter as the series goes on. (We never return to the darkness of ep.1.)
For me, the quintessence of anime is telling stories you won't find anywhere else. This is one of those.