It's really quite an interesting show. It's doing thoughtful and sometimes harsh things with what might look like comedy genre tropes like body-swapping and telepathy. I'm quite curious about the original light novels now.
It's about a club of five high school students who formed a club together because none of them wanted to join anything else. At first glance, they seem fairly normal. If anything, the body-swapping makes it slightly surprising that they haven't been characterised in gaudier, more easy-to-distinguish comedy hues.
- 1. Taichi Yaegashi (m) is the Nice Guy Protagonist
- 2. Yoshifumi Aoki (m) is his Not-Too-Bright Friend who goofs around, says stupid things and doesn't really take anything seriously
- 3. Iori Nagase (f) loud extrovert who's always fun and doesn't mind talking dirty
- 4. Himeko Inaba (f) haughty and blunt
- 5. Yui Kiriyama (f) cute, but used to do karate
That's how they seem in ep.1. Then an extradimensional bastard called Heartseed shows up via souljacking to explain that he's going to have them body-swap at random. He was bored, you see. If you think that sounds bad, though, just wait until what he does a few episodes later. Having Heartseed take an interest in you is like wondering just a bit too late if this bit of the Amazon you're swimming in has piranhas.
That's not what's interesting about all this, though. The body-swapping isn't what you'd expect from body-swapping stories. It never lasts very long. No one does anything bad to anyone else. Even the boys soon get over their first reaction to having girl parts. It's not being used as a plot device, you see, but as a means to explore character. The thing about body-swapping, you see, is that it's the ultimate invasion of privacy. If you were trying to keep any secrets, forget it. Our heroes are about to know each other better than might arguably be healthy for high school students.
...and then, surprisingly quickly, it's all over. Heartseed gets bored of body-swapping. He's thought up something else instead.
The original light novel series contains eleven volumes, of which the first four were used in this anime.
- Vol.1 - Random People (TV eps.1-5)
- Vol.2 - Random Wounds (TV eps.6-10)
- Vol.3 - Random Past (TV eps.11-13)
- Vol.4 - Random Courses (OVA eps.14-17)
- Vol.5 - Random Fakes
- Vol.6 - Random Dreams
- Vols.7-8 - Random Tomorrow
...plus three volumes of side-stories (4.5, 6.5 and 8.5).
I'd love to see a second season, but unfortunately that's probably not going to happen. There was some controversy. The production team told a voice actor that he was going to be announced as a surprise cast member when they were really just setting him up for a candid-camera style prank in front of an audience. This was a ghastly mistake. It was perceived as nasty, there was an audience backlash and fans boycotted the Blu-rays when they came out. It was a headache for pretty much everyone involved (and even some people who weren't), including the novels' original author.
That was unfortunate, but it also doesn't affect the episodes themselves. Besides, it's now all in the past and at least the culprits got bitten for it.
The girls get much richer characterisation than the boys. (I'm not complaining, just observing.) Taichi is a deconstruction of the selfless hero and Aoki of the happy-go-lucky goofball, but what's going on with the girls is more like destruction. All three are total wrecks underneath their public facades. They might hate themselves or think they're worthless. They might be trauma victims. They might be papering over an inner darkness or emptiness with such an assortment of public facades that they're heading for a full-blown identity crisis. Sometimes, very occasionally, the series scares you with the possibility of a suicide. Working through their issues leads them to some dark and sometimes disturbing realisations, not helped by the knowledge that for these people, this counts as moving forwards.
"It doesn't matter if we hurt each other."
"I don't think it's possible to do something completely altruistic."
However it's also an entertaining and often very funny show. (The comedy is often great.) They're firm friends. They were close even before all this, but now they're fire-forged. The TV series has a feelgood happy ending. The OVAs are more complicated, pretty much breaking one of our heroes and taking them somewhere deeply unsympathetic before finding a resolution that took me aback. However I can admit that it seems to be the right thing for the characters. They're moving forwards. It's positive and another happy ending, subject to the "taken aback" caveat.
Tomoko didn't like the character designs, mind you. I couldn't see what she was talking about, but she'd had similar problems with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. (Personally I think both have a normal anime style, with cute, fairly simple faces that nonetheless convey plenty of personality and come alive.) The common factor might perhaps be the character designer Yukiko Horiguchi, aka. Shiromizakana, also known for K-ON!.
(There's also a very dislikeable scene in ep.1 with an aggressive schoolgirl lesbian, although fortunately she develops a lot later on and becomes human.)
Would I recommend this series? Yes. I galloped through the series and was always eager to watch the next episode. However be warned that there's some bittersweet in the ending and that the show overall is darker and sometimes creepier than you'd think. It looks light and funny. That's because it is. It's school friends in comedy SF situations... but the common thread of Heartseed's pranks is that they're sadistic violations of privacy, at an age when people's self-image is at its most fragile.
Mind you, he's been known to claim that he's doing it for their own good. Maybe he is? He's certainly changed them as people...