Kokoro Connect is one of my favorite anime series, and I think part of the reason why I like it so much is that, to me, it feels so heavily influenced by the Hedgehog’s Dilemma, which is one of my favorite parables. If you’re unaware, the parable of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma is basically as follows. On cold nights, hedgehogs need to be close to each other for warmth. However, the closer they get to each other, the more likely they are to hurt others and be hurt by others’ quills. It represents the human condition, where we need other humans to avoid being lonely, but being near other human beings inevitably results in our getting hurt, even without any ill intent from other human beings. The original from Schopenhauer is below.
A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told — in the English phrase — to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.
The first five episodes of Kokoro Connect involve the five main characters randomly switching bodies with each other. An enigmatic figure named Heartseed has made it so that they switch with each other without warning temporarily. It only lasts for above half an hour or so, although the amount of time does vary a bit. This first section represents the warmth of other hedgehogs. Although when the story begins, they’re friends, they’re not extremely close. But as they constantly switch bodies with each other and learn more about each others’ lives, they get closer to each other, and more intimate emotionally. Taichi, the male lead, especially comes closer to all three female characters. He learns their secrets, their hidden desires, their deepest fears. After being out in the cold, he gains warmth from these body exchanges. All of them do. At the end of episode five, they’re even willing to give up their lives for each other.
However, this increased warmth comes at a price. After the fifth episode, they no longer swap bodies. However, Heartseed introduces a new condition. When they have especially strong desires, they have an “episode,” during which their desires take over their mind. This applies to things as innocuous at eating and shouting “Yahoo!” during class to actions as dangerous as beating up people and yelling hurtful things at friends. Normally, we try to deflect our quills from others. Heartseed has made it, though, so that the characters can no longer do so, and they naturally hurt each other. Even though the episodes are beyond their control, they only reveal what was already there. Imagine if every time you had the urge to say something hurtful, you did. How long would it take you to start losing friends? The main cast begins to hurt each other, and only by completely removing themselves from society can they avoid doing so.
It’s not long, though, before the coldness of the wilderness asserts itself. Taichi cannot bear to be apart from others, despite the risk of being hurt, and he eventually declares that it doesn’t matter whether or not he gets hurt. It’s more important to him to be with others, which is the decision that each of us must make every day when we decide whether to get close to others or not. Do we risk being hurt? Or do we brave the cold?
There are frequent references to the characters not wanting to hurt each other, yet they do so anyway. Another character says that she thought that humans were meant to hurt each other, which sounds like a reference to the Hedgehog’s Dilemma if I’ve ever heard one. I’m unsure whether the reference will be made more explicit later in the series, but I can’t imagine this is coincidental. It’s not like it’s a rarely known parable in anime. After all, Neon Genesis Evangelion made much use of it. I’ve always found it to be an interesting idea, and I think it’s fairly accurate, as well.
As for the characters themselves, it’s been a while since I’ve finished the series, but this was my interpretation of them. To me, each character represented a particular method that people use as they attempt to navigate the Hedgehog’s Dilemma. Spoilers below, so don’t proceed unless you’re willing.
Taichi is probably the oddest of the five. His personality seems submissive and masochistic. He himself admits that he would rather bear another’s pain rather than watch someone else get hurt themselves, because watching another get hurt wounds him more greatly than had he receives the injury himself. I hesitate to call this acceptance, as while he accepts that pain is inevitable, he falsely believes that he can simple take on others’ pain and protect them thusly. So while he’s made some progress, he still has more to make. He needs to be willing to let others experience the pain of life and recognize that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot keep everyone else unharmed.
Iori represents conformity. In response to her childhood trauma at the hands of a succession of stepfathers, she sought to avoid further pain by conforming herself to people’s expectations, hoping that by doing so, they would like her, and she could escape further hurt. However, even though this might reduce pain, it reduces warmth, as well, since by simply masking her true self as whatever people want to interact with, she prevents herself from forming true, close relationships.
Inaba represents control. She attempts to avoid pain through control of her life, and when she feels she’s losing that control, she panics. When the five students are swapping bodies, she’s terrified that one of the others will commit crimes and misdeeds in her body, when she has no way to enforce her usual control, for which she’ll receive the blame. She thinks that if she just manages things correctly, she can avoid the pain that comes from interaction.
Aoki represents disengagement. When he was young, a classmate of his died suddenly. The sudden revelation that this brought, that death can strike at any moment, was too much for him, and instead of acknowledging that fact properly, he has instead disengaged from thinking about the future. He focuses on the present, living in the here and now, hoping to avoid painful thoughts that will come from thinking about the future and his own mortality.
Yui represents withdrawal. When she was nearly raped, she developed androphobia in response, resulting in her being able to avoid further pain at the expense of never getting close to men. Rather than engaging with her problem, she tries to avoid it entirely. She associates the touch of a man with painful memories, so she simply stays away, the hedgehog who braves the cold by their lonesome rather than risk being pricked by their fellows.