The town never knew what hit it. One minute it was just another town…and the next, it was home to Kobato, the most enthusiastically clueless girl to ever walk the earth. She has so little concept of even the basics of life and simple common sense that she may as well have just dropped out of the sky – which, in fact, she has. Her mission: with no memory of what came before, or how or why she came to strike her bargain, she must heal enough hearts to fill a special bottle with the conpeitto like fragments it collects each time she succeeds. If she can do this, her wish will be granted, and she will be able to go…somewhere. Somewhere she wants very badly to be. For a girl who – at least at first – can’t even distinguish between people in need and bored kids looking for a playmate, it might well be impossible, even with the help of Loryogi, the bad tempered blue stuffed dog who is actually her fire-breathing guardian. And yet, the almost inhuman sincerity Kobato possesses has a power all its own…a power that just may be able to heal.
Hanazawa Kana as Kobato Hanato
Inada Tetsu as Loryogi
Maeno Tomoaki as Fujimoto Kiyokazu
Kuwashima Houko as Mihara Chitose
Orikasa Fumiko as Okiura Sayaka
Drama, Romance, Comedy, Supernatural
When I first watched Naruto, the thing that impressed me the most was its capacity for what I dubbed the emotional sucker punch. Again and again, I watched this show pull incredible emotional power out of situations like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. You’d be sitting through a straight up comedy or action sequence, and – wham! – emotional sucker punch. Kobato, needless to say, has very little in common with Naruto. However, like Naruto, Kobato hides a powerful emotional punch that the premise would never have led you to suspect. I came in expecting a series of one and two, maybe three episode sequences of nice, touching stories with a light sweet conclusion. And for quite a while, that’s exactly what I got, plus some truly rib-busting comedy as a bonus. Quality varied, of course, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself all the same. It wasn’t until thirteen or fourteen that I began to suspect something much stronger was lying in wait. As it turned out, it was much stronger in comparison to my expectations of something stronger. Kobato is a series that starts out three and a half, maybe four if I gave more credit for comedy, and then somehow builds itself into something that can go toe to toe with the likes of Kanon, and delivers an epic romance that I can only compare to Kanon. I cannot give the series a five, since the series as a whole was not on this level. But I can and do give it a four point five for an ending that exceeded my wildest expectations. Even the makers of Naruto would be impressed.
As always, characters first. Because I think about them a lot – I’m character focused. First, of course, is Kobato. The usual clumsy and helpless, but sweet and enthusiastic type is given a whole new level of hysterical cluelessness by the fact that part of how her manifestation – for lack of a better word – works is that all the basic common sense that comes of living has been erased from her: it’s almost like a fifteen year old was created out of nowhere with none of the experience of getting there. As such, her innocence surpasses innocence – she’s more or less a baby with the mobility, body, and comprehension (sort of) of a teenager. This does slowly moderate over the course of the story as passing time replaces this lost experience (the story takes place over the course of a year). Which is a good thing, because even really good handling could only stretch the lead character acting the way she does in the earlier episodes so far. While it lasts, however, her antics are to die for, as are Loryogi’s responses. As mentioned, he at least appears to be a blue stuffed dog with a spiked collar. When others are looking, he plays ‘dead’. When they aren’t, his expression goes cranky, his mouth opens and gains some impressive teeth, and he talks in a deep, growling voice that seems distinctly too big for him. Of course, he isn’t really a stuffed animal, and didn’t always look that way, so most likely it fit his original size. Why he is the way he is and why he was chosen for the job actually forms an effective sub-plot: while not intense, it is quietly intriguing and satisfying. The usual ‘grumpy guy softened by cheerful innocent’ is given subtle new nuance by his past, as any quality piece of storytelling will manage to do. In the meantime, Kobato rarely fails to get several furious outbursts out of him per episode, even after she improves. They make a great comedy duo. Next most significant would be Fujimoto, a tall thin college goer with long brown hair in a ponytail. While not in the least ‘street’, he does possess a certain lank ‘tough’ air about him, and is quite strong. Wearing an eternally angry face, he actually resembles Loryogi in some ways. Yes, he’s an ‘acts mean but has a heart of gold type’, but really, he’s handled very well: the realism and subtlety with which these conflicting traits of his are portrayed have nothing of cliché in them. His interactions with Kobato are also amusing, for similar reasons to Loryogi, even though he never breathes fire at her. One big part of his story is his devotion to Sayaka, his adoptive older sister who runs Yomogi Nursery, an old daycare with a dedicated clientele of people who attended it themselves before they grew up and acquired children of their own to send. Pretty, black haired, and bearing glasses, the children are no less devoted to her than Fujimoto is. Kobato ends up working there as well via the typical series of clumsy coincidence that often conspire to keep her sort alive, probably for our entertainment (actually, in the anime world, we know it’s for our entertainment). There are several other characters that make regular appearances but I don’t think they require exposition here.
Kobato’s premise, as I said in the intro, suggests a long series of warm hearted one and two episode shots, similar to, say, the Aria shows, except with a goal and conclusion. And at first, that is essentially what we get – with a hearty helping of spanking good comedy. Kobato’s initial innocence-fueled blunders simply can’t be compared to other shows. And that same innocence manages to fuel some very sweet moments as she racks up her first few conpeitto. It takes quite some time to realize something rather larger is building up. As time goes on and Kobato regains enough sense to become a more serious character – relatively – we also learn more and more about the people around her, some of whom have problems she just can’t heal. The nature of her guardian and the reason he’s there is smoothly developed on the side until his personal investment in Kobato’s future is a warm and touching thing indeed. The daycare center is in real trouble, and many people are devoted to it. But it isn’t something Kobato can heal, and the pain it is causing to her and the people around her slowly but surely gains strength and momentum. We see her becoming closely tied to those people, becoming personally invested and enmeshed in their lives as someone who plans to go soon really shouldn’t be doing – except Kobato isn’t someone who can live like that. By the time we reach about episode sixteen, we have a well established permanent cast of surprising size for a show whose storyline seemed nearly episodic at first, all with personalities and roles established. And then…with the startling smoothness of well planned but subtle storytelling we find ourselves in a true, heart wrenching drama that is anything but a short shot. In fact, suddenly, we realize we have a fully fledged emotional web with multiple sub-plots just like any story so driven from the beginning. And one by one, those sub-plots are resolved in an admirable fashion worthy of the best. The resolutions are even surprisingly realistic, ultimately happy but mixed with losses, rather than the simple happily ever after the first episodes would also have led you to expect. And then the primary plot line, Kobato herself, takes center stage, and it is epic. Slowly, carefully, and exquisitely executed, the last four episodes of Kobato are not easily forgotten, and are one of the few examples of any entertainment medium I have wanted to re-watch or read as soon as I’d finished. Normally I am distinctly not a re-watch person. It takes a while after I’ve finished something, no matter how good it was, before I’ll look at it again. The exceptions are few and far between. The last two episodes of Kobato are the first examples I have encountered in anime. Believe in love conquers all? Even if most attempts at this idea bother you, I think you’re going to like this. And if most attempts don’t…you will dearly regret missing this.
Kobato started good in its own way, and ended with amazing power in epic fashion. In a way it deserves higher than a four point five. But then, it’s those little things that make fives such a statement. Don’t miss this anime.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
This review was brought to you by Z.N. Singer
Information such as cast and airtime are taken from the ANN encyclopedia. Everything else is and always will be the creation of the author.
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