As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not much of a believer in inherent goodness, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping to meet those who may prove me wrong. If anything, my list of favorites should reveal my softness for shows and characters who warm my heart and make me smile. I’m thinking of shows like ARIA, Kimi ni Todoke, and Hidamari Sketch. Every one of these include female protagonists with kind and innocent souls, the type of people who bring light to those around them. Cheesy? Quite possibly. But the feelings they evoke in me as I watch always provoke me to self-reflection, and I find that priceless.
CLAMP‘s 2009-10, 24-episode anime, Kobato., follows in the vein of the aforementioned anime: we follow a female protagonist as she strives to heal the wounded hearts of those she encounters. Toss in a bit of magical CLAMP action, and we have Hanato Kobato, a mysterious girl from unknown origins with a talking stuffed-animal companion who keeps tabs on her actions and grades her on each of her experiences. With each heart she mends, she receives one or more konpeito (sugary star candy) in her bottle. Once the bottle is full, her wish will be granted. While this sounds rather formulaic for the plot of the show, the anime succeeds in capturing my interest and investment in Kobato’s task with its characters and clashing conflicts.
Usually I jump into my summary and evaluation of the plot, but I decided to first discuss the character because it made the greatest impact. Kobato’s character is pretty simple, really. She is exactly as she appears: innocent, kind, clumsy, hospitable, and always willing to help. These characteristics are what slow her down in her quest to gather konpeito, but they also lead to seemingly accidental encounters where she heals hearts unwittingly. This is how she endears herself to both those around her and to the audience: a heart hoping to help other hearts without any motives or without expecting any reward in return. Be it by singing a baby to sleep, to telling a little boy that his hard-working mother is wonderful, Kobato always brings a smile to my face. When the plot turns from slice-of-life to actual conflict of choices, Kobato again chooses to help someone else instead of worrying about her own task.
Kobato’s guardian in the guise of a stuffed animal, Iorogi a.k.a. “Ioryogi,” overlooks Kobato’s task and serves as both motivator and informer of the world with which she’s unfamiliar. I found him to be the most interesting character because of his paradoxical appearance and powers, as well as because of his background. Despite being a stuffed animal, he can still speak, move, and even spout fire. While very rough-spoken and strict on Kobato, it’s easy to tell that he cares deeply for her and wants nothing more than to see her wish fulfilled. A polar opposite to Kobato’s blatant sweetness, Ioryogi-san reminds me of dark chocolate–bitterness contrasted with underlying richness. Or perhaps coffee would be a good example? I find his character necessarily paired with Kobato, whose one-sided sweetness could otherwise become overwhelming and turn me off from the show.
The show tries very hard to incorporate Fujimoto Kiyokazu into the scene opposite of Kobato, but with Ioryogi’s prevalent role, Fujimoto comes off as, well, a very unlovable co-worker. We meet him in the very first episode through a series of unfortunate encounters between him and Kobato, always resulting in Fujimoto’s annoyed face and terse reprimand. Very little redeems him until we see his interaction with Sayaka-sensei and the children of Yomogi Preschool. Even though my opinion of him warms up after we learn his motives for working multiple jobs and attending college to earn a law degree, I still had little affection for his character, as I felt the attempts to explain his bullying of Kobato as signs of affection were poorly based. Near the end of the anime, the anime starts inserting hints of a love relationship between Kobato and Fujimoto, which I found extremely far-fetched. Kobato’s fall for Fujimoto isn’t so impossible since I know plenty of people who fall for others who treat them poorly, but Fujimoto’s very sudden reciprocation of that love seemingly comes out of nowhere. If anything, I view his reaction to her disappearance as purely out of a disturbance to his routine. Because of the complete lack of verbal or physical affirmations of his feelings, Fujimoto seems more upset about the loss as just one more uncontrollable void in his life of misfortune. I’m supposed to believe that with her disappearance, Fujimoto realizes his true feelings for her and cannot live without her in his life. Sorry, but I’m not a believer.
Along with the addition of love complications to Kobato’s task, the plot of the anime takes a sudden turn near the end. As stated when discussing Kobato’s character, the anime starts off with a distinctly slice-of-life feel. Episodic, each episode or short span of episodes focuses on another acquisition of a healed heart to Kobato’s bottle. Toss in the peaceful and slow pace of each story, along with Kobato’s other comical encounters, and what we have is the typical daily life of Kobato with accidentally happy earning of konpeito.
With her investment at the preschool, along with the impending deadline of her task, the show takes on a more serious plot line that forces Kobato to choose between helping others out of desire and helping others out of necessity for her task. She ultimately chooses to try and protect Yomogi Preschool as well as spend her remaining time trying to brighten Fujimoto’s life.
The final two episodes, especially the last, focus primarily on the theme of fated love. The theme was previewed earlier with the side characters of Kohaku and Shuichirou and their cyclical lives maintained by reincarnation and linked destinies.
*Spoiler* Kobato’s wish turns out to once again be with her loved one, who ends up being another time and space’s version of Fujimoto, so explaining their draw to one another. With the final addition of Fujimoto’s konpeito right at the deadline, Kobato vanishes from his sight to have her wish fulfilled. This seems a cruel injustice given her culminated feelings for this world’s Fujimoto, but the anime slaps on a happy ending by making sure that she is reborn into the same world and once again encounters Fujimoto several years later. She regains her memory of her trial and time spent with everyone while working at Yomogi Preschool, and presumably lives life happily ever after. */Spoiler*
Both plots have their fair share of heart touching moments, though I wish the producers could have melded the two a bit more for a unified whole and less of the surprise factor at the end with the fated love installment.
Anyone familiar with CLAMP’s other works will recognize the same style in Kobato., the tell-tale lanky figures, elaborate hair and clothing, and overly large, but detailed eyes. The clothing and hair are what attracted me most to picking up this anime, as I simply adored Kobato’s long hair and very feminine dresses. Her clothing, unlike that of most of the characters around her, changes quite often, and it’s always a delight to see the newest outfit. It’s also hard to notice the matching hats that accompany each outfit, and it isn’t until the very end that we ever see her without her head unadorned (I’ll leave the reason unstated for spoiler reasons that tie into Kobato’s true identity and history).
Overall 7/10 (Good)
Congratulations on capturing my love for Hanato Kobato, but shame on you for rushing your ending! If the plot was as stably maintained as Kobato’s wardrobe, I would have found the end much more believable and less slap in the face with the cheesy true love theme. While I love the idea of true love, that doesn’t mean I’ll fall for it as a finish to an otherwise romance-less show.