Kobato Volume 1 by Clamp
When I got into manga again for the second time after a long absence from comics, Clamp wrote some of the series that got me addicted. I collected X/1999 like a maniac and was disappointed to find out that the series didn’t have an actual conclusion. Since then I’ve sampled many of their other series, but I don’t tend to rely on Clamp for consistent entertainment as much as I used to. While the art is gorgeous, sometimes I’m left feeling a little disappointed with their more recent work. This why I’m looking forward to the reissue of Cardcaptor Sakura more than their recent series Kobato, which seems go be designed to inspire bewilderment in the reader instead if providing entertainment.
Kobato is a homeless girl with an inexhaustible supply of cute outfits and hats. Her utter lack of understanding of human behavior seems to indicate that she’s from another world. She could be an angel or an alien, but she’s given a typical magical girl task of collecting wounded hearts in order to fulfill a vague quest. Before she can get her jar, her eternally cranky and alcohol-seeking dog Ioryogi is giving her tests on human common sense. Kobato encounters various holidays and events like dealing with rain, Christmas, and Valentine’s day. Usually in most of these tests Kobato will try to act like a human and fail in some way, receiving a limited number of points from Ioryogi. The character background is mysteriously absent, leaving Kobato and Ioryogi as blank slates for the reader without much to explain where they came from. Where is Kobato’s closet and hatboxes? How does she manage to be so perfectly accessorized while hanging out in a drainpipe? Ioryogi has an encounter with creature from his past but the “who what when where why” of the two main characters is frustratingly absent.
Hints of a supporting cast appear in the form of a young man who works at a kindergarten and his fellow teacher. He thinks that Kobato is trying to have sex for money after he witnesses her dash around frantically offering to help people “heal their hearts.” Clamp’s art is as usual very very pretty. The initial stories in Kobato appear to be so shallow and superficial that a quick read might prove frustrating to the reader. But as I was reading it I was wondering if Clamp’s storytelling has undercurrents that might be revealed in other volumes. Sure, Kobato’s main purpose seems to be to change outfits and burst into tears when her dog scolds her. But is this series buying in to the whole moe genre, or is it actually satirizing it? When a dirty old man tries to pick up Kobato, it seems like that single event might be targeting the types of readers who enjoy obsessively reading stories about sickeningly cute little girls in overly precious outfits.
I’m on the fence about this manga. There’s nothing about the overly sweet story lines that attracts me as a reader. But there are a few hints of darkness present, that if developed, might pique my interest in the future. I’ll check out the second volume before deciding to follow this series or not. It is unusual for a Clamp series not to immediately hook me on the first volume. I’m hoping that Kobato has hidden depths, but if it doesn’t not even the cutest costume changes can tempt me to read further.