Back in November, the first thing I ever reviewed on this blog was the first three volumes of ‘Kobato.’ Even after less than a year, that review is already an old shame of mine. Although I think my theory that Kobato is Mary Poppins is still valid.
She so is.
Since I now have volume 4 of the manga in my possession, I thought that I should review that one too in order to compare and contrast it to the earlier instalments.
A quick recap of the story so far so you don’t have to read my embarrassingly bad early review:
A ditzy girl named Kobato and her stuffed animal like advisor Ioryogi have come to Earth from presumably some other world. Kobato is on a mission to heal people’s wounded hearts. Whenever she does, a physical manifestation of the mended heart, that looks like a sugar candy, appears in Kobato’s special bottle. She must fill the bottle to the brim with mended hearts in order to go to a certain place and achieve a certain wish she has.
By chance, she ends up working at a day care centre run by a kind hearted women named Sayaka and her adopted brother Fujimoto. But Kobato soon finds out that the day care is under threat from loan sharks who are threatening to tear it down unless Sayaka pays back her loan, putting her in an impossible situation. Kobato wants to help, but with her limited understanding of the human world, it seems unlikely that she can.
Of course, most of this didn’t even start until the very end of the first book. When you re-read that one, it feels like a completely different manga compared to the rest. It’s turned from a collection of random one-shot chapters and even more random Clamp cameos to a pretty gripping supernatural drama/mystery story. It seemed that it took a while for the manga to find it’s feet and get to grips with itself. This isn’t uncommon in creative works, although it usually seems to happen to less experienced writers. Clamp have been in the manga business for over 20 years and it seems out of character for them to make such a slip up. At least that’s my humble opinion.
Even this volume has a different feel to it than the others, dedicated to Ioryogi and the rest of the ‘Residents of the Other World.’ One of Clamp’s greatest strengths is how they create so many different mysteries in each of their works, tease us relentlessly then wait until the very end to resolve them.
Volume 4 provides tonnes of ‘ah-ha!’ moments as it reveals some truths about Kobato and Ioryogi’s origin. But again, for every question answered there are two more raised. We know they come from some ‘other world,’ which you probably expected already, but from their dialogue, we know this world isn’t heaven or hell. So what could it be? We still don’t know what exactly they are, what they desire or why they are in their current situation. It’s frustratingly brilliant.
Ioryogi is also given the chance to go from the standard shojo mascot (well, standard except for the fire breath) to a really great and deeply complex character in his own right. When you first see him as a cute little stuffed doggie, that’s naturally how you see him – just a sidekick to Kobato’s adventures. Now we are beginning to see just how much is really packed into that little ball of fluff. It’s a huge difference to when all he did was abuse Kobato for her constant blunders.
This also happens, to a lesser extent, to the rest of the other world critters. To be honest I always thought their scenes were just the sub-plot and didn’t find them as interesting, but now I’m really getting into them. They make me really want to try that baumkuchen stuff that they keep going on about!
Sayaka only appears in one scene in this book, and apart from one major scene and a couple of small ones, the loan shark storyline is downplayed in place of the critter’s. The two story lines are really starting to contrast nicely to each other, even if one is a fantasy and the other reads like a soap opera. Look closely and you’ll see just how similar Fujimoto and Ginsei are. In fact, Ginsei could be Fujimoto as a furry!!
Although we only see a little of Okiura, aka ‘Loan Shark-San,’ we get to see him moving around for the first time, which adds another level of fear to his character. Amazingly, when he gets into a fight his facial expression doesn’t change at all, yet just a few pages later he becomes King of the Evil Smirk! Although it was really predictable that he was a yakuza, so it wasn’t that much of a revelation.
The rest of the manga is made up of Kobato meeting Fujimoto’s college friend Takashi, who is a little bland for a Clamp character, and then a women who is essentially a human version of herself. Plus one other plot development which I will not spoil, but it is so lovely!
I do have a big issue with this book though – It’s incredibly talky which slows the pace right down. Although we get some revelations and developments, it feels like they’ve taken forever to arrive. Most of these revelations come in slightly clunky expo dumps, and most of the conversations between the critters are ‘you’re always like that, aren’t you?’ which is kind of annoying.
Maybe it’s just because the price of manga has gone up and the release date was delayed so I was waiting for it for a while, but by the end of the book it felt a little like I hadn’t gotten my money’s worth. It doesn’t help that they chapters are incredibly short.
Clamp are known for their elaborate costumes, but we only get one outfit change from Kobato. One! It’s an outrage! The only crossovers we get are from ‘Wish,’ which is almost impossible to read legally anymore since the English release of the manga is years out of date. So most of them went right over my head.
By the way, the bunny is the Harbringer of Doom.
I don’t have much to say about the art, as it’s gorgeous as usual and provides some great emotional imagery. My favourite is sad Kobato sitting on her window ledge in the rain. It’s almost heartbreaking. But I’ve only just noticed this- what is up with everyone’s eyes? It looks like they haven’t been drawn properly. Is it supposed to be some kind of symbolism that I don’t get? Or is it just normal to draw eyes that way?
Despite all the flaws, if you don’t mind forking over the extra money, this is still a great story with great characters. It contains moments which will make any shojo fan sequel with pure delight, whilst still retaining some action and paranormal themes.
Kobato has finished it’s manga run in Japan, which means there’s only two more volumes to be released in English. Hopefully this means the story won’t be so slow paced anymore, and won’t contain so much filler. But I do also worry that all the plot threads won’t be resolved properly in such a short amount of time.
Even so, when the time comes, it will be a little sad to say goodbye to these characters.
Cloud verdict – 7.5/10