164 pages, black and white
Published by Yen Press
Kobato is the latest comic from Japanese creator collective CLAMP, and based on many of their past works that I’ve enjoyed (Suki, xxxHolic, Wish, Cardcaptor Sakura, Legal Drug) I figured it was worth a shot. Yen Press chose to release the first two volumes of the series simultaneously in English, and now that I’ve read them I have to say this was a smart move on their part. Had I only read the first volume on its own, I’m not entirely sure I’d have gone back to the store for a second helping.
Most of the first volume of Kobato shows our title character trying to learn how to act like a normal person through a number of tests on everyday life. She’s clearly not normal, having to learn about going to the park, celebrating holidays, and dealing with warm weather. The fact that the person guiding her through these challenges is a blue talking dog that looks like a stuffed animal to everyone else only adds to the strangeness. The problem is, most of these chapters were a bit of a turnoff. It’s easy to fear that the entire series will be nothing but these vignettes, where Kobato misunderstands her task and wacky faux hilarity ensues. Just when I was feeling relieved that I was near the end of the book, though, it changed for the better.
It’s in that final chapter of the first book that Kobato passes enough of the tests that she’s given what she’s been working towards, an empty bottle which she needs to fill by mending broken hearts. It was a different enough shift in the story that it made me sit up a little and take notice. The bottle had been mentioned in earlier chapters as her goal, but it had started to seem so far away that we’d never actually see its appearance. And so, with that, Kobato turns into a much more interesting book. Some other characters from the early chapters become regular cast members of the book, she gets a job volunteering at a local kindergarten, and finds herself mixed up with a loan shark trying to extort money from the owner of the nursery. And while Kobato continues with her share of pratfalls and misunderstandings, on the whole Kobato shapes up immensely. The character interactions work well, and seeing Kobato actually heal some broken hearts makes the book feel like it’s heading somewhere substantial. The frivolity level is much lower than before, and this new mix of serious and light-hearted is a much stronger balance.
The one consistent thing through both volumes of Kobato is the art, which like so many CLAMP works is intricate and delicate. CLAMP pays special attention to Kobato’s hair, letting it hang and flow gracefully through the air as she rushes from one place to the next. There’s a lot of hair on display in general when it comes to Kobato, with Fujimoto’s ponytail dangling down his back, the manager’s daughters Chiho and Chise having huge mops of hair draped over their heads, and even Sayaka’s two locks of hair that frame her face and help it look more innocent. Even hair aside, in general it’s a pretty, carefully constructed style from CLAMP, a big difference to the bombastic and rougher art they used in Tsubasa.
After what felt like a weak start, I’ve found myself coming around to Kobato. Between the plot line taking place at the kindergarten, and the hints of Kobato and Ioryogi’s past and what it has to do with collecting broken hearts, there’s a lot more going for this comic than it initially seems. I’m glad Yen Press went with a double-release for this title; this is definitely a series you need to get a ways into before everything starts to gel.