Kobato Vol. 3

160 pages, black and white
Published by Yen Press

Several months ago, I reviewed the first two volumes of the new CLAMP series Kobato. At the time I felt that I was glad I had read them back-to-back, because after a slightly underwhelming first volume, things had picked up a great deal in the second and made me feel much more confident about the series. Now that the third volume is out, though? I feel like I’m left back in limbo on the series in general, and that this new installment isn’t a positive step forward.

There’s always been a mystical/fantastical element to Kobato; after all, this is a series where a young woman is filling up a jar by healing people’s hearts (emotionally, that is) and she’s accompanied by a talking stuffed animal dog (Ioryogi) that can breathe fire. That, in and of itself, isn’t a problem. It felt in the first two volumes (especially the second volume) like a structure in which to have Kobato interact with different people and experience new things. Similar to the store in xxxHolic being used as a mechanism to tell numerous types of stories, Kobato’s goal to heal people’s hearts and have a wish granted opened the series up to all sorts of possibilities, while at the same time continuing to tell the story of Kobato working at the nursery that’s being threatened by the yakuza.

In Kobato Vol. 3, though, the fantastical element is starting to overwhelm the series. Ioryogi is meeting up more and more with other mystical creatures, and a lot of the focus is shifting to his past history and clashes with these creatures. to me, though, it’s the least interesting part of Kobato. Every time the book cut away from Kobato herself, it was hard to stifle a groan. Ioryogi isn’t a compelling character, probably because if he’s not yelling at Kobato, he’s being mysterious for mystery’s sake. It’s been a while since I’ve wanted a subplot in a book by the CLAMP manga collective to end and to such a strong degree. Maybe if it had been introduced more gradually I’d be more interested, but right now this feels like it’s gone from something in the background to suddenly dominating the book.

Perhaps because of this shift, it also felt like there was remarkably little forward momentum with Kobato’s own story. We do finally learn a bit more about Sayaka and her connection to the yakuza demanding owed money, but it’s the sort of revelation where the readership has already figured out the basics because it’s so obvious. Instead when Kobato does ever show up, it feels slightly insubstantial, the worst being her worrying for almost 30 pages over finding another yakuza on the ground clutching his stomach. Up until this point, it felt like Kobato was going somewhere interesting, but I’m becoming less sure now.

At least CLAMP’s art is still as light and airy and beautiful as before. When Kobato ends up looking teary-eyed, it’s almost heartbreaking, and Fujimoto in a bunny suit is one of the funnier images of the series. Still, art alone can’t carry Kobato, so while it at least is up to CLAMP’s normally high standards, you can’t ignore that the writing is currently faltering. Right now I’m hoping that Vol. 4 will provide the same sort of upturn that Vol. 2. brought to the series as well. There are still some good moments here, but it feels like the most interesting things (Kobato learning soccer) are happening off-panel. Overall, a disappointing installment to a series with a lot of potential.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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