Seinen – Fantasy, romance, comedy, drama
6 Volumes (complete)
Kobato has a wish, but it can only be fulfilled if she goes to the human world and fills a bottle with healed hearts. Unfortunately, Kobato is lacking a lot of common sense. But she isn’t alone: the short-tempered stuffed dog Ioryogi is there to watch over her…or set her on fire when he’s angry. Will Kobato’s wish come true?
Kobato. is an adorable, funny series that descends into the story pitfalls found in most of CLAMP’s latest works.
CLAMP has made a wide range of manga. While most creators tend to stick to the same genres, the team has experimented in almost every demographic. That being said, Kobato., despite being considered a seinen series, is probably closest to shoujo hit Cardcaptor Sakura. The two series have cute, fluffy stories, cheerful and funny female leads, bossy mascot sidekicks, and tsundere male leads. Even the art styles are similar. However, unlike Sakura, who is a normal girl dragged into magic and fantasy, Kobato is the abnormal one trying to survive in the normal world.
Like most CLAMP titles, the references are a-plenty. Several characters from other series are seen, but this one takes place in the same universe as Wish. While reading Wish is not necessary to appreciate Kobato., it does provide some world-building and more clearly explains a couple of plot points. Kobato. also takes place in the same universe as other CLAMP titles, but the other titles do not really play a role in this series. (Unless you count of one of the key points in xxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, but the “different worlds, same soul” is hardly a spoiler at this point.)
Let’s start with the good news: Kobato. has an ending. A real ending. Anybody who has read some of CLAMP’s other works know they have the propensity to deliver crap non-endings (xxxHolic, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle) or suspend the series (X, Clover, Legal Drug) which may or may not ever be resumed. But Kobato., fortunately, does not fall into either of these traps. The important characters are given conclusions, and the resolutions are pretty positive.
However, the story feels like CLAMP got bored halfway and decided to wrap up the series sooner than expected. The first volume is full of short, comedic stories centered around Kobato’s misunderstandings of life and her good intentions bringing trouble to herself and Ioryogi. While I like the main story, I remember how much fun these chapters are each time I reread Kobato. Ioryogi is the violent tsukkomi in Kobato’s inadvertent comedy routine, and instead of a harisen, he uses his fire breath. A lot of in-story time goes by, from before Christmas until summer.
The very end of the first volume is when the main story begins. Kobato gets a real place to live, and she begins really interacting with people. Her goal now is to fill up a bottle with the healed hearts of people. The story looks like it’s going to be a slow process, and Kobato’s journey to fill up the bottle could have easily taken 10, 20 volumes, perhaps more. But then this aspect of the story is pretty much pushed aside, and Kobato’s deadline is moved up.
And here is where the story falls apart. The revelations are delivered in long-winded explanations. The backstory doesn’t always seem to jive with what has been revealed. Ioryogi, for instance, is presented as Kobato’s supervisor. But based on events later in the story, it just doesn’t make sense why it took him a good six months to approve Kobato getting her bottle. Even when Kobato’s past is revealed, I didn’t understand her wish. I assume these plot twists were already determined at the beginning of the series, but I don’t know if they would have made more sense if the story was longer or if these points were altered in order to wrap up the series. Even the big dramatic moment’s impact is lost, as the next chapter immediately shows the aftermath.
Kobato is a sweet girl. As mentioned before, she is very similar to Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura. Both are willing to do anything to help other people, and smiling is probably their greatest asset. I love Ioryogi, as although he is short-tempered, he truly cares for Kobato. As the story progresses, Kobato spends much of her time at a local kindergarten with the strict part-timer Kiyokazu and kind owner Sayaka. Ioryogi’s associates are also introduced. These characters do much of the story exposition, while it is the people at the kindergarten that help move Kobato’s story forward. Even when the “bad guys” are introduced, they do not function as true villains. Again, the story is rather light, so don’t expect a lot of evil antagonists.
While CLAMP rotates through different artstyles, this series, artistically, is one of their cutest. Despite being more of a seinen series, it looks more like one of their shoujo works. It’s like a cross between Cardcaptor Sakura and Suki. I’ve often had a problem with their action scenes, but they are so few in Kobato. that it isn’t an issue here. Otherwise, it is hard to argue the art is not beautiful. Closeups of Kobato’s happy and sad expressions are just gorgeous. Backgrounds are pretty detailed, especially when flowers are involved. Kobato has a range of outfits, all suiting her bubbly personality. Early chapters are full of SD faces, and Ioryogi’s ticked off face is always hilarious.
CLAMP titles are always tricky to translate. Their stories tend to have a lot of gender ambiguous characters, and all characters tend to talk in vague sentences in order to keep the mysteries hidden. That being said, this is a pretty solid effort. It’s a little stilted at times, but at least characters like Kobato are pretty formal anyways. Honorifics are used. The angels are given a gender (female). Detailed translation notes are included, and some notes even explain references from other series. This isn’t too surprising since the translator has worked on CLAMP titles like xxxHolic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Kobato occasionally speaks in the third person, just like in Japanese. It’s a solid adaptation.
If you can ignore some of the revelations being similar to most of the later CLAMP stories, Kobato. is a cute read for anyone who is looking for a fluffy series.
A part of me wonders what path the series would have taken if all the chapters were like the first few.
Kobato. was made into an anime, supervised and partially written by CLAMP’s writer. The theme of the story is the same, but it is not a direct adaptation. Ioryogi is voiced by Kurogane from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle! It’s hard for me to say which is better. The anime was released in the US by Sentai Filmworks.