Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kobato, Volume 1 by CLAMP

Kobato Hanato is a young girl with a very clear wish, and she can have it granted, but to do so, she needs to fulfill a quest. The first is to understand society and its mores to get a special jar, which she will then have to fill with the pieces of broken hearts that she has mended. But to do that, first she has to get points to earn the jar from her trainer, which takes the form of a stuffed animal named Iyorogi-san, who is there to help her learn human customs.

Her first mission is to help someone by taking out the trash. But when she sees an admonition to help cut down on waste by cutting down on the amount of trash, she decides to offer the trash to the crows she sees, causing them to attack her and Iyorogi. Next, she attempts to help out a stall owner in serving his food to his customers, but when someone asks her to help cook their hot pot meal, can the inexperienced Kobato create something delicious, or will her attempt end in disaster?

At Christmas, she gets a job helping to sell Christmas cake from a bakery, but when her efforts get her the very last cake for her own, will she and Iyorogi end up eating it, or will she give it away to a woman who missed getting a cake that her daughter wants very much? New Years Day brings Kobato into the service of a female fortune-teller, who she spends the day with after helping the woman set out a lucky plant. But can a day of fun really gain her any points for understanding the holiday?

February brings Valentine's Day, and when Kobato finds some chocolates lost by a schoolteacher, can she find the woman to give them back, or will she end up enjoying them by herself? Next is the cherry blossom festival, where Kobato must show that she understands the holiday. But when she is asked to sing by the viewing party she joins, will her singing make or break their experience?

The comes a rainy day. When Kobato nearly loses her hat, her journey to get her wish granted nearly ends. But when the umbrella she was lent is taken, can Kobato make it up, or will she end the day badly? Summer brings heat, and Iyorogi wants beer. Can Kobato find him what he wants, and what is the wish that Kobato wants to make? Where does she want to go so badly, and will she ever get there?

However, now that she has gotten the bottle, finding wounded hearts to heal isn't so easy, nor is the act of fixing them. When Kobato attempts to go at her mission in a straightforward manner, she is nearly picked up for a day of sex by a businessman, but she is rescued by a short-tempered man who thinks that she is no better than a prostitute. But when she is hired by that man's friend, a female grade school teacher, to help out at her school, are prospects looking up for Kobato?

I liked this manga. The books themselves are rather short, but the story is first rate, and while the tasks that Kobato sets out on are rather straightforward (understanding aspects of human society), the reasons why she is on this quest in the first place, and what Kobato is are by no means so clear. In just the first volume, we are introduced to the mystery of why her hat is so important, and where she wants to go so badly. I personally think that perhaps she is a ghost or some kind of animal that has been given human form, and that if she loses her hat, she will revert to whatever she was before with no way of going back.

We also get to wonder what her guardian/taskmaster Iyorogi is. Although he looks like a stuffed animal, he can speak, and at one point he fights with another, more animal-looking spirit creature that can also talk. Although the fight gives us some information (that Iyorogi is the same kind of spirit animal as the one he is fighting, he has taken on this appearance with his guardianship of Kobato, and that he and the other thing are rivals or foes), it never tells us what he really is. Also, the place where Kobato wants to go is concealed, and may be something like heaven or a place like a human life. Again, it is discussed, but Iyorogi cuts her off before she can completely express her wish, so it still remains a mystery.

These mysteries and the simple but charming story intrigue me and make me want to read more. I like the way the story keeps you guessing, and i love the art and the characters. I really want to see where this is going and what Kobato is and what her wish is. Simple, but deep at the same time. Highly recommended.

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