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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Kobato

20. Kobato is one of my favorite animes. It's the story of a young girl descending from the heavens with a quest: She must fill a jar with candy. She gets one piece of magic candy for every wounded heart she heals. She has exactly one year to heal enough hearts to fill up the entire jar, whereupon she can be granted a single wish. If she fails, she returns to heaven, losing her one and only chance. However, Kobato isn't selfish enough for this candy jar to press deeply on her mind. She would heal people even if she got nothing out of it, simply out of sympathy. Furthermore, she would forego healing strangers if it meant she could spend more time with the people she loved, and the people who needed her most. She's just too human to worry about things like wishes, and instead just tried to live a fulfilling year on Earth.

Early on, Kobato discovers she's good with kids, and decides to work at a nursery. She doesn't need to eat or anything, since she's just a spirit from heaven. But the nursery really looked like it could use her help, so she volunteers for free. The nursery really could use her help -- its deep in debt due to the deceased father driving it into the ground, and now the daughter is trying to keep the family business open against all odds. The mafia is moving in to repossess the nursery (because the father became indebted to the mafia), and the kids aren't given the most expensive toys and furniture etc that day care facilities are expected to have. However, it does have an extremely hard working college age boy who's also volunteering for free. This boy, the love interest of Kobato, was adopted into the family of the woman who runs the nursery, and feels a debt of gratitude that he'll repay no matter how stressful it becomes.

Because the boy is so strict on himself (he barely ever sleeps, and he has no time for recreation), he's also strict on everyone else, expecting them to at least be half as diligent and competent as he is. But no one is even half as diligent as he is. Kobato is, but she's nowhere near half as competent, being a clumsy and inexperienced girl. He tries to be angry with her all the time, but her innocence and kind intentions are just too winsome, even for him. Slowly but surely, he finds himself drawn to her, and Kobato finds herself wishing for his good opinion more than anything else in the world. The two are too clumsy to understand they're in love, they always pass off their feelings as something else, and because of this, as they struggle together to keep the nursery open, they let the whole year pass by.

All of a sudden, Kobato is out of time, and when she says goodbye to Fujimoto, he passes it off as just another meaningless distraction from his important work. He's never nice to her, the whole series long, and they never confess to each other, until it's too late. She never did complete her candy jar, and even if she did, she finds in a river of tears that she no longer cares about her wish anyway. All she wanted was to stay by Fujimoto's side, and for Fujimoto to finally like her. At the last moment, Fujimoto discovers the truth, that Kobato is a spirit not long for this world, an angel of beyond human goodness, and that he had ignored this gift from God the entire time he had her by his side.

When he angrily demands she not leave him, saying he loved her and needed her, a miracle occurs, and even though Kobato the spirit leaves him, Kobato the human is reborn. Fujimoto meets this new Kobato many years later, via a piano tune they used to play and listen to together, when she was still on Earth. And finally the romance that should have been, has a chance to be, and they live happily ever after.

Is Kobato really a romance story, though? I don't think so. It's more a story about community. . . about healing broken hearts. Kobato is there for everyone she meets. Her unselfishness, her sympathy, her naivety, and her stubborness, plus the beauty of her voice and form, creates an inherent desire to listen to Kobato, and be healed. Kobato solves everyone's problems, great or small. She confronts the leader of the mafia and, not bowing to threats or neglect, finally persuades him to, of all things, (re)marry the nursery center owner. In this way the unsolvable issue is solved. She sings to troubled children. She sings to dying trees. She plays hide and seek with kids. She gives amusement park tickets to friends. She explains to estranged friends the meaning behind their recent actions, and gets them back together.

Kobato is an angel, and it really shows. She's an angelic being that is incapable of evil. She has a holy will. Wherever she goes, she spreads light and love, and smooths all that is rough in this world. But the humans around her aren't half bad themselves.

The twins, daughters of the landlord where Kobato lives, offer Kobato candy when she asks for food, without hesitation, even though they can't afford to give her anything else. When they learn Kobato wanted food for a cat, they happily find milk for it and dote upon it. The kindness these twins show for all things living is so moving. They're angels too, as far as I'm concerned.

The owner of a bakery and his one staff member are angelic too. One is worried about his staff member working too hard, and trying to find ways to replace her. The girl is worried about being replaced, because she loves the owner and wants to be at his side forever. Both care deeply for each other, which is the cause of all their suffering, if only they knew. Enter Kobato, who lets them know, and everything is solved. It doesn't take an angel to cure problems like these! Between two good people, nothing bad can happen. This is never more evident than in Kobato. You could say it is the series that proves this fundamental truth.

Is Kobato perfect? Not really. It has a lot of downtime, namely, whenever Ioryogi is on the screen. I don't like his character or the comic relief, and it's way too repetitive. His adventures with other spirit realm characters are all unimportant and a waste of time, having nothing to do with the story or the theme. Plus, Fujimoto is way too mean to Kobato. What does it take? Kobato is probably the greatest girl on Earth, but he still treats her like mud. There's a limit to rudeness and uncaring. Fujimoto goes way too far, pushing her away and insulting her again and again, for no good reason. She was reduced to tears far too often because of Fujimoto's cruelty. Have some consideration, Jesus. Just because you work hard doesn't mean you can trample over everyone else.

But it is unique. I love the storyline and the complete lack of a villain. A good story doesn't need a villain out to destroy the world. Day to day life is challenging enough for anyone. Kobato is a beautiful story about how to live that day to day life to its fullest. Stories like those are few and far between. The tenderness evident throughout the series between all the characters is reserved to Kobato alone. It's just a uniquely loving world. Talk about contrast, when you compare it to Cowboy Bebop just below.

Since Kobato is drawn by Clamp, of course it's beautiful. The opening song is Magic Number, by Maaya Sakomoto, so of course it's beautiful too. Kobato's voice actor is the impossibly good Kana Hanazawa. The production value is top notch, something all the best anime series have in common. This series has everything.

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