The CLAMP powerhouse whirs back to animated life after the juggernaut of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and the most recent xxxHolic, this time with a protagonist that has a more than coincidental likeness to a certain green-haired girl created by Kiyohiko Azuma. Kobato is an undeniably twee production but, unlike other outputs by the all-female studio, lacks a more engaging overarching story.
The titular character Kobato drifts down to earth in a swirl of cherry blossoms and flowing hair, finally exclaiming that she will "do her best". Not the most original of introductions but the opening melody by the superb Maaya Sakamoto is reason enough to continue. What follows is relentlessly saccharine as the protagonist is set on a mission - by her gruff and obnoxious stuffed dog Ioryogi - to heal people's hearts and collect the fragments - shaped like kompetio - in a jar so that she can obtain her as-yet undisclosed wish. Surviving on a mixture of luck and the grace of strangers, Kobato's mission introduces her to a medley of shrill voiced people, all with faces easily recognisable to those with even a passing familiarity with previous CLAMP works. Calling this a kids show would be redundant, but that it feels mildly derivative and frequently vacuous is surprising given the creators.
To prematurely load the show with the same expectations as series such as Chobits or X is perhaps unfair, especially with the knowledge that despite a vocal minority, CLAMP works are like gold dust and routinely prove exceptionally popular. Accepting the series at face value however is made increasingly difficult by re-used character designs for even incidental characters such as the apart manager's twin daughters; it becomes part of a larger conglomerate rather than being able to stand alone. Even the character archetypes feel worn, like the ill-proportioned and angular male who hides his emotional trauma behind an unfriendly disposition or the genial nursery owner harbouring her own wounded past. Kobato herself is aesthetically original but her abject enthusiasm and naïve mannerisms lay somewhere between homage and imitation of Yotsuba&! but never quite matching her likeableness.
At a full season's length, there are few quantifiable reasons to continue watching the series past the first three episodes. Hints of a developing plot are non-existent and only the final seconds of the third episode reveal there may be more to the story than the predictable introduction, trauma, heal rhythm. Having no memories or past beyond the flowery descent to Earth and no impetus other than the ephemeral promise of wish fulfilment makes the protagonist difficult to like beyond superficial traits. With time the story may unfold and characters develop but whereas series like Chobits had a dearth of possibilities, this seems inspirationally barren.
CLAMP alumni Madhouse once again take up animation duties and true to form the majority of the visuals are clean and detailed, a shame then that the rest of the production can't yet live up to the quality the studio is able to pump out given the funds. Kobato doesn't come across as a concept wasted but more of talent squandered; if the rest of the series continues to be so lacklustre then this will be the series critics will use to signal the steady descent of CLAMP.