Kobato, Vol. 1
written by Clamp
There is someplace Kobato Hanato wants desperately to go, and to make her wish come true, she has been tasked with filling a very special bottle to the brim with wounded hearts. However, before even beginning this monumental task, she must first earn that bottle…by proving that she has the common sense necessary to fit in with ordinary social situations. Sounds easy, right? Well, maybe not so much, for it often seems like she is a stranger to our world. But fortunately, Kobato is not entirely alone here; she has the companionship of a cantankerous, hard-drinking Snoopy gone to seed called Ioryogi-san.
Unfortunately, Ioryogi-san happens to be the one who decides how far along toward earning that bottle she is, and he has anger-management issues. Kobato, with her endearing naïveté, earns points only slowly. Nevertheless, she usually comes out ahead, albeit in an unconventional, roundabout way. For example, on Christmas Eve, she temps for a bakery and earns herself a traditional Japanese Christmas cake. While this sweet treat is commonsensical for the holiday in and of itself, she invokes the true spirit of Christmas by gifting the cake she had earned on a stranger—to the tune of bonus points.
Needless to say, the first volume of CLAMP’s newest manga series is little more than prologue. The short, vignette-like chapters are mostly about holidays, e.g., the aforementioned Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and the cherry blossom season, and it is no particular spoiler to reveal that, in the penultimate chapter of Kobato., Kobato finally earns herself that long-coveted bottle. Although the manga is rather slow to build up narrative momentum, the final chapter promises bigger and better things to come in subsequent installments. In the meantime, there are plenty of modest pleasures to tide manga lovers of every extraction over.
This is a CLAMP manga, and for CLAMP fans—which are legion—merely that fact is enough of an endorsement. Like many of the series produced by the four-way female collaboration, Kobato. rewards reader loyalty with a half dozen or so allusive crossovers with other CLAMP properties. Characters from xxxHOLiC, Angelic Layer, Chobits, and Magic Knight Rayearth all make cameo appearances. Even Ioryogi-san’s design will look very familiar to those “in the know.” So, while it is not necessary to have any prior exposure to CLAMP works in order to enjoy this one, it certainly won’t hurt.
Of course, even for readers brand new to CLAMP, there are pleasures aplenty—and a comprehensive set of endnotes in the Yen Press edition to keep the many cultural references from becoming too troublesome. The artwork, delicate, light, and reminiscent of the earlier Cardcaptor Sakura, is particularly attractive and accessible. Characters are naturally adorable, and a profusion of sight gags provide levity and comic relief from some of the manga’s underlying, weightier themes. The plot builds slowly, but the repeated inclusion of a small, recurring cast of supporting characters hints at bigger and even better things to come in subsequent volumes. Kobato., in short, is just getting started. Recommended.-- Casey Brienza