Kobato Volume 1

Written by CLAMP
Illustrated by CLAMP
Yen Press

Kobato is a young girl almost without a clue. She has nearly no idea how to handle being a part of the world and often makes anything she tries to fix even worse. This is a major problem for her, because Kobato must become a fixer of broken hearts in order to have her wish fulfilled. Can she make it, or will the constant harassment of her mentor/antagonist Ioryogi-san (a foul mouthed talking stuffed dog) be too much for her? Find out in the adventures of...Kobato.

This is my first time reading something pretty new from CLAMP, as I tend to stick to their older material. Kobato is just as visually beautiful as any other CLAMP series, with each character drawn down to the last detail. You can practically count the strands of hair on each head, for example. If I were a bee, I might even try to pollinate the flowers on the page because they look so real to me. I've always enjoyed reading CLAMP manga for this reason--each and every panel looks like it could be hung up on the wall with a tasteful frame and people drinking wine while they comment on the details.

The trouble is that as good as CLAMP is at drawing a story, they are also equally weak at writing the story, as though the plot and script are secondary to how many pretty poses they can draw. Kobato is no exception. We're dumped into the middle of the story, and never given a good explanation, even in flashback, of just why Kobato needs to do this quest or how she found out about it. I'd say I'm sure this will be explained later, but there's probably a good chance it's not. This volume had plenty of room to do a little grounding, but we just don't get it here. Kobato and Ioryogi are just tossed out as a funny odd couple, and we're asked to either like them or not.

I might have been okay with that, but Kobato is just too much like every other female I've read in a CLAMP story it seems--clueless, cute, and completely at a loss without a strong figure to help her along. I liked it better when it was called Chobits, guys. Kobato just feels like yet another pretty face in the CLAMP stable, without any new features to make me want to follow her adventures.

What's worse is that this time, our naive girl is paired with a male figure that's aggressive to the point of obnoxiousness. Ioryogi's shouts, rants, and abuse just aren't funny to me. They seem to have no sense of caring behind them at all. It's like being at a mall and seeing a parent take out their frustrations on an unhappy child. You want to do something but know you can't. That's not fun to watch in real life, and it's certainly not something I want to be reading about for over 150 pages.

There are apparently a lot of in-jokes in Kobato, which translator William Flanagan helpfully provides in extensive end notes. I think that may be part of the problem, too. Like a few of Peter David's too indulgent moments, this comic sometimes seems more concerned with in-jokes than telling a good story. Flanagan does a great job with the story he's given, and it's a shame I didn't like the story better because this was one of the better mangas I've read in terms of how the story flowed in dialog--even if I didn't care for what the characters were saying. The jokes are all there and made perfect sense to me. It's not his fault that more often than not, I just didn't think they were all that funny.

Perhaps my taste has changed over time and I'm just not as into CLAMP as I used to be. I still admired the artwork, but cute for cuteness sake didn't register for me. It might work better for you. If I see another volume cheaply, I might give this a second chance, but I don't see a need to get another book at full price. Those who are huge fans of CLAMP may feel differently, but I need more than great illustrations to drive my reading needs these days.