The Portrait of Little Cossette

Those familiar with most daring hero of Japanese animation Shinbo Akiyuki through his works with studio SHAFT such as Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei are probably unaware of his other, lesser known works. There’s a reason for this, and that’s simply because these lesser known works aren’t terribly great. They’re directed fabulously, but often times Shinbo’s older work is just held down by some bad writing. Le Portrait de Petite Cossette, or the The Portrait of Little Cossette, or コゼットの肖像 is of a slightly higher pedigree than, say, Shin Hurricane Polymar, but it still suffers from what I will for now on dub as the “Shinbo OVA Curse.”

Cossette aims high, and at a place that I like. It’s a twisted love story between an older man and little, but kind-of-sort-of-ALREADY-DEAD girl. Our main man, Kurahashi Eiri works in an antiques shop and is fascinated by one of the antique glasses in the store’s collection. Within the glass he can see a figure of a girl going about her daily life–the titular Cossette. Through a series of crazy SoulTaker-like imagery, our cute Cossette comes to life by the end of the first episode, which is where their tragic love story spirals into pits of despair. There’s also some other characters who are really concerned with our main man–as they should be–but they really don’t do much.

I’ll go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way. This writing is pretty confused. In the end, the story makes perfect sense, but there’s too many diversions. I think–on some level–the core plot is fine, but what takes away from it is all the extra stuff. While character dialogue tends to make sense, they do have habit of pontificating upon things that don’t really mean anything. Another thing that distracts the story is the existence of characters other than Kurahashi and Cossette–they do well to illustrate how people close to him feel about this whole thing, but the degree to which they get involved feels a touch pointless. On this same vein, the show doesn’t get to expand much on our cast of characters in its three, round-about-45-minute episodes, so they don’t leave much of an impression. Had the story focused more squarely on Kurahashi and Cossette, I feel it would have been better.

However, I don’t think that hurts the piece too much, as what really makes this is Shinbo’s direction. This is dark Shinbo. This is SoulTaker, and sometimes-maybe-if-you’re-lucky Tsukuyomi -MOONPHASE- Shinbo. It revels in twisted storyboarding, the old-style Shinbo colour palette (which is making a reappearance in Bakemonogatari), hard black shadows, and striking lighting situations, all set to creepy background music. It’s over-the-top. It’s good. What also helps is fairly good animation work. It’s nothing really spectacular, but it certainly does remind one of the days when “OVA quality” kind of meant something. There is some iffy 3D work here and there, which does cheapen the piece a bit, especially when the Golgo 13 skulls make an appearance. The character designs aren’t particularly memorable, but I like the realist look they have about them. Cossette herself is rather cute, in a sort of creepy, porcelain doll way.

Even though the direction is great, the writing does hurt because of what it could have been. Had the staff thought through the script a bit more, this show would have been pretty good, if not fantastic. It sadly gets distracted by too many weird, unnecessary things along the way. As I say in most of my reviews for these old Shinbo OVAs–watch it if you like the man’s work, as it’s pretty good in that respect. However, unlike Hurricane Polymar, Cossette’s decent enough that I’d recommend it with caution to certain people who may be into its subject matter. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.