We've been lingering a while on CLAMP's past, but let's take things closer to the present with their most recent finished series, in this new installment of:
KOBATO, by CLAMP. First published in 2005, and first published in North America in 2010.
Kobato is a girl who has a wish, and to get that wish she has to earn a magical bottle with the help of Ioryogi, a brash, hard-drinking, fire-breathing blue dog plushie. She has to earn the bottle by proving herself capable of navigating the everyday events and some of the holidays of Japanese life. Once she earns her bottle, she manages to find a job with a down-on-its-luck kindergarden in need of helpers. Will Kobato be able to fill her bottle with the healed hearts of those in need?
Kobato is a cute and lighthearted story, but it takes waaaaay too long to get to the point.
3/4s of the volume is spent on watching Kobato earn her magic bottle, and CLAMP mostly uses this to riff on a lot of seasonal Japanese cliches. The biggest problem with that it's incredibly repetitive: Kobato is sent out to demonstrate her common sense about [insert event/holiday here], she screws up a lot, but manages to make things work out in the end, earning some points from Ioryogi. Worse still, this repetition gets tedious FAST. Oh sure, there are a few hints about Ioryogi's true nature, and there are plenty of cameos from characters from other CLAMP works (specifically from Chobits, Suki, xxxHolic, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Angelic Layer), but these alone are not enough to save the reader from tedium by the sixth or seventh time they've had to read essentially the same freaking chapter.
Once Kobato gets her bottle and gets her new job, the plot finally gets going...only it doesn't because so much time was spent on earning the bottle that the actual plot won't get going until the next volume. We only get enough space to get Kobato to the kindergarden and to introduce the two caretakers there (the kindly teacher Sayaka and the grumpy part-timer Fujimoto). This wouldn't have been so much of an issue in its original serialization, but in book form it's a bit frustrating to finally get somewhere, only to find out that the plot doesn't really start until the next volume.
Kobato is very typical for a CLAMP heroine, in that she is sweet, naive, and a little bit ditzy. She's also hopelessly klutzy, something which is mined constantly for jokes. Basically, she's so moe that it almost hurts, and it's played complete straight, which may frustrate those of you who are not moe fans to begin with. There are hints, but little is explained of Kobato's background, so questions like "Why does she need to make a wish?" or "How did she end up with Ioryogi?" or even "Why can't she ever remove her hat?" will simply have to wait for an eventual answer.
Ioryogi at times seems like a crasser version of Cardcaptor Sakura's Kero-chan, being a small plush-toy like being with a big mouth and even bigger appetites, but Ioryogi is much more abusive and blunt than that; he spends a lot of time yelling, smacking, or breathing fire at Kobato when she screws up. He's not completely without heart, though, and through his gruffness he is trying his best to guide her, keep an eye on her, and keep her focused. His backstory is also a mystery, as all we learn about him is that his current plush form and name are not his true ones, and that he has some sort of rivalry with an eyepatch-wearing hare named Ginsei.
Storywise, I feel like CLAMP spent too much time with the set-up and not enough with the actual story, riffing on cultural cliches instead of exploring the main plot or characters, and thus this first volume may drive readers away before the story truly gets going.
I guess it's appropriate that some of the characters are reminscient of Cardcaptor Sakura, as the artstyle is also very similiar to that series. Both are full of soft, sweet cuteness and are drawn with very fine linework. There are elements from CLAMP's more modern style, as Kobato does spend a fair bit of time in Angelic Layer-style superdeformed mode, and the character designs for the adults are very much in line with the long-limbed, rectangular designs for works like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic. The panels are rather simply drawn, with few backgrounds and a lot of close-ups. The pages, on the other hand, tend to be much looser in composition with a fair bit of image layering and a nice variety of panel shapes and sizes. Kobato isn't CLAMP most visually striking works, but it is delicate, pretty, and easy to follow.
There's a color splash page in the front, and translation notes in the back.
CLAMP's artwork is as lovely and light, but it takes too long for the story to get to a point beyond a lot of tired riffs on holidays and moe klutziness.
This series is published in the USA by Yen Press. All 6 volumes were published, and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!