Kurahashi has never been the same since the hallucinations started. His condition is not medical in nature, and only seems to be triggered by an antique glass which shows him things he never would wish to see. For Kurahashi, figuring out the mystery of the Petit Cossette that appears to him in his waking dreams is a matter of life or death... and his sanity...
StoryLe Portrait de Petit Cossette begins as a stylish and moody portrayal of distorted reality: Kurahashi’s obsession with the girl inside the glass instantly throws up questions of whether he’s going mad or being haunted. As the narrative gets into its stride, it develops an eerie, schizophrenic technique (manic smiles and claustrophobic close-ups abound), which makes the bizarre turn of events morbidly delightful. So, why the low score? The problem I have with Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is that, from the end of the first episode, it throws out wave after wave of crude symbolic imagery (seemingly in a bid to look more disturbing than it actually is). Anyone who remembers The End of Evangelion will know what I’m talking about – lengthy, disjointed sequences with the sole purpose of propping up the limp narrative. Unfortunately, watching Kurahashi get his guts torn out as he hangs haplessly from a cross just stirs up memories of even worse vulgarities such as X The Movie and Angel Sanctuary, memories I’d rather not have. Furthermore, there are only so many gloomy shots of candles, chains, and crows I can take before I start scratching at the walls myself. At the final moment, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette introduces a mildly interesting twist, but, by then, the story has already taken one episode too many to get to the point and it fails to save the show as a whole. Ultimately, the flashier Le Portrait de Petit Cossette gets and the harder it tries to shock and disturb, the less interesting it actually becomes.AnimationWhile gothic motifs are usually too trite for my tastes, I certainly can’t fault Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’s technical quality. Applying a rich colour palette, it depicts Kurahashi’s spiritual struggles in sharp up-light shots, quirky phantasmagoria, and plenty of thick, splashing blood. Furthermore, although not stylised in concept, the creative use of well-placed camera angles and cuts – combined with the aforementioned motifs – gives Le Portrait de Petit Cossette a very edgy atmosphere.SoundThe background music is rarely intrusive; rather, it builds upon the lush animation and the extensive use of natural sounds to generate a powerful atmosphere. The only notable songs are the opening and ending themes, both of which demonstrate beautiful vocal performances. The voice acting is excellent all round, if rather wasted on such a hollow script.CharactersHaving little running time in which to develop, Kurahashi is only interesting because he’s at the centre of the spooky events, whilst Cossette’s main attraction is being a lolicon ghost. Apart from that, there’s not much that makes them memorable – heck, there’s not even anything that makes them likeable. Kurahashi, for example, spends most of his time hallucinating (or does he?) and confused about what is happening to him, which are not behavioural traits to evoke adoration. As for the supporting cast, none of them make it much beyond being cardboard cut-outs.OverallPlotting is not Le Portrait de Petit Cossette’s strong point; in fact, the only advantage it has over lesser horror shows such as Jigoku Shoujo is a budget as deep and wide as the void of originality it’s trying to fill. This is a self-indulgent jaunt through the gothic horror genre, nothing more, nothing less. With that said, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is short and thus still passable by any standard.
Animation The animation is fantastic, and would have been some of the best of 2004 but for one crucial flaw: the CGI. While the style of the anime is fantastic and easily the highlight of the show, the creator’s insistence to rely on decidedly sub-par computer graphics for a large part of the show definitely hampers it. However, the rest of the visuals are amazing. Like in Soultaker, an anime from the same director, Cossette no Shouzo is amazingly adept at using color, visual perspectives, and striking backgrounds together to meld an amazingly cohesive and impressive visual package. Like in Soultaker, the visuals are basically unique to the director, and are a strong point in the show’s favor. Sound I’m actually torn as to how much the music contributed to the show. The OST is undeniably excellent (I’m downloading it as we speak), but at the same time I understand the argument that the music doesn’t fit the show as well as it could. There is definite merit to that complaint, but in the end I think the OST is just too good to really discount. The fact that that the mood set by the rest of the show differs from the OST is still a point against it, but a fairly small one. The voice acting neither impressed nor annoyed me. Story Some will think that the story is “confusing,” but in these cases the person will be more befuddled by the style of the story than the actual complexity. The actual plot is fairly simple, but provides a decent backbone for the OVA. Additional depth would have been nice, but would most likely be impractical given the show’s length and focus. Character The characters are fairly shallow, and serve more as pawns in the overarching plot than actual human beings. Cossette, the title character, is the only one interesting enough to mention. However, even her appeal is more derived from how she is viewed by other characters than her actual development. All in all, the characters are decidedly underdeveloped, and probably could have been done better. Overall Cossette no Shouzo, above all else, is a niche title. The entire OVA is designed with a certain target audience in mind, and the work will do little for those who fall outside this group. That said, I enjoyed the show a fair bit, and would recommend it to fans of the horror genre. This is one of the most impressionist works that I’ve seen, in that its plot is so clearly secondary to its mood. Many of the more traditionally valued aspects of anime are discarded in favor of creating a decidedly gothic feel. The result is a fairly abstract and bizarre work that lacks mainstream appeal, but which will most likely please those that enjoyed similar work like Requiem from the Darkness, Hitsuji no Uta, Pet Shop of Horrors, etc.
There are many types of horror. There is the pop-up scare, where in essence it is a deeper version of someone that sneaks up on you and goes "boo". There are the gorefests, which hacking and slashing, pieces of bodies and some plot somewhere to make it "dramatic". Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is thankfully not either of those. People may call literary symbolism pretentious, and in many cases it is. You can find a huge amount of anime where it is a cheap cop-out (coughEvangelioncough), but thankfully that is not always the case. While metaphor laden and with a huge amount of symbolism and references to other literary works (from Wilde to Poe via Dante), Le Portrait de Petit Cossette maintains a focus on the borders between love and obsession, hallucination and reality, but most of all, between ideal and fact. This is not a simple tale. It is a delve into the question of whether art imitates life or life imitates art. And like anything that tries to prod at the borders between what is real and what is not, following it becomes a difficult task unless you give it a lot of thought. Le Portrait de Petit Cossette expects you to think about whether there is some dark curse, or people losing their grip on reality. Who is it that the protagonist loves? Is Cossette real, or is she a facet of a woman who actually does love him? Where exactly are those scars from? Well, trying these treacherous grounds without giving away anything in the way of spoilers is a hard task. The plot is not quite coherent, taking a page out of David Lynch films where the border between what actually happened and what is show is blurred as the same tale is told from more than one perspective. There are gorgeous visuals with a plenty of themes (candles, chairs, cupboards, etc). There is the gore, of course. But most of all, this is one of the rare works in the horror genre that manages a contemplative and artistic edge throughout all facets. Writing (Story and Characters): The entire running time of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is about an hour and forty minutes once you remove the ending sequences. This is not a lot of time to show something philosophically complex, but boy did the staff try. This is an odd take on a character driven story, where there are actually fewer characters than are seen (the two main characters have their alternate personas which give a different aspect of them). For people unacustomed to the surreal/abstract take on writing, this must be a form of hell to comprehend. Whether the plot happens as seen, is a metaphor, or is a hallucination is left up to the viewer to decide, but the essence is that all three have the exact same result. That hint alone should make the story easy to understand once you finish viewing. Hidden behind a jungle of symbolism, the story is simple. It is very hard to not explain it, as it can be summed up in two or three sentences, and then makes Le Portrait de Petit Cossette very easy to comprehend and enjoy on an aesthetic level. But part of the fun of the viewing is piecing it together, as it is more an intellectual exercise than a plain tale. There are two characters that are at the center of the story, in two different worlds, with each one having a double in the other world. We get to see mainly the interaction between the two characters in different worlds, but through what little we see of the interactions in the same world, we can piece together a lot of their personalities and what drives them. This is a very complicated way to develop characters, and many people see this as the low point of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette. They may be right, but it is complicated to judge. Let me sum up the writing by stating that I am a fan of David Lynch movies, so this kind of metaphor laden, surreal, blurring of lines type writing is something I have experience dealing with. This is not cheap writing hiding behind symbolism and metaphor, trying to cover up that there is nothing there. As far as this style goes, this is surprisingly well written, if simplistic when it comes to what is hidden beneath it all. Art (Animation and Sound): Clever and well done. This is one of the few times where depite the many technical flaws, the sheer artistic merit overcomes a lot of the issues. I will be the first to say that usually such attempts end up more grating than intellectually appeasing. But the combination of multiple layers of symbolism with a haunting soundtrack manages to bring a whole level of gothic charm and has a definite wow factor. Le Portrait de Petit Cossette manages potent and memorable art, which while not technically perfect is more than enough to make it shine. Visually, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette manages to impress on many levels. The backgrounds are intelligent, the palette rich and warm, and some truly clever ideas. Of course there are a lot of things which are rather cliche for the horror genre, but the beauty of it is in a careful ordering of sequences in such a way that the story continues forward yet the order of it is somehow masked. The visual metaphors both tell the story and hide it, but more than that add an extra dimension to the writing. Despite the cliches and the character design which is rather unoriginal, the animation is of the more intelligent and creative pieces out there. Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is a mixed bag from the audio perspective. The soundtrack is moody and haunting, and yet the voice acting (especially of the male lead) is not spectacular. The effects are clever, and the use of silence and ambient sounds is exquisite. Had the voice acting been better, I could definitely say that the audio would have been a perfect fit for the series. Yet, despite that major flaw, overall the audio is immersive and sets a proper tone for the series, managing to give depth where needed. The world(s) of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is(/are) brought to life by the artwork. Instead of focusing on being technically perfect, that is thrown out the window in order to be a better fit for the mood of the show. All in all, a wonderful fit with the writing, and one that manages to give a lot of added value. Overall: If you like horror stories, and love intellectual and metaphor laden stuff, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is a must watch work. If you don't particularly like it when the symbolism goes overboard, then don't even bother. For myself, this was wonderfully enjoyable and very memorable.
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