The anime is about art student Eiri Kurahashi, who works in an antique shop. One day, he sees the image of a girl in an antique glass. To his shock, she appears to be moving and living out her life before his eyes. He becomes infatuated with the girl, and one night at midnight, somehow makes contact with her. He learns her name is Cossette, and that she was an aristocrat's daughter during the 18th century.
She reveals to him that her spirit has been entrapped within the glass by her murder, which was perpetrated by her betrothed, the artist Marcelo Orlando. To set her free, she tells Eiri, a man must be willing to take upon himself punishment for the sins Marcelo committed.
Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is, first of all, a work that tries to be visual art, about visual art. It tries to tell what is in essence a very simple story in the first place by means of short scenes using specific visual style, and only in the second place by actual conversation and plot development that is spelled out. Thus, if, after watching the first episode you decide you really don't like the visual style used, don't bother watching the other two episodes: this series is not for you.
With regard to the plot, it would be no exaggeration to state that the same story could have been told within five minutes, nor would it be too much to say that any review of the plot would also most likely divulge what little twist there is. In essence, the story revolves around two artists and a piece of art, the portrait of a young girl, and the two differing outlooks on art these two artists have: one in the end prefers the piece of art, unchanging and everlastingly beautiful, unwilling even to acknowledge the existence of the living, changing 'original' girl, while the other prefers his art to be alive in some fashion, even if this means that change and loss exist. It is a story about the love of the artist for his art, a love that is profound enough to accept the necessity of loss, even, if necessary, of the self.
Nowhere is the story explained in as much words as I've used above, or are there pieces of dialogue directly concerning this difference in outlooks on art. In fact, there is not that much dialogue at all, nor does the show try to explore the main characters: there is little in the way of actual plot or character development.
This is because Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is a Romantic piece, or, more accurately, a piece of Romantic horror. The plot is a gathering of tropes from the genre, and focuses to a large extent on the passionate love of the main characters without giving much in the way of an explanation for their feelings and behaviour, wholly following the example of the greater pieces of Sturm und Drang literature, where round characters were considered less important than the strength of what little they tried to convey. Even the fact that the plot seems confusing, and that not everything is explained or neatly given a purpose within the story can be fully explained as Romantic horror: from Poe to Lovecraft the actual lack of a full explanation served to enhance the story.
When all is said and done, the story might not be all that original, or contain a lot of development. It is, however, very true to form.
The art is simply gorgeous. A lot of different styles are used, from simple nature backgrounds to what has been described as "bargain-basement Salvador Dali", with an emphasis on portraying scenes in twilight or with light that is filtered, seemingly in order to make the few bright points stand out more. Even though not all styles work out equally fine - especially the more surrealistic scenes tend to be a bit over the top - they do usually perfectly portray the mood of a certain scene.
To this is added a soundtrack consisting largely of semi-classical music that does a wonderful job in strengthening the different moods, ranging from simple, uplifting tunes to a ballad that is beautiful and haunting, even though it is sung in Japanese, which does not really fit the mood.
It is true that this show is pretentious, as is, it should be said, all art, and visual arts have a tendency to be even more pretentious than music or literature: the use of a French title (containing errors in grammar, spelling, and syntax, to boot, as it should have been titled "Le portrait de la Petite Cosette") is in itself proof of this, as is the bundling of a whole bunch of different musical and visual styles. On the other hand, it is quite honest about its being pretentious, and it must be said that, in the end, what matters in visual art is the art, not story, and not character. Anime is visual art, and no matter how good a series is, it will never be better than a solid book in portraying story or characters. What it adds are visuals, and these enhance the story in a way words alone can never do. To me, it is not too pretentious to try and make the story revolve around the art, and not the other way round: in a way, that seems to be what anime should in the end be about.
I won't lie. I consider Le Portrait de Petit Cossette to be the best piece of film I have ever seen, without a single doubt. As implied above, it is very difficult to make an objective statement on story and art, as you either like the style, or you don't. To me the different scenes do connect, and portray a story about longing, love, and sacrifice that portray thoughts that can be felt, but not put into words - though they can be shown.
In a way, I am in love with these three episodes like the protagonist is in love with the painting, and, thus, am unable to see anything that could detract from this impression. Perhaps that simple fact is the greatest compliment a show can receive. read more
There are a lot of ways to frighten people and make them feel vulnerable in a primal way, and therefore there are a lot of ways to execute horror—outright screaming and slashing, psychological mind games, the appearance of the supernatural. And somewhere, buried under all of those, is a subset of horror which I internally refer to as “weird and atmospheric.” Not very professional, I know, but it's the sort of bin into which I throw things like Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, a three episode OVA that is just plain strange more so than anything else. Of course, you could also call it a romance, or a drama, or a mystery; Cossette is a very creative and ambitious work that plays leapfrog across genre boundaries, but unfortunately, so do its numerous flaws.
Cossette's story is relatively simple, but for whatever reason, its creators seem eager to make it as difficult to follow as possible. There are frequent changes in setting between the real world and a surrealistic hallucinatory world that the protagonist visits. These transitions take place with little tact, and they give the series a very warped sense of chronology which is only added to by the use of repetitive flashbacks to events that happened only minutes ago. There is little to no explanation offered as to what this surreal world actually represents, and the OVA seems to take it for granted that the audience will be able to interpret the significance (if there is any) of the events that transpire there without much help, a proposition that's dubious at best and downright foolish at worst. What's happening in the real world isn't very interesting, either; the protagonist's group of age-appropriate female friends are noticing that he's having a bit of a mental breakdown, they're all concerned with his well-being, and they take various actions to try to ensure his safety. This story thread ultimately serves very little purpose, and is more or less just a distraction from the central plot. To even understand that plot requires using tremendous amounts of speculation and assumption to fill in the gaping holes left by the writers. I'm confident that I'm a reasonably attentive viewer, and I don't feel at all embarrassed to say that on the first watch of Cossette, I could only guess at what was happening for at least forty percent of the OVA's running length. There's a fine line between minimalistic storytelling and poor storytelling. It gets crossed here, in spades.
I wish I could say that the characters swooped in and redeemed everything, but it wasn't to be. Our male lead, Eiri, an amateur artist who owns an antique shop, is a neat concept, but he has all the personality of a dishrag, and is little more than a tool used to push an overly obvious thematic agenda on the audience. The same can be said of Cossette, the doomed young daughter of foreign nobility whose soul is trapped in a decorative glass; what a great idea, and what a shockingly lackluster execution. Her lack of character might be explained away by the idea that she is supposed to represent an object of obsession rather than a person, but the fact that she responds in kind to Eiri's love sort of voids that entire train of thought. There's an attempt at romance, but I've said it before and I'll probably say it again—romance holds no meaning when neither character is even identifiable as an individual. Supporting roles, you ask? Welcome to the cast of cliches: A close female friend who is in love with Eiri but has difficulty showing it, two local psychics who give Eiri vague spiritual advice (such gems as “there's a soul in everything”), a hard-nosed doctor who notices Eiri's failing mental and physical state, a girl smitten with Eiri who works at a local restaurant. They're introduced haphazardly and, again, we're often left to make assumptions about who they even are and what their relationship is to Eiri. Most of them are cardboard cutouts graced with the privilege of about two or three lines of dialogue, and their role in the story as a whole is rather unnecessary. There's some kind of halfhearted harem drama between the overly zealous friend who is in love with Eiri and the rest of the cast. This element isn't very well thought out, nor does it have any place in the OVA, and it falls more or less flat.
Artistically, Cossette has a lot of merit. The production values are reasonably high. The character designs are inoffensive. The backgrounds are lovely, ranging from verdant forests to foggy city streets, and the atmosphere created in the bowels of Eiri's dusty antique store is suitably eerie. Somewhere along the line, though, Cossette trades all of that for a ridiculous amount of CGI, editing, and visual trickery that's really quite annoying. It turns into a regular slideshow of artistic tricks-of-the-trade. Name a strange camera angle, lighting or filtering choice, or visual distortion, and the odds are pretty good that it's here. Cossette just can't resist: A shot through stained glass here, a weird point-of-view through a digital camera there, an overlay of flickering static, an endless pan over a computer-generated landscape. Words cannot even describe the number of techniques in play here, most of which serve no purpose other than as a sort of directorial “hey, look what I can do!” In terms of the technical implementation, they might very well be flawless, but I'll be damned if I can see a reason for their awkward inclusion. The OVA is actually at its best when none of these are employed. The halls and darkened storage rooms of Eiri's store, with antiques stacked around him like tombstones, are a lot more unsettling than the tactless barrage of seizure-inducing effects.
If you're the type to look at the staff listing, you might be able to guess that there's one aspect of Cossette that is tough to complain about, and that's the music. Yuki Kajiura does what she does best: Sweeping modern orchestral compositions backed by chanted vocals, intricate piano melodies, soft and haunting atmospheric noise. The soundtrack sounds great both in the context of the OVA and on its own. It doesn't sound as clear or as polished as her later work, but it's arguably as good as any other musical score she's been involved with, and that should say just about everything; it's grade-A, plain and simple. It's not terribly difficult to label the soundtrack as Cossette's strongest element. Imagine judging a dog show where the only contestants are a beautiful golden retriever and a dead possum. That's the choice I had to make.
Harsh words all around, and yet, that number does say five, which is far from the worst available score. Cossette might have inexcusably poor writing, but it does have some technical merits to fall back on, and I'll begrudgingly admit that it's a captivating watch even though the visuals are obnoxious. It's also a very creative idea, and while that idea ultimately isn't capitalized on, I can tell that it is trying to make an ambitious statement about art and the nature of human interaction with art. This thematic material isn't handled well at all, but the fact that there's even any thematic material worth mentioning in the first place is something. In a word, Cossette is a mess, and I really can't give it the most enthusiastic praise, but creativity and ambition are present, and if nothing else, it's certainly a unique piece of work.read more
Cossette no Shouzou – alternatively named Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, is an ominous journey of twisted romance, permeated with elements of sacrifice, tragedy, and concupiscence – components which are prominent almost immediately upon the show’s introduction. Those who have seen it seem to have largely divided opinions, and those who haven’t may be hesitant as they aren’t quite sure of what they’re about to dive into. This is a highly experimental show, primarily due to its unorthodox visual presentation; and while it’s clear that all of its seams haven’t been ironed out, the output it delivers has managed to set itself apart, ingraining its story and artistic flair in a highly enjoyable, and profound, experience.
To start off, art student Eiri Kurahashi, who works at an antique shop, spots the presence of a young girl in an archaic glass, and, enticed by her beauty and salubrious air, he quickly begins to fall headfirst into an unfathomable love. The said girl in the glass, Cossette, is revealed to be a trapped spirit due to her atrocious death executed by her past lover, an artist named Marcelo Orlando. In order to free her from spirit, Eiri must utilize self-sacrificial means in order to atone for Marcelo’s sins.
The plot, in essence, can be simplified quite dramatically; while it takes a relative backseat to the show’s presentation, I still found myself intrigued by its numerous mysteries and cryptic messages. Still, the show optimizes its purpose as a visual experience, in order to deliver an ineffable journey with its artistic embellishments. Art is a prominent element in Cossette no Shouzou, and the art style is, for the most part, breathtakingly beautiful. The show’s transitions between the real and surreal also created an evocative sense of apprehensive and enigmatic atmosphere, using its artistic flair as a means to progress the story in an exuberant fashion. Camera angles and scene direction were noticeably unconventional, and this only further accentuated to the show’s visual ingenuity.
However, with such an abstract methodology fueling the storytelling, it is almost without doubt that some may find this show pretentious and ostentatious. Indeed, the majority of this show’s flaws lie in its storytelling, which, in a number of instances, came off as fragmented and unpolished. To begin with, predominantly, in the first episode, there were many transitions between scenes which felt abrupt, especially due their time gaps. It lacked that element of seamless integration which the show had for the majority of its duration, and failed to comfortably bridge the gap between each event.
There is also a cryptic air surrounding every episode, and while the most astute may be able to piece together every detail, the mysterious aura is only eradicated in the later section of the third episode. This isn’t, in itself, a flawed way to tell a story, as many other plots will testify to, but in this case, there was a sense of dissatisfaction due to lack of plot progression. The perplexing nature of the two main characters is difficult to grasp, as their actions and demands did not come off as particularly rational or reasonable. Due to this, character development, while present, didn’t come off as particularly gratifying. A large portion of the cast also took backseat roles, and their presence and relevance haven’t been established well enough to cure them of their frivolity. The ending was largely satisfying, but like earlier sections of the series, felt a little abrupt – albeit less so. There are a good number of subtle hints scattered about however, which, upon re-watching, were appreciable and noticeably well-implemented.
Complimenting the show’s unique and gorgeous visuals is the absolutely beautiful soundtrack, one which is, without doubt, one my favourites of Yuki Kaijura’s – and that’s no easy feat. The ending song, in particular, “Houseki”, is hands down one of my favourite ending themes among all others; another standout track is the main theme. Music in Cossette no Shouzou is by no means subtle, and dominates with its presence alongside the on-screen events for a harmonious presentation.
In essence, Cossette no Shouzou is an artistic experience, driven by its imagery and music. There were numerous issues with its storytelling and characters, the former of which has resulted in discord, and latter of which, especially, I felt there has been some neglect. It’s an undeniably unconventional show, and considering how divided opinions seem to be, I can understand the hesitance upon starting this series. Still, I would advise anyone remotely interested to give it a go, especially considering its short length. Regardless, it is a largely overlooked show, and considering the enjoyment I’ve derived from it, undeservedly so. Very few shows have been quite as memorable, nor have many entranced me to such an extent with its style and presentation, creating such a vigorous sense of apprehensive, somber atmosphere and imagery, contrasted powerfully with its rewarding moments of sweet romance.read more
Le Portrait de Petit Cossette: Or How I forgot French grammar and narrative for sake of beauty
would be great title for documentary (mockumentary?) about this 2004 outing by Akiyuki Shinbo and Studio Daume. And about my reaction to it too, albeit for some reason I find the idea of documentary about silly anime reviews of one self-conceited finn highly unlikely.
In a certain way this anime plays out like Greatest Hits collection of romantic horror genre. We have the dark colour palette, (dominated by black shadows and deep red of aesthetically splattered blood), majestic and old ”gothic” architecture, antique shops with mysterious furniture, eerie soundscapes and dramatic pseudoclassical music, ghost of seducive girl, dark spirits, unrepented past sins and passionate, morbidly infatuated lead character whose trials of love and obsession we follow through.
Indeed, at its heart Cossette is rather typical, straightforward obsession story with one big ”twist” towards end. The simplicity and straightforwardness of the story might be hard to realize however – the work revels in messiness and borderline incoherence of its storytelling, adding layers upon layers of grandiloquent melodramatic ”mindfuck” sequences and pompous formality. Unfortunately Shinbo’s baroque narrative ends up resembling keeling shack with goldleaf paint more than Versailles. Characters are hard to care about, movings of plot often absurd and storytelling royal mess in general. Especially disastrous is usage of side characters whose storylines and involvement often end up feeling superfluous and meaningless. The girl-next-door love interest is good example of failed character and creators seeming inability to incorporate minor characters properly to main storyline. Their main function tends to be to show how far Eiri has drifted from ”real world” in his obsession. In blunt dialogue that makes soviet tactics in WWII feel sophisticated no less.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on the cookie cutter gothic lolita story. After all according to creators their main goal was to produce something beautiful. In here their sucess has certainly been decent with some stunning shots and artwork. Hirofumi Suzuki’s character designs are nice to look at and Cossette herself is something of a masterpiece, just as alluring and hypnotic doll-like figure as story needs her to be. Add on top of this Marina Inoue’s excellent acting and we have small scale artistic wonder as focal point of the work.
Plenty of background art, lighting effects, shot compositions etc. are joy to behold too. Some CGI sequences look somewhat poor and stick out, but other than that there isn’t anything per se bad about art quality. Yuki Kajiura’s instantly recognizable musical style adds greatly to aesthetic depth of the work (unfortunately there are some non-ideal usages of the music, especially in ep 1) as well as somewhat above average sound designs.
Unfortunately director Shinbo either lost his cool with the vast array of formal trinkets and gadgets he had avalaible or he simply had never heard about restraint. Cossette is chockful with bizarre camera angles and effects (hello there, fisheye lens!), busy editing, overwrought digital effects, imposing ”camera chases” and other such offenses of civilized directing. The sheer melodramatic pomposity that borders on vulgar misuse of ”radical” directing methods tends to overpower the whole work increasingly often towards the end. Artificial shakycams and shifting perspective are constantly raped here while radical camera angles lose entirely their meaning by being constantly mishandled and overused. Scene compositions are in general absolutely terrible or average compilations of lunatic camerawork, formless or simply inappropriate editing and general over-the-topness without sense of elegance that would suit series admittedly beautiful artwork. Doing this kind of thing Akiyuki Shinbo isn’t Hideaki Anno, to put it simply. CGI effects and ”dynamic camera” movements are over-the-top to the point they turn into self-parodies. Some use of music is just silly such as utterly random and heavy handed musical sequences in final episode that contribute nothing and only drag the story to halt. Did we really need to hear Inoue’s ”Ballad” here?
After all this criticism it undoubtly comes off cheap to say ”nonetheless, it’s still fine work”. But it’s the truth. While form is over-the-top and narrative something of a mess somehow it still works. It’s joy to watch and it does suck you in. As a matter of fact I’d still recommend seeing this: it isn’t masterpiece but works that are too ambitious for their own good tend to be more interesting experiences than technically ”flawless” works that play it completely safe.
So, if you want to see something that isn’t run-off-the-mill in execution or if you’re fan of gothic lolitas and romantic horror by all means find yourself copy of Le Portrait de Petit Cossette. The experience will not disappoint.
Others: approach with caution and utmost attention. Messy storytelling can easily drop you out of the loop before first episode is over. read more