Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (Cossette no Shouzou)

(3 36-minute episodes, 2004)

My previous exposure

After the success of Bakemonogatari and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Akiyuki Shinbo barely needs any introduction, and his name should be reason enough to revisit his earlier works. Especially after stumbling onto The Soultaker last year in my half-joke “Spring 2001 in review”, which showed that his directing skills were already impressive more than a decade ago.

I’ve had mixed luck with Shinbo’s back catalog in the past (Soultaker was impressive, Negima!? okay, but I couldn’t get through more than a few episodes of Pani Poni Dash and Hidamari Sketch), but this is a short OVA series, so why not try it out ?

What’s it about ?

Our generic male protagonist mans his uncle’s antique shop while the latter gallivants the world. One day, he stumbles in his inventory onto a cupboard hiding the portrait of a girl. Also, one of the glasses inside allows him to see the image of said girl… and to talk with her.

From that point starts a very creepy relationship, to the increasing concern of his few friends and the local psychic. And that’s before the bodies start piling in.

What did I think of it ?

With the routine use of peculiar angles, the thoughtful composition of every shot, and the use of editing as punctuation, there’s an hypnotic quality to Shinbo’s directing… and by this I mean it often makes me drowse and lose focus if I’m not quite hooked by the story. In his good series, there’s usually a sudden jolt in the plot that forces me to pay attention (Bakemonogatari‘s sudden child abuse flashback, Soultaker‘s descent into insanity, Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei‘s social commentary, everything in PMMM). Here, it’s the twist about the portrait… but that’s in the third episode. So I’m left with two episodes of creepy atmosphere that I couldn’t make much emotional attachment to, and a very good ending that puts a completely different spin on the previous happenings but still makes perfect sense.

So I’m a bit conflicted about this one. The ending was very good indeed, and Shinbo’s craft shines throughout, but I can’t ignore I couldn’t quite care about the first two-thirds of it.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 13.


(38 episodes)

What’s it about ?

War epic set in medieval China.

The first episode is double-sized, which I didn’t initially notice until the second commercial break.


Xin, an 10-year-old war orphan who’s housed by the village’s mayor. They don’t treat him well, but then again he’s an annoying little jerk with anger issues. (I’m not sure that scene when he demolishes a wall out of frustration is intentionally funny.)

Piao, his BFF who’s in the same situation but gets better treatment because he’s, you know, not an jerk. The guy has some genuine charisma, so of course he can’t survive the first episode’s halfway point.

The plot here is that a random noble dude shows up one day to pick Piao to serve at the Court. Months later, Piao comes back heavily wounded to the village and dies without having had time to explain what the heck is happening. Xin obviously declares vengeance and starts following the map Piao gave him.

The baddies are headed by the King’s younger brother, a classist asshole who has a total innocent executed just to make a point. He’s making a power play, and somehow this led to Piao’s demise. (The first episode doesn’t explain how or why, although the ending cliffhanger gives a good hint.)

Production Values

This seems to be fully CG-animated, with copious amounts of cell-shading to give it a more traditional anime look. The big problem is that the body language very often lurches into uncanny valley territory, as the characters are animated to move in really unnatural ways.

It doesn’t help that the direction is mind-bogglingly incompetent. Remember when I reviewed 2001’s Run=Dim last year ? Well, this falls into the same trap : yes, CG graphics allow the camera to pan over or around the action without losing quality ; but this isn’t a good reason to show it off at every opportunity, especially when this effect actually often hinders the storytelling of the shot.

And then there’s the continuity issues. It’s most hilarious in the early duel scene between the two kids, where the grass grows from merely a texture laid on flat terrain to knee-deep over a few shots.

Overall Impression

Okay, let’s leave aside for a moment the terrible graphics and the laughably inept direction. There’s no helping that the story just isn’t very good by itself, with an annoying brainless protagonist, EEEEVIL villains who can’t even chew the scenery properly, and a general level of unpleasantness that’s just tiring to watch. (Did that guy really need to sword that kid through the balls ?)

Even for the trainwreck factor this isn’t worth 45 minutes of your time.

via [In which I review] New anime, Summer 2012.