This week, a unique erotic historical fiction film that has completely slipped through the cracks.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 15th 2005
Cossette, a pretty young blond girl, was murdered in 18th century France by Marcelo, a painter who had fallen in love with her while producing numerous portraits of her. For more than 250 years her spirit lingers in a glass, waiting for a person who would be able to see and fall in love with her, thus providing an avenue for her freedom. Though she is reluctant to take the drastic actions necessary to gain her freedom, since it would mean the suffering and death of one who loves her, she sees her opportunity in Eiri, an antique shop employee who not only can see her but quickly becomes obsessed with her. The spirits of the objects which belonged to Cossette in life sense in Eiri the reborn spirit of Marcelo, however, and respond with great anger, threatening Eiri's well-being. Can Eiri survive the curse of her objects and find a way to be with Cossette, or will his friends succeed in calling him back from the dream realm into which he is slipping? Does Cossette herself value her freedom enough that she is willing to allow Eiri's suffering to happen?
Goth-Loli (aka “Gothic Lolita”) comes to anime in a three-episode OVA series so distinctive and unusual that it cannot fail to make an impression. Sure, some viewers are going to see this and think, “What is this tripped-out nonsense?” but more will look at this and say, “Whoa! This is some really cool stuff.” From its first moment until its very last the series is awash in inventive imagery and camera tricks, including shaky or shifting perspective, odd or distant viewpoints, distorted perceptions, and rapid scene cuts. Viewers drift through and around dreamlike 3D sequences on the winds of CG animation, catch glimpses of Cossette as she passes through glassware stained with rainbow hues, or watch as other characters are perceived through the warping effect of fine Venetian glass. A doll bleeding from empty eye sockets, a red cross erupting in a geyser of blood, backgrounds of intricate stained glass patterns passing by, Eiri in a monstrous form crucified against a full moon whose shadows look eerily like a skull – all these images and more pass by to fascinate and disturb the viewer. How much of it is actually supposed to mean anything? Very little, I think; most of the images and effects are just mood-setting devices. For as artsy as the production looks, it is not especially deep or symbolic.
In the Behind the Scenes feature included in the Extras, one of the key production personnel comments that their main goal with the series was to produce something that viewers would find pretty. This they have accomplished quite well. Petit Cossette is loaded with gorgeously-rendered backgrounds which are so finely-detailed that it is sometimes hard to distinguish between an artistic rendering and an actual still shot of a real-life scene. Characters are specifically designed to be appealing without capturing too much of the typical anime drawing style. As a result Cossette herself looks more beautiful than cute, almost more a walking talking porcelain doll than a living girl. (And perhaps that is the point.) The portraits of her used both in the episodes and in the closer are exceptionally vibrant, capturing the spirit of classic 18th century art and making it no mystery how Eiri was able to fall for her in the story. Various different filters are used to give some scenes old, grainy looks, and the vivid, sometimes very graphic imagery is as imaginative as anything seen recently in anime. Fine cel animation provides a smooth sense of movement for the characters while CG effects, which allow the perspective to roam around in the dream sequences, create a 3D feeling. The only visual flaw is that some of the CG sequences look too distinctly CG, as if they were cut scenes from a high-end video game, but this will bother some viewers less than others. The series is still, overall, a remarkable artistic effort.
No artsy Gothic-themed animation would be complete without a moody soundtrack which soars through some dramatic scenes while lending an edgy, unnerving feel to others. Many of the musical themes are reminiscent of elements from Noir and .hack//SIGN, which shouldn't be surprising given that Music Director Yuki Kajiura also did the soundtracks for both of those titles. Young newcomer Marina Inoue, who also makes her debut as the seiyuu for Cossette, lends her remarkably rich, husky singing voice (you wouldn't think she could sing like that given how she talks in the Behind the Scenes feature) to “Gem,” the wonderfully melodic closing number. An effective Dolby 5.1 English track is provided in addition to 5.1 and DTS Japanese tracks, though both of the latter have some problems with voices in the first episode registering too soft; I had to jack the volume up quite a bit, in comparison with the English track, in order to hear them adequately.
The writing for Petite Cossette suggests that, while there are elements of love between Eiri and Cossette, this is more a tale of tragic obsessions. The plot can be hard to follow at times, but it is not as deep or complicated as its artistic flair suggests: a college student obsesses over a lovely ghost only he can see, perhaps because he is the reincarnation of the man who loved her and yet murdered her 250 years earlier. The spirits of her objects sense this and take out their fury on the young man while friends who do not understand what is going on worry about his health and risk getting caught up in the spiritual machinations. At some point the ghost must either resolve herself to what needs to be done or release her beloved and forsake her quest for freedom because the price is too high.
The course of events over the first two episodes is fairly predictable, as the story borrows elements from numerous other supernatural tales, but the stylish presentation and dramatic visuals assures that the series does not get dull. As the story progresses into the third episode a major twist comes about which may seem more like an inconsistency in storytelling and character portrayal until the full truth – which also reinforces Marcelo's motivation for killing his beloved – is revealed towards the end. It is here that the storytelling is at its freshest. Since the story is almost entirely focused on Eiri and Cossette, secondary characters are left underdeveloped and underused; one of Eiri's female friends has great spiritual sensitivity, but inadequate use is made of her despite all the spiritual goings-on surrounding Eiri. Fortunately Cossette is well-portrayed as the child who has matured greatly over the centuries of her imprisonment, while Eiri is convincing as the young man whose fascination with the image of a pretty girl becomes an obsession for which he'll endure even great suffering.
The English dub, produced by Bang Zoom! and directed by longtime VA Wendee Lee, features a veteran cast which does an admirable job of capturing the essence and emotions of the key characters. The English performance for Cossette is a little more playful than the Japanese performance but still feels right for the character, and Kevin Hatcher (Kouta from Stellvia) is an excellent fit for Eiri even though he was originally voiced by a woman. Frustratingly, Geneon has returned to its old habit of listing only the actors in the credits and not the roles which they played, which makes it challenging to pick out who played what role unless you know your English VA voices really well. The English script stays pretty tight through the first two episodes but inexplicably rewrites some philosophical bits in a considerably looser third episode. The changes do not detract from the story, however, so it should be a satisfying dub for anyone who is not a strict purist.
Aside from the aforementioned Behind the Scenes piece, extras include company previews, an assortment of trailers for Petite Cossette, and a music video for “Gem.” (The latter, while a good-sounding video, shows that Japanese in Goth dress look about as appropriate as a Viking in a kimono.) Also look in the case for a reversible cover and double-sided mini-poster. Geneon has opted to show the original Japanese end credits for each episode, while the English credits are provided only after the end credits for the last episode.
Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is, ultimately, an artsy, stylish supernatural horror story about love and obsession. Its dramatic visuals, exceptional artistry, and sumptuous musical scoring make watching it quite an experience, and the story isn't half bad, either. It is very intensely graphic, so it is not a series for younger viewers or the faint at heart. If Goth-Loli appeals to you, you're a fan of inventive artistry, or you're looking for something quite different in the realm of supernatural tales, then this title is definitely worth a look.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : A
+ Inventive imagery, top-rate musical scoring
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