I’ve been on a bit of an Akiyuki Shinbo binge recently, so what better way to round off two weeks of Shaft anime coverage than with the OVA that started it all.Le Portrait de Petit Cossette was an influential anime from 2004, which would eventually lead to Shinbo’s promotion to star director and inspire Shaft’s rebranding as an arthouse studio. Unsurprisingly, I don’t like this one either.
The story follows Eiri Kurahashi, a teenager who runs his family’s antique shop in a cozy shopping arcade. One day a relative sends him a package from Europe, which among many other antiques contains a Venetian drinking glass that piques Eiri’s curiosity. As he inspects the colorful glass, Eiri begins to see visions of a young, European girl. He soon becomes obsessed with this girl and the glass through which he views snippets of her life, but these visions begin to increasingly invade Eiri’s actual world.
This girl, Cossette, begins to appear to him more and more frequently, plunging him into hallucinations that frequently devolve into violence. Eiri begins to see himself in Cossette’s memories, which imply a dark history that he may be responsible for, even as the two lived several centuries and entire continents apart from each other.
It’s a cool setup for a story and I’ll admit that it goes to some interesting places. The critical flaw is that it doesn’t involve any interesting people to match.
While Cossette has some intrigue to her, Eiri is just kind of a boring dude who never really gave me anything that could get me invested in his character. He’s an artist himself and he has friends, but his interactions that don’t involve Cossette are always framed as cold and uninteresting, a break from the OVA’s trippy visuals and psychological horror segments. There’s a cast of side-characters that similarly never engaged me in any way, which made it hard to stay intrigued by the story when this downtime dominates large swathes of the first 2 episodes.
Akiyuki Shinbo’s usual flair shines through in a lot of the directing work, but isn’t as refined as it would become in later years. The artstyle in general is lifeless, with ugly characters and dull colors, perhaps to make the eccentric scenes stand out more. During Eiri’s visions Le Portrait de Petit Cossette turns into an arthouse bukkake, as seemingly-random flashes of animation take turns to shine in quick succession. It all feels a little too loose and often fails to impress, especially with the show’s horror ambitions.
I mean, even the start of the anime has this scene where repeated still images of Cossette zoom out until they all blend together into a spooky CGI skull, which kinda sets the bar low. Sometimes the anime wants to be suspenseful and psychological, then at other times you get a CGI gravestone with a .png of a Grim Reaper on it. It’s not until the final episode that the OVA finally manages to feel confident in its presentation, at which point it felt way too late already.
Die-hard fans of Shaft’s current work may be able to enjoy Le Portrait de Petit Cossette for being a progenitor to the more impressive series that would follow. It’s rough around the edges visually, but its story does come together nicely if you can manage to stay interested through its low points. Speaking generally, however, the anime is too visually & thematically chaotic for a general audience, and even those willing to be patient are likely to struggle with the uninteresting characters and drab artstyle.