Anything I could say here would be a spoiler.
You know, I’ve been wanting to write this post for, honestly, several years now, but I just never get around to it – I always put it off. I almost managed to make myself write it back in January, as I had just finished off the manga, but even then, it just slipped and slithered away (likely because the end of the manga was awful).
Before we go any further, it should go without saying, but spoilers for the second half of Kobato. Honestly, most of the spoilers will be focused on the final quarter or so, but as I am fuzzy on what things were revealed when, I suspect there’ll be some stuff I’ll cover that occurs earlier than the final several episodes. There will also be spoilers for the Kobato. manga.
Kobato. isn’t a great anime. It really isn’t. I think it’d even be wrong to call it “good”, quite frankly, because much of the first two-thirds of the show is just horrible. And it isn’t even a case, exactly, where we can blame it on a need for filler since, yes, there was a need for filler, but the Kobato. anime is largely better than the Kobato. manga. Kobato. manga suffers from CLAMP syndrome, i.e. a need to make things much more complicated than is necessary. This is something that they used to be able to get away with (hello X), but, for whatever reason, has just become unwieldy and ugly in their more recent works (probably most infamously with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle). The manga also, as I said, has a really, really horrible ending. So even though the manga gets a bit more explicitly dark at points (such as when dealing with the nature of Sayaka’s husband’s yakuza-ness), I prefer the anime.
Related to “darkness”, the irony is that while the manga is willing to be more explicit about some of the bad stuff, on the whole, the Kobato. anime is just a more mature work. While the manga ties a pretty bow on the entire affair by making everything magically ok, the anime takes a more adult approach – everything isn’t made beautiful and lovely by the end, we are not witness to the need for a happy ending running roughshod over what has previously been established in the final stretch as a surprisingly clear-eyed tale, healing of broken hearts and all. Honestly, a lot of what the anime does is just to avoid giving a definitive answer to things that the manga clamors to close out.
In the Kobato. anime, Kobato fails in her quest. She does not fill up the bottle with broken hearts in time, and she vanishes from the world acknowledging that she won’t get her wish. The kindergarten was not saved – for all the cheery efforts and elbow grease, the bad guys win. And Sayaka returns to her estranged yakuza husband; there is a stab at making him seem not as awful by way of explaining that he’s taken on the role of bad guy so that the really horrible guy, his father, doesn’t do any heavy-duty damage, but he’s still a gangster, and the evidence for him being a decent person is thin enough to leave a sour taste at Sayaka’s reunification with him. There is also zero indication that there’ll be any change to his habits. Basically, everything that Kobato set out to do she fails at, which is a pretty shockingly harsh resolution to a story that started off with our bereft-of-common-sense heroine healing someone’s heart by singing to a baby and being utterly delighted with the konpeito she earned for doing so. It is worth noting that Kiyokazu, too, fails to achieve the primary goals he has during the course of the show.
The show does end with Kiyokazu finding Kobato again, years later; she’s reincarnated and is the daughter of one of his clients. She clearly remembers him, and he recalls her, before the credits roll in a desperate attempt by Madhouse to not have us dwell too much on the fact that she’s ambiguously teenaged while he must be at least in his mid-thirties (classic CLAMP!). It does move the show into a less sad territory than if the show had merely ended with Kobato disappearing, but it doesn’t reduce the distinctly adult feel to the show’s resolution.
The Kobato. anime is about how things don’t always work out, and that effort and good intent do not at all ensure a happy ending. But its also about how life moves on even when things don’t turn out ideally – Sayaka going back to her husband may strike us as odious, but it is a decision that she makes for herself, and it is how she is choosing to live after she accepts that she cannot preserve the livelihood her father left her. Kiyokazu is heartbroken in more ways than one, but he accepts and respects Sayaka’s decisions, and he finally starts to live for himself rather than solely for others. That we see him years later as a lawyer is full proof of that.
As for the manga… well, the manga basically says you can have it all. The kindergarten is lost, and Sayaka goes back to a guy who is a bad person, but, wait! He isn’t, we swear, even though just a few chapters earlier he was basically trying to coerce Kobato into agreeing to sex slavery! He and Sayaka get to run away together, and they start a new kindergarten! Aww, cute! Heartwarming! Oh, and here’s Kobato, years later, reincarnated, and she’s going to work at the kindergarten also! Even without eyes to the May-December romance apparently about the be rekindled between Kobato and Kiyokazu, its a pretty disturbing way of handling things.
Shifting back to the anime, the fact that things end as they do shouldn’t be a surprise when we consider an earlier episode involving an old tree that Kobato and the children of the kindergarten wish to save. The tree is slated to be cut down to make way for development, which upsets the kids and Kobato. Kobato even keeps her heels dug firmly in when Kohaku tells her that the tree is actually ok with being cut down, and that it has been satisfied with its life. The tree ends up falling over on its own, revealing that its rotted on the inside and was going to die anyway. It comes as a shot across the bow at that point in the story, as, even though we’ve experienced things degrading at the kindergarten, the tone of the show has remained largely upbeat.
I have nothing else to say, really. I liked the ending a lot, I liked how things turned out; there are already a million deus ex machina happy endings out there, its refreshing, really, to have something take a different route.