Anime has an interesting mixed history with the horror genre. Usually action based series that just happens to involve horror tropes like vampires in the case of Hellsing or werewolves in the case of Princess Resurrection, fit under this umbrella genre by happenstance. Even Japan’s live-action film and its distinctive horror style focus on tense atmospheres and unsettling moments rarely permeate horror anime, outside of say Hell Girl. What is generally the norm when it comes to horror anime is that it is like a snake coiled together with themes of the psychosocial, plain and simple psychological horror. Stand outs like Boogiepop Phantom and Requiem from the Darkness encompass the mental anguish tied to horror while working a mystery angle. The 2004 OVA, Le Portrait De Petite Cossette, fits my skewed definition for what constitutes psychological horror in my book.
Le Portrait De Petite Cossette is for one headed by anime director, Akiyuki Shinbo who I can without a doubt say has recent titles that readers will recognize. Outside of a ton of nineties OVAs that sit in the “I could swear that I have heard of this before but I forgot where exactly”, he directed Arakawa Under The Bridge, Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, and everything under the Bakamonogatari sun. What surprised me the most is just how popular many of these titles are, and to top it off, he directed the heavily talked about anti-magical girl juggernaut Puella Magi Madoka Magica, whose artistic flourishes seem to be taking their first breath in tonight’s review. Interesting thing to note and thus stick in your head uncomfortably, the character designs where done by Hirofumi Suzuki, who with The Sky Crawlers character designer Tetsuyo Nishio represent every single T.V., film, and OVA related to Naruto (Shippuden); small world indeed.
So let the story begin, artist and university student Eiri Kurahashi has become distant from his friends as of late, keeping himself cooped up working in his uncle’s antique shop. Eiri’s days are spent in the regularly empty shop obsessing over a rainbow shaded glass cup that shows him depictions of a young blonde girl (whose dress changes by the minute) by the name of Cossette living in a country side mansion. As Eiri proclaims at one point, “Just like a documentary film, I see the life of a girl inside this glass.” His obsession reaches the point where Cossette appears to him as a ghost, whose spirit is tied to all of the objects she once owned that inhabit the shop. Through blood filled scenes, Cossette explains to Eiri that he is an embodiment of the late French portrait painter Marcelo Orlando, who as Cossette’s fiancé murdered her and her family as to keep her ageless, like the way he depicted her in his work. Like Marcelo before him, Eiri’s love for Cossette reveals itself in his drawings Eiri must fend for himself against the object’s vengeance and is shown as he malforms into a demon in an unearthly surreal realm. Eiri’s devotion to Cossette is pitted against the past murderer he once was in a previous life and for pain and suffering that await him in his future life.
Le Portrait De Petite Cossette looks like a testing ground for what would later blossom into Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The series has this frenetic motion where the camera jumps around abnormally, positioned underneath a table one moment, right under the character’s chin the next. The camera’s focus is often placed behind objects like railings and stain glass, giving an uneven depiction of the character and their interactions. Jump cuts to several movie posters give this show an apparent feeling of unease and unstableness. The world made by the Cossette infused objects is filled with floating eyes, clock gears, and giant sized skeleton bones; attention to style that makes Le Portrait De Petite Cossette simply interesting to look upon.
A moody and haunting visual should always be paired with an equally fitting soundtrack. This soundtrack composed by Yuki Kajiura (another connection to Puella Magi Madoka Magica) includes a mix of classical and almost operatic melodies which set the ears right where the viewer’s eyes are, setting the tone with violins and heavy drums. Back when the original distributor Geneon used to sell anime CD soundtracks, they released not only Le Portrait De Petite Cossette’s soundtrack, but a close parallel in feel to the dystopian show Ergo Proxy with its metallic gloom. I would suggest the soundtrack on its own merits.
Pros: Stylistically engaging without missing substance, two things that many others in the past have cow towed to either one or the other. Soundtrack will have me searching vendor tables for a copy. It sets out to make a horror based romance story that is actually engaging and fun to watch.
Cons: Eiri is but a vessel for the viewer, who is supported more by his artistic creation then his own ability to engage. Side characters are separated more by their professions and are not given enough time to stick in the viewers’ mind. The show has a tendency to get wrapped up in its own feeling of self and ends up repeating certain scenes almost verbatim just because it felt that doubling something already cool exactly would work more than once.
Geonon released Le Portrait De Petite Cossette back in its hay day individually per episode, but the rerelease comes from the Sentai Filmworks catalog as one standalone set. This one skirts the line between “almost too oblique to be made but glad that it is” to “maybe it has an audience” to the point that astounds me. This is something that really shows what the OVA format is capable of, allowing for such a cool show to be funded, reminding me of this mediums creativity. Horror anime fans, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.