Buried Gems: Le Portrait de Petit Cossette
Here at Anime Insights, we don’t just cover the currently airing series. No, our coverage expands to other and older works which may have been overlooked by time or overshadowed by other popular series, but are still highly recommended.
With that said, welcome to Buried Gems! This is a new segment where I, ramenpoodle discuss some “underground” series that I think that, for whatever reason, deserve a watch. Today we’ll be discussing one of the most underappreciated OVA series of all time, Le Portrait de Petit Cossette.
Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is not perfect, and it’s not for everyone. The patchwork, nonlinear storytelling and dramatic filler sequences may put off some viewers looking for action, explosions, and giant robots to fill their anime void, or black hole, or galaxy, or what have you. The OVA series, which has a total runtime of about 3 hours, easily could have told the same story in a span of 15 minutes, and the story itself isn’t particularly novel or groundbreaking. That said, I’m not sure you can even call the series “fun”, as the only thing that even comes close to “fun” in this series is the temporary high you may get from having horrific images of surrealist origin permanently etched into your brain. Kinda like End of Evangelion, remember that, kiddies? Fun, right?
But know that Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is one of the most beautifully directed and illustrated pieces of cinema that I have ever come across. And if this OVA had been only 15 minutes long, it wouldn’t even be as half as fantastic as it is.
The story is as follows: an antique shop worker gets a glass sent to him one day. He starts to obsess over the glass’s beauty, and soon it possesses him, overtaking his senses. He starts to see the glass’s original owner, Cossette, take form before his very eyes. Cossette becomes real to him and he falls in love with her, but as soon as he does, his normal life begins to take a turn for the worse. As Cossette’s beauty overpowers him, he spirals into a pit of insanity that can only be described as a personal hell, filled with terrifying visions of monsters, crosses, and lots and lots of blood. I think the most interesting thing about the story is just how Western in origin the premise is, despite the obvious French influence present. I mean, it almost sounds like the plot of a Goosebumps book, right? But somehow, this “simplicity” just turns about to be another one of the series’ many charms.
First, I was a huge fan (borderline stalker?) of this series’ director, Akiyuki Shinbo (of Bakemonogatari, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Negima!?, and Maria+Holic fame, plus this season’s Arakawa Under the Bridge and MANY more, all recommended) before watching this, if only for his ability to transform any source material, no matter the genre, into a veritable art museum of sorts. However, I had observed that he mostly sticks to comedies, and I had never seen him do something that was “serious” all the way through. I have now learned that Shinbo taking the helm of such a series is a very, very dangerous thing, and that there might be a good reason that he adapts more lighthearted fare nowadays. Nevertheless, the result is a visceral feast for the eyes and even words will do no good in describing it, only images, which I have for your convenience posted below. Shinbo channels Dali much like our protagonist channels Cossette, as he lovingly depicts scenes that are both ghastly and great to behold.
That should probably give you a good idea of what we’re dealing with here.
Say what you want about the pacing, but true art deserves time to be looked at and enjoyed, and the still shots, shadows, and colors really capture the essence of what the series is all about. In my opinion, on the art alone (which was ahead of its time for its 2005 release year), and on the sheer brilliance of directorial style, the series deserves to be on your shelf, and everyone’s. It’s a shame that more people don’t watch this, or for that matter know about it. Any good connoisseur of art-house film, anime fan or not, should give this a try.
(Le Portrait de Petit Cossette is licensed by Sentai Filmworks. You can pick up the complete OVA set for the low, low price of 14.99!)