Le portrait de petite Cossette
I'd seen the signature image for this series several times, a very young looking girl with blond hair, a mournful expression and a black dress. It looked like gothic horror to me, and I'm not averse to such things.
It all begins when a young guy, a sensitive artist type, unpacks the latest acquisition for the antique shop in which he works. Inside it is a cabinet full of glassware and he is immediately entranced by one of the pieces from the collection. He is drawn even deeper when he begins to see the spirit of a young girl within the patterns of the glass. It seems that glass is a sufficient vessel for spirit power... especially when it has been exposed to a past event as sinful and twisted as the one that lies at the heart of this story.
What secret does the spirit of the glass keep? And, as Eiri sinks deeper into this world, what part does he have to play in it. Is he to be a victim, a sacrifice, a saviour or will he find only madness. He cannot even begin to guess, but entranced by the spirit of Cossette he has no intention of stopping before the truth is revealed, even should it mean his death or damnation.
Reviewing this story in depth would be next to impossible. However summarising the intent is really easy. Does this seem like a strange paradox? It isn't really, because this anime is what I would call an "art" piece. That's where you take an atmospheric core story, and some imagery, and then extend and emboss it until the viewers mind is numbed by the progression of exotic imagery. If done well the viewer may be struck by the symbolic power and intensity of the images presented. If done badly the viewer starts to realize how artificial and contrived it all is. Or even more likely, if you chop the presentation into a large number of individual sequences, you get a bit of both as some parts fail and some strike home.
Thus, at this point, some people will already be certain they want to experience it. But a much larger number of people will have stopped reading. Some people really enjoy the game of creating strong visual imagery and are willing to accept that not all of it works and the product will be somewhat fragmented. And those people should give this a try, there'll almost certainly be something about the style, story or events that appeals to you.
However, as a critic, I'm going to side with the nay-sayers on this one. I haven't seen so much pretentious, overblown and contrived imagery since... well, some heavy metal video clips to be honest. A great deal of it lacked any sort of subtlety at all, feeling much more like desperation or, more positively, rampant experimentation as a bunch of people just play around with imagery and visual effect. It's just way too loud and too fast so that you start to become numb to the spectacle. This is exacerbated by an aggressive over-use of visual effects which break up the flow and tend to emphasise random parts of the sequence for no obviously apparent reason. There's just way too much effect and too little substance. There certainly are parts that work, the little twist at the conclusion was nicely handled, but there is way too much un-needed ornamentation and laughably extreme imagery to dig through on the way.
In short I just got tired of the volume. Horror is more effective, to me, if it is built on a firm base of character, and it wasn't long before I didn't even care about the lead... not to mention the pointless and seemingly interchangeable extras involved. The pressure should build slowly, hints in the dialog and the way characters express themselves, little visual clues that all is not as it seems. However this one is bathing in rivers of blood in the first episode, and then has to keep trying to outdo itself in every scene thereafter. And because the artist has showed their hand so directly, and interfered in the presentation so strongly, there is little immersion and thus little involvement.
I think I've basically given some fairly strong clues as to what to expect. It alternates between the world of the real which is drawn in closeup, claustrophobic and grey. Meanwhile the world of the "heavy metal nightmare" brings out a lot of familiar props, such as bones, barbs, chains, demons, glowing souls and hearts torn from gaping chests and goes at it with a gay abandon. Over the top of it all are a huge number of visual effects, many of them obviously computer enabled, and some of them quite annoying. Fading in and out of focus is an example, it didn't actually make sense at that point in the story it was just a way for them to make the appearance more complex without doing any extra work. It's also cut like a musical video clip, very short visual segments and jarring transitions. This is partly to conceal that the underlying animation, while decent, is nothing special. Voices are alright, the dialog not giving them much to establish character with, and the music is actually quite good at times.