Corrected to ‘Petite Cossette’ for release outside Japan, Petit Cossette was an interesting, odd little OVA from 2004, probably the prettiest – and strangest – iteration of the Gothic Lolita craze in anime that also spawned the superb Rozen Maiden and the lamentable rip-off Saint October. While the visuals of Cossette are striking and impressive, the plot is rather loose and obscure, and while perhaps that gives it a sense of being more high-minded than Rozen Maiden, it certainly doesn’t have the charm, humour or memorable characters. But then, in three OVA episodes with horror as the dominant tone, that was never really going to happen, and after all, there are plenty of examples of sweet, beautiful young girls without much in the way of personality in horror stories becoming very well-loved characters – just look at Enma Ai.
The inspiration for the story is gothic horror, in all its cliché, with the primary source most likely being The Picture of Dorian Gray. A young Japanese man finds a portrait of a beautiful little white girl in the sort of frilly pseudo-Rococo dress beloved of the Lolita street fashion movement in Japan. She speaks to him from within the portrait, and becoming obsessed, he goes to the painting at midnight, and eventually learns that little Cossette’s spirit was trapped in the portrait when she was murdered byt the artist. She must haunt it until a man comes who can bear the punishment the artist should have received – and who better than what turns out to be his 21st-century Japanese reincarnation?
There’s a lot of silliness here. The amount of psychoanalysis that could go into a film about a young single Japanese man happy to bear almost unlimited physical pain – fetishised into something pure and devotional – for a picture of a barely adolescent, idealised white girl must be immense, as well as the exploration into who finds the concept moving. The minor characters who surround Eiri are all completely two-dimensional, something that stands out sorely in an animation that aims for depth, and all the girls in his life seem to want to save him from himself and from his obsessions.
I feel almost certain this is a property slyly written to appeal to obsessive Japanese collectors and hikkikomori, and indeed it would seem to have found an audience with them. Daume also deal almost exclusively in lolicon (in ‘loli’s other sense), branching out slightly to include traps in recent years. There’s a high-minded and elegant approach to Cossette, but beneath it lurks all the hallmarks of very lowbrow anime. Personally, I liked the imagery and striking themes enough to keep a copy of the OVA for the 7 years since its release – but I can’t say I have even once felt a strong desire to rewatch it.