PUBLISHER: Tokyopop and Dark Horse
RATING: Older Teen (16+)?
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 4
SCORE: 8 (Very Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic, etc.), experimental manga, steampunk
Before I begin, I’d like to point out that this review covers the recent Dark Horse omnibus release. The four individual volumes that Tokyopop put out are now out of print. You’re going to want the new omnibus, anyway. It’s fabulous. (By the way, the omnibus doesn’t seem to show a rating. If it does, I can’t find it. But there are scenes of a (kind of mild) sexual nature present, so I feel safe in saying that is in the Older Teen range. If anybody knows for certain, feel free to let me know.)
What is happiness, and how do you find it? That’s the question at the heart of Clover, a series from manga superstars CLAMP.
Clover begins with Kazuhiko Fay Ryu, a former black ops agent, being assigned a mission by General Ko despite the fact that he is now a civilian. His job is to deliver a package.
The “package” in question is a mysterious young girl who goes by the name of Sue, and she is the only person who knows their final destination. As part of the Clover Leaf Project, she has been kept isolated from other people inside of a very large cage for most of her life. Her only form of human contact has been through the distant voices of General Ko and Kazuhiko’s dead girlfriend Ora, a singer whose songs Sue loves. Sue has only one wish, and Kazuhiko is the only one who can make it come true.
Right off the bat, I’ll say that this title probably isn’t going to be to a lot of people’s tastes. It’s very experimental in style, but those who have previously enjoyed CLAMP’s other works or are looking for something a little more off-beat than the usual mainstream manga, Clover is worth a look, especially the gorgeous new Dark Horse omnibus edition.
The plot, as you can probably surmise from the summary, is a bit on the thin side, but Clover isn’t about the plot. It’s about how the plot is presented. The first two volumes, which make up what is considered Part I of the series, cover the main storyline as described in the summary: Kazuhiko and Sue traveling to the secret destination so that Sue can fulfill her wish. The third volume, Part II, goes back to a time before Part I when Ora was still alive and first “met” Sue. The last volume is Part III and goes back even further to reveal the backstory of another character who is a part of the enigmatic Clover Leaf Project.
There were actually two more volumes (Part IV) originally planned by CLAMP, but the magazine the series was serialized in folded before the story could be completed. Normally, I do not care for unfinished series, but the way this series was concepted and written, with what is presumably the ending already shown in the second volume, those last two volumes aren’t really necessary. Yes, a few questions remain unanswered, but as a reader, those unanswered questions didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the series as a whole. In fact, as a writer, I almost feel inspired to come up with my own version of the answers. (Why, yes, I do write fanfiction.)
Another interesting technique used to tell the story is the use of extremely short chapters. Chapters range from a single page to probably no more than ten for some of the longer chapters. I didn’t bother to count, but that seems about right. The shortness of the chapters gives the story a bit of a… Well, I guess I would say “disjointed” feel at times, but it’s still relatively easy to understand despite some moments of randomness.
In addition to the non-typical narrative structure, the art style is similarly experimental in regards to paneling. Many panels are on the small side, mostly focusing on the characters’ faces, and tend to be spaced out, leaving quite a bit of unused space on the page. These empty spaces do a great job of conveying Sue’s loneliness and the disconnect she feels to others due to her isolation. The artwork itselt is stunning, as is most of CLAMP’s work. I think Ora in particular is one of the most beautiful characters they have ever created. I love her tight spiral curls and her gothic-inspired wardrobe. Sue also has a great design to her.
If there is one thing to complain about concerning the style of the series, though, it would have to be overdose of song lyrics that are repeated on almost. every. single. page. I’m not kidding. Probably over a third of the text in this series consists of the lyrics to Ora’s songs alone, and they aren’t great lyrics. Take this verse, for example, from the song I consider the series’ theme song, since it is also called “Clover”: I wish for happiness/I seek happiness/To find happiness with you/To be your happiness/So take me/Somewhere far from here. Not exactly the work of say, a John Mayer or a Taylor Swift. Maybe the lyrics come across as more profound in Japanese, but they seem kind of trite in English.
Now, if you all will allow me to gush… WOW. I love, love, love what Dark Horse did with this omnibus. I am a total sucker for colored artwork, and Dark Horse delivers with a total of seven double-page drawings separating each volume and twenty-one — yes, twenty-one — more drawings in a bonus gallery at the end of the book, which includes the artwork that was used for the covers of the original four volumes. I adore omnibuses (omnibusi?) for their value, but one of the drawbacks in my opinion has always been the loss of the colored cover art, so it’s great that those were included.
I am just in love with these drawings. Words can’t convey just how gorgeous they are. I find myself randomnly grabbing the book throughout the day just to look at them. They’re seriously almost worth the price of this omnibus just by themselves. (Well, okay, twenty dollars for twenty-eight colored drawings may be a bit much, but I got my copy at Right Stuf and only paid fifteen.)
(Note to self: Stop stalling and buy one of the CLAMP artbooks already. You know you want one.)
Clover may be more style over substance, but, man, does it ever have style. If you’re the type who likes a meaty plot in your manga, this is not the series for you. For those looking for something a little out of the ordinary, though, Clover is a possible gem. Even if the story doesn’t win you over, the artwork probably will.
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