Archive for October 2010

Legal Drug

TITLE: Legal Drug
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shounen-ai
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Wish, The One I Love, Suki, etc.), supernatural, mystery, comedy, romance

As a general rule, I don’t review incomplete series on this blog. Neither do I tend to read shounen-ai/yaoi, which just isn’t my cup of tea. This will be a rare exception.

There’s a rather interesting story about how I came to own these three volumes of CLAMP’s Legal Drug. I mentioned in my last posted review that I bought my copy of another CLAMP title, Shirahime-Syo, secondhand. An online aquaintance of mine was getting rid of some of her manga collection, and among the offered titles was Shirahime-Syo, which I had been wanting for a while. However, it seemed silly to only buy one volume when the seller was offering a flat shipping rate. The cost of the shipping was more than the cost of the book! None of the other titles for sale really interested me, though, so in the end I randomly decided to pick up Legal Drug as well, since it was another CLAMP title and only three volumes long. At the price I was paying for them, it didn’t really matter to me if the series was ultimately left unfinished, and I was vaguely interested in reading one of CLAMP’s more shounen-ai-focused works, just out of curiosity.

I would describe Legal Drug as a more blatantly homoerotic version of their current series xxxHolic. The main characters are a pair of seventeen-year-old boys who live and work at Green Drugstore, owned by Kakei, a man with the power of precognition. The boys also possess unusual powers of their own: Kazahaya Kudo uses something akin to psychometry that allows him to see the memories of things and people he touches, while Rikuo Himuro’s power is telekinesis. In addition to their normal jobs at the pharmacy, Kakei offers them side jobs that often are linked to the supernatual. Based only on the three volumes that were released before the series was put on hiatus, it isn’t very clear yet what the main plot of the story is supposed to be, but these side jobs hint at a larger mystery, one involving the reason why Kazahaya ran away from his twin sister Kei and the disappearance of a mysterious woman named Tsukiko, who seems to be connected somehow to Rikuo.

But the main purpose of sending Kazahaya and Rikuo out on these jobs seems to be putting them in as many compromising positions as possible, which especially annoys Kazahaya since he can’t stand Rikuo. (Again, shades of xxxHolic, in how Watanuki despises Doumeki at first.) Rikuo, for his part, doesn’t seem to mind, finding Kazahaya’s freak-outs a source of constant amusement.

Unfortunately, the majority of these side jobs aren’t very interesting, only lasting about a chapter or two at most and not very suspenseful. One has them going to see a black-and-white movie so that Kazahaya can find out the color of a jewel — necessitating that he hold Rikuo’s hand since Kazahaya has a cold and can’t focus on his own — while another has Kazahaya dressing up as a schoolgirl and being possessed by a spirit, who wants to confess to the boy she had a crush on — of course played by Rikuo.

It isn’t until the third volume that a job comes along that feels like a true mystery. Taking pretty much the entire volume to resolve, it involves Kazahaya and Rikuo enrolling together in an all-boys’ school. In what I assume is an affectionate parody of yaoi tropes, nearly all the students are so horny that they have no problems with turning to each other to take care of their sexual urges in lieu of girls. In fact, the highlight of the school’s cultural festival is the choosing of the prettiest boy to be the “bride” in a fake marriage ceremony, during which the bride is allowed to wear the school’s treasure — a ring that Kazahaya and Rikuo are supposed to steal.

I actually really enjoyed this whole arc, largely in part to Kazahaya’s roommate, Satoru Nayuki. He’s the vice-president of the student council and looks the part of a serious student, thanks to his glasses, but despite his prim and proper exterior, he’s no innocent and enjoys introducing Kazahaya to how things work at the school. The contrast between his goody-two-shoes image and the shocking things that come out of his mouth is just hilarious, as are pure and virginal Kazahaya’s reactions to him and the other students at the school.

The strength of this title is really the characters. Kazahaya and Rikuo are somewhat similar to Watanuki and Doumeki as mentioned before, but different enough that they aren’t clones. Kazahaya is less prone to crazy antics than Watanuki, but possibly more naive, while Rikuo is more the strong, silent type in comparison to Doumeki’s sarcastic personality. My favorite characters, though, are Kakei and his lover Saiga. Their relationship seems to be a deconstruction of the stereotypical seme/uke dynamic often found in yaoi. Kakei, the shorter, more feminine looking of the two, is clearly the more dominant partner, with a hidden sadistic side to him. Sunglass-wearing giant Saiga, on the other hand, is the domestic sort, with a talent for sewing and other such skills.

As for the art, it’s CLAMP, so of course it’s pretty, but not one of my favorites when it comes to artwork. Drawn by Mick Nekoi, who has admitted before that she has trouble drawing distinctive men, the characters do look kind of alike. In fact, Kazahaya and Rikuo could pass as Kakei’s and Saiga’s respective, nearly identical sons, as they do in an amusing omake at the back of one of the volumes. It seems rather strange to me to choose Nekoi to do the drawing for a series with a cast of almost all men, but it is still well-drawn despite the similarity of some of the characters’ looks.

Should CLAMP ever return to working on Legal Drug, I wouldn’t mind reading the rest of it, especially if there are more jobs like the last one. I’m intrigued by the mystery of Tsukiko and Kei, and the characters are quite fun. But if it remains unfinished, I honestly won’t be too disappointed. CLAMP has other titles I would prefer they finish first (like Clover, The Legend of Chun Hyang, and (though I haven’t read the manga yet) X), and the story is similar enough to xxxHolic that it doesn’t really feel necessary for them to continue. Still, those who are disappointed by the lack of overt Watanuki/Doumeki fanservice in xxxHolic will probably enjoy the much more expressive pairing of Kazahaya/Rikuo (as well as Kakei/Saiga). They’ve got way better sexual chemistry anyway.


Add a comment October 20, 2010


TITLE: Shirahime-Syo
RATING: Teen (13+)
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Magic Knights Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, The One I Love, The Legend of Chun Hyang, etc.), supernatural, romance, tragedy

Shirahime-Syo translated into English means “Snow Goddess Tales”, but curiously, the title Snow Goddess (actually a yuki-onna, a spirit from Japanese folklore) only appears in one of the four stories presented in this beautiful short story collection from CLAMP. She is only referenced in the other three winter-based stories by characters who tell of a legend, claiming that the falling snow is the tears of the Snow Princess. Still, the stories are all linked together by their tragic endings, which the Snow Princess comments on in the framing story when she reveals that the snow is not caused by her tears, but by the despair of humans.

The first of the main short stories is called “On Wolf Mountain” and is probably my favorite. In it, a young woman named Fubuki plans revenge for her father’s death at the hands of the savage animal who killed him. He is described as “a wolf the color of night” with “eyes the color of blood”. Her mother is against Fubuki leaving, fearing she will suffer the same end as her father, but Fubuki is adamant about killing the wolf and sets off on her own. While searching for the wolf in the mountains, she comes across a pack of wild dogs, who attack her. Fubuki is certain she is going to die, but she is saved at the last minute by the black wolf she has been looking for.

I liked Fubuki the best out of all the female characters in the story, and though I’m not really a dog lover, I enjoyed the relationship that brewed between her and the wolf, who she named Inuki, as they depended on each other to get through the harsh winter. Those who are attached to their pets, especially dogs, are certain to find the ending particularly heart-breaking.

The second story, called “The Ice Flower” is the shortest and most tragic of the tales. Based on similar stories from around the world, it is about a pair of young lovers who are to be separated when the man decides to set out on a journey. The girl Kaya promises to wait by the lake where they say their goodbyes for as long as it takes for his promised return. Thirty years later, the man finally comes back to the village. Though he knows it is unlikely that Kaya would have really waited for him after so many years, he has to know for certain. He is unprepared for the sight that awaits him at the lake, however. Readers may roll their eyes at the depths Kaya goes to to keep her promise to her lover, but it is romantic in a very tragic way.  

“Hiyoku no Tori”, the last tale, is also about separated lovers. A young man decides to become a soldier in order to impress the disapproving father of Yukino, the woman he loves. However, after a battle, he is separated from his troops and becomes lost in a snow-covered area far from civilization. While wandering around, trying to find his way home, he sees a pair of beautiful herons. The sight of them reminds him of how he can’t be with Yukino, and in a jealous rage, he kills one of the birds with his bow and arrow. A few days later, he comes across the heron’s headless carcass again, telling him that all he’s been doing is walking in circles. The man is certain he is going to die without seeing his beloved Yukino again, but then a beautiful woman carrying a skull in her arms appears before him and points him in the direction of his hometown. It’s a somewhat similar story to “On Wolf Mountain”, but I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story, so I won’t say anything more about it.

I enjoyed all the stories, but I think the real beauty of the collection is the artwork. It’s still unmistakably CLAMP, but the style is closer to traditional Japanese artwork, appropriate for a collection of stories based on folklore. I don’t think many would disagree with me when I say that Shirahime-Syo features some of CLAMP’s best art. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find who was the lead artist for this anthology, but I assume it is probably Mokona, who is the team’s main artist.

For fans of CLAMP’s beautiful artwork, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of Shirahime-Syo if you can find one. (I picked mine up secondhand, since I believe it is now out of print.) For everyone else… I don’t know. The short stories are solid and the artwork fantastic, but the volume is on the thin side and not as entertaining as some of their other series. Reading Shirahime-Syo feels akin to being assigned a piece of classic literature in English class: the story may be well-written and the plot somewhat interesting, but ultimately you’d rather be reading Harry Potter. (Granted, I actually really loved most of the books I read in school, but I was the minority in my AP English classes.) Still, if you like more literary-minded manga inspired by folklore, this anthology might be worth a glance.

Add a comment October 7, 2010






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