Posts tagged ‘CLAMP ‘




Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders

TITLE: Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Youth (7+)
CATEGORY: Shonen
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 2
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, X, etc.), comedy, sci-fi, action, adventure, supernatural, romance

Continuing with yet another out-of-print CLAMP title, this month’s review focuses on the goofy, but charming, Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders, in which the mangaka team tackles the world of sentai.

Duklyon, along with CLAMP School Detectives, Man of Many Faces, and some parts of X, is set at the CLAMP School, where the brightest and best come to study. Functioning as a small city, the CLAMP School encompasses all grades from kindergarten up to graduate school, and the extremely wealthy Imonoyama family who founded the school spares no expense when it comes to keeping the students happy, allowing them to hold frequent fun and elaborate festivals and celebrations.

Tenth graders Kentaro Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaido are students at the school, but they are also a part of the CLAMP School Defenders, a secret sentai team formed to defend the school from attackers. Together with team leader and informant Eri Chusonji, the CLAMP School Defenders fight against the evil Imonoyama Shopping District Association, who plan to take over the world.

It is impossible to take Duklyon seriously, and that’s what makes it such a fun series. The whole thing is completely ridiculous and over-the-top. The Imonoyama Shopping District Association claims that it wants to take over the planet, but it’s difficult to see how any of their schemes — such as holding the president of the kindergarten class (Utako Okawa from Man of Many Faces and CLAMP School Detectives) hostage or taking over the school’s cafeteria — would actually lead to world domination. Not that the CLAMP School Defenders are any brighter, mind you. Kentaro, especially, has a bad habit of almost letting it slip to people that he’s a member of secret fighting duo that defends the school from evil, and neither they nor their classmate Kotobuki Sukiyabashi — the not-so-secret head of the Imonoyama Shopping District Association — figure out each others’ identities until near the end of the series, even though the three of them are always disappearing at around the same time to fight. In fact, they are on rather friendly terms with each other in class. 

However, as funny as the tongue-in-cheek humor is, the first half of the series is etremely repetitive. Most of the chapters in the first volume can be pretty much be summed up as such:

1) Kentaro, Takeshi, and Kotobuki start out by having a conversation (usually about food) when Kotobuki suddenly announces he has to leave.
2) Kentaro and Takeshi hear the music to summon them and head to the Dukylon Bakery, where they travel down a hidden chute in the bakery’s oven to the secret base.
3) There, Eri yells at them for being late, and a person referred to as the General — Nokoru Imonoyama from CLAMP School Detectives, though he never shows his face — gives them their instructions.
4) The CLAMP School Defenders show up and defeat whatever animal-based monster the Imonoyama Shopping District Association has sent out.

I have to admit, it was kind of a chore to get through the first few chapters, but things start to get a lot more interesting when Kotobuki and Eri end up developing crushes on each other, neither of them aware that they are actually enemies. In fact, Kotobuki’s and Eri’s budding romance becomes more of the focus of the story in the second volume, relegating Kentaro and Takeshi to bit players for the majority of the second half — something they constantly break the fourth wall to complain about. It’s a welcome change in my opinion, leading to some great — if somewhat random — plot developments that may take a few readers by surprise. (I won’t say anything more than that, so not to spoil anybody.)

With a lot of the comedy being dependent on the characters, Duklyon also has a good cast. Serious and responsible Takeshi plays the straight man to more light-hearted Kentaro, who loves cooking food for Takeshi and claims to want to become his bride. Their dynamic is similar to that of Kurogane and Fai from Tsubasa Reservoir Chroncle — incidently, they do make a cameo appearance in TRC, along with Eri — and provides plenty of fuel for the slash fans out there. My personal favorite characters were Eri and Kotobuki, though. A tough and rather violent girl, Eri can often be found chasing her subordinates around with a mallet, but she shows a softer, cuter side to her personality whenever around Kotobuki. On the other hand, Kotobuki, despite his role as the antagonist, is actually rather kind and a bit on the shy side when he’s not playing the bad guy, and it’s pretty clear that his “civilian” identity is far closer to his true personality. Seriously, the two of them interacting together is just adorable.  

There’s no need to mention that the artwork is great. It’s CLAMP; that’s pretty much a given. I do take issue with Takeshi’s and Kentaro’s character designs, though. With the two of them being roughly about the same size and sporting dark hair that’s styled somewhat similarly, it can be difficult at times to tell them apart until they speak. It’s even worse when they’re in their armor, which features helmets that completely cover their faces. While their suits are different colors, that doesn’t help a bit when the manga is in black-and-white and the colors are indicated with similar-looking screentone.

If you were a fan of the Power Rangers or other sentai shows growing up, you’ll probably enjoy the wonderful cheesiness and humor present in Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders. If you weren’t, there’s still a lot to enjoy, like the cute romance between Eri and Kotobuki. I wouldn’t call this a must-read, but it’s a fun, short series that even younger readers can enjoy.

Add a comment March 15, 2011

Miyuki-chan in Wonderland

TITLE: Miyuki-chan in Wonderland
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo-ai
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 3 (Very Bad)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of X, Chobits, Legal Drug, etc.), fanservice

I have made it my mission this year to collect every CLAMP title that has ever been released in English, with the exception of X. (I refuse to read that long a series without confirmation that they will continue it.) Why? Eh, I don’t really know myself. The idea just kind of struck me one day, and I do have a completist mentality… Anyway, you can expect a lot more CLAMP reviews from me over the coming months, starting with this out-of-print title that I bought used for cheap, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland.

The plot of Miyuki-chan in Wonderland can be summed up as such: Cute high school girl keeps inexplicably falling into alternate worlds filled with scantily-clad women who want to get Miyuki naked and do naughty things to her. Obviously, this is a pure fanservice title, so I wasn’t expecting much out of it. Just boobs, butts, panty shots, and very pretty artwork (because it’s CLAMP).

Did it manage to exceed than the low expectations I set? Sad to say, no, it didn’t. Oh, certainly, the art is very pretty, and I adore the character designs in Miyuki-chan. Miyuki and the rest of the cast are just too gorgeous for words. I was especially fond of the design for the catgirl Cheshire Cat. Unfortunately, the character designs and the stunning color artwork that is included as a bonus are the only redeeming aspects of this title.

First off, just judging it as a fanservice title, it’s fairly tame. There’s a little bit of nudity, but it’s just Barbie doll nudity — not a nipple in sight. If I was a fanboy who picked up this title expecting some detailed female nudity, I would be sorely disappointed. Even that would have been fine, though, if the character interactions had been sexier. Some suggestive poses and dialogue, maybe even a kiss or two for the yuri fans out there… But like I said, things are pretty tame. You get sexy, lingerie-inspired outfits, a little wardrobe damage here and there, and some light teasing — and that’s about it. It’s just…not very titillating, in my opinion. (Granted, I am a straight woman — not exactly the audience for this kind of title — but I can appreciate and even enjoy fanservice on occasion. In fact, Chobits, which is another fanservice-y title with a much better plot, is one of my favorite CLAMP titles.)

Then there’s the story itself. It’s already been established that Miyuki-chan doesn’t have much of a plot. The volume contains seven short stories that follow the same basic formula of Miyuki falling into some weird new world and getting hit on by its female inhabitants. The first two are based on the classic children’s stories, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Had the entire volume been devoted to a sexy parody of those two stories, it might have been interesting, but with so few pages, all that the stories amount to is Miyuki meeting a character, who maybe gets one or two speech bubbles to say something, before moving right on to the next one. The quirky characters from the original stories barely get any kind of personality at all, and Miyuki herself doesn’t do anything but express the desire to get away from them.

The other five stories fare a little better, as they tended to have fewer characters and a tad more plot. In fact, there was one I actually rather liked called “Miyuki-chan in Mah-Jongg Land”, in which three beautiful women come out from the pages of a mah-jongg manga Miyuki had been reading and force her to join them in a game of strip mah-jongg. Despite the fact that she’s doesn’t have much experience playing the game, Miyuki has beginner’s luck and manages to get the other girls to strip for her rather than the other way around. That was a nice change of pace. Also, fans of the aforementioned X might get a kick out of “Miyuki-chan in X Land”, where Miyuki gets sucked into the X movie and gets to meet the female characters Karen, Satsuki, Kanoe and Hinoto.

As for characterization…not even worth mentioning.

Miyuki-chan in Wonderland is not a title I would recommend buying, even if you are CLAMP fanatic. The only thing it has going for it is the pretty character designs, and you can just as easily enjoy the included color artwork in CLAMP’s Southside Artbook without having to suffer through this pure excuse for fanservice. Personally, I would just get the artbook instead unless you’re like me and want the complete CLAMP library. Don’t bother wasting your money otherwise.

Add a comment February 15, 2011

Suki: A Like Story

TITLE: Suki: A Like Story
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 3
SCORE: 10 (Masterpiece)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of Card Captor Sakura, Chobits, etc.), romance, slice of life, mystery

When someone thinks about CLAMP, the first thing that tends to come to mind is fantasy. The group is mostly known for writing and drawing manga that doesn’t take place in the regular world as we know it. There’s usually either elements of the supernatural or science fiction — sometimes even both — in their work, and they’re great at portraying fantastic worlds that come straight from their imagination.

Suki: A Like Story, however, is different from their usual work in that it does take place fully in the “real” world — perhaps a far more idealistic world than the one we know, but still a story that feels like it could actually happen. I actually wasn’t expecting to like it that much, despite my love for student/teacher relationships, but to my great surprise, Suki has overtaken Chobits as my favorite CLAMP title and earns itself the first Masterpiece rating to be posted in this blog.

Suki: A Like Story is the story of high school student Hinata Asahi. Hina, as she likes to be called, is one of the top students in her class, but in spite of her book smarts, she’s also very child-like and naive about the world. Although her father is very rich, she chooses to live by herself with only her two teddy bears — gifts from her late mother — for company, as she’s often the target of kidnapping plots and doesn’t want to involve anyone else in her troubles.

One day, a man in his early thirties named Shiro Asou moves into the house next door to Hina’s, exciting her. He turns out to be her new substitute homeroom teacher, taking over for her regular teacher, who goes on maternity leave. To everybody else, he seems cold and unfeeling, but Hina sees beyond his gruff exterior to realize he’s actually a kind man underneath it all. Though her friends Touko and Emi warn her it isn’t a good idea, Hina develops a crush on her teacher as they spend more time together outside of school. However, Shiro is hiding a big secret from Hina, and soon strange things start to happen when they are together. Could he be another kidnapper targeting her for her father’s money?  

Student/teacher romances can be tough to pull off without turning off many readers, and CLAMP doesn’t have the best track record in that regard. I enjoyed the relationship between ronin Shimbo and his cram school teacher from Chobits, as well as the one between middle school student Touya and student teacher/miko Kaho from Card Captor Sakura, but the engagement between ten-year-old Rika and her twenty-something teacher Mr. Terada (also from CCS) is pretty squicky no matter how you look at it. (I don’t care if they don’t necessarily “do” anything; a grown man should not be falling in love with and proposing to his prepubescent student, no matter how mature she seems.) With Hina being so naive and trusting, an older, more experienced man like Shiro could have easily taken advantage of her, but CLAMP wisely keeps things rather innocent between the two. I’m sure some will still find the age difference between them disturbing, but if you can get pass that, the story itself is really quite sweet.

It’s hard not to be charmed by Hina, after all. She’s the type of character that makes a reader want to smile every time she appears on the page. Though childish and innocent to the ways of the world, she isn’t too “cutesy”, which I appreciated. She may talk to her stuffed bears like they’re real people, but it’s not because she actually thinks they’re alive like a child might. She’s just lonely living by herself. And while she may enjoy reading children’s picture books in her spare time, Hina is also incredibly smart. She’s just naive and only sees the best in people. That innocence may get her in trouble on occasion, yet there’s something quite appealing about it as well. She honestly sees nothing wrong with her feelings for her teacher. The translation of the original Japanese title sums up Hina’s love for Shiro best: “I like you, that’s why I like you.” It’s a very pure kind of love.

As for Shiro, he’s very emotionally closed off due to a certain event from his past, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what he feels toward Hina until the very end. I think that’s a good thing with this kind of story. Had the reader been clued into any “impure” thoughts an adult man like him might have had about Hina, it probably would have ruined the innocence of their romance and tipped their relationship more into the “squicky” direction. Instead, he’s very chaste toward her, and there’s nothing really sexual about their relationship at all.

The plot is on the simple side, but it’s paced really well. With some short series, things can feel kind of rushed at times, but Suki unfolds at a natural and steady rate. Like Chobits, where Chii is a fan of a series of picture books that seem to mirror her life, Hina’s relationship with Shiro also becomes the inspiration for a cute book series about bears. I have to admit, I loved that hook in Chobits, and it is done even better in Suki in my opinion. Though the identity of the “bad guy” seemed to come out of left field at first, looking back, there were subtle clues foreshadowing who it was.

The one minor flaw I have with the series is the artwork. It’s not bad by any means — it’s CLAMP, after all! — but it’s another series drawn mainly by Mick Nekoi, and I’m a bigger fan of Mokona’s prettier artwork. If not for the fact that Hina wears dresses and skirts, at first glance most people would assume she was a boy! Though the two other main female characters (Emi and Touko) are more feminine looking, they still look a tad too masculine to me, and Nekoi’s male characters tend to only come in two varieties — tall and dark, with short hair or short and blond, with longer hair. (Oh, and glasses. I suspect she has a bit of a glasses fetish.) Still, my mild dislike of the artwork is only a minor thing and didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the series.

This series may not be for everyone. Though the romance between Hina and Shiro is portrayed as very pure and innocent, some people may still think it is creepy. If you can look past the age difference, though, Suki: A Like Story is one of the sweetest romances I’ve had the pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

Add a comment December 15, 2010

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle

TITLE: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Del Rey
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shonen
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 28
SCORE: 6 (Fine)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of xxxHolic, Card Captor Sakura, RG Veda, Magic Knight Rayearth, etc.), Tsubasa Chronicle anime, xxxHolic anime, Card Captor Sakura anime, action, adventure, supernatural, romance, comedy, drama

I remember when I first heard about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, right around the time CLAMP first started working on it. I thought it sounded like some kind of terrible alternate universe Card Captor Sakura fanfiction and dismissed it as something I would never want to read, despite being a CLAMP fan. After all, if I wanted to read about Sakura becoming a princess, all I had to do was check out the CCS section at Fanfiction.net, where practically every second story featured a “Princess Sakura” — an exaggeration, of course, but not by much.

Fast-forward a few years, when I spotted an omnibus edition of the first three volumes at Barnes & Noble. (I believe the omnibus was a B&N exclusive; I never saw it anywhere else.) As I have admitted several times on this blog, I’m an absolute sucker for omnibus editions, so despite my previous reservations, I decided to give Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle a chance.

The main characters of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle are slightly older versions of Sakura and Syaoran, the leads from CLAMP’s popular series, Card Captor Sakura. Here, Sakura is the beloved princess of a desert kingdom called Clow ruled by her older brother King Toya, while Syaoran is the adopted son of Fujitaka (incidently, Sakura’s father in CCS), an archeologist who is studying one of Clow’s ancient ruins. One day, Sakura ends up activating the ruins, causing an army of unknown enemies to storm the country and a pair of wings to sprout from Sakura’s back. The wings soon break apart, however, scattering into countless feathers that fly away. Sakura falls unconscious, and the high priest Yukito — another CCS character — sends her and Syaoran to see the Time-Space Witch named Yuuko in order to save Sakura’s life.

At Yuuko’s shop, Syaoran is introduced to two other people who arrive at roughly the same time he does from other worlds. Kurogane is a battle-loving ninja from Japan — though not our Japan — who was sent against his will by Princess Tomoyo (yet another CCS character) to see the Time-Space Witch, and Fai is a magician from the country of Celes, on the run from Ashura (a character from another CLAMP work called RG Veda) for reasons unexplained. They all have different, but similar, wishes. For Syaoran, he needs to travel to many different worlds in order to collect Sakura’s feathers, which also contain all her memories, in order to save her life. Fai doesn’t care where he goes, as long as it’s far away from Ashura, and Kurogane just wants to return back home to his Japan and Princess Tomoyo.

They all need a way to travel to different worlds, but according to Yuuko, the price is too high for only one person to pay. The three decide to pay the price together, each giving up the thing that matters to them most, and in exchange, Yuuko gives them a strange, pork-bun shaped creature called Mokona Madoki, familiar to those who have read Magic Knight Rayearth, who has the ability to teleport them to other worlds. Together, the group start on a journey to find Sakura’s lost memory feathers, but sadly, the one memory she will never recover is that of Syaoran as part of Syaoran’s payment to Yuuko.

The first half of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is a fun action/adventure story, as the group travels to different worlds (where they often meet alternate versions of other CLAMP characters) and gets to know each other better. Syaoran and Sakura, being expys from CCS, have much the same personalities as the originals, but Kurogane and Fai are new characters, unique to TRC. My personal favorite is the “daddy” of the group, Kurogane, whose gruff and hot-tempered exterior hides the fact that he actually comes to care quite a lot about the people he is traveling with. In contrast, light-hearted “mommy” Fai is seldom seen without a smile on his face, and he loves annoying Kurogane by giving him silly, cutesy nicknames. (He’s the one who starts the “daddy” joke.) The image is just a facade, though, as Fai has gone through more than his fair share of sadness and pain, as the reader learns later in the series. (Fai is the woobiest woobie to have ever woobied. Seriously.) There’s also the white Mokona (a black Mokona is briefly shown who plays a bigger role in xxxHolic), who, unlike its counterpart in MKR, can talk and say more than “Puu!” all the time. Mokona is adorable in TRC and is just as vibrant and developed a character as the other four members on the journey. Rounding out the group of main protagonists is the sexy and fashionable Time-Space Witch Yuuko, who occasionally helps out the travelers on their journey — provided the price is right, of course.

However, at around the halfway point of the story, when the group lands in a world commonly referred to as Acid Tokyo by fans, the series takes a sharp turn into Mind Screw territory that lasts until the final volume. (The ending of the anime classic Evangelion is mere child’s play compared to the second half of TRC. Trust me.) Many fans mark the Acid Tokyo arc as the point when the story really gets going, and it’s true that Acid Tokyo signifies the beginning of the main meat of the plot, so to speak, but for me, I much prefer the first half of the series. The second half turns what until then was a fairly simple plot into something that, quite frankly, doesn’t make much sense. (In fact, the goal of Fei-Wang Reed, the antagonist, is the breakdown of reason, because his ultimate wish can’t come true in a universe of reason.) You will get a headache trying to understand all the various twists and turns the story throws at you, and even then, you probably still won’t be able to comprehend it, especially if you’re not following the companion series xxxHolic as well. (Though Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic are (theoretically) supposed to be able to stand on their own as separate series, you really do need to be familiar with both canons in order to get the full story starting around this arc.) I figure that after about my fifth reread of the entire series (as well as xxxHolic), I might be able to understand about half of what is going on. … That’s a big “maybe”.

The storytelling at that point also becomes more than a bit sloppy, with a strong reliance on deus ex machina to make the plot — whatever that plot might be — work. (Actually, instead of being called the Time-Space Witch, Deus Ex Machina really seems a more fitting title for Yuuko.) While the travellers did, on occasion, ask Yuuko to help them out in the first half of the series, it becomes pratically an everyday occurence in the second half. Something impossible or shocking will happen, then a couple of chapters later, it’ll be revealed that a character/group of characters had actually made a deal with Yuuko beforehand to make that certain thing happen (since quite a few characters have the ability to see the future). Once or twice might have been fine, but when it happens at least once or twice a volume, it starts getting ridiculous. (Again, that’s an exaggeration…but not by much.) It seems almost like the characters can’t make a move without Yuuko’s assistance, weakening the story in my eyes. All the flashbacks also make it really difficult to figure out the chronology of the story — already an almost impossible task when time travel (and certain other spoiler-y plot points) is involved.         

Putting aside the plot, being CLAMP, of course the artwork is fantastic, but some may be intitially put off by the long and lanky look of the characters’ limbs. It took me a while to get used to the style myself, but now I rather like it. Of special note in my opinion are the various clothes the characters wear. Yuuko’s gorgeous wardrobe is far more extensive in xxxHolic, where she is seen more often, but the outfits we see her wearing in TRC are just stunning, cementing her spot as the most fashion-forward character in the CLAMP universe ever (which is saying something when she’s competing against the CCS Sakura’s multiple battle costumes, Clover Ora’s beautiful gothic-inspired dresses, and CLAMP’s ultimate dress-up models from Chobits, Chii and her identical “sister”.) The other characters get in the fun as well, often adopting fabulous new clothes when arriving in a new world. (And I’m not even touching on the amazing outfits the characters wear on the “just for fun” title pages.) Seriously, TRC almost works as well as fashion magazine as it does an adventure story, giving a bit of shoujo flavor in a largely very shounen-type story.

This is rather a hard title to recommend. The first half is great and a lot of fun to read. I would probably give it at least a score of seven, maybe even eight, if I were reviewing it separately. But how much you enjoy the second half will depend on how much you enjoy (or can tolerate) crack-filled stories. Some fans think the series gets better starting with the Acid Tokyo arc; others, like me, feel like CLAMP begins losing their way at that point and miss the humor and heart present in the first half. Add that to the fact that the series is really long — at present, TRC is the longest manga series I own, and I probably wouldn’t have started reading it had I known it was going to be nearly thirty volumes long — and that reading xxxHolic — another relatively long, still on-going series — is almost required to understand the plot, it’s a tough sell. (It also doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the rest of CLAMP’s body of work, Card Captor Sakura in particular, although the translation notes provided in each volume do a good job of pointing out most of the cameos.)

Still, I did enjoy the series overall and think that most CLAMP fans will, too. It’s the ultimate crossover, featuring many of CLAMP’s most beloved characters in a variety of interesting worlds, and Kurogane, Fai, and Yuuko are welcome additions to the CLAMP family. If you don’t mind giving your brain a mental work-out, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle might just be the series for you.

Add a comment December 1, 2010

Legal Drug

TITLE: Legal Drug
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shounen-ai
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 3 (On Hiatus)
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

Shirahime-Syo

TITLE: Shirahime-Syo
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
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

Clover

TITLE: Clover
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop and Dark Horse
RATING: Older Teen (16+)?
CATEGORY: Shoujo
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.

1 comment June 2, 2010

The One I Love

Originally posted on Feb. 13, 2010 at LiveJournal.

TITLE: The One I Love
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: CLAMP
PUBLISHER: Tokyopop
RATING: Teen (13+)
CATEGORY: Josei
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: CLAMP (mangaka of numerous titles, including Card Captor Sakura, Wish, Chobits, etc.), romance, slice of life

With Valentine’s Day just a day, it seems the perfect time to review The One I Love, a romantic anthology from superstar mangaka group CLAMP, telling stories of love focusing on a variety of different women, from high school girls to career women and those who are about to get married. (There’s even a Valentine’s Day themed story, making it perfect reading for the holiday.)

The One I Love is a bit different from your typical manga volume. Not only does it contain twelve one-shot short stories — well, actually, they’re more like vignettes than actual stories, coming in at only seven pages each — but after each story, the group’s leader Nanase Ohkawa has written a short essay detailing the inspiration behind each vignette and how they fit into CLAMP’s idea of love. Some of the stories are somewhat autobiographical in nature, based on things that happened in her or one of the other member’s lives, while others were inspired by stories told to Ohkawa by friends and family members. The fact that these vignettes were based on true stories gives a particular ring of truth about them, and even if you can’t personally identify with all the stories, there’s bound to be at least one or two that have you nodding your head, saying, “Yeah, I know exactly how she feels. I’ve felt that way, too.” (Yes, guys included, even though the main character in each story is female and the stories are told from her point-of-view. As some of the vignettes show, men can have the same insecurities, concerns, and worries about their relationships as women do. We’re not so different after all!)

My personal favorite is the vignette about a woman telling her boyfriend how she doesn’t understand the word “cute”. She complains about its vagueness and feels that it’s just something people say as a social nicety, yet whenever her boyfriend tells her that she’s cute, she gets all flustered and happy. For lack of a better word, the vignette is really…cute! (Okay, I can think of a few other words to describe it — adorable, heart-warming, and sweet come to mind — but I couldn’t resist!) I may not feel as strongly about the word “cute” as she does, but I do feel a little happier when somebody I love tells me I’m cute (especially since I don’t think of myself as a particularly “cute” person).    

I also identified with the one about a girl in a long distance relationship and the one about sharing interests with the one you love. My first (and only) romantic relationship was long distance, and while the circumstances were different than those in the vignette, I still sympathized with some of her feelings. As for sharing interests, it was video games in my case. He was a huge video game fanatic, so I became interested in them, too. (Well, maybe re-interested — wait, is that even a word? — is the more appropriate term, since I had always rather liked them. Just didn’t play them much.) The essay following that vignette actually addresses a common misconception some people have when a significant other decides to show interest in their partner’s hobbies. It’s not about becoming someone different, somebody they might like more, as some might see it, and losing your identity; it’s more about sharing and being together with the one you love. Out of all the essays, that was probably my favorite. 

Artwise, it’s CLAMP, so of course it’s gorgeous. Mick Nekoi is credited as the artist for this work, and it’s very similar in style to Wish, which she also drew. While the women are all beautiful and unique, I must admit that some of the men can kind of look a bit identical at times, a fact Nekoi admits to in the amusing omake comic at the end of the volume. But that’s really only a minor complaint. What’s really wonderful is that the first vignette (along with the title page featuring a drawing of all twelve women) is rendered completely in color. The effect is beautiful, and I wish the rest of the vignettes had been done the same. That would have been amazing, but, oh, well.

I think those who are already CLAMP fans (like I am) will really enjoy this anthology, but I don’t think it’ll hold as much appeal to non-fans. However, if you’re in the mood for some warm and fuzzy romance that doesn’t require a huge commitment, this title may be just what you’re looking for. You may even learn something about love.

Add a comment March 30, 2010

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