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Tuesday, May 18, 2004
I'm pretty much guaranteed to pick up anything that gets published by CLAMP, the four woman comic collective. Which is odd, because as a whole their plots are slight, almost to the point of non-existence, and the characters in their comics tend to be fairly one-dimensional. What I'm most responding to, I think, is the elegance of the art-work, the gentle humor, and the, for lack of a better word, "sweet" nature of the stories and characters. Even when the material moves into darker territories, there is still an innocence to the characters that can be very appealing. Basically, CLAMP is what I read when I need a break from the grimmer, or simply more serious, comics/films/televison/books I generally spend time with. And to feed my hunger for all things CLAMP, Del Rey has inaugurate their new manga line with two CLAMP titles, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and XXXHolic.
Tsubasa is a sort-of-but-not-really sequal to CLAMP's earlier work Cardcaptor Sakura. The characters are the same, but these are the Sakura and Syaoran of another dimension. I was immediatly disappointed to note that Sakura, who in her own series was a dynamic character, is here much more passive and defined solely by her relationship with Syaoran and the need to "rescue" her from the fate which befalls her. Even the cover is bothersome in this regards, showing an apparently terrified Sakura clinging to Syaoran for safety. In this book, Syaoran is working on an archaeologoical excavation in the kingdom ruled over by Sakura's older brother. In the course of the excavation, the site is attacked by mysterious ninjas from another dimension and Sakura's magical powers/memories are stolen from her. To recover them, Syaoran must travel to the Time/Space Witch (co-incidentally, the star of XXXHolic), where he meets a disgruntled swordsman and a mysterious wizard who also require the aid of the Time/Space Witch. The story itself is a standard quest scenario, with the three heroes traveling from world-to-world to recover the pieces of Sakura's memories and get each of their wishes granted. It's apparent that this gimmick was mostly used as an excuse to create a number of cross-overs with other CLAMP titles. It's a cute gimmick, but it has the potential to get very old, very quickly. Unless you're already a CLAMP fan, then, this series doesn't really offer you much, and I wouldn't recomend it to someone unfamiliar with their previous work.
XXXHolic is something of a return to the darker world for CLAMP, though lightened by some very broad comedy (some of which doesn't really translate into English, more on that in a bit). A young man walking home is mysteriously drawn to a shop in which wishes are granted. He is coerced into working for Yuko, the shop proprietress, and in exchange she will, eventually, grant his wish, which is not to be able to see spirits and the supernatural anymore. What follows are several stories in which people come to Yuko for help and get not quite what they asked for. It's in the vein of DC's Phantom Stranger back-ups years ago, in which the Stranger was more of an prompter for other people to take action. Yuko is a bit more active than the Stranger, but the intent is the same. The reader is given little morality plays, in this case lying and internet addiction are bad, which, in all honesty, come off as rather trite and simplistic. For example, I don't personally think being run over by a car is a fit punishment for an habitual liar, but maybe that's just me.
Design-wise, I think this is probably one of CLAMP's finest efforts. The design work on Yuko is amazing, and the character has a decadent, art-nouveau elegance which manages to be both sexy and a little scary. Given that this book has several joking refrences to other CLAMP works, I can't unreservedly recomend it to new readers. But, if you like EC-style morality plays without the over-the-top grotesqueries, and espeically if you like elegant art and character design, I can say that you very well may enjoy this book.
And a note on format: I don't object to the right-to-left format that has come to dominate American editions of Japanese material. At worst, I have to re-read a page once or twice to understand the correct sequence of events. However, I do find it a bit fetishistic. It's an overture to authenticity that just comes off as pretentious more often than not. I can be more tolerant when it's a case of the author or artist specifically requesting not to have the art flipped or rearranged to read left-to-right, but there are many works which I think would benefit from the left-to-right format, particularly manga intended for young children. Del Rey, at least, doesn't compound the error by not translating sound-effects. They leave them untouched, but provide marginal translations of the sound, which is a vast improvement over VIZ, who have been putting sound-effects glossaries in the backs of their books, and Tokyopop, who doesn't even bother at all as far as I can tell. Without knowing what the sound effects are, I find I have a tendency to simply gloss over them, which for some reason gives the books a silent quality which I don't beleive the authors intended.