My month long tribute continues, this time by taking things all the way back to CLAMP's first published original story, as yet another part of:
RG VEDA (Seiden: Rigu Veda), by CLAMP. First published in 1989, and first published in North America in 2005.
In a mythological land, the wicked king Taishakuten has overthrown the king and now rules the realm with an iron fist, even going so far to slaughter the Ashura tribe for daring to oppose him. One day, he sends his finest general, Lord Yana, to force his wayward stargazer to prophecize for him, but Yana learns that her prophecy is about Taishakuten's downfall. She tells of a child who will bring together six warriors who will in turn bring down the king. Shortly thereafter, Yana discovers a strange baby trapped within a tree in a dense, ancient woodland, who grows quickly into a child who calls himself Ashura. Taishakuten wants Ashura dead, but Yana chooses to take mercy on the child and goes on the run. Now the two wander the land seeking allies all while trying to keep themselves alive.
This may be CLAMP's first professionally published story, but you wouldn't know this was a debut just from reading it. While the story follows a lot of the conventions of fantasy stories, it's solidly written, polished to a gleam, and confident.
For all its vaguely Hindu trappings (right down to the name, which is a reference to the Rigveda, an ancient collection of Hindu hymns), this story has a lot of its roots in traditional fantasy and mythological storytelling and thus features a lot of familiar archetypes. You've got a wicked king, a brave warrior, a supernatural child who is part of a prophecy, and so on and so forth, all of it played serious and straight. Now because these tropes are so familiar, one might think that the story would be highly predictable - stop at Place A, pick up a. few allies, repeat until party is complete, battle a few minor bosses, then head to the final stage for the big boss battle. CLAMP subverts this to a degree by staging Yana's quest more like one long chase, where he and Ashura must always keep one step ahead of Taishakuten's forces and fight off those they cannot outrun. This becomes complicated by the very presence of Ashura himself.
When Yana first found him, he saw a vision of a full-grown Ashura stating that a great evil had been released onto the world, and that he will grow up to kill Yana. Sure, Ashura seems like a sweet and innocent child, but he also possesses great supernatural power which frightens those who would conceal them, and there's the fact that almost every person they befriend tends to end up dead. Thus, Yana often finds himself questioning the vision he saw - did he make the right choice when he chose to save the child, and just what is the true nature of Ashura? There isn't an answer yet, as of the first volume, and Yana's conflict between his own unease and his fondness for Ashura pervades the volume.
This series is unusual when viewed as part of the greater CLAMP cannon, as there aren't any of their signature gut-punch twists or genre-twisting; this story is (so far) played straight. Still, they did manage to craft a solid fantasy story from those familiar tropes which is full of tautly paced action.
While CLAMP had yet to perfect their own storytelling style, they had clearly perfected their own visual style. The character designs here are very much in line with CLAMP's classic style, with willowly bodies, linebacker-wide shoulders, large, shining cat-like eyes, and the use of chibis for the admittedly brief and uncommon silly moments. The pages are full of long, flowing hair, as well as swirling tendrils of flame and magic that seem to brim with life of their own. The page composition is rather free and easy, breaking out the larger panels and even some 2-page spreads for the action scenes and big dramatic moments and layering smaller panels over these. It sounds like a mess in words, but on the page it works; while the artwork can be dense, it is never too busy to be followed or too cluttered to be attractive, although the big hair and heavy, pointy jawlines do reek of the 1980s.
RG Veda's art is a tiny bit dated by today's standards, but it's full of vibrancy and features CLAMP's classic style.
Like most of CLAMP's earlier works, there's a silly little omake in the back where CLAMP themselves (in chibi form) talk about themselves and update their fans on their then-current newsletter. There's also a strange bonus chapter that goes nowhere and is frankly too random to be truly funny.
This series was published by Tokyopop. All 10 volumes were published, and all are currently out of print.
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