Sunday, January 31, 2016


I always like to end CLAMP month with one of my favorites, but there's just one problem: I already reviewed my favorite of their works, xxxHolic.  Thankfully, in recent years the ladies of CLAMP decided to revisit it and its sister series Tsubasa with new sequel series.  In the case of xxxHolic, though, it's less of a sequel and more of a 'what-if.'

xxxHOLIC REI (xxxHolic Return), by CLAMP.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2014. 


Kimihiro Watanuki spends his days working at Yuuko's wish shop, trying to manage the demands of his boss, his friends, and their many clients.  As time goes on, though, Watanuki starts to wonder why things feel weirdly familiar.  He has knowledge of supernatural beings he shouldn't have and Yuuko keeps talking about making choices.  Is Watanuki's world all that it seems to be or do Yuuko and Doumeki know the truth?


A lot of xxxHolic fans were not happy with the ending for xxxHolic, namely because it wasn't so much a conclusion as it was the equivalent of a weary shrug.  They gave Tsubasa a similar treatment, but that series is better suited for a "and the adventure continues" sort of ending.  xxxHolic fans want to see some sort of closer for Watanuki and company, and surely their hopes must have risen when this series was announced.  It's hard to say if those same fans will be happy with the result, at least based on the first volume.

The story itself isn't bad at all.  If anything, it's like CLAMP never stopped writing the series, as the clients and mysteries on display here fit in perfectly with those we've already seen.  They possess the same mixture of spookiness and sadness that many of the best chapters had.  It's also hard to deny how nice it is to see all of the main cast again acting in much the same way that they did before the more dramatic events of the double-digited volumes.  It's almost comfortable in a way, like slipping on an old pair of pants.  That's precisely what CLAMP wants you to feel, so that they can start unnerving the reader with all the little differences.  This might seem like the same old xxxHolic at first glance, but you don't have to read all that closely to figure out that something is up.

It's not just the fact that Yuuko is in charge of the shop again, or that the Watanuku-Doumeki-Himawari trio is back together as is nothing ever drove them apart.  It's the general sense of deju vu that pervades the whole volume, and it's something that everyone - even Watanuki - is able to sense to some degree.  Things are seemingly peaceful and normal, at least as normal as everything can be around the wish shop, but then there are little differences all around.  Yuuko keeps talking to Watanuki about making choices and she and Doumeki keep exchanging worried yet knowing glances.  It's clear that something is up; the only problem is that no one is willing to explain precisely what that something is.  That has to be the biggest problem with xxxHolic Rei.  CLAMP keeps things so vague that it becomes downright frustrating.  You can only hint so long at a mystery without any sort of answers before it starts to look like stalling.  It's almost enough to make one fear that CLAMP is once again making shit up as they go, and only time will prove if this is true or not.

xxxHolic Rei isn't a series for newcomers.  It presumes you are already familiar with the main series and it's not the least bit interested in getting anyone else up to speed or explaining anything that wasn't already explained.  Still, it's nice to see CLAMP returning to one of their better series and I am curious to see where it's going to go.


The art has always been my favorite part of xxxHolic, and the same remains true for xxxHolic Rei.  It's the same sleek, elegant, dark and lanky style that distinguished the main series.  It still has the same slick, almost minimalist approach to the paneling that balances the needs of the story with CLAMP's desire to show off the fanciness of Yuuko's wardrobe.  Again, it's like Nekoi never stopped drawing this series because it looks just as good as always.  The only downside is that it doesn't leave me with much to say about the art that I haven't already said.


xxxHolic Rei is beautiful and familiar, but it's hard to tell what (if any) direction it's taking and it's the sort of kinda-sorta-sequel that's made only for the oldtimers, not the newcomers.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 3 volumes available.  All 3 have been published and all are currently in print.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


It's time to take another look at one of CLAMP's many unfinished one-shots, and this one is truthfully one of the better ones of that lot.

THE LEGEND OF CHUN HYANG (Shin Shunka-den), by CLAMP.  First published in 1992 and first published in North America in 2004.


In the land of Koriyo lived the young girl Chun Hyang.  She lives with her beautiful mother Wall Mae, a powerful magician and healer and she spends her days defending her mother and her fellow villagers from their corrupt leader and his spoiled son.  When Chun's efforts are not enough to save her mother, she decides to team up with a lecherous wanderer named Rong Myong so take down all the corrupt leaders one at a time. 


Chun Hyang is a notable Korean legend, but it's not necessarily one that you would think could inspire a manga.  It's mostly about a beautiful woman who marries a noble, is separated from him by a villain, and maintains her virtue the whole time until they are reunited.  It certainly doesn't bear much resemblance to what CLAMP came up with.  If anything, the legend is little more than set dressing for what is a basic but satisfying shoujo action piece.

It's weird that I found this story so entertaining despite the fact that the characters are all so stereotypical.  Chun is very much in the spunky vein of your standard shoujo heroine, Rong is the goofy lech who is secretly a badass, the villains are one-dimensional tyrants, and everyone on the sides is too good and pure to be believed.  In spite of all that, I found myself not minding all that much.  I suspect that it was mostly due to the fact that I liked Chun so much that I was willing to overlook the rest.  She strikes a good balance between the tendencies of a shoujo heroine and a hero of justice.  Best of all, no one ever tells her not to do these things or that she can't do these things simply being a girl.  We even get a flashback to her (UTTERLY ADORABLE) 6-year-old self to demonstrate that this is simply who Chun is and always has been.  She's fierce, just, loyal and very endearing.

Unfortunately, like so many of CLAMP's short works, this series was cut short by the fact that its magazine was cancelled.  It was so sudden that CLAMP didn't even have time to fake an ending, leaving this manga forever unfinished.  It's a real shame as it feels like that the story is starting to find its footing by volume's end.  We're only just seeing the beginning of how Chun and Mong can work together as a sort of crime-fighting team and there are loads of plot threads that will forever remained dropped.  The three adventures we do get with them are fun but it's hard to not look at this volume and wonder what might have been .


Like with so many early CLAMP works, the artwork is where this series truly shines.  The characters are all drawn in the lushly inked style of CLAMP's early days, but this one has a slightly unique edge in that they used ink and brush in the early chapters.  It was meant to capture a certain old-fashioned quality, although in practice it's mostly pretty subtle outside of the action scenes.  Apparently they abandoned it for more conventional methods in the later chapters for the sake of saving time, but it's a shame since it was pretty and just unusual enough to make Chun Hyang visually distinct.  I suspect that they might have dropped it as it allowed them to clean up the panels a little, as they can get a bit busy from time to time.  They are often full of swooshes of swinging weapons, bursts of flowers, and swirls of magic and the characters and panels alike are often layered in a wily-nily fashion.  The panels only really open up for the odd vista or particularly dramatic moment.  You can argue amongst yourself as to whether Chun Hyang's artwork has aged well or not, but it does manage to distinguish itself visually from its light and frothy contemporaries.


 It might be built out of a lot of familiar elements but The Legend of Chun Hyang manages to coast by on the charm of its heroine and the prettiness of its art.  It'll never be finished and it's far from an essential CLAMP work, but fans should at least give this one a look.

This volume was published by Tokyopop.  It is currently out of print

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Review: GATE 7

Now we're going to shift gears from one of CLAMP's earliest works to one of their latest series.  CLAMP's fortunes have risen and fallen greatly since that time.  One has to wonder if they still have the ability to make a really impressive, memorable manga.  Going by this, the answer  Maybe?  I dunno.

GATE 7 (Geto Seben), by CLAMP.  First published in 2011, and first published in North America in 2011.


Chikahito has always been drawn to Kyoto.  He's never been able to fully explain why, but he feels a connection to the city and he's determined to make the most of his first trip there.  While wandering the streets, he finds him in the middle of a strange battle. He passes out, only to find himself in the home of his saviors: the tall and strapping pair of Tachibana and Sakura and the tiny, androgynous, noodle-loving, and deeply moe Hana.  These three turn out to be spiritual guardians caught up in a modern-day incarnation of historic battles, battles where the reincarnations of the great generals wield powerful oni against one another.  Now Chikahito has to choose a side whether he wants to or not, and his newfound power makes him a target for both sides.


When it first debuted, Gate 7 was somewhat anticipated.  It was CLAMP's first new, non-spinoff series in many years.  Maybe that's why it's so disappointing to see that all it led up to was a rehash of various bits and bobs from previous works tossed together with a bunch of the usual Sengoku-era mumbo-jumbo.

It's hard to read this and not get a few flashbacks to xxxHolic because of Chikahito.  He not only bears a good degree of resemblance to Watanuki, he's also a great cook like him.  It's because of that quality that this series sometimes threatens to become little more than a litany of various Kyoto-area noodle dishes.  At the same time, Chikahito is also far less interesting than Watanuki was even at this early stage.  Watanuki was grumpy and contrary, but it was obvious even from the earliest points in his story that those were merely symptoms of his loneliness and pride.  Chikahito is far more gentle and temperate in comparison, but that means that he also tends to blend into the background more readily and that's a bad quality in a protagonist.  He's frequently forced into situations instead of choosing to join them, so he's a hero that basically gets overwhelmed by his own story.  That's not a promising foundation for a story.

So eventually the story reveals itself to be yet another modern-day reincarnation of Sengoku-era battles that has become something of a trend in recent years.  Hell, I'm surprised that they haven't already broken out the reincarnation of Oda Nobunaga at this point, since he always seems to be the one they break out right away for otaku appeal.  Here, though, CLAMP has taken a more esoteric take on the battles.  They aren't literal battles so much as they are on magical duels fought by supernatural familliars.  Wait a minute...this is basically a tournament-style fighting series!  Sure, the ranks and the purpose are hazy at best, but it's just one long power struggle with the leads working their way up to the ultimate boss.

While CLAMP tries to sneak that fact under the readers' noses, they do their best to try and build up the mystery around the premise and Chikahito.  Are they successful?  It's hard to say.  The problem is that everything is affected by it: the battles, the opponents, the powers involved, all of this and more is explained as vaguely as possible even as they keep adding more and more Sengoku-period people and places.  They even try to make Hana's gender a mystery, but this feels more like fangirl baiting than anything else.  Anyway, all this cyrpticness ends up backfiring in CLAMP's face.  I don't find myself intrigued by the mystery, I just want them to stop and explain something - anything!  It's especially confusing for non-Japanese readers as most of us are not deeply familiar with all of these names and places.  Dark Horse does their best by adding plenty of translation notes, but I honestly couldn't tell one personage from the other.

It's a shame to take such a premise and drag it down so fast by being too vague and too focused on the dinner table.  Instead of getting a strong, clear, and engaging premise, we get something that doesn't feel too far removed from the messy, mixed-up dregs of Tsubasa.


CLAMP's storywriting might be found wanting, but their artwork is still top-notch.  There's a softness to the characters that you don't see in their more recent series, especially around the eyes and hair.  It almost reminds me of the artstyle they used for Kobato, but maybe that's just because Hana tends to make a lot of the same expressions she does.  Otherwise they all fit fairly comfortably in the noodle person mold that CLAMP has employed for the last decade or so.  If there's any sort of visual highlight to this series, it's the fight sequences.  It's only during these times that the panels open up.  They start dramatically, as the world goes as still and dark as water with only the characters standing in relief.  Then they burst forth into massive and lively swirls of magic the likes of which I haven't seen since Magic Knight Rayearth.  Sometimes it goes too far and the characters start to get lost in the chaos, but the overall effect is stunning.  Unusually for CLAMP, there are a lot of blatantly rotoscoped backgrounds taken from (presumably) real-life places in Kyoto.  It's an understandable choice for them to make, but they still come off as flat and lifeless.  Overall Gate 7 is a pretty book to look at, but sometimes it can get as muddled as the story.


It's not unfair to say that Gate 7 is a return to form for CLAMP, but that's not necessarily a good thing.  It's a return to form in a positive way when it comes to the art, which brims with beauty and energy.  It's a bad thing when it comes to the story because it means that they're falling back on old, bad habits and schtick.  I don't get a sense that there's a clear plan of any sort behind this manga, and I fear that this will lead to disaster.

This series is published by Dark Horse.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 4 volumes available.  All 4 have been published and all are currently in print.

Don't forget to check out my latest Crunchyroll Manga Sampler over at Infinite Rainy Day.  Astronauts! Violence! Incest!  All of this and more is contained within the article!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


It's January, which mean's it's another round of CLAMP Month!  Hurray!

These days, CLAMP are notorious for making their works crossover into one big happy multiverse.  Most people would point to Tsubasa as the start of this, while others might point to X.  The truth is that their need for crossovers was present even in the early days of their career, in a place known only as CLAMP School.

CLAMP SCHOOL DETECTIVES (Kuranpu Gakuen Tanteiden), by CLAMP.  First published in 1992 and first published in North America in 2003.


CLAMP School is one of the most illustrious academies in the world, a place where the best and brightest of every subject and activity can come to learn and teach.  Still, few can compare to the talents of the elementary student council.  There's the president Nokoru, whose genius is second only to his sense of chivalry.  Then there's secretary Suoh, heir to a long line of martial artists and self-appointed protector of Nokoru.  Then there's Akira, the treasurer and finest chef on the entire campus.  Still, that's not enough to keep these wunderkinds occupied, so Nokoru has roped them into becoming the campus detectives.  Be it a dispossessed widow, a missing microchip, or merely just an unhappy girl, no case is too big or too small for the CLAMP School Detectives!


CLAMP School Detectives is a kid-friendly shoujo series that's loaded with charm.  That's a very good thing, as it has about as much substance as a soap bubble.  It's plenty of fun if you're willing to roll with what it has to give, but this won't be confused for any of CLAMP's great works any time soon.

For a manga that so blatantly advertises the fact that it's set in CLAMP's own private little universe, there isn't much by the way of continuity.  Each chapter is its own little self-contained story, and while they start somewhat big and ambitious, by volume's end the boys are simply pursuing any girl who doesn't immediately start fawning over them and their many talents.  Oh, did I mention that these chapters often spend a ridiculous amount of time having a Greek chorus of girls and women idolizing a trio of preteens?  It gets a bit awkward at times as many of their fangirls are old enough to be their mothers, and certainly old enough to not be talking about young boys as being attractive.  Oh CLAMP, you and your weird fondness for big age gaps.  Thank god you moved on from that phase.  The earliest ones are the strongest, as they are the ones who at least try for a little bit of drama and mostly succeed.  Even then, the drama is fairly mild, and between that and the frequently silliness of the stories, I would consider this a very child-friendly long as you're willing to overlook those adult fangirls.  That's a weird notion considering that these boys - hell, any of the kids in this volume - don't act anything like real children, but it's something

At least the boys themselves are adorable.  Nokoru is basically what I would imagine Ouran's Tamaki Suoh to have been like as a child.  They're both innately flirtatious, prone to getting carried away by their own schemes, and somehow simultaneously wise yet dumb.  He's both your standard shoujo princely type and frequently the butt of the joke, and it's a combination that's weirdly charming and amusing.  Suoh is his opposite, the serious one there to keep Nokoru from getting too carried away with their latest case.  His presence is necessary to keep things from getting too silly, but it also means there's not much of interest about him other than his close (and possibly fangirl-baiting) relationship with Nokoru.  Then there's sweet, simple Akira, who is practically the mascot of the group.  Sadly, anything that's mildly interesting about him can only be found in his spin-off manga.  The only other character of note is the mysterious school chairwoman.  Her only gimmick is that she's constantly blocking her face, and that only came about out of necessity than anything else (namely, that she was created by one of CLAMP's former members from their doujin days and this was their way of using the design without having to credit her). 

CLAMP School Detectives is fun but inconsequential, and even its skeevier bits can't ruin it.  This is the manga equivalent of cotton candy: fun, sweet, and insubstantial.  It's a fun treat, but doesn't linger on the palate long enough to stay with a person.


Being an early CLAMP work, you can expect a lot of very dark, lush eyes, big hair, and pages that are busy yet somehow never cluttered.  Honestly, the only thing missing from this are the chibis that they tended to use a lot during this era.  What is unusual is how thick and dark all the outlines are.  Even early CLAMP tends to be drawn rather lightly, lending those lush character designs a certain delicacy.  Here the dark lines give this fluffy story a more solid look, helping to give some visual substance to an otherwise silly story.  The paneling is a bit loose with characters frequently moving out or overlapping over the other panels on the page, but CLAMP makes it work in a way that's never gaudy.  Overall it's not entirely atypical of CLAMP's output at the time, but it's got just enough differences to distinguish itself without becoming visually obnoxious.


Aside from the usual omake, if you're really lucky you might still be able to find a copy of the first volume that still has the fold-out color poster.  I'm always a sucker for CLAMP's colored artworks, so that's a nice little bonus.


CLAMP School Detectives is silly and mostly insubstantial, but it isn't trying to be anything more.  It's not a must-read for CLAMP fans, but it's an enjoyable diversion from their early days.

This series is published digitally by Viz and formerly by Tokyopop.  This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available.  All 3 have been published.  The physical Tokyopop volumes are out of print, but the entire series is available in e-book form via