Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review: X/1999

With the start of a disastrous, fatalistic new presidency, I think it's finally time to take a look at the CLAMP work that best sums up the feelings this new era embodies.

At least this version of the apocalypse has a lot more bishies and far fewer fascists than our own.

X/1999 (Ekkusu), by CLAMP.  First published in 1992 and first published in North America in 2003.


The year is 1999, and the apocalypse is nigh.  The fate of Tokyo and the world rests on the shoulders of a mysterious young man named Kamui.  As other, strange folks find themselves drawn to the city, Kamui finds himself among his childhood friends Fuuma and Kotori.  They don't know it yet, but all of their lives are about to change.

Friday, January 20, 2017


Speaking of CLAMP's weirder little short stories, let's return to the world of CLAMP School for yet another exercise in frivolousness.  This time it's tokusatsu flavored!

CLAMP SCHOOL DEFENDERS DUKLYON (Gakuen Tokkei Dyukarion), by CLAMP.  First published in 1992 and first published in North America in 2003.


When classmates Kentaro Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaido aren't arguing amongst themselves and engaging in all the frivolities of CLAMP School, they suit up to become the CLAMP School Defenders Duklyon!  Together with their easily aggravated team leader Eri, they fight back against the dastardly Imonoyama Shopping District Association and their legion of bizarre monsters!


Even by the low standards of the CLAMP School works, this might be one of the goofiest and slightest of the bunch.  Much of that is on purpose, but what few jokes it has to offer get old FAST.

The whole thing is one big riff on tokusatsu shows.  Even if you never watched anything beyond Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, this much is obvious.  That's a perfectly fine conceit, even if the jokes never dig particularly deep.  The problem is that there are maybe half a dozen jokes in the entire and every single one of them is hammered firmly into the ground.  There are only so many times you can be expected to laugh at how obvious everyone's secret identities are, the manzai-like routine between the boys, or even the villain's big dumb crush on Eri before you just start getting annoyed with each new instance.

There's also another problem: of all the CLAMP School manga, this one crosses over with all of them.  Duklyon is commanded by a very poorly disguised Nokuro, leader of the CLAMP School Detectives.  The last chapter here is a 2-on-1 battle between the Duklyon boys and Man of Many Faces, which is the phantom thief alter ego of another member of the CLAMP School Detectives.  These aren't even cameos!  They're basically supporting roles, and without having read those other works their appearances might as well be pointless.  When that pointlessness is combined with the annoying humor and half-ass parody, the end result is simply inane.


Being a CLAMP School-era work, the character designs here are a little rougher than later works.  The boys are perfectly cute in CLAMP's typical fashion, but their faces tend to be as stiff as their armor-like Duklyon suits.  At least they get off easier than their classmate/villain Kotobuki.  He damn near threatens to drown in hair that looks more like a Kabuki wig than hair, even when he's in his ridiculously oversized costume.  There's not much in the way of backgrounds, as CLAMP mostly leans on some rather plain screentones.  There's also not much in the way of action.  All the fights are basically over within a page, maybe two at a stretch.  All in all, there's not much here for anyone unless they really enjoy CLAMP's older character designs.


CLAMP School Defenders Duklyon is meant to be goofy, but it's simply too lame and too immersed in the CLAMP School universe to be anything other than an annoying curiosity.

This series is digitally published by Viz, and previously by Tokyopop.  This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available.  Both volumes were published and are currently out of print.  This series is available digitally through Viz.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review: WISH

Let's turn from one of CLAMP's newest works to one of the many weird little short stories.  This is one was kind of overshadowed by their biggest works from the 90s, but it remains one of their most charming works.

WISH (Wisshu), by CLAMP.  First published in 1995, and first published in North America in 2002.


Shuichiro was walking home from a long surgical shift when he found what looked like a doll with wings getting attacked by crows.  He frees this being, who turns out to be an angel named Kohaku. Kohaku wants to reward Shuichiro's good dead with a wish, but he can't think of anything that needs a wish to fix.  Regardless, Kohaku is determined to stay by Shuichiro's side until he can decide on that wish.  Unfortunately, the forces of both heaven and hell are determined to break up their cozy relationship before it can truly start.

Monday, January 2, 2017


It's January once more, which means it's time for yet another month of CLAMP works.  Let's start things off with one of their most recent works.  Like most of those new works, it's a rehash of a previous work.  In this case, it's a rehash of their most...troubled work.  Has enough time passed that CLAMP can make some sense of it once more, or is it just more of the same?

TSUBASA WoRLD CHRoNiCLE:NIRAIKANAI, by CLAMP.  First published in 2014 and first published in 2015.


Syaoran and company continue their quest across the multiverse.  This time, he, Fai, Kurogane, and Mokona end up in the pleasant paradise of Niraikanai.  It's a tropical island overseen by a young girl who serves as a divine vessel (as well as a vessel for noodles).  To help them in their quest, she urges them to the entrance to the underworld.  There the gang will meet up not only with another guardian, but also a lot more danger and mystery than they could have anticipated...


Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle's ending was no more well-received than xxxHolic's was back in the day.  While its story fit the sort of "and the adventure continues!" ending it got, it went through a lot of convoluted nonsense to get there and most CLAMP fans wanted some actual closure after nearly 30 volumes.  So when they announced a sequel, there was a tiny bit of hope that maybe this time they might wrap things up in a way that didn't require a flowchart to make the tiniest bit of sense.  The joke was on us, though.  World Chronicle is just more of the same, with all the same charms and many of the same flaws.

To their credit, reading this you'd never guess that CLAMP stopped writing Tsubasa for the better part of a decade.  They pick up right where they left off and our team of adventurers are just the same as we left them.  Syaoran is still his blandly heroic self, Kurogane is still a grump, and Fai and Mokona still team up on the regular to tease the hell out of Kurogane.  The interepersonal dynamic between the group was always the most charming (if predictable) part of Tsubasa, so for me that's not a bad thing.  Alas, the plot demands that Sakura be left home during all of this, so all she can do is pray from the sidelines and be just as bland as Syaoran.  I guess that's better than being an often literal load like she was for most of Tsubasa, but it's little consolation.

When I say that it picks up right where it left off, that means all the little plot-related details too.  That means that if you dropped this series at some point, you might not understand why Syaoran is so concerned about Kurogane's arm or why Syaoran and Watanuki are having a nice long chat at the very beginning.  This intro actually pissed me off, albeit for reasons not related to this manga. The worlds of Tsubasa and xxxHolic are still as intertwined as ever, you see, and the same is true for their sequels.  So Watanuki has to go right ahead and explain what he's been up to in the meantime.  In doing so, he spoils the big twist about xxxHolic Rei.  Good job spoiling your own manga before you finish it, CLAMP!  Maybe I wanted to watch that unfold as it was released instead of you ham-handedly explaining it all here! 

After that, the gang mostly dithers around this new universe for a while taking in the sights and enjoying the food.  Quickly enough, though, the CLAMP multiverse cameos begin, and this time it's Gate 7's turn.  Sadly, I lost interest in Gate 7 once it entered hiatus and Hana and her associates got less compelling over time so this inclusion didn't exactly thrill me.  Also, it's probably not a good idea for them to so blatantly compare Fai and Kurogane to the expies of Sakura and Tachibane.  It kind of makes it obvious how much the latter rip off the former in both looks and concept.  Still, they're the ones that start pushing the plot forward, so I can deal with it.

It doesn't go very far, though, and it's not entirely clear what's going on.  CLAMP has gotten into a bad habit lately of keeping their plots so mysterious and cryptic that it becomes nonsense.  Tsubasa always suffered the worst from this and it seems that this has not changed where the sequel is concerned.  That doesn't give me much confidence that CLAMP is going to make this manga any more focused or comprehensible than its predecessor.  It's still got some of its old, pre-Acid Tokyo charms, but it's also got the same dawdling pace and the same refusal to explain the necessary details versus all the ancillary stuff.


CLAMP's art here hasn't changed either, and that mostly is a good thing.  We've got the same clean confident linework, the same noodle-like character designs, and the same sorts of action scenes full of beautifully chaotic swirls and tendrils of magic.  While this series is still technically shonen, there's a lot more shoujo-esque visual excess here, almost an artifact of their art style of old.  They do a lot of layering of panels and staggering long, narrow panels and there's a lot more flowers and sparkles than we've seen in a lot of their modern works.  It gets kind of confusing at times, even outside of the action, and it drowns out what beauty is there.  I didn't really expect them to shake things up too radically at this point, but I did hope that the new start would let them simplify things a little.


As per usual, we've got a translation notes section.  Apparently in addition to the Gate 7 & RG Veda cameos, there's a lot of references to Okinawan culture here, so that's kind of novel.


Tsubasa World Chronicle is everything you would expect from a Tsubasa sequel.  It's got all the charms and beauty it held before, but it also comes with all the nonsensical plot threads and excess that came before.  Unless you were really invested in Tsubasa, this can be easily missed.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics.  This series is ongoing with 4 volumes available.  3 volumes have been published and are currently in print.