It's a celebration of my favorite mangaka group (and the lateness is a result of getting two nasty cases of the flu? cold? generic respiratory nastiness in a row), starting with what may be one of the weirdest works they ever made.
MAN OF MANY FACES (Niju Mesno ni Onegai!), by CLAMP. First published in 1990 and first published in North America in 2003.
When Akira Ijyuin isn't busy with the CLAMP School Detectives, he spends his days refining his fine cooking skills and taking care of his two mothers. By night, though, he is the infamous phantom thief 20 Faces, stealing only the finest, most whimsical things at his mothers' request. Like his father before him, Akira can steal just about anything and get away, but what will he do when the kindergarten-aged heiress Utako ends up stealing his heart instead?
I should note that while Man of Many Faces is kind of weird, it's far from unpleasant. After all, it's still part of the CLAMP School universe, and as such it has the same sort of soap-bubble lightness and sweetness that its parents series possesses. It does have one advantage that CLAMP School Detectives did not: the phantom thief angle. It doesn't do anything that other series from Case Closed to Saint Tail haven't already done, but for once sticking to genre formula helps this manga by giving it just enough structure to keep it all from falling in on itself in an adorably quirky pile.
Then there's the romantic angle. On the surface, it just may be the most innocent and adorable thing that CLAMP has ever written. It's literally a couple of children having thoughtful conversations about love under the stars while eating baked goods. Add in the fact that these two are kind of caught up in the most low-stakes two-person love triangle ever, and you end up with something that seems like a better fit for Nakayoshi than it does for Newtype (which means that this is also technically CLAMP's first shonen manga). CLAMP just hopes that you don't think about all the weirdness just under the surface, like the fact that Utako meets Akira in part because she was rejected by her kindergarten homeroom teacher, or how Akira's two mothers seem to live in happy, polygamous bliss with his
Yet it's that same mix of wonderful and wonky that gives this series a sort of oddball charm. It wouldn't be the first CLAMP work I would reach for, but like its predecessor it's a good one for kids and one of the more memorable works from their early years.
The art here is a little more loose and fast than what we would see from CLAMP just a few years later. While the characters retain the lushly inked, cat-eyed look that has always been CLAMP's signature style, they also don't quite possess the precision of their later works and there's a lot more reliance on chibis and wacky screentones for effect. The only place where CLAMP lets themselves get lavish is on the chapter splash pages. Overall it's not without its charms, but Man of Many Faces feels a lot more slapdash than most of its contemporaries.
What's less charming is the translation and adaptation. There's a lot more honorifics than normal, along with titles that frankly should be translated like 'oto-san.' There's also a few examples of the sort of anachronistic jokes that tended to be added to punch-up a lot of older Tokyopop translations in the later chapters.
Man of Many Faces is silly and a little strange, but its charms and premise go a long way towards making it the best of the otherwise forgettable CLAMP School manga.
This series was published by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes have been published and are currently out of print. This series is also available digitally via Viz.