LEGAL DRUG (Gohou Drug), by CLAMP. First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2004.
Kazahaya wanted to run away from his past. Rikuo wanted to find a missing woman from his. Their quests ended up leading the two to the Green Drugstore. When the two aren't stocking shelves and fighting with one another, their mysterious benefactor Kakei sends them off on strange supernatural quests that force the two to confront the mysteries of their pasts.
Looking back, it's hard to not see Legal Drug as CLAMP's rough draft for xxxHolic. There are simply too many similarities in plot structure and characters between the two to ignore. That doesn't mean that Legal Drug doesn't have its own charms, but those charms rely a lot more on BL conventions that arguably any other work of theirs before or since.
It's not hard to see the similarity between the two. You have a story where an easily excitable young man is sent on supernatural errands by a mysterious benefactor and business owner with equally mysterious powers, often accompanied by a dark-haired, taciturn young man whose very presence annoys him. This statement is just as true for the first third of xxxHolic as it is true for the first third of Legal Drug. The chapters are mostly errand-of-the-week set-ups, with little in the way of plot to connect them. That may be why these first few chapters don't quite have the punch of the series that followed it. It's not that they're uninspired or uninteresting, but there's little reason to understand why the boys are undertaking these tasks in the first place or what direction the story seems to be taking.
To fill in that narrative space, CLAMP gives the readers a few crumbs of backstory and a LOT of ship teasing. It's far from unusual for CLAMP to throw in a gay pairing or two in their works, but rarely has CLAMP been as blatant about it as they are here. Kazahaya is the sort of loud, overreactive uke that
The only relief comes when Kazahaya find himself staring at Rikuo, wondering what his deal is, but even then it's nothing but fanservice in service to the ship. It's also in stark contrast to the relationship between Kakei and his far more casual, jokey partner Saiga. We don't see a lot of these two so far, but their tag-team teasing of the boys and the body language between the two speaks volumes to the level of comfort and affection between the two. It's all very titter-worthy stuff and not without promise, but it's also easy to see why this series ended up on hiatus for many years. What good ideas are here are rough and unpolished, enough so that CLAMP would recycle them not a few years later, but it leans too much on fujoshi fanservice to make up for its vagueness and lack of personality.
Legal Drug has one more similarity to xxxHolic: it was drawn not by CLAMP's usual artist, Mokona, but instead by the group's character designer Tsubaki Nekoi. Nekoi's artwork isn't nearly as elaborate as Mokona's, which isn't a bad thing. Her BL influences are also a lot more obvious, which is why everyone has ridiculously long, gangly limbs and all but Kazahaya have weird, hulking torso that only make their heads seem weirdly small but require them to hunch to stay in frame. That's not the only influence at play here.
CLAMP got their start as a doujin group, and while they don't do more than the odd guest illustration these days, they never stopped loving their old fandoms and pairings. This is especially true for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, especially where Jotaro and Kakyoin are concerned. You don't have to dive too deep into Google Search to realize that there are some obvious similarities between some of their Jojo's doujin art and some of the artwork in Legal Drug, especially in the bondage-themed chapter splash art. Those similarities extend to the character designs, most obviously in the weird hairstyles that both Kazahaya and Kakei sport. It's not the first time CLAMP has recycled their Jojo doujin, but once again they've rarely been so brazen about it.
Of course, these are not downsides for the most part, but merely curiosities. Aside from them, there are moments where Nekoi's unique brand of sleek elegance shines through in her choice of poses and composition. The artwork in Legal Drug is at its best when Nekoi gets to visualize the surreal parts, be it the tree and flying fish in the middle of an old Japanese home or invisible fireflies visible only as shadows on the snow under a full moon. They're wonderfully atmospheric and dreamy, and if this series had more moments like them and fewer sequences of guys arguing and saying cryptic things in a rather boring, everyday drug store, maybe this series would have made a stronger impression from the start.
True to most of the Dark Horse CLAMP rereleases, the translation hasn't been altered too much from the original Tokyopop one, and the credits reflect this. That being said, it's clear that editor Carl Horn took at pass at it as the dialogue here is noticeably more aggressive than it was before and Saiga's jokes bear a passing resemblance tonally to comedic translations he's done in the past.
Legal Drug has moments of supernatural beauty, but it leans too hard on fujo fanservice and not enough on building up its plot. It's little wonder that CLAMP took the good ideas they had here, gave them a good polish and a lot more style, and turned it into a far better series later down the line.
This series is published by Dark Horse and formerly by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 have been published; the Tokyopop single volumes are out of print, but the 3-in-1 Dark Horse omnibus is currently in print.