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 series...as 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 Viz.com.