Roll it over in the Clover
Today has passed by mostly in a sort of haze for me – mostly thanks to a bizarre day yesterday which has led to a stonking cold today. As such, when I went into town to do Jobs like an Adult, I wandered around in a cloud fuelled by lemsip and lucozade (no, they don’t really mix, yes they both taste nasty).
During my wanderings, I found myself in Waterstones staring blearily up at the Manga shelf, and something pretty caught my eye. Right up at the top was a rather hefty volume, in a beautiful metallic green shade, entitled Clover. I might not have thought any more of this, had the word ‘CLAMP’ not been written at the top of the spine. And I took it down.
What I bought was the complete collection of the manga Clover, which was licensed originally by Tokyopop in its English Language translation, but which went out of print in 2005. In 2009 it was re-released, in this complete volume, for the first time in original right-to-left format, by Dark Horse Manga, they of ‘Akira’ publishing fame. Combined with the work of CLAMP, I made an impulse buy.
The book itself is beautiful. The cover is matte, rather than the glossy covers of many other manga, and adorned with a picture of Sue, one of the main characters of the book. The back cover has Mokona and Modoki from Tsubasa nestled next to the Dark Horse logo by the barcode, cuddled around a little banner declaring it to be CLAMP’s 20th Anniversary. Happy Birthday!
Clover is an interesting piece of work. Stylistically, the art is more reminiscent of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle than Cardcaptor Sakura or Chobits, with long slender characters all round. The usual themes are still there in the art – wings are all over the place, circular symbols, and short skirts with impossibly long flounces abound. Which makes sense – it began a year after CardCaptor Sakura started, showing the perhaps slightly newer style, despite running cocurrently with it. As usual, the art is beautiful, although many pages are sparse, with maybe only two or three panels spaced out across the page.
The story is set in a bizarre world – Star Wars meets Steampunk, with lasers, teleportation and robots, artificial limbs which can transform into GIANT SWORDS, yet planes resemble zeppelins with large fin-like wings, radios are wirelesses and the blurb describes it as a “baroque, retro-tech world”. Certainly, the clothes perhaps take some inspiration from the baroque, with long robes abounding, but with robots shaped like creatures from Alice in Wonderland, the design seems more Renaissance-Victorian than baroque. The story itself, however, is another matter.
It follows Kazuhiko, a young retired black-ops agent (although for who is kept quiet), who is called out of retirement for one last mission, to deliver Sue, a young girl kept in a greenhouse guarded by be-ruffled robots, to her ultimate destination. Sue knows where this is, Kazuhiko doesn’t. Threaded all through the story is a song, about finding happiness, sung both by Sue and by the many wirelesses found along the way, sung by Kazuhiko’s girlfriend, Ora, who died before the manga began. Kazuhiko knows nothing about Sue, and is suitably sullen – he did not want to come out of retirement, but is blackmailed by his former superior officer. Once he meets Sue, however, he becomes quite taken with her. Which is a good thing for Sue, as there are a rather large number of people who also want her – some of whom introduce themselves with guns. Sue is, as all heroines in this position are, suitably vague, mixing childlike innocence, mystical mystery and just plain indecipherable behaviour in the usual cocktail of character traits. Some half-finished sentences, a bizarre fascination with the radio and the inability to follow instructions all leads to the development of the story.
Stylistically, the story is very much like a film noir. Each volume is broken up into sort of ‘acts’, a few pages in lengths, entitled things like “A Telephone”, “A Leopard”, “Back Alley”. The pages themselves are quite sparse, with white space used to frame the story and many pages with only a few panels on – usually the title pages of each act. It’s an interesting approach, however I’m not entirely sure it works. I’ve only read the first volume so far, but I find this has made the story seem somewhat choppy, even if the acts do follow directly on from each other. Given as its only the first volume, not much has been revealed yet, but I had been hoping for more in the way of tidbits dropped. No such luck, whether because of my cold or because CLAMP just don’t want me knowing, the details needed to make the plot understandable haven’t been dropped. Given as the world is, as the review on the back says, “edgy and genre-bending”, more exposition would have been welcome in the first book, at least for me.
Perhaps this is because I haven’t read the whole thing yet – from what I gather the later volumes are flashbacks, which explain things before the starting events. However, there is also some indication that the series isn’t yet finished. The wikipedia page states that the Head Writer of the series, Ageha Ohkawa, said that two more books are needed to complete the story. Given as the copy I hold boasts that it “collects the complete story for the first time”, I admit to being a little confused. Whilst I will be the first to agree that wikipedia is not the best source of accurate information, I do find myself wondering if the story does have longer to go. Given as it has been 11 years since it was last drawn, it seems unlikely. But with the opening chapter being as impenetrable as it is, I only hope that the story is drawn together at the end.
The volume itself is beautiful though, and that I cannot emphasise enough. The cover art is stunning, and in between each volume are glossy pages with colour illustrations, presumably the covers when it was released individually. Equally, at the back of the book are extra glossy pages with bonus art. And it is beautiful art.
Overall, I am pleased with what I’ve got, and would certainly recommend Clover as a series to check out. It’s not long, the ‘complete edition’ numbering only 571 pages, and that’s including illustrations, credits and adverts at the back. I have so far found the plot difficult to get into, as I’ve been given little information to help me understand it, but knowing what I know of CLAMP, I’m certain that issue will be addressed fairly quickly. Whilst the page layout can sometimes make the story difficult to follow, I can only admire them for trying to do something so very different from what I’ve seen previously with other manga, in the same way film directors try to keep their direction restrained, CLAMP use emptier pages to draw your attention to the important elements. For art fans, however, there is more than enough to keep you entertained, and the story contains all the elements which make CLAMP popular, whilst pushing their storytelling to a different level.