CLAMP – Dark Horse – 2011 – 1+ volumes
Oh, CLAMP. I ought to know better by now. If the end of Tsubasa hasn’t taught me, the beginning of Kobato should have. CLAMP just doesn’t write my flavor of series any more. And yet… re-reading X and Cardcaptor Sakura has made me hopeful. Maybe there will be a series I like as much as those.
Gate 7… hmm. So we start out with Chikahito Takamoto, who is visiting Kyoto for the first time and couldn’t be happier. He’s read about all the history, the monuments, and the shrines, and is in utter bliss as he walks around soaking up the scenery. Suddenly, he finds himself in a dark void, and comes face-to-face with a beautiful androgynous person, and two other men who insist that Chikahito shouldn’t be there, then proceed to fight some sort of supernatural beast. Chikahito passes out, then wakes up in a strange place, sharing a noodle dish with the three strangers. The three strangers try to wipe his mind, but can’t. The androgynous one, Hana, sees him off, and tells him that Hana is happy to have met him.
Later, an unlikely series of transfers lands Chikahito back in Kyoto at an odd time of year, and he finds himself once again entangled in the supernatural battles the three strangers seem to engage in. Somehow, he’s involved too, and luckily, an oni and a descent of a very famous general are prepared to explain everything to Chikahito. Over a noodle bowl, of course.
One thing I can respect about this series. It lives and breathes Kyoto. It’s clearly rooted deeply in the folklore and history of the place, and the supernatural battles are tied into excess energy stored in temples and famous places. The plot also seems to be leading itself into a look at the history of Kyoto and Japan, as some of these supernatural powers are apparently inherited from descendants of famous historical people. The characters also frequently enjoy Kyoto cuisine, and name-drop famous restaurants. Normally a story so Japan-centric would turn me off a bit, since I’m not as familiar with the history and sites as the target audience would be and am thus a little alienated, but Gate 7 is thoroughly footnoted, and I had a fun time following along with all the history and whatnot.
On the other hand, the fantasy-esque fights are… so generic at this point. They go into a sealed realm, like they do in X, and fight the creature with either light power or dark power. One of the two older boys serves as the root of the power, and apparently Hana is the one that does the fighting. Whatever Chikahito’s special power is, he’s linked to Hana somehow. Whatever Hana’s power “is,” Chikahito “isn’t.” Hana is “all” and Chikahito is “nothing,” I guess? I’m a little tired of “big concepts” in these CLAMP fights, too. I’m not sure if this is something that doesn’t translate, but this feels almost the same as the “clones” in Tsubasa, where they were the same person, but weren’t, and existed because one person couldn’t blah blah blah. I’m just saying, I don’t want to read thirty volumes of this to find out that Chikahito has infinitely fathered himself.
And poor Chikahito. He’s just like Watanuki. Timid guy with glasses, overreacts to everything, can see supernatural stuff others cannot. The weird creature attacking is very similar to the beginning of XxXholic, too.
I’m also more than mildly shocked to see that CLAMP is using a lot of photos for the backgrounds in this series. I mean… CLAMP? Of all artists? Perhaps it’s because the story so lives and breathes Kyoto that nothing short of actual photos would do the setting justice, since the events take place in very, very specific locations. But still. It feels like it doesn’t really bode well.
One thing that is very un-CLAMP-like is the somewhat overt romance between Hana and Chikahito. We still don’t know whether Hana is a girl or a boy, or how old Hana is, but Hana and Chikahito seem fond of each other in a mild way by the end of the volume. A very bold action is taken, then reversed later on, so maybe that’s why I think so. But still.
So, Gate 7. Better than Kobato. Not as good as the beginning of Tsubasa. A lot like the kinda “eh” parts of a lot of other CLAMP series. But we’ll see where it goes from here.