Artbook Spotlight: RG Veda – Hiten Muma

March 30, 2012

CLAMP – Shinshokan – 1991 – ISBN 4403612601

I own a few dozen artbooks, and among them, I’ve made a point to pick up every single CLAMP artbook over the years. There are a lot. I’ve covered the X Zero artbook before, but I thought this week I’d take a look at this particular RG Veda collection, which is the first collecting Mokona’s color artwork.

This book came out two years and three volumes into the serialization of RG Veda, which strikes me as almost hilariously unlikely for a new artist’s debut work. Then again, this is CLAMP.

Now, CLAMP’s origins are murky and mired in folklore, and I’ve heard several different stories about their doujinshi circle days in the 80s. I’m dubious about any info I read on the internet about what happened before RG Veda. Apparently, series like Cluster and Derayed officially predate RG Veda, and initial printings of the first volumes of both credit CLAMP (though perhaps the initial volumes were amateur printings). I mention this because it’s possible that the CLAMP name was somewhat popular and/or exposed even at the beginning of RG Veda’s life. Otherwise, the explanation for this book is that RG Veda was a raging success, and its popularity merited a book of illustrations immediately. It’s also important to keep in mind that CLAMP had already serialized, or was serializing, all three of the CLAMP School series by the time this book came out, but that was at a different publisher. Perhaps that also contributed to their popularity.

Or maybe it was just that Mokona draws very, very pretty illustrations. The character designs are a little rough and very 90s, but man, is this still a gorgeous book. This is the first of two RG Veda artbooks. The second, Tenmagouka, came out in 2001, several years after the series ended. Tenmagouka is a more complete collection of all the color art from RG Veda, and is quite a massive tome. As pretty as Hiten Muma is, Tenmagouka is jaw-dropping amazing, and is up with the X Infinity artbook as one of the most gorgeous I own.

With slipcase, this is slightly larger than my scanner, so I opted to take photos of the outside of the box in the ugly yellow light of my kitchen. This is the front and back, with matching illustrations of Ashura and Yasha.

And this is the slipcase open. The cover folds out, and two volumes are inside.

While Tenmagouka is complete and prettier, Hiten Muma is the more interesting book physically. It’s the only CLAMP artbook that was bound as a two-volume set in an unusual fold-out cardboard sleeve. This is actually so unconventional that I have only one other manga artbook like this. That one is a story for another day, but it is literally the coolest book I own.

Well, that cover’s upside down. I won’t be able to fix that until next week. But you get the idea.

Hiten Muma is also two volumes. The second of the two is a thin paperback book, bound in a strange fatigued cardboard cover printed with gold ink. The inside presentation also includes vellum and some parchment-like pages as well. It’s impressive. It’s a short story about the former King Ashura, and includes younger versions of several characters and the events leading up to his fight with Taishakuten. There’s also a relationship tree and some other supplemental information and character sketches included. The manga is 36 pages long, the book itself is 48 pages.

The first volume of Hiten Muma is the actual artbook. It’s got a white vellum dustjacket over a gold-colored cover (veined to look like parchment, similar to the paperback volume), and several vellum pages inside. Strangely, the book runs left-to-right, western style, though you can start from either side, which is more obvious if you slide the vellum jacket off. All the artbook commentary and printing details that usually come at the end are in the paperback volume. It’s 64 pages of Mokona Apapa’s color illustrations. Unfortunately, this book is exactly the size of my scanner, and most of these are double-page spreads. You’re only seeing half of them, and I’m sorry for that.

As I said, some of them are a bit dated. Color and shading are a bit rough here, especially in the hair, and the male character designs in particular are old-looking. Yasha’s wide shoulders scream 1990 harder than anything else possibly could in a fantasy series like this.

Still, it’s not for nothing that many people consider Mokona one of the best shoujo artists of the 90s, and even this early in her career, she’s doing a lot of amazing work. Interesting compositions, wonderful color pallets (along with some more awful ones that could possibly be argued to follow a theme), and varied illustration content are present through much of the book. The latter is important, because frequently artists get stuck posing their characters over and over again with nothing much else going on. That’s true here as well, and a lot of these are less interesting group shots, over and over again. But these are interrupted with illustrations like the one above. a great solitary shot of… uh, Taishakuten’s son? I can’t quite remember who this is, it’s been years since I’ve re-read RG Veda.

One thing that’s noticeably absent here is the attention to detail that Mokona usually gives wardrobe and accessories. On one hand, RG Veda’s cast dress in flowing robes, which don’t lend themselves to the fun costume eccentricities of, say, Cardcaptor Sakura, or even the wide range of professions and whatnot for the cast of X. But the jewelery does, and save for some elegant gold paint detailing on Ashura’s scart, there’s very little of this. The above illustration is one of the only examples of Indian design elements creeping into the jewelery and illustration. You can see the level of detail improving even in the short time represented in this book, and there’s some full-blown gorgeous detail in some of the later illustrations in Tenmagouka. But this is still an interesting look at how it got to that point.

Very few of the images are of single characters. This one of Karura is one of them, and also one of the prettiest illustrations in the book. I know it may look like I’m lying, because most of the ones I’m scanning here are of only one character, but I’m not really showing a representational sample of the book. Most of these really are group shots of the main characters, and rather unremarkable. They all sorta look similar to the covers of the early volumes. And many of them are illustrations used on the covers of the early volumes.

This is also a sign of things to come in future CLAMP illustrations. One of the other flaws in this collection is that almost none of the illustrations include a real place, usually just an ambiguous color or night scene for a background. This one of a vaguely teenage-looking Ashura is grounded in reality with a tree, and you can see the jewelery is present and illustrated with a little more detail as well. The non-child versions of Ashura (he ages quickly due to magic, but I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be a teen or an adult) are some of my favorite character designs in the series, and one of the other reasons I prefer the later illustrations in Tenmagouka. He’s one of the main characters, so there’s lots of older Ashura there.

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The back of the book (or the front, if you start from the usual Japanese right-to-left orientation) has a set of four of these types of illustrations. They’re done in a completely different style, so much so that I wonder if Mokona illustrated them. All of them feature small figures against a large gray biomass, the type of thing that Ashura gets stuck in at the end of the series. The figures… I can’t quite make sense of them. One of them is someone pushing through the biomass, but you can’t tell who it is at all. It’s extremely indistinct. One features three characters that look like the Moirai, which doesn’t even make sense but there they are, three figures with no faces passing a thread between them. The one above… looks like Karura and Ashura, except I can’t quite figure out why they’d be together? Maybe it’s supposed to be King Ashura and Taishakuten? Or Karura and Kendappa? The fourth featured the black-winged fortune-teller character, or at least I thought so until I was scrutinizing it just now and realized that the figure had breasts, so… yeah.

Presentation-wise, it’s a very unique book, and for CLAMP fans, it’s an interesting look at how Mokona evolved as an artist over the years as well. There’s still a lot to look at and appreciate even in the most unremarkable illustrations, and even this early in CLAMP’s career, there are quite a few gems tucked into the book as well. It’s worth having, and not particularly expensive either, especially for a book this elaborate. I think this was the first artbook I bought, about ten years ago, and I was not disappointed in the least by it.

While this was the first CLAMP artbook, and in theory less copies were printed than any of the other ones, I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a “rare” CLAMP artbook. Prices range between $30-$60, but you shouldn’t have any problems laying hands on one for $30.

2 Responses to “Artbook Spotlight: RG Veda – Hiten Muma”

  1. […] Artbook Spotlight: RG Veda – Hiten Muma […]

  2. […] Vidéo Girl Ai de Masakazu Katsura, Orion de Masamune Shirow …, les Art books de CLAMP comme RG Veda Hiten Muma et Tokyo Babylon Photographs ou celui de Masamune Shirow intitulé Intron Depot 1 … ou encore […]

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