November 10, 2009

CLAMP – Dark Horse – 2009 – 4 volumes
the Dark Horse edition is an omnibus containing all four volumes.

So, the thing about Clover is that I read it when it first came out in English and more or less hated it.  But it is pretty.  I have the original four English volumes from Tokyopop and the recent two-volume Japanese rerelease of the series, and couldn’t pass up this pretty omnibus.  Once I had it, though, I had absolutely no desire to read it.  The omnibus was a good chance to give it another try, though.  I didn’t read the Japanese edition after I bought it, and I hadn’t read the English volumes in six or seven years.

The thing about Clover… it’s super-pretty, and has amazing composition and minimalist art.  But it’s a series that hinges on song lyrics, which is a bad idea in the first place since you have no idea what the tunes to the ever-present songs are.  Most manga series about singers feature a song every volume or two that takes up a page, which is fine.  You can read the lyrics and try to imagine the tune, but you only have to do so for one page.  When snippets of the lyrics appear in every scene, not knowing the tune becomes a problem.  It bugs me, and the lyrics in Clover are on every page.  David Welsh recently took that a step further, and pointed out that the lyrics are also atrocious.  Sure, Sue and Kazuhiko are on a journey, but I get it.  I get that she wants to be taken someplace far away, and that she may or may not be seeking happiness during or at the end of said journey.  I don’t need to read it on every page.  It really is repeated that frequently.  I would count how many times that line appears, but that would require reading that line over and over once again.

I like the plot itself.  It’s quite romantic, and I’m a sucker for stories that are good at jumping around their timeline.  The first two volumes tell a continuous story, then the third volume jumps back in time to focus on Ora, an absentee character central to the first story, then the fourth volume jumps back even further to talk about another character and the Clover project in general.  Technically, the series is unfinished, and I suppose it’s possible the story could go on from the end of the second volume, but I’m pretty satisfied with what we got.  It reads like a complete series.  Apparently CLAMP had originally planned it to be six volumes, but I can’t recall what was going to be in the next two.

I don’t like the abruptness of the storytelling, which is a problem that’s complicated by the strange (but unique and completely awesome) setting and the political unrest that we are thrown into.  Details offer themselves up in a timely manner, and you can see that the story is well-planned as you read, but I still hate that things get underway and move fast right from page one.  The fast pace works against the plot too, since it means that most of what’s going on flies by and strips the main story down to a very short journey to Fairy Park with brief delays. There’s also something that seems insincere when otherwise serious and romantic stories move so quickly.  But the fast pace is rewarded as we learn more and more about Sue and Kazuhiko and what is happening to the both of them, and the way Sue opens up at the end of the story is still great, even after all these years.

I like that the emotions of the characters are offered without any explanation, too.  In the third story, Ora and Kazuhiko are lovers completely smitten with one another, and what we see of the two of them provides enough evidence to see how devastating what happens to Ora truly is.  Similarly, the friendship between Kazuhiko and Ginsetsu is never discussed, but it is clearly a powerful bond between the two men.

For the record, Ora is up with Watanuki and Kamui as one of my favorite CLAMP characters of all time.  I hated Clover the first time through, but I loved Ora.  I still do.  She’s a great character, and plays her role well.  I wish Sue had been developed as much as Ora.  Sue’s very basic role works well in the context of the series, but aside from knowing that she’s been isolated and her feelings on Ora and Kazuhiko, we know absolutely nothing else about her thoughts and feelings on anything at all.  Even at her most sincere, she seems completely devoid of emotion.  I think that her lack of emotion lends itself well to the scene where she opens herself up, though, which may be the point.

The art, while fantastic and certainly some of CLAMP’s best, can also be… well, misinterpreted, and uninteresting to some.  There are some brilliant page spreads, and its minimalism is well-suited to the story here, but my roommate took one look at it and pronounced it “lazy,” though I would disagree.  There isn’t much on most of the pages, and all four volumes only took me about an hour and a half to read.  Take that how you will.  But I see the emptiness as an amazing use of negative space, and it also excels at its fantastic panel layouts that trickle down and through single and double page spreads.  It also has wonderful details in the setting and clothing the characters wear.  Ora really feels like the centerpiece of the entire story, both in terms of her character design (both of them) and the outfits she wears.  And what I wouldn’t give to have those wide CLAMP shoulders back in the current works.

But keep in mind that a lot of those panel layouts are there to effectively give the lyrics to those awful songs something to wrap around.  Never forget those ever-present songs.

So I still don’t like Clover, but I can admit that I like the plot much more than I did when I was younger.  The subtleties of the characters and the love story that was going on were lost on me at the time, and that’s a large part of what makes the series enjoyable.  But again, that is all ruined by having to read those songs over and over again.  Sure, you could just skip them, but they’re there.  In that awful font, too.  You don’t have to do more than glance at them to know what they say.  It’s a real problem.