Creator: CLAMP
U.S. publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781595821966
Released: May 2009
Original release: 1997-1999

Technically, Clover is one of CLAMP’s incomplete works. Originally planned to be at least six volumes, the series prematurely ended at four when the magazine it was being serialized in, Amie, ceased publication. Clover was initially released in Japan between 1997 and 1999. Tokyopop first published the series in English in four volumes between 2001 and 2002 before Dark Horse released a deluxe omnibus edition of Clover, using the same translation but including additional color artwork, in 2009. CLAMP is an all-female creative group that had its beginnings as a dōjinshi circle in the 1980s before emerging as a highly successful professional group. It’s four main members, who are also the members who worked on Clover, include Satsuki Igarashi, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Nanase Ohkawa. (Ohkawa was primarily responsible for Clover‘s story while Mokona was primarily responsible for its artwork.) Clover happens to be one of my personal favorites of CLAMP’s works. Although there are things about the series that annoy me, I enjoy its futuristic and vaguely dystopic setting and its experimental artwork. I thought the CLAMP Manga Moveable Feast was a great opportunity for me to give the manga a closer look.

After being court-martialed six times, ex-special operative Kazuhiko Fay Ryu is trying to lead a normal civilian life when the government calls him back to duty for one last mission—one that only he can complete. Charged with transporting a strange girl to an undisclosed location, there’s plenty about the mission that Kazuhiko doesn’t know. And what he doesn’t know may very well end up getting him killed. He isn’t even aware of the special connection that she shares with him. Sue, the girl, is a Clover—a child with extraordinary abilities far surpassing those of a normal psychic. Considered both extremely valuable and extremely dangerous, she has been kept alone in captivity by the government for most of her life. All she really wants is a moment of true happiness, no matter how fleeting. But now that the closely guarded secret of her existence is out, both Sue and Kazuhiko are being pursued by well-armed renegade forces who want her power for their own.

The most striking thing about Clover is its artwork. The style itself is similar to those used in other works by CLAMP, but what makes it stand out from other manga (and not just other CLAMP manga) is the group’s use of innovative and unusual panel layouts and page designs. The individual panels tend to focus closely in on a particular element; these fragments are then gathered together as a whole on the page in interesting and varied ways. CLAMP isn’t afraid of overlap or white space and relatively few panels are used on a page, giving the overall presentation of Clover a minimalist feel. CLAMP’s artwork revels in the small details, moments, and movements without becoming overly complicated. Less successful in Clover is CLAMP’s constant use of song lyrics. I can see this being used to good effect in another medium such as film, but it becomes tedious and repetitive in the manga. Eventually, I stopped reading them entirely. I suspect that the overused lyrics worked better in serialization than they do now that the manga has been collected.

The primary story is contained by the first two volumes of Clover. The third and fourth volumes serve as prequels, each going back a little further in time, which delve into the characters’ histories. Although there is still plenty of room for development, and I would love to see what CLAMP had in mind for the rest of Clover, the volumes that currently exist are more or less complete in and of themselves. In tone, Clover tends to be very melancholic bordering on and even crossing over into angst. However the future shown in Clover came to pass, it is not a particularly happy one. Very little is actually known about the world of Clover; many of the details of the setting and of the characters backstories and relationships are only hinted at or implied rather than being explicitly stated. CLAMP provides just enough information for readers to run with and to ignite their imaginations as they speculate on the series’ possibilities. Clover might not be the best of CLAMP’s works, but I think it is one of the most interesting. Even considering its faults, with an engaging setting and fantastic artwork, Clover remains a personal favorite of mine.

My Week in Manga: July 18-July 24, 2011

My News and Reviews

Well, I’m back from the beach, but I still have a couple of days to recuperate and do laundry before I head back to work. While I was vacationing last week, I posted two reviews. The first, as promised, was for Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son, Volume 1. This was actually a difficult manga for me to review since the subject matter hits so close to home for me. My review does it no justice, but the volume is a wonderful start to what I expect (and hope) to be a wonderful series. The second review was for Otsuichi’s award-winning light novel Goth. I had previously read the manga adaptation and liked it so well that I wanted to track down the source material. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a very dark and disconcerting work, but very good. Finally, the Fruits Basket Manga Moveable Feast starts this week, so keep an eye out for some good stuff! (Unfortunately, I won’t be participating this time around.)

Quick Takes

Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma. I know a lot of people who adore Azumanga Daioh. While I enjoyed Yen Press’ omnibus edition, I wasn’t quite as taken with the series as most other people seem to be. If I had to choose, I prefer Azuma’s Yotsuba&! Still, I did find Azumanga Daioh to be amusing and some of the four panel strips even managed to make me laugh out loud. The series has a goofy sense of humor that depends a lot on the personalities of the characters. If you don’t like the girls, you won’t like the manga. Azumanga Daioh can get a bit repetitive, and maybe I shouldn’t have ploughed through the omnibus as quickly as I did, but I was fairly consistently entertained.

Clover by CLAMP. Although Clover is technically an unfinished series, Dark Horse’s omnibus collects the completed material in one gorgeous volume. In my opinion, the artwork is some of CLAMP’s best and the experimental nature of the manga is beautifully done. However, I did find the constant reuse of song lyrics to be tedious in the long run, to the point I wasn’t even really reading them anymore. The manga is wonderfully dark in tone and takes place in a dystopian future. We’ll probably never see the final two volumes released, which is unfortunate because I’d really like to read more of the manga. But despite some of its flaws and even given its incompleteness, Clover may actually be my favorite work by CLAMP that I’ve read so far.

Four Shōjo Stories by Keiko Nishi, Moto Hagio, and Shio Sato. Four Shōjo Stories shouldn’t exist. Viz put together and published the anthology without first securing the rights to do so and soon after were required to pull the books off the shelf. If you do come across a copy though, it’s worth picking up. The book collects four stories: “Promise” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Nishi, “They Were Eleven” by Hagio (the initial reason I tracked down the anthology), and “The Changeling” by Sato (perhaps my favorite). All four stories were translated by Matt Thorn, who also provides a nice introduction to the volume as a whole. The collection is an interesting mix of stories, but they are all very strong and I enjoyed each one.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno. Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a critically acclaimed, award winning manga that well deserves its accolades. The manga is about a family that must deal with the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima for generations. It is a gentle story even if it is heartbreaking as the survivors and their descendants try to continue on with their lives. The manga is told as two interconnected stories, “Town of Evening Calm,” which is set in 1955, and “Country of Cherry Blossoms,” which takes place in 1987 and 2004. Kouno’s line work is simply lovely. Although some of the events portrayed are understandably terrible, the artwork is never really graphic but still remains very effective emotionally.