Chatting About CLAMP

The following discussion contains spoilers.

MICHELLE: For this month’s CLAMP Manga Moveable Feast, special guest Karen Peck and I decided to weigh in on couple of the quartet’s shorter works, namely Suki (complete in three volumes) and Legal Drug (unfinished in three volumes, but newly relaunched in Japan under the name Drug & Drop). I’d heard these series were related in some way, too, though that turned out to be little more than a cameo.

Anyway, let’s start with Suki! Child-like Hinata Asahi is a first year in high school who is extremely book smart, but trusting to an excessive degree. She lives alone with two teddy bears, and when the guy who moves in next door turns out to be her substitute homeroom teacher, Hinata takes a liking to him. Shiro Asou is kind of prickly, but does a few things for Hinata that make her feel all warm and fuzzy, like patting her on the head and helping her sweep some leaves in her yard. Hinata’s obvious affection for Asou-sensei troubles her friend, Touko, and it’s Touko’s concern (coupled with hinting about Hinata’s past) that lends a welcome ominous vibe to the story.

KAREN: Ah, Suki! I read this when it first came out, and thought it was a nice little trifle—enjoyable but not especially notable. Hinata is one of those CLAMP heroines who is impossibly sweet and naïve, but it’s forgivable—because she should be a darker, sadder character, what with living alone in an empty house, her father only a distant figure, and having been through some intense events in her past. In Cardcaptor Sakura, you could see where all of [Sakura’s] abundant sweetness comes from—she comes from a world of love and security. That Hinata is still such an innocent, despite her situation, is very interesting.

It’s that ominous vibe you noted, Michelle, that does make this story a little more interesting—I think three volumes of Hinata and teddy bears would have been adorable, but pure fluff. Reading through the series, I also like the ambiguity of Asou-sensei—despite HInata’s affection for him, the story really feels like it’s building him to be another bad thing in Hinata’s life.

MICHELLE: HInata actually reminded me quite a lot of Sakuya from Natsuki Takaya’s Twinkle Stars, both in her demeanor and with the family secrets lurking in the background. (I think the similarity also sprung to mind because it was another case where I was used to reading a creator’s fantasy-infused manga but was now reading something taking place firmly in the real world.) But yes, one has to wonder how she was able to maintain her trusting spirit despite, we later learn, having been kidnapped nine times as a child.

I definitely enjoyed the build suggesting Asou-sensei was going to do something nefarious, and I admit to being disappointed that he merely turned out to be a bodyguard sent by Hinata’s father. The whole setup—lonely, selfless teen falls in love with enigmatic older guy—reminded me a little of Tokyo Babylon, but in the end CLAMP follows a more stereotypically shoujo storyline by offering redemption and a happy ending. It felt like all of the wonderful worrying Touko got up to just kind of petered out into very little payoff.

KAREN: Maybe Hinata maintains her child-like spirit by reading cute books about teddy bears? The book-within-the-book, another Suki, is precious.

I didn’t mind the payoff/ending. Terrible things happened to Hinata—and I’m sure that this kidnapping was a good deal more personal than past ones—but she remains unchanged. Hinata is still the same trusting person she always was, as was foreshadowed in a conversation with Asou-sensei—after he warned her that she would be sorry for living in her dream world, she replied, “No, I won’t. The people around me are all people I love. None of them are bad people. Not now, not ever.” And this plays out in the end—not only does she forgive her kidnappers, she convinces her father to help them. While a dark ending would have been more interesting, this story, for all the hints otherwise, was always going to be sweet. Like in CCS, a kind-hearted girl is tested but not broken, and continues on to share her loving nature with those around her.

MICHELLE: Yeah, you’re totally right. And I guess they can’t all be shocking endings, otherwise they would cease to be shocking!

I did like the book-within-a-book segments, something that we also see a little later in Chobits. If it didn’t involve a lot of physical labor to unearth my copies, I could check to see if the author of those picture books was the same Tomo! But I am lazy.

KAREN: I’ve not even read Chobits, so I’m no help whatsoever!

So my old assessment—that it’s a nice little story, prettily told—remains true for me after this re-reading. Not one of the great classics of CLAMP’s, but enjoyable all the same.

MICHELLE: I can agree with that!

Moving on to Legal Drug… as mentioned in Friday’s Let’s Get Visual post, this is a series that gets compared a lot to xxxHOLiC. Seventeen-year-old Kazahaya Kudo has run away from home and been rescued by Rikuo Himura. Both of the boys are live-in workers at Green Drugstore, managed by the enigmatic Kakei, and also take on the occasional odd job for their employer, which typically involve using Kazahaya’s ability to see visions when he touches people and objects to find various items.

Kazahaya and Rikuo aren’t friends, and fall into the spazzy/stoic dynamic characteristic of the early Watanuki/Doumeki relationship. There seems to be more overt romantic chemistry between them, however, which CLAMP plays up in the third volume, which finds them going undercover at an all-boys’ school.

KAREN: First, on a totally shallow level, I love Tokyopop’s presentation for Legal Drug. Vellum! Color pages! I’m totally a sucker for things like that.

I get the xxxHOLiC comparison; it’s one I’ve used before to describe it. However, Kakei isn’t quite Yuuko, luckily for Kazahaya and Rikuo!

My enjoyment of this series has always been tempered by its unfinished status—I really was wanting more details about the boys’ past which had been teased throughout the entire series. But what did you think of the stories—the “jobs,” Michelle? I think that they tended to be more personal than the stories in xxxHOLiC, which made them a little more central to the story.

MICHELLE: I think that if I had read this previously—before the resumption of the series in Japan—I would’ve been extremely frustrated by the lack of follow-through with the hints and glimpses we get of Kazahaya’s twin sister, Kei, and the mysterious woman in Rikuo’s past, Tsukiko. Now, I can feel more confident that CLAMP will address those story elements, even though there’s no guarantee we’ll ever see Drug & Drop in English.

As for the jobs, it’s been so long since I last read xxxHOLiC that I can’t really compare them, but I do agree about them seeming very central to the story. What first comes to mind is the cat that the boys rescue, who initially seems ordinary, then is revealed to be something supernatural, and then thanks its rescuers by showing them images of Kei and Tsukiko. That’s a perfect example of what you’re talking about, I think.

KAREN: Drug & Drop is now being published in a seinen magazine, so if we ever get to see it here, it will be interesting to see how it changed—will Kazahaya be in a dress as often?

Going back to our first title, there is a cameo by Hinata and Asou-sensei from Suki in volume two (chapter nine) which only shows that sometime after the events of that series, Hinata is still the same girl—who would think that there’s nothing odd about a strange boy asking for her school uniform, and who is able to draw others out. It’s a nice callback for a cameo.

Because the jobs tend to be about objects rather than people, the stories don’t have the larger emotional punch that some of the xxxHOLiC ones do, but that does allow Kazahaya and Rikuo to have more of the focus. I also liked how most of volume three was about one job—and that gave the story of the school and Nayuki room to breathe. It was a little dark at times, and maybe rambling, but it worked…

MICHELLE: I liked that about it, too, though I admit being a little annoyed at how much flailing about Kazahaya seemed to do during that story. It almost seems like the manga takes a sharp turn into generic BL, with the sudden schoolboy dynamic, Rikuo doing a little too well with his pushy seme impersonation, and the random school traditions of voting for a pretty boy to be a “bride” who wears the costume of his fans’ choice, but there were some nice ominous turns to keep it from worrying me too much. I am fairly certain the seinen Drug & Drop will definitely have less of that, though.

KAREN: There was a lot of flailing through the entire series, and I agree with you that it could be annoying. I get it, there’s tension/chemistry. But I like Kazahaya and Rikuo, and Rikuo is never creepy in his pushy seme moments, so I don’t mind it overall. But I don’t like being teased—I hope that running in a seinen mag, the new series can build their relationship with less blushing into something more concrete to where we see some solid character development.

Post-xxxHOLiC, I like Legal Drug less than I remember. Hopefully whatever CLAMP has in store with the characters in Drug & Drop will provide some satisfaction. As Kakei said in the last chapter of volume three, “We’ve been waiting a long time… for that boy and Rikuo to meet,” so hopefully we’ll see where this is all supposed to go.

MICHELLE: Well put! We share the same hopes for this series, it sounds like.

Thank you for joining me in this conversation today!

KAREN: And thank you for the opportunity!

Let’s Get Visual: A Tale of Two Series

MICHELLE: You didn’t think we were going to let a CLAMP MMF go by without devoting a special Let’s Get Visual column to it, did you? (Insert a Hokuto Sumeragi “ho ho ho” laugh here.) It’s an absolute must for a group like CLAMP, whose output is so diverse, not merely in the realms of story and demographic, but also artistically speaking. In fact, I had a pretty tough time choosing which images to talk about today. How about you, MJ?

MJ: Yes, there’s so much to choose from! Though CLAMP is nearly always clearly distinguishable as CLAMP, they manage to do that while also significantly varying their style from series to series, especially when they’re writing for different demographics.

MICHELLE: I wish I had the artistic vocabulary to really thoroughly describe these subtle variations, but I’m afraid I don’t. Still, this diversity inspired MJ and I to compare two CLAMP series with different art, but similar stories. Legal Drug has been described as a prototype for xxxHOLiC, as it features a hyper protagonist (Kazahaya) and his more stoic companion (Rikuo) who are asked to perform various odd, supernatural-related jobs by the precognitive manager of a store (Kakei). Kazahaya is quick to proclaim that they’re not friends, but is forced to begrudgingly thank Rikuo for several timely rescues. This is a setup very similar to the initial relationship between Watanuki and Doumeki in xxxHOLiC.

MJ: Personally, I think you could even make an argument for Kakei’s companion Saiga as a weird prototype for Mokona.

MICHELLE: Yeah, I guess he does spend the majority of his time either sleeping or pulling off surprising domestic tasks.

Anyway, how about you start us off with the pages you’ve chosen?

MJ: Sure! I’ve picked out a couple of different scenes from volume twelve, and the reason I chose that volume is that it’s really where Watanuki’s reality starts to fall apart. At first, he’s simply having a series of strange dreams, but by the end of the volume, dreams and reality are melding into each other, one after the other, to the point where it’s impossible for him to tell the difference between them.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

xxxHOLiC, Vol. 12, Pages 30-32 (Del Rey)

The first scene I’ve chosen comes in early in the volume, and it’s very obviously a dream world. The ever-present blossoms in the wind, Yuuko’s train of butterflies, the wind in the air, and even just the sense of space feels entirely like a dream—like something clearly outside our waking reality. It’s beautiful, but it’s expected, and even when there’s a sense of eeriness, it feels friendly and familiar.

xxxHOLiC, Vol. 12, Pages 138-141 (Del Rey)

The second scene, on the other hand, comes in much later, when Watanuki is being shuttled from dream to dream to dream, never knowing if he might finally be awake. The scene starts out simply with the kind of lunch picnic he might have with Himawari any day of the week. The backgrounds are sparse and the panels sort of matter-of-fact. The only hint at first that something might be off, is the hole Watanuki notices in the wall behind Himawari. And even though the scene becomes comedic, with the scaly hand popping out of the hole to steal Watanuki’s sherbet, it feels very sinister to me—not just because Himawari never notices what’s happening, but because it’s intruding on what feels to Watanuki like normal life, letting him know that he’s somehow *still* not awake. Unlike the earlier dream scene, which feels so perfectly dreamlike, this one reads as something more like madness, which is much scarier to me as a reader.

MICHELLE: My first reaction when I saw the scaly hand stealing the sherbet was to deem it “cute” but that’s because it’s been so long since I read xxxHOLiC that I had utterly forgotten the context of this scene. Now that you’ve informed me, I read it as sinister. It’s definitely something that could look like “Watanuki’s everyday life” to the casual reader as much as to Watanuki himself, at first.

MJ: I probably am letting the context influence me, which maybe makes this not the greatest example for a Let’s Get Visual column! But I do think it’s interesting how differently CLAMP treats these two scenes, when they’re both representations of Watanuki’s dream world.

MICHELLE: Oh, I think they’re fine examples! What you’re basically showing here is that in xxxHOLiC, or at least in these scenes, CLAMP draws the supernatural in a way that blends in with the everyday world. It’s a very simple approach, free of some of the bells and whistles that my images from Legal Drug possess.

MJ: Well, let’s take a look at those, then!

Legal Drug, Vol. 2, Pages 40-43 (TOKYOPOP)

MICHELLE: These pages are from a scene in the second volume of Legal Drug. Kazahaya and Rikuo have just rescued a magical kitty, and in gratitude, the kitty has led them to the park where its powers are strongest and transformed into the images of the person each boy wants to see most.

What struck me strongly here is the way the kitty begins to unravel. Seriously, the fact that it’s just one little toe of his little paw really gets to me somehow. Somewhat like xxxHOLiC, there’s that feeling of “You thought things were normal, but really they are not.” As the transformation is underway, we get several reaction shots from the boys (with a bevy of speedlines), resulting in a page layout far busier than xxxHOLiC. The two-page spread is quintessential CLAMP: two slim and lovely ladies with long flowy hair speckled with white ink. The tight panels of the boys’ eyes include more speedlines to help convey their shock.

Honestly, besides the slightly more ornate style here, it’s the speedlines that really convey the biggest tonal difference between these series to me. It’s presumptuous to declare that CLAMP “matured” between the two series, but it really does feel as though they realized they no longer needed to rely on such tricks to convey the protagonist’s feelings. Less is more!

MJ: Well, I think it’s probably worth bringing up the fact that Legal Drug ran in a shoujo magazine, where those kinds of flourishes might have been expected, unlike xxxHolic, which had to fit in to the style of a seinen magazine. I mean, CLAMP is always CLAMP, but there’s always a clear sense of what demographic they’re drawing for—even in two series as similar as these.

MICHELLE: That’s a good point. I certainly don’t mean to disparage the style of Legal Drug or insinuate that it’s inferior, but in terms of personal preference, I simply like the cleaner, restrained style of xxxHOLiC more. I mean, just check out how the panel shapes themselves are different. It’s really neat to compare them!

MJ: Oh, I completely agree! And though I also have a preference for the artwork in xxxHolic, I do appreciate the shoujo flourishes for their classic flair. More and more, I find the differences fascinating, and I was really surprised, actually, at how easy it was to tell which demographic CLAMP was writing for simply by looking at the artwork of their series in preparation for this Feast. I don’t think I expected it to be so obvious.

MICHELLE: I wouldn’t have, either. But going forward I’ll be making a special point to notice how they adapt their style to the magazine!

Kobato., Vols. 1-3

By CLAMP | Published by Yen Press

The plot of Kobato. sounds like a typical shoujo magical girl story. A dim-witted and clumsy heroine, who also happens to be guileless and compassionate, is tasked with filling a magic bottle with wounded hearts so that her dearest wish can be granted. But Kobato. isn’t shoujo.

If anything, it’s seinen, as it ran for seven chapters in Sunday GX before going on hiatus and reemerging in Newtype magazine. I’m guessing that the target audience, presumed to be young men with an appreciation for moe, is the reason why Kobato commences flailing, chibified panic mode on page two and falls down approximately fifteen times per chapter. (I may be exaggerating there, but honestly not by much.) The latter gag is run into the ground so relentlessly that I refuse to consider that anyone finds it funny, so CLAMP must be trying to inspire feelings of “Aww, she’s so cute and/or hopeless.”

The first volume of Kobato. is not very good. Kobato’s incompetency grates as does the constant browbeating she receives from Ioryogi, some sort of supernatural being currently dwelling in the form of a stuffed dog, who is testing her ability to “act according to the common-sense rules of this place.” If she passes, she earns the magic bottle. These tests—mainly centered around holidays—include taking out the trash, making nabe, and spending New Year’s day playing traditional games with an elderly woman.

Things improve somewhat in the second volume. Kobato’s got her bottle now and is ready to heal some wounded hearts. After moving into the same apartment building seen in Chobits, she starts work as a helper at Yomogi Kindergarten. The head of the school, Sayako-sensei, seems to have a heart in need of some healing, as does her hard-working part-time employee, Fujimoto. With Ioryogi’s assistance, Kobato tries to discover how best to help them, and gradually learns that Sayako is working to pay off a debt her father was tricked into incurring, that Sayako’s soon-to-be-ex husband is threatening harm to the school unless she pays up, and that Fujimoto is working himself to the point of exhaustion to earn money to contribute. They seem suspicious of Kobato at first, but her genuine sincerity eventually wins over even grumpy Fujimoto.

This is definitely an improvement over the first volume, but the kindergarten-in-peril storyline still seems to be occupying a great deal of space in what looks to be only a six-volume series. (Kobato. just recently came to an end.) There is a lot of room left in Kobato’s bottle, so I wonder how she will end up filling it after spending so much time working on these two hearts in particular.

Now that I’ve finished my litany of complaints, there are some intriguing questions about Kobato. that leave me inclined to stick with the series until the end. Where is Kobato from, exactly? What is her wish? How did she and Ioryogi meet? What is Ioryogi? (We’ve learned already that if he helps Kobato grant her wish, he may be able to get his original body back.) And, most peculiarly of all, why is it that Kobato is not allowed to take off her hat?

Kindergarten peril I can do without, but I really do want to know what’s up with the hat thing.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

xxxHOLiC 13 by CLAMP: A-

From the back cover:
The medium Kohane-chan has been punched and bruised on national TV, but still her controlling mother is forcing her to go on the air. Now Kimihiro steps between the rebellious young psychic and her raging mother, only to take the beating himself. See the dramatic conclusion of Kohane-chan’s story!

What a perfect manga to read on a rainy day!

The majority of the plot revolves around Kohane-chan, whom I’ve never been very interested in. After a series of television apperances in which she seems to be inaccurate because lesser psychics can not see all that she can, public opinion turns against her. After being pressured by her mother to be “right,” even if it means lying, Kohane instead basically destroys her own career so that it’ll all be over.

I was kind of wondering why this story was occupying center stage, but then the words of Kohane’s mother hit home. Though her mother had been wishing for something day in and day out, it had never come true. This is a direct parallel to Watanuki’s current situation. Last volume, he learned that his entire existence may be a dream, but if he wishes hard enough, it might become reality. Now he’s confronted with proof that—if one has the wrong kind of wish, a hurtful wish—that’s not so easy to achieve.

Still, he’s determined to try and to not take for granted the people with whom he comes in contact, which results in him being much nicer to Doumeki than before. I particularly love the scene where Doumeki is chastising Watanuki for allowing Kohane’s mother to hit him while at the same time Watanuki is inquiring about how many rice balls Doumeki would like and what he’d like inside them. It seems like a small thing, but Watanuki has never so graciouly offered to fulfill Doumeki’s culinary requests in this manner.

I’m still pretty confused about what exactly Watanuki’s situation is. Is he living in a dream, peopled by dream characters? Or is he dreaming that he is part of reality, and only certain people can see him? He was concerned, for instance, that the receptionists at the television studio where Kohane’s appearance was being broadcast would not be able to see him. It’s possible he’s right, as a member of the production team later says, “Get Kohane and her mother off screen” when Watanuki is there, too. Perhaps they saw him merely as superfluous, but perhaps they didn’t see him at all.

Like the previous volume, quite a lot of intriguing information is revealed in the final few pages. Yuuko also remarks that, “Very soon, that time will finally come.” Could it be that an end is in sight?

Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE 18 by CLAMP: B+

There be spoilers here.

From the back cover:
In the world of Infinity, Princess Sakura has become a Chess Master and the other travelers are her pieces. But the Mafia is running the game, and they don’t care if Sakura’s opponents break the rules or murder Sakura’s companions! Why is Sakura so determined to risk everything?

Although many an awesome thing transpired in the X version of Tokyo, I was ready for a change of scene and so was glad when the team finally shifted away from there. Before leaving, though, they received more information from Yuuko on the situation with Fei-Wang Reed, including what he is trying to accomplish. There was also a sliver of a hint as to how Watanuki will play into all this. So, not really answers, per se, but definite progress.

What occured in the next world was mostly setup. Having seen the devastation caused by Syaoran in his search for her feathers, Sakura decided to enter a competition with a monetary prize that could be used to help rebuild the country he ravaged. Most of the rest of the volume consisted of the guys fighting various opponents and Sakura freaking out over all the similarities between the new Syaoran and the one she grew up with. I thought it was nice that she and Fai seemed to be even closer these days, and that the similar way they have of bearing pain with a smile was pointed out (by Kurogane, of course).

The new Syaoran had angst of his own, seeming to have fallen in love with Sakura while seeing her through the clone’s eyes. There was one particularly great sequence where she stumbled and he caught her, followed by each of them retracting their hands from the other, she quickly and he more regretfully. Describing it like this, I suppose it sounds like some lame harem gimmick, but really, it was quite sad and awkward.

Finally, I liked how, though everyone was trying to proceed as they did before all of the heavy revelations, it was clear that none of them really was the same person they were when they started out. I’d be happy if the series continued on with this new mix of adventure and darkness.

xxxHOLiC 12 by CLAMP: B+

From the back cover:
Lately Kimihiro Watanuki’s dreams have been pleasant escapes that have given him the chance to talk to his new friend Haruki Doumeki. But now he’s falling asleep a lot—and starting to think his entire life with the witch Yuuko might be taking place in some kind of dreamworld. Then one night his dream is visited by a pretty princess named Sakura…

This is the second volume in a row to consist primarily of ominous hints regarding the goings-on in the Tsubasa storyline and the future of this one. I thought it was kind of neat last time, but it’s starting to get on my nerves a little, because it seems like the main xxxHOLiC storyline is rather scattered as a result. Of course, Watanuki popping in and out of a dream state probably contributes to that, as well.

Even though the story isn’t always coherent, and there are some bits that don’t make a lot of sense to me, some very important things manage to happen. The last few pages throw a new light on the series and are much appreciated. Hopefully that bodes well for a fair amount of revelation in the next volume.

Now that I’m getting my wish of a more epic storyline, I really oughtn’t complain too much, but I just hope that xxxHOLiC doesn’t end up playing second fiddle to its sister series. There are times when ties are a source of strength and times when they just hold you back.

Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE 17 by CLAMP: A-

Book description:
One of the travelers is about to die, and the only way to keep that from happening is to make a deal with Yuuko the witch. The price has lasting repercussions for the others—one must be responsible for the saved life while another is sent out into the inhospitable ruins of Tokyo on a quest… alone.

It’s not a surprise that when CLAMP does shounen, they don’t do it like everyone else. In most shounen series I’ve read, characters aren’t allowed to undergo such fundamental changes as have occurred in these last couple of volumes of Tsubasa. There’s also lots of rather subtle character growth and interaction, too, especially between Fai and Kurogane. I love every scene where these two are together—okay, part of it may be “squee, they’re so in love!” but there’s a lot more to it than that. Fai’s struggle to stay remote and unconnected is particularly fascinating to me.

There’s not a whole lot of focus on what’s going on with Syaoran, since there were more immediate things to deal with, like wishes and their prices. Sakura, however, gets a lot of attention. Upset by how often people are getting hurt on her account, she decides to pay the price of one of the wishes on her own, and exhibits some surprising toughness. I’m a little unsure of where this grit came from, honestly, but the chapters focusing on her quest are pretty neat. I’m impressed by how well the story was conveyed in a 99% nonverbal fashion.

The ending is super sweet, and ties back in to Fai’s issues in an understated way. Again, I urge people not to judge this series based on its early volumes—I think it’s starting to become one of my favorites by CLAMP.

xxxHOLiC 11 by CLAMP: A-

From the back cover:
Kimihiro Watanuki has been saved from death by the sacrifices of his friends, but his recovery time is cut short. His special connection with the spirit world is needed to investigate a terrifying haunted house, placate annoyed Warashi spirits, and face the growing threat of a shadowy figure called Fei-Wang Reed.

This volume was interesting. It was liberally sprinkled with hints about something coming down the line—”the final moment,” as Yuuko called it—and preparations being made for its arrival. There were also more references to the travelers in Tsubasa than heretofore and suggestions that their decisions are affecting Watanuki’s fate in some fashion.

All of that was cool, but some of the episodic chapters weren’t exactly riveting. There was one cool tale about a girl who was frightened of sounds she heard in the house in which she lived that I liked, but it ended kind of abruptly. There were also a couple of appearances by Kohane, who is a child with abilities similar to Watanuki’s. I have no idea what her deal is, but find her fairly boring so far.

There were several cute scenes where Watanuki showed kindness to a creature and made it very happy. At one point, he was tasked with naming a magical bird he’d given Himawari for a pet. As he mulled, we got a panel of the bird in question, all sparkly and adorable with “Great Expectations” written in the background. Later, the pipe fox spirit was sulky on account of not having been named yet, and repeated the same pose when Watanuki deliberated once more. It was extremely cute.

On a final note, there are some visual spoilers for Tsubasa volume 16 and slightly beyond, so if you’re following that series and aren’t up-to-date, you might want to get caught up before reading this volume.

Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE 16 by CLAMP: A+

From the back cover:
The five dimension-hopping travelers have stuck together through all sorts of worlds and all kinds of harrowing adventures. But when the group enters the ruined city of Tokyo, two powerful fugitives set in motion a disastrous chain of events that may cause their tight-knit friendship to unravel. Syaoran’s mysterious past is finally revealed, and a tumultuous battle leaves one of the friends near death, while another becomes an enemy after a shocking act of betrayal. Don’t miss this pivotal volume in the Tsubasa saga!

Holy crap! Now that’s what I call major payoff! It took quite a long time, but wow! In retrospect, maybe all that lag time was necessary to make the events in these chapters even more shocking by contrast. This was easily the most suspenseful volume of manga I’ve read in ages.

In addition to all the stuff in the blurb above, which was incredibly awesome, there was also movement on a couple of subplots—namely the twin vampires that Seishirou is after and Kurogane’s quest for revenge against the person responsible for killing his mother. These chapters were very, very creepy and every bit as dark as something like Tokyo Babylon or X.

I am really glad that I didn’t give up on this series. If, like me, your interest waned around volume 10, I urge you not to give up on Tsubasa. It’s volumes like this that really show what masterful storytellers CLAMP are. Now if only they could get over their thing with eyes…

Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE 15 by CLAMP: B+

From the back cover:
Kurogane, Syaoran, Fai, Mokona, and Princess Sakura have come upon a desert of shifting sands and ruined skyscrapers. This postapocalyptic nightmare is all that remains of the booming metropolis that was Tokyo, and the survivors are battling for the few life-giving resources left in the world. As the five dimension travelers search for another piece of the princess’s lost memories, they will all be tested to their limits in ways they never expected!

When did I start to like Kurogane so much? It’s crept up on me unawares. My favorite thing about him is how observant he is. It was Kurogane who, a few volumes back, knew something was up with Tomoyo and her Dragonfly Race. It’s been he who’s noticed Syaoran’s shifts in personality, and it’s he who initiates a fascinating conversation with Fai in this volume about how the latter has been keeping his distance while wearing a “constant grin.” What I love is that no one ever cried, “Gee, Kurogane! You sure are observant!” Instead, the character trait is portrayed with subtle consistency, and I really like that.

There’s a lot to like plot-wise in this volume, too. The gang from X is almost all here, but with some differences. The groups that Kamui and Fuuma lead are reversed from how they were in the X manga, and Subaru and Seishirou are missing. All of Tokyo is battling over water—a precious resource in this country—and it’s a pretty interesting landscape for our leads to be thrust into. More importantly, there is a major development concerning the villain’s plans that also seems like it might shed light on Syaoran’s mysterious origins.

Every time I resume reading this series I realize anew how entertaining it can be. Some chapters are uneventful, and I find it hard to care very much about Syaoran and Sakura, but I really adore Fai and Kurogane and anything that pertains to them.