Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jul 3rd 2009
Clover -Omnibus Edition-
Kazuhiko thought he was safely retired, but just when he thought he was out of his black ops gig, General Ko comes a-calling to blackmail him back in. This time, the top secret assignment is the delivery of a pale waif named Sue to some undisclosed location. Sue is a mystery, and all Kazuhiko really knows about her is that she is obsessed with the last song his girlfriend sang before she died…and that numerous powerful shadow organizations will stop at nothing to take Sue away from Kazuhiko before he can complete his mission. But when the do finally reach their their destination, Kazuhiko will ultimately learn the terrible secrets of the Clover Leaf Project—and the reason why the only Four Leaf Clover in the world must always and forever be alone.
Clover, in case you were wondering, was never officially completed. Originally conceived as a four-part story, it died with Kodansha's Amie, the magazine that serialized it. However, although only three of the four parts (and four of the projected six volumes) have ever been published, you might be excused for thinking that Dark Horse's attractive new single-volume omnibus edition of Clover, ostensibly released to celebrate CLAMP's 20th anniversary this year, is the final word on this haunting cyberpunk-styled tale.
Those who have been around the English-language manga block probably remember that Tokyopop originally published all four volumes in the original A5 trim size, with color pages and dust jackets intact. The new edition—same trim size and excellent paper quality—also includes seventeen Clover-related color illustrations, otherwise available only in CLAMP artbooks. However, if you are a veteran CLAMP fan in the market for a new translation, do not bother: Although some of the fonts are different (and that change, while making it more “comic book” like, is not not necessarily an improvement), Dark Horse uses the same excellent Ray Yoshimoto translation/adaptation that Tokyopop originally commissioned for the series.
But honestly? Who cares about the translation? Cute through the oft-repeated, pretentious poetic claptrap, and Clover's story is actually yawn inducing and thin. No one comes for the story; it's all about the style. These four volumes represent the apotheosis of CLAMP illustrator Mokona Apapa's draftsmanship—every single page is a revelation of elegance, symmetry, and use of white and black space. Word bubbles, kanji, and panels alike become objects of art arranged as if they were precious scraps pasted into a master painter's idea book. Plus, the cyberpunk style, which anticipates The Matrix, is instantly recognizable and intensely affecting. Mokona melds the filigreed beauty of high technology with the brute ugliness of heavy machinery like few who have come before her. These visuals are the sort of stuff that will haunt your dreams.
Even so, as mentioned previously, the story is not exactly the greatest ever to issue forth from Studio CLAMP, and anyone not under the overheated, hormone-induced reverie unique to adolescents (and drug addicts) should agree. Part I (the first two volumes) is, stripped down of all of the weird spectacle and portentious allusions a singing fairy, is about a Very Important But Well-Meaning Girl who just wants a bit of fun before she…uhh, well, that would be a spoiler so never mind. As for Parts II and III (volumes three and four), they are prequels that detail the intimate relationships between Kazuhiko and Ora and between Gingetsu and Ran, respectively. Although all of the characters are nearly terrifying in their beauty, with Sue's big green eyes and Ora's tight curls among some of the best-rendered lines in any CLAMP manga anywhere, they are pretty one-note in their development. This is forgivable; it's hard to go far with only four volumes, after all. Still, the outcomes of both of the latter parts you already know from Part I…though fujoshi will adore the joshing between Kazuhiko and Gingetsu in volume three and the blatantly romantic, albeit G-rated, feelings between Gingetsu and Ran. Writer Nanase Ohkawa loves big brother types, apparently.
If you can stomach the slog through the poetry long enough to analyze Clover's underlying message, you will find some themes worth expanding upon. The most interesting, in this reviewer's humble opinion, is this one: An excess of emotion can make people dangerous, just as much as—if not more than—a lack of care. Of course, the logical opposite claim, that the love we have for the important people in our lives is the most powerful thing in the world, is one that shows up in a lot of other CLAMP manga, and it would likely have been developed in Clover also, had Sue's story ever seen its true finale.
In any case, do not worry overmuch about whether or not that finale ever comes. Unlike X, which stopped just short of an apocalyptic final battle and left fans writhing for an ending that has yet to arrive, reading Clover in its omnibus edition feels like a completed experience in and of itself…irrespective of what CLAMP actually intended for it.
Overall : A
Story : B-
Art : A+
+ Arguably the best artwork of CLAMP's career. Gorgeous production values.
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