Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Special Guest Edition: Wishby Shaenon K. Garrity,
Special Guest Edition: Wish
Both here and in Japan—but especially here—the four-woman team CLAMP ranks among the most successful and popular manga creators, but also the most unusual. Originally a doujinshi (fancomics) circle with eleven or twelve regular members, depending on who you count, CLAMP made the leap to professional publication when nerdy shojo magazines like Wings and Asuka started to scout new talent from the doujinshi scene in the late 1980s. Loveless creator Yun Kouga was another doujinshi artist who turned pro this way.
Over the course of its first pro work, RG Veda, CLAMP quickly pared itself down to four members: lead writer Nanase Ohkawa, lead artist Mokona, and art assistants Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi. The group's winning combination of ornate artwork, sensual but oddly asexual eroticism (it's no surprise that CLAMP is responsible for the eight-volume dramatization of moe philosophy known as Chobits), shojo romance, shonen violence, and hardcore nerdiness won CLAMP near-instant acclaim.
In the States, CLAMP's girly fantasies Magic Knight Rayearth and Cardcaptor Sakura were, along with Naoko Takeuchi's blockbuster Sailor Moon, instrumental in popularizing shojo manga in the late 1990s. Those who were fans at the time no doubt remember the debuts of Sailor Moon and Rayearth as serials in Mixx Entertainment's magazine Mixxzine. The other two Mixxzine manga were the graphically violent men's manga Parasyte and Ice Blade. The manga industry was a strange place then.
At any rate, Mixx, having renamed itself Tokyopop, rewarded CLAMP by publishing the group's entire back catalog, no doubt in the vain hope that Clamp School Detectives or Snow Goddess Tales might turn out to be the next Cardcaptor Sakura. Today, all of CLAMP's manga has been translated into English and several of its titles have been reprinted by multiple publishers, a rare phenomenon in the fickle American manga biz.
But for all its mainstream popularity, CLAMP is an oddity in manga. For one thing, it's a doujinshi circle that's remained essentially a doujinshi circle, decades after hitting the big time. Some of the early members, notably Leeza Sei and Tamayo Akiyama, left the group for careers as solo manga-ka, but none have been a fraction as successful as the four women who stuck together. Unusual for mainstream manga-ka, CLAMP works without assistants; the members do their own backgrounds, screentones, text paste-ups, and other monkey work that most superstar creators would hand off to a passel of freelancers.
And unlike most superstar creators, who become successful by hitching themselves to a sugar daddy—that is, a large-circulation weekly magazine—and riding that patronage to the big bucks and anime tie-in deals, CLAMP has largely survived by picking up work from a miscellany of monthly magazines and smaller publishers. Because a monthly series isn't enough to feed one starving manga artist, let alone four, the group typically works on several manga at once. Even when CLAMP gets a big weekly gig like Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine, the group keeps a couple of other manga going in the wings. (Or in Wings. Sorry.)
What this means is that CLAMP's bibliography is riddled with oddball short projects and experiments: everything from women's romance (The One I Love) to jidaigeki-inspired kung-fu fantasy (The Legend of Chun Hyang) to softcore cheesecake (Miyuki-chan in Wonderland). CLAMP is notorious for abandoning series, sometimes because of problems with the publisher (X went on hiatus partly because of concerns about its violent content; Clover stopped short because the magazine that serialized it went out of business; Legal Drug hopped magazines before freezing), sometimes just because. CLAMP has some of the most eclectic output in manga, and yet everything it produces is, somehow, unmistakably CLAMP.
Which brings me to my favorite CLAMP manga, Wish, a breezy four-volume series that features all the things I love most about the team: simultaneously cute and elegant artwork, charming characters, tantalizingly chaste romance, a dash of homoeroticism, and a heaping helping of fangirl nerdiness.
Nerdiness? Oh yes. For Wish appears to be, among other things, adapted loosely from the JoJo's Bizarre Adventure fancomics CLAMP drew in its doujinshi days. In CLAMP's old doujinshi,male Jojo characters Jotaro and Kakyoin are in love and have an “egg baby” named Jota (who appears, along with his Stand, Charmy Green, in the 2007 retrospective music video CLAMP in Wonderland). Shuichiro and Kohaku, the romantic leads in Wish, resemble CLAMP's renditions of Jotaro and Kakyoin. In particular, Kohaku sports Kakyoin's distinctive hairstyle, with a hank of long hair on the right side, a look also shared by Kudo in CLAMP's Legal Drug.
Beyond the character designs, however, Wish is less JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and more an androgynous CLAMP take on Oh My Goddess!. Shuichiro Kudo, a straight-laced, emotionless young doctor, rescues the androgynous angel Kohaku (identified as female in the Tokyopop translation but not in the original Japanese) from a flock of crows. Kohaku, an innocent creature who eats only milk and honey and knows nothing of the human world, offers to reward Shuichiro by granting him one wish. But there's nothing Shuichiro wants, so Kohaku moves in with him until he makes up his mind, doing odd jobs, tending the garden, and attracting a supporting cast of angels and demons who all hang out at Shuichiro's house.
It gradually develops that Kohaku has a mission on Earth: to find Hisui, one of the four Angel Masters (“archangels” might be a better translation), who has been missing from Heaven. As it turns out, Hisui has become the lover of Kokuyo, the son of Satan—really!—and the two are now a loving couple hiding out in the mortal world. Meanwhile, inevitably, Kohaku and Shuichiro begin to fall in love.
For Wish, art assistant and omake (bonus comic) artist Nekoi took over as lead artist, a duty she's also taken on for such titles as Legal Drug and Suki: A Like Story. (For xxxHOLiC, Nekoi and Mokona split lead art chores.) I tend to prefer the Nekoi-headed CLAMP titles; her light, fine-lined, effortlessly cute art cleanses the palate after an ornate, screentone-heavy Mokona-headed series like X—although Mokona's recent art tends more toward the streamlined, shonen-style Tsubasa look.
Nekoi leaps into Wish with cute guns blazing, filling the pages with chibi angels and demons, Disney-style talking songbirds, demonic kittens, and an angelic winged bunny call Usyagi. The rule of the Wish universe is that demons are full-sized bishonen at night and transform into tiny chibi forms during the day; for angels, it's the opposite. What this means, of course, is that no matter what time it is, there are always chibis.
Wish is the fluffiest of fluff, and I love it for that. It's the kind of manga you read with a big dumb grin on your face. Jake Forbes, who edited this and many other CLAMP manga for Tokyopop, called Wish the group's “most perfect series.” It's not typical CLAMP. But then again, nothing is.
Shaenon K. Garrity is an award-winning cartoonist best known for the online comics Narbonic and Skin Horse. She works as a manga editor for Viz Media and teaches at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Her writing on comics appears in The Comics Journal, Otaku USA and Comixology.com. You can see more of her work at www.shaenon.com.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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