Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Is this a supernatural fighting story or a love song to Kyoto? Manga team Clamp seems a little uncertain in the first volume of their latest series, Gate 7. Protagonist Chikahito Takamoto is utterly enamored of Japan's Imperial city. He has always loved things with the word “ancient” before them, he explains, and Kyoto just seems to be the ultimate in all of them: history, shrines, traditions, you name it. Chikahito is in the midst of some serious geeking out – with extra history bits for readers – when he notices that the world has changed and three gorgeous yet vaguely androgynous people in flowing robes are arrayed before him. They make cryptic comments about a “normal visitor” and seem less than pleased to see him there. Unsurprisingly to the readers, they then proceed to fight off a spirit beast. Chikahito passes out and when he wakes up, he's at the trio's house. Now dressed like regular people – at least, regular people in a Clamp manga – they feed him noodles and attempt to erase his memory. It fails, and the most feminine of the group kisses Chikahito as he's leaving. Naturally things are far from over, as a month or so later we find our hero back in Kyoto looking for a place to stay. It comes as no surprise to discover that the group takes him back in.
One of the most noticeable things about this book is that Chikahito is very similar to Kimihiro Watanuki in early volumes of xxxHoLic. He looks a bit like Watanuki crossed with X/1999's Fuuma Monou, but his tendency to yell, get overexcited, and see what he shouldn't be able to are all traits that will be familiar to xxxHoLic's readers. He is even a good cook, another important character attribute of Watanuki. Given that Clamp has a predilection for crossing their series with each other, it is possible that these similarities will have a valid reason for existing, but as a first volume introduction to the character, it makes Chikahito grating and detracts from the newness of the tale. The same can be said of the beautiful Hana, who looks like the heroine of Angelic Layer and shares some of the “cute” behaviors of Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura.
An interesting point is Hana's gender. Clamp is up to their old tricks again with this one, never establishing if Hana is a girl or a boy. Dark Horse has outdone themselves with the translation here, because never once is Hana referred to by a personal pronoun. Given the difficulties in simply writing a paragraph about the character without doing so, this is an impressive feat, more so because it always feels natural in the book. Less so are the magical phrases used this volume, which are left in the Japanese. Dark Horse, as always, does provide exhaustive notes about the terms and places, but flipping to that glossary every time a new Japanese word is introduced (or repeated, if you're short on memory) is annoying and detracts from the experience of reading a story. While their commitment to authenticity is admirable, in this case it is a detraction. Some other odd choices are made as well – for example, the kimono's sash is translated as “obi belt,” which feels wordy and awkward. Likewise a bit off is the decision to put honorifics in italics. Dark Horse's notes make no mention of what the words mean, therefore assuming readers are familiar with the basics, so italicizing them to highlight their status as Japanese words seems unnecessary and gives the reading an odd meter, as we are taught to place emphasis on italicized words that we do not recognize as totally foreign and therefore unknown.
A definite point in Gate 7's favor is the artwork. After the strangely lanky feel of both Tsubasa and xxxHoLic, Gate 7 is a return to the Clamp style most of us began with. The sketchy, dreamy quality of the supernatural scenes are beautiful, and Hana's costumes are elaborately detailed. Backgrounds tend towards the detailed, and photos have clearly been used as references, presumably to give an authentic Kyoto feel to the story. Unfortunately the pages are very crowded (unless Hana is fighting a spirit), which makes it difficult to really appreciate the images. This is where the Kyoto ode feeling detracts from the book, as it gives a feeling that fidelity to the source has been placed above ease of reading.
If you have never read a Clamp series before, you have more of a chance of enjoying this one. It features many of the things that have contributed to their enduring popularity as mangaka: beautiful, androgynous characters, mystic overtones, cryptic commentary, and devotion to detail. If you've been a reader of the group for a while, however, you may find yourself less thrilled, as Gate 7 really does nothing new and with its emphasis on Kyoto, noodle dishes, and historic figures isn't the most easily accessible series for Western audiences. It may be too soon to really judge, but as of the end of volume one, Gate 7 is a healthy dose of more of the same done the same way Clamp has always done things.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Beautiful people, interesting use of setting and history to fuel the story, impressive aspects of the translation.
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