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xxxHOLiC, volume 1
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, volume 1

CLAMP
Del Rey Manga, 208 and 208 pages

xxxHOLiC, volume 1
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, volume 1
CLAMP
CLAMP is a group of four women who have become some of the most popular manga artists in America -- Satsuki Igarashi, Mick Nekoi, Mokona Apapa, Nanasa Ohkawa. They started out as doujinshi (fan comics) creators, but their skill and craft brought them to the attention of publishers. Their first work from a major publisher was RG Veda but they are perhaps best known in North America as the creators of Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits. In Japan, CLAMP is currently publishing xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa with Kodansha, and Gohou Drug with Kadokawa.

Del Rey Manga
Cardcaptor Sakura
Tsubasa
xxxHOLiC

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Kit O'Connell

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Along with Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2, CLAMP are easily Japan's best known female manga creators. Card Captor Sakura has been one of their most popular creations and so it is unsurprising that they would revisit want to revisit many of its characters in their new series, the annoyingly capitalized Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE. Taking place in an alternate universe, Sakura is princess of Clow, a mysterious world changing power. Her childhood friend Syaoran has, of course, fallen in love with her despite her high station, but he is kept occupied in operating an archaeological dig that claimed the life of Syaoran's father. When Sakura visits to express her feelings for him, she triggers a strange artifact that scatters her memories into other realities in the form of feathers. Without them she will die, but before he can retrieve them Syaoran must strike a terrible, mythic bargain with Yuko Ichihara, the Space-Time Witch.

Tsubasa feels like a CLAMP family reunion, with appearances from alternate versions of characters from series that span CLAMP's extensive career from RG Veda to X/1999. Though none of the characters draw directly on what has come before, CLAMP uses a fan's knowledge of their previous appearances as a kind of short-hand and puts less effort into defining them here. Some moments, like the appearance of Chi from Chobits, will be all but meaningless to the uninitiated. To make matters worse, the three main adventurers are brought together so haphazardly it would make a first-time Dungeon Master blush.

The deceptively titled xxxHOLiC, volume 1 is the strangely beguiling story of Watanuki Kimihiro, a man constantly plagued by spirits. He finds himself drawn to Yuko Ichihara's mysterious shop where wishes are granted in return for something unique and irreplaceable belonging to the customer. Before he knows it, he finds himself turning over an heirloom pocket watch and agreeing to indefinite servitude in return for freedom from his curse. In each issue, Yuko, attended by a pair of weird twins, grants wishes and explores metaphysical concepts in a sometimes grim, sometimes madcap Twilight Zone Japan. Some episodes feel like they could use a longer page count to succeed as a well-rounded story, and the tone can be uneven as it switches gears.

xxxHOLiC's art is easily its strongest quality. From the first moment Watanuki steps into the shop and sees Yuko lounging, wreathed in smoke from her pipe (what does she put in there?) right until Sakura and Syaoran's explosive arrival on the novel's final pages, CLAMP's brilliant illustrators deliver every penny's worth. The pages are full of whirling smoke, flowing hair, crackling magical power and a wonderfully visual sense of the mystical and occult brought to life. Even after I finished reading it, I have returned to this volume several times just to enjoy some of my favorite pages again; Del Rey's presentation affords almost unique opportunities in this regard.

It can be hard if you are a manga fan that doesn't know Japanese. By the time most of the manga we read gets to us, not only has it been translated and adapted (often poorly), but the art is flipped right-to-left to suit Western reading conventions. Sound effects, usually printed in the Japanese script of Katakana, typically present a barrier to fully enjoying manga. Some publishers have made the poor decision to directly translate the sound effects just like word balloons, but because they are often incorporated intimately with the art (as they are in the volumes reviewed here), this can greatly hamper appreciation of Japan's talented manga artists. Alternately, other publishers choose to translate the sound effects as an index in the back of the book. Although this leaves the art intact and is better than not translating effects at all, it means you are constantly interrupting your reading to flip to the back.

Despite its recent launch, Del Rey's new line of Manga has immediately set itself apart from the vast majority of North American manga publishers by making a number of decisions that seem obvious in retrospect. In addition to printing the book from right-to-left, sound effects are left intact but subtitled in the art. The letterer managed to do this subtly enough that it makes the meaning clear without marring CLAMP's beautiful and suggestive calligraphy. Although they do not play a major role in either of these books, the choice was made to leave Japanese honorifics intact, and a short introduction to their use is provided. Each volume is introduced by a handful of colourized pages from the work, mimicking a Japanese manga convention rarely seen here. Overall, both volumes reviewed here seemed to be well translated and difficult metaphysical concepts were handled as clearly as seemed possible in the space provided. To round out the already impressive presentation, extra notes on translation and sneak previews are provided at the end. Though it would be even better (and undoubtedly more expensive) if the books were the size of conventional graphic novels, this is something Japanese manga collectors have to cope with too. I hope that Del Rey's manga is successful enough that they can maintain this level of quality; if Western manga readers have any sense they'll support the line with their dollars.

Because so many characters return in new guises, Cardcaptor Sakura lovers and long-time CLAMP readers will probably find both Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Volume 1 and xxxHOLiC, Volume 1 an easy purchase; they should be aware, however, that the crossover their jackets advertise largely appears on the last 6 pages of xxxHOLiC #1, and is actually more important in the next volume.

For the rest of us, I wholeheartedly recommend xxxHOLiC, Volume 1 for its dreamy, immersive art and weird ideas, even if the execution of its plot sometimes feels a bit underdeveloped and uneven. Though Tsubasa explores some interesting themes it will take some further development before it is truly accessible. Apart from the crossover with xxxHOLiC, and the fact that it's by CLAMP, it is so far an unusual choice for a flagship title from a new imprint.

Copyright © 2004 Kit O'Connell

Kit O'Connell is a writer and bookseller from Austin, Texas. His reviews have also appeared on www.revolutionsf.com and his poetry has appeared on Storyhouse coffee cans, amongst other places. He is hard at work on short fiction which he won't tell you anything about, but you can read his journal at todfox.livejournal.com.


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