7.27.2009

Missed A Week, But I'm Back! Tenchi, Hyakko, Fruits Basket

Waagh! Sorry I'm late! I had a really apathetic week last week and things got kind of bad. I even had this article planned in my head and I just decided not to write it. I'm going to blame hayfever. It's a good scapegoat. In any case, no more excuses. I can do this! So here we go.



Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki OVA Set 3 (7 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ***

The Tenchi franchise is about as old as the hills now and the formula is pretty much the same here, just simply picking up where the first two sets of OVAs left off. Tenchi, in his house filled with hot alien girls, is suddenly visited by even more hot alien girls. What starts off as Tenchi's long lost family pouring in and telling him he's already engaged turns into a crisis that could destroy the universe. Basic Tenchi stuff and yet quite fun if you've already enjoyed everything leading up to this series as I have since it was broadcasted on Toonami.

However, I do have a few complaints. I don't talk much about the whole issue of subs and dubs and that kind of thing, but here the dub bothered me. It wasn't that the dub was bad as it was that FUNimation didn't (or couldn't) get some of the original voice actors and that was a little depressing. I had heard that they were using a different voice for Ryoko, but I figured that a sexy space pirate wouldn't be hard to recreate, and I was wrong. Not that the voice was bad, but the original voice actress who played Ryoko certainly was better. Mihoshi's voice actress was different as well, but I didn't care as much. Airhead is airhead and I've never cared much for Mihoshi anyway. One thing that did puzzle me is how they got the original voice again for Tenchi, but didn't have him do Tenchi's grandfather, Katsuhito, like he did originally. Oh well.

My other complaint actually is in the animation. Don't get me wrong, it was still good, but it wasn't the same quality and smoothness that the original OVAs had. Even if they're older, they certainly were slick and had a lot of fluid motion, whereas this third set has the standard stickiness you expect from television anime. I thought OVAs were supposed to by better in the animation department.

It's still a fun series, though. I don't know if it's ideal for someone to pick it up on its own; they do spend a lot of time referring to material brought up in the earlier series. Sure, the first episode is sort of a recap, but there's still other details you wouldn't really get unless you had watched the series from the beginning. At least we don't have to wait and buy each episode individually!



Hyakko (13 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ****
Overall: *****

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE LICENSE THIS!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!

. . .

Lemme back up. When the Anime News Network was doing their Anime preview for (geez, I think it was) last fall, they didn't seem to care much for Hyakko. It was four high school girls simply being the kind of silly you'd find in anime. Yet, as I picked which series I was going to try to follow, I couldn't get it out of my mind and I decided to give it a shot.

I have since been left on the ground rolling in laughter. This series absolutely KILLS me! I don't know if it just fits in with my sense of humor or what, but I loved almost every minute of this series (I'll get to those other parts later)!! The character design is immediately striking, the character interactions are incredibly dynamic, and the music keeps everything pumping full of life and energy. Even when they toss in a few anime in-jokes, the show doesn't necessarily expect you to get them, which allows you to join in with the rest of the cast in being pleasantly baffled. Of course, when you do get it, it's just as great.

The premise is simply enough: the campus is one of those K-12 schools, but the first character you meet is Ayumi who transferred in just for high school, which becomes apparent when she gets lost five minutes into the first episode. Plagued with a timid nature, she tries to find friends but can't find the courage, so when she stumbles across Natsumi, the snooty girl, Ayumi can barely get across that she could use some help, only to learn that, despite being a student at this school since the beginning, Natsumi is lost, too. As they wander around, they come across Torako leaping out of a building as plan to not loose her own sense of direction because she and her friend Suzume are lost as well. Torako is the gung-ho reckless type (almost like a shonen anime hero) and Suzume fills the personality-of-a-alien-robot type. From here, the four girls (who are all in the same class, as it turns out) become close friends simply by happenstance and it's great to see them clash against each other over this and that. Mostly, Natsumi practicality compels her to scorn Torako for every nonsensical thing she does while Ayumi trembles in indecision and Suzume eats everything. They also seem to be the central focus as they befriend/harass the other girls in their class.

My only criticism is what happens at the end of the series. After being a rather off-the-wall comedy, it suddenly strikes a large vein of seriousness that almost seems uncharacteristic. While the series does a good job of diving fairly deep into the various characters' problems and personalities, it suddenly dives a little too deep into Torako's family life and troubles which are rather complex and dark in comparison. And the final episode is a little disorienting as it takes everything back to before the series got started. Maybe if I had read the manga, this whole thing would make more sense.

That aside, the series was a lot of fun and I would love it if some company could pick it up and bring it here. I don't care if it's just a subtitles-only complete box set a la Media Blasters (though I wouldn't turn down a dub if someone feels like it would be worthwhile), I just want this series on DVD without having to pay through the nose for an import. I really wouldn't know where to look anyways.

I may not have seen every anime comedy under the sun, but I enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who likes their comedy a little on the off-beat side.



Fruits Basket (23 Volumes)
Rating: ***

I reviewed the anime here on this blog before and found it to be a fun, light-hearted comedy concerning a rather frightening family. However, the anime could only go so far as the manga hadn't finished yet, so they decided to make their own ending, bringing everything to a reasonable close.

Fruits Basket is a fairly well known property by now, as it is the number shojo manga in America (or is that just TokyoPop hyping things up?). I imagine most everyone is familiar with the premise by now, and if not, I've done a decent enough job with the anime review that I don't feel like re-typing it.

In comparison to the anime, the manga starts out just as light-hearted, but then dives deep in rather serious situations and material. It spends a rather long time on each of the other zodiac members that I wouldn't really consider to be main characters, sort of like how Kare Kano got away from the main couple for some of those later graphic novels. However, to Fruits Basket's credit, it still focuses on Tohru and her interactions with the various members of the Sohma family, even if they seem tangential. In fact, as the series progresses, it seems to wax more and more philosophical, almost making it seem long-winded at times.

Toward the end, Fruits Basket remembers that shojo manga tend to have romantic parts as well, and Tohru finally decides she in love with one of the guys (I won't say who simply because I didn't think it would be him, so I'll leave it a surprise for those who haven't read it) and helps him over come his Zodiac curse.

After running for 23 volumes, we finally have the happy ending we've been waiting for all this time. Things get sorted out, negativity is replaced with smiles, and all is well. It just took a really long, roundabout way of getting there. Maybe it was just the release schedule of the volumes from TokyoPop, I don't know. However, I feel satisfied with how the series went as a whole and I don't think it as a waste of my time. (Again, their version of Cinderella for their school play is the most hilarious play-in-a-manga I've ever seen.)



Well, as I warned, things may get more complicated as I get closer to the fall semester, but I've already got a plan for next week's article: I'm almost finished with Eden Of The East (wow, what a trip) and I've got the rest of Tsubasa Reservior Chronicle handy. Also, there are a few short manga collections that I could have finished by then as well, so at least I'll have something to write about.

I wonder when One Piece will become available online again with FUNimation . . . .

7.12.2009

Summer Blues! Code Geass, Tower Of Druaga, Astro Boy

I apologize for not getting this posted yesterday, but the pollen of the world decided to give a massive headache along with an itchy nose, and I'm afraid to say that things may not get better, according to the big picture. While it has been great to watch all of this anime, my summer is starting to turn back towards worrying about school, which means finding tuition money and then spending time on homework or, in short, less time for anime. I don't know how often I'll be able to update from here on out, but I'll try to be as often as I feel I can.

At least I've got a few titles to get things started for now.



Code Geass: Lelouch Of The Rebellion (25 Episodes)

Code Geass: Lelouch Of The Rebellion R2 (25 Episodes)
Animation: *****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ****

Yes, I have finally finished all of Code Geass and, boy, is my brain tired. I remember when this series was first starting to get all of sorts of attention from all sorts of fans and I thought I'd give it a shot when it rolled around on Adult Swim's online video player and found myself ensnared in a tangle of plots that I could pull my eyes away from.

In an alternate but not too distant future, the Empire of Britannia (located primarily in North America) begins expanding its territory across the world, including Japan, taking it over completely and turning into Area 11. The people there are now called Elevens and treated as a lower caste by the Britannians. Lelouch is a Brittanian prince who is living as a high school student in Japan under the surname of Lamperouge in order to hide from potential assassinations. However, he still holds a personal grudge in his heart against whoever killed his mother in an assassination, a trauma that left Lelouch's little sister, who is “hiding” in Japan with him, blind. Lelouch figures that it's someone else within the Brittania family and vows to get revenge, but having been dumped in Japan, he feels powerless to do so.

Meanwhile, even though Japan has been a part of Brittania for 10 years, there are still resistance groups trying to fight for their Japanese heritage. They get wind of some chemical weapons are being transported and try to prevent the Empire from using them. Lelouch happens upon this act of terrorism and decides to follow up on what's going on, thinking that he can make a dent in Brittania. However, instead of finding chemical weapons, he finds an incapacitated girl in green hair and tries to take her to safety away from the terrorists violence. Along the way, he runs into Suzaku Kururugi, his childhood friend and native Japanese, fighting as a soldier for Britannia. Without having time to catch up, they try to get out of danger, but end up getting separated again, with Lelouch being caught by a platoon of soldiers. They fire, but the green-haired girl suddenly jumps in front, saving Lelouch's life. As the green lies on the ground, she suddenly starts talking about giving Lelouch “power.” Finding himself up against a wall, he accepts and is granted the power of Geass, where upon eye-to-eye contact, Lelouch can alter the will of anyone. He uses his power to escape the soldiers, by ordering them all to commit suicide, and begins to help the terrorists in their efforts against the Empire, later becoming their leader under the guise of Zero, a masked hero for justice. He begins to figure that, with his own cunning, his new power, and the terrorists' resources, he can finally topple Brittania and find out who killed his mother.

What happens from then on is a convoluted tale that warps between political intrigue, high school antics, supernatural powers, and personal anguish, as Lelouch and the others feel the weight of their new responsibilities and try to defeat their enemies and fears. The green-haired-girl, simply named as C2, returns as an immortal being capable of granting Geass power and willing to Lelouch with his rebellion as long as he fulfills his end of the contract, a detail that remains unrevealed for quite some time. Suzaku ends up climbing through the ranks of the Brittanian military, quickly ending up as a test subject for a special proto-type mech.

Oh, yeah. There's robots throughout the whole thing. All the battles are straight-up mecha army action.

Code Geass is a very ambitious story, trying to weave together so many plot threads and still make sense, and, to its credit, it mostly succeeds. While my head spun with each plot twist, each piece finds its resting place by the end of the long series and felt satisfied by the end. Things went well, even if I felt like everything was stumbling through mud from time to time.

The animation was incredible, not only with the vivid scenery and memorable character designs by CLAMP, but with the action and combat as well, a crucial element for mecha anime. The robots all seem to have wheels on their feet, so the battles feel like over-the-top roller derbies with guns, and somehow they made it work. The music was more of a downer. It had its moments, establishing easy-to-recognize themes when things worked or didn't work in the story, but it didn't stand out much and I felt more could have been done with it. Even the opening and ending themes were rather mediocre.

When I got a few episodes in, I gathered the sentiment that this was going to be Death Note but with mecha instead of mind games. Sunrise has had all sorts of experience with their Gundam franchise in combining a political drama with robots and so adding in this supernatural twist could make or break the series. While it stumbled around getting there, it did come together in the end, resulting in one of the most renowned series Sunrise has produced (I think it even won some awards in Japan a couple of times). In the end, my sentiment was right. Code Geass is Death Note with robots. You have webs of character relations, sudden plot twists, supernatural surprises (especially when Lelouch runs into other Geass users!), and a wealth of memorable moments that really makes this title stand out. I can now see what all of the hubbub was for and I don't regret it.



The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis Of Uruk (12 Episodes)
The Tower of Druaga: The Sword Of Uruk (12 Episodes)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ****
Overall: ****

The Tower of Druaga was an old Japanese arcade game where the heroes had to climb a 60 level tower in order to save the world. I don't think it ever made it to America, but it was quite a hit in Japan has since spawned a handful of games in the same world. In this anime series, Gonzo takes that game and turns it into a very entertaining romp through the tower and the personal struggles of those who climb it.

The story primarily revolves around Jil, a young Climber, who is sincere about getting to the top and defeating the great demon Druaga. However, the other Climbers don't want to listen because they're satisfied with how much money they can make Climbing the tower. He tries to join his older brother Neeba's group, only to be kicked out for his incompetence. He finally gets his own party, consisting of Ahmey, a female spear-wielder, Kaaya, a cheerful priestess, Melt, an eccentric mage, and Coopa, Melt's personal assistant that happens to have her own bag of tricks. They all decide to follow Jil up the tower in order to defeat the evil that lives at that top.

However, as they climb the tower, they begin to notice some of the connections between the tower and the condition of the king of the land, Gilgamesh, who supposedly defeated the tower the last time. Because it has come back and the past is slowly being revealed, the tower's true purpose becomes revealed and the heroes have to find the truth on top of it all.

While all of this is a very engaging Babylonian fantasy epic with it's own innovations (Melt's magic is swinging clubs like he's golfing, making Coopa a sort of caddy for him; it's brilliant), it is more than willing to take some time to put its tongue in its own cheek. The first episode is almost entirely a dream, spoofing itself and other action series and fantasy tropes (even going so far as a Monty Python reference and a sudden shift into Gurren Lagann mode) and not developing very much plot. Later on, the characters stumble into a series of bizarre traps that the heroes spend an entire episode walking into. They even take the time to send Jil into a life-size reenactment of the original video game, the other heroes controlling him with a joystick and buttons and having to restart every time something goes wrong. The moments of comedy brighten things significantly. Even if very little progression is made, it helps the viewers get to know the characters.

The second part of the series is much more serious, though, as things turn uglier, though it does take time to show the ski resort Melt builds within the tower. However, as it builds suspense and goes deeper into the secrets of the tower, I felt that the final showdown was rather light-weight compared to all the momentum it had been building. While I won't go into detail for the sake of those who haven't seen it, I thought there were some darker themes and heavier material into which they could have delved. Instead, they decide to pass over it and simply bring an end to everything.

The animation was great. Having many characters involved for massive battles with monsters and other Climbers went well for the most part. The biggest problem I had how the CG elements didn't blend into the 2D animation as well as it could have. It stood out and seemed somewhat distracting. Gonzo has always messed around with combining 2D with 3D, but they seemed to make it work so well ten years ago with Blue Submarine No. 6. It wasn't a major bother in Tower, but it was reoccuring. The music was nice, drawing on the themes from the video game but giving them a Lord of the Rings quality by giving them an orchestral feel. The opening and ending themes weren't bad either. Also, it should be noted that I watched this series subbed, for once. It'll be interesting how the series will sound after FUNimation dubs it.

The Tower of Druaga was a fun ride, even if it lost some steam at the end. And it's still available online (Thank you, CrunchyRoll!) so go watch it. It's worth it. It even led me to a discovery. I was in my local Hastings with some money to burn and I stumbled across the PS2 game The Nightmare of Druaga. Not only was it in the used bin for only four dollars, it was still shrink-wrapped after I tore off the used-wrap Hastings puts on its used materials. I primarily picked up simply because I was watching Druaga at the time. The game happens to be a wonderfully merciless dungeon hack that I imagine I'll be playing for years to come. I've become a fan of the Druaga series and look forward to where it'll pop up in the future.



Astro Boy (23 Volumes)
Rating: ***

Osamu Tezuka's genius has gone unrecognized lately, in my opinion. Especially in America. While I'm sure that most anime and manga fans are aware that he brought those two very mediums to the heights of popularity they enjoy now, they fail to realize that he himself is a great writer and artist, full of his own impressive ideas. Maybe some time I'll talk about his Phoenix series.

I recently finished Dark Horse's run of Tezuka's breakout hit, Astro Boy. He had some success with Kimba but Astro Boy is what got everyone's attention back then and the title propelled Tezuka to be the Godfather of Manga as he is known today. However, reading it now is a bit of a challenge. The layout and narrative style haven't aged well, coming across as very wordy and thick for a simple action series. Most of the time, Astro Boy is simply caught up in an evil plot or scheme and has to beat up the bad guys in order to save the day. General old-school superhero story-telling. This leaves the reader with a heavily episodic series that rarely refers to other stories. The particular collection that Dark Horse has translated doesn't even have the volumes in any kind of chronological or narrative order. You could pick up any volume and begin reading without having to read the others before it (except for two or three that collect a newspaper run, but even then, the story would be hard to follow).

So why do I give Astro Boy 3 stars? Well, even though Tezuka had to keep the story simple and action driven to please his editors, throughout his stories he was able to delve into more complicated material, even if it was merely subtext. The story begins with a brilliant robotics scientist named Dr. Tenma. However, he was so caught up with work that he neglected his own son. When his son got into a car accident, he felt the need to turn his life around, so he coerced the robotics department to help him create a robot version of his son and succeeded. Unfortunately, Dr. Tenma grew upset that the robot couldn't grow like a normal child and abandoned it, too, going into seclusion. Sometime later, Dr. Ochanamizu found the robot's body and rebuilt him with super powers, turning him into Astro Boy, who would eventually become the poster child for the ideology that robots deserve to have rights just like the humans.

I find it interesting that Tezuka is a contemporary of Isaac Asimov and his three rules of robotics. While they have their similarities, it's interesting to see how each of them consider the possibilities of robots with progressive artificial intelligence, and that's what makes Astro Boy such a remarkable work. The out-dated elements of the story can be compensated by the speculation and vision Tezuka offers for our future.




As for what to expect in future columns, I don't know what to tell you. I was expecting Shangri-La (which is has been pretty cool) to finish with 13 episodes but it's probably going to finish in the mid-twenties now. I do have Hyakko and Eden of the East fansubs sitting on my computer that I could finish up quite quickly. There are a couple of other anime series that I could really dive into that are just sitting around.

Another possibility may not be reviews of a specific title but a focus on broader topics within anime and manga. I'm not terribly industry savvy, but I could delve a bit into that as well. I'm just not sure. You'll just have to come back and check out what I've got to say!

7.04.2009

Happy 4th of July! DBZ, Sky Crawlers, Dragon Drive, Clover

Hey, I'm actually getting in an update on time!! Another reason to celebrate! In any case, I hope you all have a fun and safe Independence Day. It'll be a good break from all that anime, right? So let's get started with one of the most loved anime epics in the world.



Dragon Ball Z (291 Episodes)
Animation: ***
Story: ***
Music: ***
Overall: ***

It's taken me two summers to pull it off, but I finally watched all 291 episodes of Dragon Ball Z. I remembered watching it on Toonami and being bitter at how long it was taking, even at five episodes a week (freaking Cell), but the thought occurred to be that I hadn't really watched it from beginning to end. It's been considered an anime classic, something that I'll get to a little bit later.

Dragon Ball Z (for those of you who have been living under a rock on Mars) is about Goku, a martial artist with incredible powers and potential, suddenly realizing that after all this time (roughly 150+ episodes that constitute Dragon Ball) he's actually a space alien sent to Earth to destroy it. However, he konked his head shortly after arriving, turning into the pure-hearted hero everyone knows and loves. This information spirals the story into an epic that results in saving the universe as a whole.

Trying to summarize the plot of Dragon Ball Z in a short paragraph is hard to do, considering all that happens. Not to say that the story's great, though, it just takes a long time to tell, which is why the new Dragon Ball Kai version is going to be so interesting.

For the music, I decided to listen to the Japanese Soundtrack, which, while orchestral, is simple and doesn't distract from the action. I wonder if the American Soundtrack wouldn't have been better, but I don't want to watch the whole series again just for that! The animation slowly improves over time, natural for a long-running show like this, but never really reaches jaw-dropping levels compared to television today. It may have been great back then, but now it seems standard, perhaps because it set the standard for all shows to follow.

Actually, that's the major reason I watched this series in the first place. Dragon Ball Z's legacy is huge, and now that I've seen the whole series again from this retrospective viewpoint, I'm cemented my opinion that Dragon Ball Z pioneered the modern Shonen/Action/Adventure style of story telling that we now see in the likes of Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece. To be fair, they're all from Shonen Jump, but even so, I think DBZ laid the groundwork for most of everything to follow, including it immediate successor YuYu Hakusho and even series like Rurouni Kenshin, Rave Master, Negima, Zatch Bell, and the three I mentioned before. They generally all do the same thing: set up a massive premise to be lead by appealing characters that will take a ridiculously long time to tell so that, when they reach the climax, the viewers will have put in so much emotional investment on what's going on they will have everyone on the edge of the their seats whether they like it not. All the tropes we know and love started with Dragon Ball Z.

Again, to be fair, there probably were other titles that did similar things before Dragon Ball Z began in 1984. I have already admitted how much I'm loving Fist of the North Star, but it's not be rehashed like DBZ is with the newer titles I previously mentioned.

Dragon Ball Z's impact is huge, and that's what makes it a classic. It may not be very watchable now (though I had to check out it from my library with only a week for each season box set which at such a rapid pace made things a little better; I didn't much else those weeks though), but it does deserve respect for trail-blazing that it has done for later series.

I'll probably watch Dragon Ball GT, despite how little it is generally liked, next summer. I have a tendency to want to like things people normally don't like, perhaps as a way to be more open-minded about my expectations. For example, I don't think St. Anger is Metallica's worst album. They've certainly done better, but it isn't horrible.

Why am I talking about music, let's get back to anime.



Sky Crawlers (Movie)
Animation: ****
Story: ****
Music: ***
Overall: ***

Sky Crawlers is a movie directed by Mamoru Oshii based on a book series about a fictional world war that never seems to end. The plot revolves around a small crew of fighter pilots for one particular side of the war and their philosophical dilemmas about dealing with the endless fighting. Some clearly take it better than others. Add in the concept that the soldiers seem to be clones of some sort, being replaced with frightening similar replicas whenever they die in battle. Of course, the movie doesn't tell you that out right.

The story is good, relying on a sense of philosophical science-fiction that, in the end, poses some pretty interesting questions. However, that sense if very subtle, giving the movie a very slow pace. The trailers give you a sense of action with all the dog fights in the sky, but don't be fooled. They're sporadic throughout the movie, though, to their credit, they don't take away from pacing that the show establishes right from the get go. Don't expect an action flick; it's far too introspective for that. You've been warned.

To be honest, I can't remember the music, and if that's the case, then it probably wasn't much. If it was bad, I would've remembered.

No, my biggest problem was actually with the character design. Don't get me wrong, the animation was slick, but everybody looked like they belonged in the Naruto universe, and that was distracting. I noticed that both anime titles have the same character designer, Tetsuya Nishio, but in reading a lot of the recent Naruto graphic novels, it seems like this guy and Masashi Kishimoto have been swapping sketchbooks. As I watched Sky Crawlers, I kept subconsciously expecting a bunch of ninjas to crash through, not that there was any logical reason for it, but because the character designs reminded me so much of Naruto that I wouldn't have been surprised if it did happen. Hopefully, it's just me.

In the end, it wasn't a bad movie, just a really slow one. It offers some sci-fi pontification and slick visuals, but I don't see myself watching it again.



Dragon Drive (14 Volumes)
Rating: ***

And we move back into dragons. Dragon Drive is the story about a video game that actually isn't a video game, but actually a portal into another world. Villains are trying to use the powers of this other world for their own benefits and it's up to the overly energetic heroes to stop them.

It's pretty standard, as far as story goes. The heroes struggle, find friends, and rely on their virtues to resolve the crisis. Setting that aside, I can't deny that Kenichi Sakura did a really good job getting an incredible amount energy across. It's expected that the hero will be spunky, but I've never seen heroes whose energy is so contagious. You get two of them, one for each major story arc, though the first one steps back in halfway through the second arc. They have various reasons for getting in the game, which is very Pokemon/Digimon; The player gets a monster and orders it to do battle with the other players' monsters. Naturally, the heroes get some weak monster that turns into something incredible later on, due to their bravery and perseverance. And yet, with all of these clich├ęs, you get a story that relies heavily on its own logic and world setting, making it a very believable experience. I was surprised that it wasn't a game first (though I'm sure games came later; I know an anime series did).

Recommendable for being an easy-to-read yet enjoyable adventure, Dragon Drive moves quickly and has few flaws, if any.



Clover (4 Volumes, recollected in one Onmibus)
Rating: ****

A handful of years ago, I was getting into manga just before it boomed big and began controlling massive sections of bookstores and libraries. A friend of mine let me borrow the first box set of Magic Knight Rayearth (my first foray into unflipped manga) and instantly became a fan of CLAMP. I hunted down every series my library had at the time, first finishing off MKR, then finding and loving Cardcaptor Sakura, Wish, and Angelic Layer (I hadn't discovered Chobits yet). X/1999 was rather weird and hard to follow, but enjoyable. Then I happened up Clover. Sitting on the same shelves as their other titles, these volumes definitely stood out with their special dust covers. I grabbed them, read them, and was entirely blown away at what CLAMP could do. Unfortunately, those library copies ended up going missing and I hadn't read the series for a while. Thankfually, Dark Horse picked up the rights and published it as one big brick, with extra promotional artwork in the back. While I haven't had the money to buy one yet, I happened to find a copy at my library this past week and couldn't not pick it up.

Clover is the story that results from a study that the government did to find people with psychic or supernatural powers and ranked them from one to four, four being the most powerful. The problem was that anyone labeled with a four was equal in power to the five wizards that ran the government. They found one of these fours, named Sue, and she volunteered to be locked away for everyone's sake. However, the story begins several years after that, with Kazuhiko, a mercenary for hire that used to be part of the military, is given the job of discreetly taking Sue to a location that only Sue knows. Kazuhiko quickly learns just how far over his head he is, but is intent on taking Sue anyway.

This series is clearly CLAMP's most ambitious (Tsubasa is, too, but no where near as much as Clover). The art style and panel layout offers all sorts of cinematic scenes and story-telling, bearing a resemblance to more independent comics, like Hellboy. The characters and their relationships may seem shojo enough but are presented in such an usual way that they become instantly unforgettable.

As much as I love this series, I can't give it a full five star rating. My main problem is that the story concerning Sue takes place in the first two novels. The third and the fourth go further and further back in time, explaining the circumstances of some of the other characters leading up to Kazuhiko and Sue's story. They're still in there, but I've always felt those two were the central figures. Three and four aren't bad; they carry the same intense art style and help to really establish the world setting, but I've always felt they were rather extra and somewhat unnecessary. Maybe if they re-wrote it in chronological order, I would feel quite so put off.

In any case, Clover is incredible material and highly recommendable to any who reads and enjoys comics. It's CLAMP at their best once again. I still wish someone would do a full length movie of volumes one and two; a nine minute music video just doesn't cut it for me. I wouldn't mind if bits of three and four were slid in along the way, as opposed to tacked on at the end like they are in the collection.



I don't know what I'll review next week; I know I'm close to the end of The Tower of Druaga and I've been loving it. Other than that, I don't know if I'm close to finishing anything else, so I may have to dive deep into my memory and talk about older titles that I've completed, such as all of the Astro Boy manga. We'll just have to see. I'm sure I'll find something to talk about.