Sunday, February 12, 2012

CLAMP and the tied worlds of xxxHolic

One of the things that I always love about manga is how much intertextual references are made between them. When you have that knowledge, or cultural capital, it makes the reading experience more interesting and it takes the reader to a new level of understanding. It is very easy to convey a feeling or importance through what could be a subtle reference. 

The whole intertextuality between xxxHolic and Tsubasa was a little confusing at times and I still don't feel like it was completely explained in Holic, but it was very interesting to follow it through till the end. I haven't read another manga that relies that heavily on intertextuality to establish a plot before.

Let it never be doubted how amazing and prolific CLAMPs' career has been and will continue to be. They have sold millions of books both in Japan and the United States, they established a style that is all their own and is recognizable across the globe. They have been able to develop manga that are geared to all ages and groups. For example, Card Captor Sakura was obviously geared to the young girl set and then Holic and Tsubasa were geared more toward boys with their adventure and plot lines. And they have all been successful. 

It has been many years since I have read a CLAMP manga, and it was brought to my attention, like a jack-hammer really, that I had not finished Tsubasa nor had I even started xxx Holic. So, I aimed at the shorter of the 2 for this project, but I watched all of Magic Knight Rayearth at the same time. I was really struck by how much CLAMP has matured as a group in comparison to some of their earlier successful works. With the addition to the added intertextual workings of Tsubasa, Holic was able to be maturely subtle it the way the characters changed and grew within their world. 

Watanuki, as a character was solid and I never felt that his character drastically changed until he was suppose to. His connection with Yuuko, somewhere between mentor and student and mother and child, was striking and was nicely laid out. Though, I still feel that his connection to Shaoran is never really explained well, it added an extra depth to him. He is almost tragic and yet uplifting in the way that he grasps whats going on around him, but lacks the power to do anything about it. His magical growth has nothing to do with his growth as a person and character until the end. 

The best part of the manga is the realistic fantasy that it presents. I have heard a lot of grumbling around the American community about how they feel that manga is dying because of the fact that all mangaka are producing power-up shonen and slice-of-life shojo. Most of the time, I just tell them that they aren't reading the right stuff and that scanlators are the ones picking what they translate and what isn't. Most of what gets picked up is from very mainstream manga magazines and they never seem to pick up more mature manga. Though this is changing with groups like Death Toll, but more of what gets thrown into the scanlation communities and then to the American fan is stuff that we all know isn't very good, but nobody else is picking up the serious titles. 

Holic is a very tasteful intertwining of slice-of-life and fantasy. All of Japanese legend references blend perfectly with the almost wood-block print style of the backgrounds and characters that are all put together in the modern "world" that Holic takes place in. It is not a new theme to have the modern world and the mystical one connected through the cracks in manga, Kekkaishi is a prime example, and the Japanese have such  rich and varied folklore that it gives them plenty of material to work with. Yet with Holic you were also given a look into how that world and that connection were dying through certain stories, almost like a cry to get modernity to reconnect with this colorful past. 

CLAMP has always made dreams a strong influencer on their characters and Holic is so different. Watanuki is constantly going through dream world to reality as his magical powers grow and develop. Dreams have the power to make and break a person based on severity and scope. They can bring out a black ugliness in others and develop into obsessions that spin out of control. There are always 3 colors that wishes fall into; black, white and gray. Just as the world and desires will always remain. 

I feel that over time, CLAMP has grown with it's readers. After RG Veda and Tokyo Babylon, Magic Knight Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura and Clamp School Detectives firmly established CLAMP as a shojo force. Yet they have started the move into more masculine plots, though I still feel that their art-style can be a little too shojo. The simple lines and muted colors of Holic made for a much seamless transition, though I still do not know any guys who have read it. 

Maybe it is I as a reader who has changed more than CLAMP has. The mature simplicity of Holic appeals to me as the cuteness of Sakura appealed to me in high school, and still can appeal to me. 

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