CLAMP. You’d have to live under a rock to call yourself an Otaku and not know of them. CLAMP are a group currently consisting of 4 middle-aged female mangaka which have been producing manga for over 20 years. Some of their notable works include X/1999, Cardcaptor Sakura (Also known by its infamous dub ‘Cardcaptors‘), Chobits, and more recently Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHolic and Kobato. They are well-known for their distinguished visual styles, notably often involving characters with very tall and long-limbed appearances.
What I’ve stated so far are the hard facts. I don’t think I left much to debate. However, when one mentions CLAMP, there are many other stigma and associations which often come with the utterance of their name. But are these thoughts and interpretations really valid? I aim to address a few of them, and provide my own view of what CLAMP is to me.
Allow me to begin my analysis of CLAMP with the work that made them popular in the west, Cardcaptor Sakura. In brief, CCS is a manga about Sakura Kinomoto – a middle-school girl – and sudden introduction to the world of magic, as she is forced to become a Magical Girl in order to imprison the spirits of (52) 19 ‘Clow Cards’ which have escaped into the outside world by her innocent mistake. It features all of the clichés common in the genre, but I think CCS really defined the Mahou Shoujo genre for its time. I’d like you to keep in mind that I haven’t read the original manga in it’s entirety, instead watching the Anime series, so a lot of this is speculation, but bear with me. Cardcaptor Sakura is one of those works that suffers a huge burden of adaptation decay. It started off as a short but powerful manga series, then evolved into a much larger anime which thinned out the impact a bit, and then was further decayed in the delivery to our childhood television through the English adaptation Cardcaptors. This adaptation butchered the show through efforts such as completely changing the personality of characters, ditching plot developments in favour of others, and even changing the order of events. In short, it was a mess. While it may be the most prominent example, it is not the only of CLAMP’s works to suffer this adaptation decay, as I will explain later.
I think people’s exposure to Cardcaptor Sakura is very influential to people’s views of CLAMP as a mangaka, and to a vast majority of the western anime-viewing community, it isn’t a good nor accurate depiction. While the manga did intend to have an overall carefree and fun atmosphere, it didn’t intend on being completely devoid of any serious messages. Quite the contrary, CCS is filled with meaningful morals and messages. I think it was perfect for the demographic they were aiming for, young teenage girls, as it deals with deep and meaningful messages that would be entering their minds at that age, without getting too serious. Given this, Cardcaptor Sakura has something for everyone, with its frequent action scenes for the boys and complex and meaningful plot for the older audiences. As I’m sure you can imagine, Cardcaptors didn’t capture the essence at all, instead trying to market the show mostly to prepubescent boys by trying to paint Syaoran (or Li as he was called in Cardcaptors) as the main character. Another thing they cut was just about all references to sexuality, which was a huge theme in CCS. And I don’t just mean heterosexuality, but homosexuality and bisexuality were just as prominent in the story as well, and not in the fanservice kind of way some of you may be imagining. I believe that CLAMP’s views on love and sexuality are very characteristic of their stories, establishing in CCS their belief that ‘love knows no gender’, with for example the comical love rivalry between Sakura and Syaoran early in the story, or with Tomoyo’s apparent infatuation with Sakura. This was another powerful message to young girls, which was totally scrapped in Cardcaptors.
Continuuing the theme of ‘love’, another of CLAMP’s famous works, Chobits, focuses very heavily on that. I’ve only watched the Anime though, so I’m basing my discussion solely on that. Chobits takes the tired formula of boy meets girl, but adds a very significant twist: she is a robot. Chobits is set in the supposedly not-too-distant-future where computers or ‘persocoms’ now come in the form of beautiful girls, and the unlikely protagonist, Hideki Motosuwa, accidentally stumbles across a naked, abandoned persocom in an alleyway. Lots of ecchi humor ensues, and from the onset it appears to be a simple perverted comedy, but as the story progresses it proves to be anything but. Hideki ends up developing romantic feelings toward the abnormal persocom, and the show begins developing the questions of the ghost in the machine, and if love between man and machine is really possible. It’s one of those anime that seems to appeal to an ambiguous demographic, and so, boys and girls alike got a kick out of it. I think the concept alone deserves praise, it really makes you think about the future of humanity, and what it means to be human and to love in the first place. With the theme of love once again prevalent in their works, I can see how people may view CLAMP as ‘girly’. But is it really girly? I think Chobits also addresses how versatile CLAMP is in its story writing, going from magic to mecha. But I won’t deny that Chobits does still have a bit of a whimsical and dreamlike quality to it, and I think this is very important in defining what CLAMP are.
Going back to Cardcaptor Sakura, I have to address the prevalence of philosophy and spirituality in CLAMP’s stories. Spirituality and fantasy work together very well, so it’s not unnatural for a Majou Shoujo anime to have a certain spiritual significance. Kero was based on Cerberus of Greek Mythology, the cards themselves represent a deck of Tarot cards (and were even used as such at one point of the anime), I could go on. But especially significant is the function of magic and fantasy in the story. I think Yue’s presence in the story was very expressive of CLAMP’s spirituality. Yue has an affinity to the moon, and so cannot ‘produce his own energy’. Yue’s power also attracts humans, creating interesting circumstances for Yukito. Another theme was resurrection and the nature of the soul. In the anime, Clow Reed was reincarnated as Eriol, but in the manga Clow Reed’s soul was split in two parts, one to Eriol and the other to Sakura’s father, Fujitaka. Refering back to Chobits, one could say that the nature of the soul was put under some questioning as well, with the way Chii has many human-like qualities. There are countless other instances of spirituality and philosophy featuring in CLAMP’s stories, what with X/1999‘s entire focus being on apocalyptic prophecy, and the battle against a predetermined fate. X also demonstrates CLAMP’s flexibility in a much more obvious manner. The story is apocalyptic fiction, so it’s really not a fluffy story for young girls, but rather a very serious and dark story for older viewers of both genders. It just proves that the fluffy and girly stigma associated with CLAMP, based on manga like CCS and Kobato, really doesn’t hold up when you look at all of their works. Plus, I think such an interpretation is very shallow and doesn’t highlight the depth of their stories. But when we’re talking about depth, I really need to talk about the pinnacle of CLAMP’s works: Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic.
These two works mark a turning point for CLAMP, or maybe I should call it a milestone. xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle are two sister manga which began at the same time, and are both intertwined together. Tsubasa is a story about a group of four travellers from three different universes who are brought together by their own circumstances to journey together throughout different universes for their own reasons. The one who grants them the power to travel between universes and sends them on their journey is the dimensional witch, Yuuko. Yuuko owns a shop in modern-day Tokyo which serves the purpose of granting wishes for a price, a different price for each wish – and it’s never money. Helping out at Yuuko’s shop is a teenage boy named Watanuki. Watanuki is a boy who was born with the burden of being able to see and attracting earth-bound spirits, who bother him constantly. He wishes to be rid of this burden by Yuuko, and the price he pays is to work at the shop for an unspecified amount of time. The story of xxxHOLiC is told through the perspective of Watanuki at the shop, whereas the story of Tsubasa is told through the perspective of the four world-travelling companions. Both of these stories can be light-hearted at times, but often examine very serious and even dark themes, and aren’t afraid to deal with tragedy. And as I mentioned earlier, xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa aren’t free from adaptation decay either, with both of their anime adaptations ending prematurely and without conclusion, much to the dismay of the manga readers. They tried to fix this by introducing the OVAs, but there was still so much of the story which didn’t make the cut, so it was pretty disappointing. You really need to read the mangas to truly experience what makes these two works special. Going back to the themes of philosophy and spirituality, xxxHOLiC epitomises this, where every chapter (or episode) is filled with very powerful spiritual and philosophical messages. The nature of fortune, karma, spirits and souls, the afterlife, laws of balance, synchronicity, the meaning of existence, black magic, dreams, the list goes on and on. I’ve found CLAMP’s spiritual views to be very eclectic, incorporating concepts from various religions and spiritual beliefs, including shinto, Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, ancient mythology, and even some of their own personal beliefs. One of these beliefs is crucially important to Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC, and even the CLAMPverse at large: the concept of ‘Hitsuzen’. Hitsuzen is a word which CLAMP have especially given their own meaning to, which they define in many different ways. Hitsuzen can be roughly understood as ‘fate’, the idea that everything is predetermined, or destined to happen. One quote they repeat over and over, embedding itself into the readers’ minds is “There is no such thing as coincidence in this world, there is only hitsuzen.“, meaning that everything happens for a reason. I think this ties into Sakura’s mantra from Cardcaptor Sakura, “Everything will surely be alright.” I’ve also found it differs from ideas such like determinism in that people’s free actions can determine the future as much as precedent can. I could write an essay on defining hitsuzen alone, but I just wanted to convey how important spirituality and philosophy are to CLAMP’s writing, and how much it defines who they and what they do.
Another thing is that these two manga establish something important for CLAMP: a connected fictional multiverse, where all of the stories CLAMP has created coexist together. Two of the four main characters of Tsubasa are not only modeled after Sakura and Syaoran from CCS; they are essentially the same people, just mirror images from a parallel universe. CLAMP is able to re-use characters as many times as they want through this device, and it’s all explainable through the canon. I think this is another aspect which really distinguishes CLAMP from other mangaka. The way all of their works are able to connect through this device really gives a lot of incentive to people like me to read more of their works. In other words, it promotes a cult following, ahaha. There is an especially significant connection between CCS and Tsubasa, with many events from the continuity of CCS connecting to Tsubasa. The way they connect is very complex and difficult to define without going off into fan theories and whatnot, but I think that’s part of the beauty of being a CLAMP fan. Speaking of which, Tsubasa is extremely complex. One comparison I’ve always drawn is between the american TV show LOST and TRC, regarding their stories. Like LOST, Tsubasa starts off slow but quickly builds to an incredible amount of unexpected plot twists and connections between events and elements which add up to a very confronting and very intricate web of continuity. Most who attempt to create something like this will end up with a convoluted mess of a story with countless plot holes and errors, but neither LOST nor Tsubasa really fall to this. What Tsubasa has created is an extremely complex, masterfully woven web of continuity with very few noticeable seams. It’s something which mustn’t be understated; this level of complexity a very difficult thing to accomplish (I should know), but they did it beautifully. Every single one of the four main characters has a secret past, and most even have a secret name that isn’t revealed until later in the story. These secret pasts highlight similar aspects which connect them and bind their destinies. There’s multiverse doubles of characters, artificial clones of characters, even alternate timeline versions of characters to mix it up a bit. Yep, there’s timef*** in Tsubasa, and quite a lot of it actually. And that’s just more reason for people like me to fall in love with it. A deterrent for those who don’t take the time to digest and unravel it perhaps, but it mustn’t be perceived as anything other than a masterpiece.
Concluding comments? I believe many people are mistaken that CLAMP is girly or light or fluffy or only produce the same kinds of manga. CLAMP manga may contain similar themes and ideas, but they are essentially very different works, appealing to different demographics and with very different atmospheres. Despite that, Tsubasa has managed to bring them all together in a single continuity, and this CLAMPverse has generated quite an appeal for their works, and is one of their distinguishing features as a mangaka. They are also very distinguished through their use philosophical and spiritual themes, which is best demonstrated through xxxHOLiC. The two big reoccurring themes for CLAMP are love and destiny, which are both embodied in their most absolute form in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. Together with xxxHOLiC, the two mangas really represent the pinnacle of all of CLAMP’s works up to this point, and are two of the most powerful pieces of fiction I’ve ever read in my life. I believe that they most accurately and most beautifully portray the heart of CLAMP, but for the full perspective you really need to delve into some of their other notable works. With that perspective, I’m sure anyone can agree that CLAMP is not fluffy or kiddy, that they do produce amazing works, and that they do surpass the cliches and standards of an aged medium of entertainment throughout the time they’ve been doing it. I really believe that CLAMP really exemplifies individuality and creativity in the anime industry, and deserve all the praise they get. Thanks for producing so many quality stories over the years CLAMP, you really are an amazing group.