animefringe april 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
CLAMP School Detectives - Solving Those Hard Mysteries

I think it's safe to assume that practically every fan of anime or manga has at least heard of some CLAMP-related work by now. They're the team of writers that brought us Magic Knight Rayearth, X, Card Captor Sakura, Wish, Angelic Layer, and recently, Chobits, along with scores of other titles.

In most of their series, their viewers (or readers, if that is the case) are shown a world that is very similar to our own, but with a slight fantastic twist. In Rayearth, three young girls from Earth are whisked away to a magical realm -- the fate of which rests in their hands. In X, supernatural forces come to the forefront of everyday life as humanity faces what may be the end of the world. In practically every CLAMP title, there are realistic characters thrust into a situation that defies reality at least a little bit.

There's almost always an element of fantasy or science fiction in any given CLAMP tale. For example, Shuichiro, a successful doctor, met an angel in Wish. Misaki discovered the amazing game of Angelic Layer in the manga of the same name, where tiny "angels" controlled by their users' minds battle in front of huge audiences. In Chobits, Hideki finds and cares for a humanoid supercomputer that he names Chii. Even in the most true-to-life settings, a speck of what-cannot-be tends to be a key element of CLAMP's works.

Thus, it surprised me when I got into CLAMP School Detectives, since there's little trace of the fantastic to be found. While the manga does have interesting characters, the events that occur as the story moves along are not really earth shattering. At first I was a little disappointed to discover that it wasn't another end-of-the-world tale. As the title suggests, this is a lighthearted mystery series, and the cases the heroes take on usually involves helping a woman in need.

Our main characters are three of the most popular students at the elite CLAMP School, Nokoru Imonoyama, Suoh Takamura, and Akira Ijyuin. Each character is a prodigy in his own right, and these boys spend their time at school looking for ladies in distress. After all, they're too smart and talented to waste their days studying.

Nokoru is a brilliant student and heir to an immeasurable family fortune. He will stop at nothing to win the affections of a woman, and especially doesn't mind shirking his duties as Junior Class Chairman to help someone. Suoh is a highly skilled martial artist as well as top in his class, and he keeps his cool no matter what dire situation the trio faces. Akira is the youngest of the three, and while he treats his older colleagues with due respect, he possesses skills that far surpass those of his superiors. First of all, he is a master chef. Oddly enough, his thieving skills rival that of Lupin III, and he has a charming nature that even the famous Lupin would be hard pressed to keep up with.

TOKYOPOP is producing this under their "100% Authentic" lineup of manga, which means that it's going to read the correct way (from right to left) and sound effects will remain unchanged. Also, in a move that I hope to see more often in English manga releases, they've decided to keep Japanese honorifics in the English language instead of throwing them away. There's a great editorial note explaining the reasons behind retaining the -kun, -san, -sempai, and other name suffixes in this edition, and the end of the book boasts a neat essay explaining the Sempai/Kohei relationship.

For readers who are new to the Japanese language (or honorifics, in particular), these word modifiers help distinguish class, age, or experience differences between people. They add a level of complexity to the language and relationships of characters, for it allows readers to know when one character sees the other as more advanced than he or who is in charge of a situation. They can also be used sarcastically, as when addressing a close superior with -chan, which Nene does constantly to Leon in Bubblegum Crisis 2040. Either way, it's nice to see them in there, because they help translate some of the subtle nuances of the Japanese language that are usually blasted apart by the clumsy English language.

Well, we're almost done here, and if you haven't realized it yet, this is a wee bit of a girl's comic book series. It's cute, it's funny, and it stars three perfect guys - even if they are a little young for many of their readers. However, even as a 23 year old guy, I found myself enjoying CLAMP School Detectives in more ways than one. After all, it may not feature an existence-consuming apocalypse, but it is an easy read that may help to take our minds off of less-happy events in our daily lives. This is mind candy -- CLAMP style. A little bit of fluffy manga will do us no harm, so long as they keep the deeper, darker stuff coming along as well. Either way, if it's CLAMP, I'll probably be there.