Quick link! I have a review in today’s Manga Minis at Manga Recon for NETCOMICS’ Main Street in Elysium. It was hard for me to write a balanced review of this because I found it so distasteful. I think I did not succeed.
What I really want to talk about, though, is CLAMP’s Legal Drug. I know this is old hat for most of you, but I finally read it last night, and some thoughts popped to mind.
My first thought was that it was obviously a kind of trial run for the ideas that eventually became xxxHolic. A teenager with supernatural abilities is taken in by attractive shop owner who can see the future, and must earn his keep by embarking on strange (often dangerous) missions along with a tall, dark, handsome, irritating (to him) partner who saves him all the time? The premise was refined for xxxHolic, and beautifully so, but there is a charm to this earlier work that makes it worthwhile on its own.
The story opens with teenager Kazahaya having collapsed in the snowy streets, from which he is rescued by Rikuo, who puts him up in his room above the drugstore where he works. Kazahaya ends up working at the Green Drugstore as well, also taking on extra jobs from the shop’s owner, Kakei, which he must do in order to make enough money to live. The jobs for Kakei are usually dangerous, and almost always require Kazahaya’s special skill–the ability to pick up memories from anything he touches. Of course, Kazahaya is not the only character with supernatural skills. Rikuo, with whom Kazahaya is generally sent on jobs, has the ability to break things with his mind, such as locks or small objects, and Kakei has the power to see into the future. At the end of the manga’s three existing volumes, it is only Kakei’s partner, Saiga, whose abilities are still unknown, though it is hinted that he is very good at finding things, including missing persons.
As Kazahaya and Rikuo give off a definite Watanuki/Doumeki vibe, so do Kakei and Saiga evoke visions of Tsubasa‘s Fai and Kurogane, though in this case, what many readers see as subtext in the relationship between the later incarnations of these character types is clearly text in Legal Drug. It’s refreshing, really, to see an obviously loving gay couple portrayed so openly in a non-BL manga. Though the series, especially in the third volume, begins to suffer a bit from “Everyone is Gay” syndrome (something most often seen in slash fanfiction), Kakei and Saiga’s relationship continues to shine like warm lamplight on a cold winter’s night.
Sadly, with the series unfinished (perhaps indefinitely), there is an incredible amount of mystery left unsolved in this story. All that is known about our two main protagonists, is that they are both haunted by loss, though whether those they have lost (Kazahaya’s sister, and woman named Tsukiko whose relationship with Rikuo is unknown) may potentially be recovered is unclear. In both cases, the information available is very intriguing, and it’s a bit painful to realize there may never be further answers. Thankfully, the third volume contains a final chapter that goes back to the beginning of the story, revealing that the shop was created to protect Kazahaya from the start (again, such similarity to xxxHolic), which makes the three volumes feel a little more like a cohesive whole than they would otherwise.
The art, as always, is fantastic, though more plain than something like xxxHolic. The clarity of CLAMP’s panels, with their generous white space and striking use of black, is one of the reasons I love reading their manga so much. As someone still relatively new to comics, I generally feel that less is more, and CLAMP’s style, even at its most ornate, is really perfect for my tastes.
I end this entry at a bit of a loss. My greatest strength as a reviewer, I think, is my ability to analyze human relationships and how they work in a story, but there is so much left unsaid in this manga, I’m not sure how to tackle that. All the relationships in Legal Drug are obviously complex and fraught with meaning yet to be revealed, and I feel foolish attempting to guess at what any of that might be. And as much as I feel that many of Legal Drug‘s best elements have been presented with more maturity and skill in xxxHolic, Legal Drug has enough of its own quirks and particular beauty for me to wish to see things fully played out in this story. I know that Nekoi, in particular, wishes to continue this story, but I’m enough of a realist to recognize that may never happen. I guess we can only hope.