Technically, Clover is one of CLAMP’s incomplete works. Originally planned to be at least six volumes, the series prematurely ended at four when the magazine it was being serialized in, Amie, ceased publication. Clover was initially released in Japan between 1997 and 1999. Tokyopop first published the series in English in four volumes between 2001 and 2002 before Dark Horse released a deluxe omnibus edition of Clover, using the same translation but including additional color artwork, in 2009. CLAMP is an all-female creative group that had its beginnings as a dōjinshi circle in the 1980s before emerging as a highly successful professional group. It’s four main members, who are also the members who worked on Clover, include Satsuki Igarashi, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Nanase Ohkawa. (Ohkawa was primarily responsible for Clover‘s story while Mokona was primarily responsible for its artwork.) Clover happens to be one of my personal favorites of CLAMP’s works. Although there are things about the series that annoy me, I enjoy its futuristic and vaguely dystopic setting and its experimental artwork. I thought the CLAMP Manga Moveable Feast was a great opportunity for me to give the manga a closer look.
After being court-martialed six times, ex-special operative Kazuhiko Fay Ryu is trying to lead a normal civilian life when the government calls him back to duty for one last mission–one that only he can complete. Charged with transporting a strange girl to an undisclosed location, there’s plenty about the mission that Kazuhiko doesn’t know. And what he doesn’t know may very well end up getting him killed. He isn’t even aware of the special connection that she shares with him. Sue, the girl, is a Clover–a child with extraordinary abilities far surpassing those of a normal psychic. Considered both extremely valuable and extremely dangerous, she has been kept alone in captivity by the government for most of her life. All she really wants is a moment of true happiness, no matter how fleeting. But now that the closely guarded secret of her existence is out, both Sue and Kazuhiko are being pursued by well-armed renegade forces who want her power for their own.
The most striking thing about Clover is its artwork. The style itself is similar to those used in other works by CLAMP, but what makes it stand out from other manga (and not just other CLAMP manga) is the group’s use of innovative and unusual panel layouts and page designs. The individual panels tend to focus closely in on a particular element; these fragments are then gathered together as a whole on the page in interesting and varied ways. CLAMP isn’t afraid of overlap or white space and relatively few panels are used on a page, giving the overall presentation of Clover a minimalist feel. CLAMP’s artwork revels in the small details, moments, and movements without becoming overly complicated. Less successful in Clover is CLAMP’s constant use of song lyrics. I can see this being used to good effect in another medium such as film, but it becomes tedious and repetitive in the manga. Eventually, I stopped reading them entirely. I suspect that the overused lyrics worked better in serialization than they do now that the manga has been collected.
The primary story is contained by the first two volumes of Clover. The third and fourth volumes serve as prequels, each going back a little further in time, which delve into the characters’ histories. Although there is still plenty of room for development, and I would love to see what CLAMP had in mind for the rest of Clover, the volumes that currently exist are more or less complete in and of themselves. In tone, Clover tends to be very melancholic bordering on and even crossing over into angst. However the future shown in Clover came to pass, it is not a particularly happy one. Very little is actually known about the world of Clover; many of the details of the setting and of the characters backstories and relationships are only hinted at or implied rather than being explicitly stated. CLAMP provides just enough information for readers to run with and to ignite their imaginations as they speculate on the series’ possibilities. Clover might not be the best of CLAMP’s works, but I think it is one of the most interesting. Even considering its faults, with an engaging setting and fantastic artwork, Clover remains a personal favorite of mine.