Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Borders down here on Pittsburgh's McKnight Road has a better first-run selection of whatever than anything in Central Pennsylvania. Among other things, they have a hefty stock of manga graphic novels, including lines from Comics One, CPM Manga, and Del Rey that haven't shown up in my usual Centre County haunts. So I took the opportunity to sample the new Del Rey line with a CLAMP manga called XXXholic. Yeah, yeah - I know. I hesitated myself, although I have enough respect for CLAMP that I went and got it anyways. Despite the title, which sounds like something from SP's Eros line, XXXholic is *not* a sex comic. I haven't figured out the reasoning behind it yet, but I'm sure it'll come. CLAMP doesn't usually indulge in total non sequitur titles.

Anyways, it's another modern-magic fantasy, strongly tied-in with CLAMP's increasingly lengthy list of similar modern-magic fantasies - there's references to Tokyo Babylon, Card Captor Sakura, X/1999, and the new Tsukasa: Reservoir Chronicle. The protagonist, a schoolkid named Watanuki, is haunt-bedeviled. He can see them, and thus haunts are interested in his existence, and prone to pester him. One such incident leaves him on the doorstep of the wish-shop of Yuuko, a sage-witch-psychiatrist with a rather decadent affect. She tricks him into making a wish - well, sort of. The point of the exercise is to guilt him into working for her as a sort of payment schedule on the karmic cost of his wish - to no longer have to see the supernatural. CLAMP plays XXXholic as something of a comedy, but it's got a very sad, unbending feel to it. The theme seems to be that free will and predestination are self-selected - according to Yuuko, "If you believe your destiny is decided, then most likely it's decided. If you believe that nothing is decided, then most likely nothing is decided".

Del Rey's approach to the manga trade is starting out pretty fanboyish. They retain a lot of out-of-dialog kana - sound effects, chatter, und so weiter. There's a lot of honorifics, which is going to enrage the localization fanatics. The translator didn't attempt to replace utterly untranslatable puns with English jokes, which I actually sort of appreciated. But I'm a fanboy, and the localization fanatics have nothing for contempt for my kind. On the debit side of the ledger, the editors also do strange things like publishing both the uncolored and colored versions of the first few pages. I can't imagine why they'd bother to do this - as far as I can tell, the colored version was supposed to replace the uncolored version in the Japanese graphic novel. It plays like a strange textual stutter in the form Del Rey offers. The price-point of the book is about 10% over that of the current bookstore pack, which isn't quite as bad as Dark Horse's 30%, but is still something of a hurdle for distribution. It might explain why the line is slow to penetrate my particular sub-market.

The print-quality is sufficient for the texture of the art. This art isn't exactly what I expect from CLAMP, as it's strictly line-work, with almost no ziptones aside from a very simple, horizontal-line design which blends in perfectly with the rest of the dark linear art. I recognize that this is mostly first-exposure bias speaking, but I tend to associate CLAMP with the dense, intricate, varied ziptone work of manga like X:1999. In addition to the linear art of XXXholic, there is also a lot of black-body inking, especially in panels associated with the dark and whimsically decadent Yuuko. This sort of heavy-black is very sensitive to printing drop-outs, and it's a bit of a triumph for Del Rey that there aren't a lot of faded-grey horizonal bands ruining the art. I can think of at least two or three early-Nineties publishers who couldn't have pulled it off.

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