Ask John: What Makes Clamp Works So Special?
What is it about the mangaka group Clamp’s work that makes it special? Personally, I am not very familiar at all about Clamp’s work, having only watched a couple of anime adaptations of their work. But I hear about large numbers of “Clamp devotees” and the “Clamp universe” and “Clamp canon,” and how Tsubasa and xxxHolic are meant to tie all of Clamp’s works together. So what is it that makes Clamp’s works so special? Do the manga exhibit similar themes or visual styles? Do they cross over with one another? Or are they just really good, entertaining, well written manga?
Worldwide fans of the four woman artist group Clamp are effusive with their praise and adoration of Clamp’s manga series, but incisive discussion of precisely why Clamp’s manga are so popular, and the qualities that make Clamp’s stories so successful is rather uncommon. Clamp’s success is not based on originality. And I would go so far as to say that Clamp’s success isn’t rooted in their artistic skill, although they have no lack of that. Clamp is tremendously successful because they excel at what they do. Precisely, Clamp excels at creating manga stories that perfectly mesh the conventional attributes of shonen and shoujo manga.
Manga creator teams including Kaishaku and Peach-Pit frequently mix characteristics of shonen and shoujo manga staples. Titles like Kagihime Monogatari and Rozen Maiden feature elaborately dressed girls and flowery magic that may appeal to females, combined with fighting and action that may appeal to male readers. But while the feminine and masculine characteristics of manga by creators like Kaishaku and Peach-Pit are usually very distinctive, and often exaggerated enough to limit their appeal to cultish fans, Clamp deftly blends shoujo and shonen characteristics to create easily accessible and entertaining stories that aren’t easily categorizable as either shoujo or shonen. Particularly titles like Rayearth, X, Tokyo Babylon, Tsubasa Chronicle, XXXHOLiC, Card Captor Sakura, and Chobits are able to appeal equally to both male and female readers, and feel like substantial, involving narratives.
Clamp has a particular penchant for recycling characters. Tokyo Babylon serves as a companion story to X. Characters in Angelic Layer also play a role in Chobits. The protagonists of Card Captor Sakura are reimagined as the protagonists of Tsubasa Chronicle. Tsubasa is often discussed as the series that ties together the entire Clamp universe because the characters’ epic quest in Tsubasa begins with a visit to Yuko Ichihara the Dimensional Witch, the character that the XXXHOLiC manga series revolves around (although she isn’t actually the series’ protagonist). Furthermore, many characters from Clamp’s earlier works appear in Tsubasa with the same names and appearances, although their roles and histories differ from their originating manga. Tsubasa may be a culmination of Clamp’s creations to date, but a more literal convergence of the Clamp universe is the Miyuki-chan in Wonderland series that sees Miyuki-chan briefly dropping into various other Clamp series including Rayearth, RG Veda, and X.
While Leiji Matsumoto, for example, sometimes crossed over his characters between his various manga series, Clamp has done so diligently and frequently enough to establish a loosely defined “Clamp universe” that gives much of their work a unifying tone. Furthermore, Clamp’s exceptional talent at creating absorbing, complex narratives that appeal to both male and female readers without leaning heavily toward either extreme has made their works especially popular and encouraged a cult following devoted to anything and everything the group publishes.