Manga Mondays: Clover

Title: Clover (Kurōbā / クローバー)
Author: CLAMP  (Story & Art)
Genres: Shoujo, Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Drama, Sci-Fi
Rating: Teen
Published: 1997 – 1999  (both the magazine & tankōbon release)
Volumes: 4  [Complete]
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (both its magazine Amie and then as tankōbon)
English Publisher: Kodansha Comics  (previously Tokyopop and Dark Horse Comics)
Available to Purchase in English?:  Yes  ( Amazon )

 

Synopsis: Kazuhiko is a young, but already deeply wounded black ops agent of a baroque, retro-tech future – pulled out of retirement to escort Suu, a mysterious waif, to a destination she alone knows. Suu and Kazuhiko have never met . . . yet she knows him, having grown up since the age of four with her only human contact being two distant voices: that of her elderly “grandma,” General Ko, and of Kazuhiko’s dead girlfriend, Oruha. And Suu has been kept in that cage all these years because of what she is, and what the Clover Leaf Project found her to be — a military top secret, and the most dangerous person in the world.  (MAL via Dark Horse Comics)

 

Here I am, back to review yet another title I have an older edition for! I feel like the Smaug of books sometimes, collecting issues that are older for the sake of their cover art or other stylistic choices. (You should see how many editions I own of some of my favourite books… >>; )

Anyways, in researching Clover I learned that the story is not actually considered complete. According to one of the members of CLAMP, two more volumes are needed to finish up the story. So given the amount of time that’s passed since Clover was originally released, it is likely another permanently defunct title, along with the likes of Nana.  ;~;    #sadpanda

The version of Clover I am reviewing is the 2001 Tokyopop version, which was the first English translation of the title to be released. Like my English copy of Ranma 1/2, it reads from left to right, an unfortunate standard for some of the first English titles to be released in the west. (Am I being picky about the reading direction? Probably. But if I want to read a book I’ll read a book. If I want to read a manga then I want to read it as it’s read in Japan, dammit. ;P  )   The first volume of Clover is beautifully decorated with a semi-opaque sleeve which uses reflective swirls and black text to highlight some elements of the actual cover. Furthermore, on the inside flap and back of the sleeve are blocks of Japanese text plus their English translations. In preparing for this review I saw that the other 3 volumes released by Tokyopop have this same sleeve, which makes me happy. Tokyopop’s decision to add this intricate sleeve gets a round of applause from me!

Once you flip past those and the table of contents, it’s immediately apparently that Clover is very different from other CLAMP works. What caught my eye first and foremost is that the standard “panel” design is gone. More often than not images are floating in an overabundance of white space. An online source I looked at said that this was a deliberate design choice, but I personally don’t like it.

Another style choice I’m not a big fan of are the fonts Tokyopop chose to use in its translation. Honestly it looks a little like a fan translation, like someone online just erased the Japanese text and used Times New Roman for the English text instead. A font which might have been reflected the cyberpunk world Clover takes place in might have helped me feel more immersed in the story. I’ve seen scans online which I think are from the either the Dark Horse Comics/Kodansha Comics release, and that font looks similar to what we see in today’s manga. It looks like, well, a manga font. Not like something I can type on my computer at home.

Clover is extremely fast paced. The story begins with character introductions consisting of mostly a spoken name and maybe their military role, something which I found jarring because I like to know who people are in the stories I’m reading. What’s the backstory? What are their motivations? Clover literally begins with a military man by the name of Kazuhiko being blackmailed into escorting the “clover” Suu to a destination by the name of Fairy Park – but only Suu knows where it’s located. Sort of.

Clover also breaks the mold of the traditional manga by having very short chapters, a feature which contributes to its fast pacing. Most chapters are only a few pages long but some are only a page or two in length. I know that it has its purpose but it’s another design choice I don’t like. When I initially flipped through the manga I missed many of the chapter headers. Only once I found the table of contents and went back through my volume did I realize why the table of contents was so long.

The artwork in Clover, like CLAMP’s other works, is beautifully detailed. I can quibble about story designs or text choices but I cannot deny that Clover is a pretty read. I’ve always found CLAMP’s artwork to be particularly striking – their art style is not one of my favourites, but you can hand me one of their titles with no cover and I’ll immediately know that it’s something by CLAMP.  While reading Clover I found that the lack of panels and increased use of white space made me pay more attention to the artwork, such as the details in Suu’s clockwork wings or the ruffled petals in some panels of cherry blossom flowers.

That being said, I’m not sure if English manga licensors were all doing this or if I just keep picking titles which used this technique, but similar to Ranma 1/2, Clover also seems to suffer from what looks like photocopying. There are just certain panels, or parts of panels, which have faint lines or crappy shading and the inconsistency in the artwork is really distracting. Then again because I haven’t read the rest of the series, I don’t know if the panels which have garbage shading were designed like that deliberately or if it happened during the translation/licensing process. I hope that for the Dark Horse Comics and Kodansha Comics releases, the quality of those translations was improved.

Overall, the overarching plot interests me, but how the story was executed has too many annoyances for me to continue with the series. I have the first volume and will appreciate its beauty for what it is, but I don’t see myself seeking out the last 3 volumes to finish the story.

 

Do I Recommend This Title to Others?:  Meeeeh? It’s definitely something different, and if you’re an existing fan of CLAMP then you might enjoy Clover. It’s a neat little cyberpunk title, a genre I haven’t often seen in the world of manga, and at 4 thin volumes (or one larger volume if you’re reading an omnibus version) it’ll be a fast read.

Final Score: 6.5/10

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