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branchandroot: Havoc totally blitzed (Havoc apathy)
[personal profile] branchandroot
Three Weeks: Qem mentioned I haven't gone off on Clamp recently, and I've certainly been saving up for it.

Anyone who follows Clamp knows that they really cannot end a story to save their souls. This does not just extend to "eternally on hiatus" but to "we don't actually know what to do now" as well. First witness: Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

TSR started as a romp, a picaresque, a journey-story--as an opportunity to do overtly what Clamp constantly does anyway, which is to cross over their own characters and universes. Almost immediately, however, they included hints of angsty background, whereby connoisseurs were warned that this story would not be ending in a joyous love-love sort of way (CCS, 1/2 MKR, prospective Kobato), but in the other Clamp manner which is "rocks fall, everyone dies (except the focal cross-generation and/or same-sex couple)" (RGV, 1/2 MKR, prospective X).

I was, therefore, more than half expecting some death and fraughtness to make an appearance. In fact, Clamp did a complete 180, halfway in, and dove from fluffy-style into full on goreangst-style; the extent of it surprised me a bit, but the essential shift did not. Having done this, however, and brought everyone to some kind of final confrontation, Clamp proceeded to flail madly, issue after issue, to skip one and sometimes two weeks after each issue (during, I would remind my readers, the ultimate, high tension confrontation), introduce gordian, nay downright Escher-esque, knots of recursive time travel in order to give the CCS characters a fluffy (or at least non-permanently-fatal) ending directly counter to all the foregoing angst, completely abandoned their secondary couple's plotline, and generally made a hash of it. Finally they put the cherry on the whole mess by... wait for it... continuing the journey! Only without actually continuing it; they just sent their characters back off into the multiverse and dropped the curtain. Clamp ending strikes again!

This, however, was not the worst of it.

Simultaneous with TRC, Clamp was also writing Xxxholic. This story actually played to their strengths. It was very episodic and so could go on forever without leaving the readers feeling cheated of a climax. It featured weird creatures, some dangerous and some cute, giving Clamp the opportunity to exercise their favorite drawing styles to good effect. It featured a Classic Clamp Couple to satisfy everyone's pairing urges. It involved morally ambiguous morals, always a Clamp favorite.

Unfortunately, it was written to be a parallel for TRC, and so suffered alongside as the compact episodes wandered into pointless-recursion-land and a Mysterious Plot Point was introduced. Given how little detail accompanies that plot point, I think we can take it as a given that Clamp themselves don't know what the egg is actually for, yet. Hence the current hiatus, no doubt.

On top of that, Holic featured a confident, powerful, active and sexually mature woman.

Now, this sounds like a good thing, doesn't it? But not for Clamp! Because, in Clamp-worlds, to be a sexually mature woman who actually has something to do in the plot is to be marked for death. It never fails. (Well, possibly for Kaho, who probably survives solely because she's part of a cross-gen relationship and almost never in the plot.) I've written about this tendency before--that Clamp is all for the Girl Power and girls having agency, but only until they grow up. A grown up woman with agency has to die, sometimes, in the most egregiously blatant cases, right that very moment of maturation.

You may see why I was actually less than surprised that Clamp made the whole ending turn on the death of our young girl at the very moment of her sixteenth birthday ceremony and, even after that event had been circumvented, on separating the maturing girl from the continuing journey/adventure. Narratively? She's dead.

Some people pointed to Yuuko, the aforementioned Holic character, as a counter to this. She was present, alive and kicking, surely she disproved the trend! Me, I was just waiting for her to die. And, indeed, she did, revealing that, in fact, she was, in a way, already dead for the entire course of the series. Thank you, Clamp, you never fail to come through in the end, and display your truly alarming death wish for your own gender. And now Clamp continues (sort of, sporadically) the Holic story without her, and indeed without the previously-present girl character; she's grown up now, of course she must be absent.

All in all, TRC and Holic together managed to showcase almost every failing Clamp has. I really don't wonder that they've reverted, for their next try, to the proven formula of girl-power fluff with mouthy stuffed animals. Maybe they'll actually manage to finish that one.

Date: 2010-05-07 07:54 pm (UTC)
foxinthestars: cute drawing of a fox (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxinthestars
I've been a bit leery of them since Chobits. All the fascinating female characters in that seemed to exist just to be paired up and shifted out of the limelight (while the men they got paired with proceeded to carry the plot), and the ending of that was, when I stop and think about it, all kinds of disturbing. Erasing your daughter's brain if someone attempts to give her sexual pleasure? (There are still ways she could service someone else, when you think of it...) Crippling computers on which people have come to rely all over the world---and which double as a huge number of apparently-sentient beings---if any given romance doesn't work out for her? Chi's creator should have been in therapy rather than being allowed to build sentient machines; that's some crazy sick right there.

Date: 2010-05-08 06:58 am (UTC)
qem_chibati: Coloured picture of Killua from hunter x hunter, with the symbol of Qem in the corner. (A cat made from Q, E, M) (Default)
From: [personal profile] qem_chibati
Clamp is the mangaka circle where you want to love them, you really do - but then they go and... it's just so. ;.;

And the more you think about it the more disturbing everything becomes.

Date: 2010-05-09 05:14 pm (UTC)
starlady: (queen)
From: [personal profile] starlady
All in all, TRC and Holic together managed to showcase almost every failing Clamp has.

Along with their greatest strength, which is their absolutely gorgeous artwork.

I dunno, I think you're right on about Clamp and women and girls (hello internalized misogyny!), but I'm less sold on the "can't end a story" argument. The endings are frequently provisional and ambiguous, yes, but they usually manage to tie up enough threads to be satisfying, at least for me.

Date: 2010-05-09 05:56 pm (UTC)
starlady: Kazuhiko & Suu landing (fly)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I've been translating their stuff for years and I still have trouble with the action scenes, though I've been through some chapters of TRC four or five times and it does get easier to parse with repeated exposure, to an extent. That's part of the reason I like HOLiC, it doesn't have that problem.

I loved the ending of CCS, I have to say. Sakura is so awesome--but again, pre-teen, which definitely speaks to your points. And I couldn't, couldn't finish Wish (and never bothered to read Dukylon or the CLAMP Gakuen one or the prequel about the thief, or REX). But...I do think you have a point about episodic storylines versus plotlines, but on the other hand it's not like they chose to have all those series suspended, so I'm not quite comfortable drawing conclusions based on the vagaries of publishing, since I don't think the plots were the reason the magazines/series got pulled. :-/ I want the end of Clover so much.

Date: 2010-05-09 06:11 pm (UTC)
starlady: (witness)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Augh, I phrased that badly. Iirc you're right about X, that it was pulled because of the urban destruction (people getting decapitated? totes okay! buildings falling? No go!), but I don't know about the others--iirc the magazine Clover was running in folded, and the same for LD. But on the other hand we saw that it's possible for them to save a series from hiatus even if the mag folds with Kobato, so I think that's where content or story comes in as a possible roadblock.

The other one I would love more of is Shin Shunkaden, but that's definitely a lot cause.

Date: 2010-05-09 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zahrawithaz.livejournal.com
I've only read a little Clamp (and haven't been heavily exposed to their work in over a decade), but I enjoyed reading your piece. The difference between how a story treats girls and how it treats women is often telling (and disturbing).

Date: 2010-05-10 02:00 pm (UTC)
ginny_t: Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism. (rampant intellectualism)
From: [personal profile] ginny_t
Here via [personal profile] umadoshi.

CLAMP are terrible story tellers. They're great pretty good idea people, and their look is gorgeous and distinct. However, they're utter crap at plot. Seriously.

My HOLiC ends at chapter 160 (Kohane's resolution). Everything after that is either boring or spork-inducing.

Date: 2010-05-20 05:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stringedgyre.livejournal.com
While I don't have much of an opinion on the treatment of girls vs. women (partly because I had never noticed before, but my mind tends to write these things off as conventions of a story that's being told, so we'll gloss over that for now), I do have to agree with you on the downhill turn Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC took. What Tsubasa ended up as was not what I had anticipated from the beginning, and it got more convoluted than LOST. You can argue all you want that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse happened to make things up as they went along (I think they came up with the identities of Adam and Eve only at the beginning of season 6), but they did have hints from the outset about what the show would eventually become (John Locke speaking about seeing the heart of the island in season 1 = us seeing the Source in season 6). CLAMP just utterly fails at long-term planning despite evidence to the contrary. It's like Ohkawa comes up with a great idea, foreshadows it, and then uses that idea in the most convoluted way possible once the story actually gets to that point.

When Tsubasa had its tone shift, I started preferring xxxHOLiC more because of the way it was so simple in comparison to Tsubasa. When Yuuko finally died and the series became xxxHOLiC Rou, I started feeling like it was just a retread of Tsubasa in that the series just doesn't want to end, perhaps because CLAMP doesn't really have an ending in mind at all (as you have alluded to). xxxHOLiC would have ended perfectly, I think, if they had just left it at Yuuko dying and Watanuki taking over the shop. To be honest, once it became clear that Watanuki was being set up to take over the shop, I thought that the final panel of the series was going to show Watanuki posing like Yuuko from the first chapter of xxxHOLiC. Boy, how wrong was I.

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