Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: April 2009
Synopsis: “Kazuhiko is a young, but already deeply wounded, black-ops agent of a baroque, retro-tech world – pulled out of retirement to escort Sue, a mysterious waif, to a destination she alone knows. Sue 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” – Kazuhiko’s commander, General Ko; and that of Kazuhiko’s dead girlfriend, the beautiful singer Ora. And Sue 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.”
Combining the noir-esque features of one of CLAMP’s most visually distinct works, and an impressive repackaging by Dark Horse, this dark futuristic story of hope and survival gets another well-deserved chance to enthrall a new generation of manga fans.
A black-ops agent, Kazuhiko, is tasked with the mission of escorting the young, mysterious Sue who has lived her life in seclusion. Sue’s life has been lonely and now something is driving her to a location that even Kazuhiko doesn’t know about. However, they run into more than their share a problems as they find themselves hunted by those who wish to apprehend the ‘four-leafed clover’ and the two learn how much their forlorn souls may have in common.
Kazuhiko is obviously well versed in battle, and with his share of scars to prove it, and despite his rocky past still lives his days with a pretty open attitude. In contrast, Sue has lived a much different life, only every hearing two voices to soothe her loneliness and knowing that she possesses a power both potent and rare. She has a more submissive personality in contrast, calm and refined. The two have a good chemistry on page together, yet not one that takes any real romantic turn past some heartfelt sincerity as the two open up to one another on their travels.
Connecting the two prior to their meeting is the deceased lover of Kazuhiko. Ora, a talented singer primarily responsible for the musical lyrics utilized throughout the story, was a good friend to Sue though the two had never met. She was also in possession of a special ability the likes of which only CLAMP could concoct and execute in such a manner. Serving as a connection between Sue and Kazuhiko, Ora acts as both a basis for conversation and a bond that helps foster the trust formed between the two.
The main linear plot of the story is told in the initial two portions of the omnibus but it was the third story in the book that was my favorite and serves as the greatest testament to the emotions and character relationships that CLAMP has woven in Clover. The story is a prequel of the main events and follows a pair of twins born with abilities that have them marked as three-leaf clovers and locked away. After circumstances become too much to bear and the longing for freedom is too great, one of the twins escapes from captivity and is taken in by a man who finds him. This chapter is not only a fantastic read for the story of the escaped twin, but also because it adds a lot more completive depth and back-story to the cast of characters around whom the main plot surrounds. CLAMP ordered things for a reason and despite this being a prequel, it’s still highly recommended to read the book in the order it was intended, just keep an eye out for jump back in time.
However, for all its ethereal beauty, I have to admit there is a level of overindulgence in its themes. The repetitive nature of the song lyrics gets a little old over time, as does the redundancy of the angst it pushes on the readers. There’s a conspicuous overlay of grief across the entire story, and while it aids in providing that melancholy kind of beauty, it does make the book feel a tad self-absorbed.
Still, there’s much to be said for the feeling of the book itself. It’s been well said before that CLAMP achieves poetry in the form of manga here, and it was said rightfully so. Combined with the sparse artwork and interwoven song lyrics, the whole book pulls of an earthly sense of poetics that’s only bolstered by the sense of vacuity between events and circumstances. There is a lot of subtly to the expressiveness of the characters and whenever I finish reading this series, I always feel relaxed, despite some of the sadder connotations. Ultimately it’s a story of the eternal-themes: love, friendship and hope, and underneath the darker parts of the story, there remains a distinct sense of optimism that leaves you feeling satisfied by the end.
CLAMP’s beautiful storytelling aside for a moment, what’s the immediate initial impact of this book’s worth is the release job by Dark Horse. While Tokyopop’s original release of Clover sported some very nice cover work and extras, Dark Horse takes it that extra mile with this complete series omnibus. First of all, you’re picking up a complete 512-page series, which means prepare to hold a very satisfying sized brick in your hand. The cover image is eye-catching and neatly designed, with a smart move to keep things simple on both the front and back cover. Inside the art is printed on high quality, crisp white paper that allows the sharp contrasting black and white of the artwork show vibrantly on the pages. Between each chapter there’re several pages of full-colour images on pretty glossy paper for you to oogle before continuing the story. The back of the book contains 24 additional full colour images as well. For a book with this many pages, it also has strong binding, while maintaining easy-to-turn pages, and a wonderfully squared, flat spine. With superbly written translations and few, if any, flaws to speak of that I could spot, Dark Horse’s work on this edition is fantastic.
Simply said, no CLAMP fan should go another moment without adding this gorgeous omnibus collection to their shelves, and even if Clover itself isn’t your cup of manga-tea, the quality and extra features of Dark Horse’s edition is second to none and shouldn’t be missed. Any manga fan looking to try something different will also do well to pick this one up. Clover’s lyrical beauty is simple but elegant and reads like a solid contemporary piece even years after its first publication. A definite recommendation.