Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: October 2011
Synopsis: “An innocent sightseeing trip to Kyoto opens up a magical realm to shy high schooler Chikahito Takamoto! Visiting a legendary shrine, Chikahito finds himself in the mystical world of Hana and her comrades–and his immunity to their powers leads them to believe that he’s no ordinary, awkward teenager! Protecting our world from violent elemental beasts, Hana and her team welcomes the confused Chikahito–who isn’t quite sure that he wants to be caught in the middle of their war! One’s thing’s certain, though, since he’s smitten with aloof, childlike warrior Hana, he’s along for the ride, for better or worse!”
Buying the first volume of a new CLAMP series is a treat and I’ve been so excited to get a hold of this book for quite some time. I know next to nothing about Gate 7 (I made sure it was so!), excluding my constant following of Dark Horse’s bumpy release attempts. But now it’s finally here and at last I can share my thoughts extending past a disappointed sigh. Gate 7‘s opening volume takes off fast while simultaneously trudging along slowly. None the less, CLAMP’s skill at gripping your eyes with their great artwork and tugging at your heart with their likeable characters still makes Gate 7 an effective opening instalment to their newest series.
Gate 7‘s lead character is Chikahito Takamoto, a fairly typical young man out on his first solo-vacation , one that leads him to the inevitable meeting with the demon battling trio of Kyoto. I really like him so far. There’s not a lot to him but he’s sincere and intelligent, plus his reactions to the weirdness around him is a good combination of freak-outs and plot-progressing acceptance. A downside to his book smarts though are some scenes that drag out during historical exposition. It’s interesting and relevant to a point but not enough to hold my interest for walls of text page after page.
While Chikahito wins my affection easily, I’m less sure about what I think about his partner in the spotlight, Hana. I really like Hana on the surface, she pushes a lot of my fangirl buttons, but she perplexes me. Adorable, innocent and with a slew of great clothing, Hana is a powerful warrior who slices through opponents and the magic they unleash without batting an eye. Predominantly Hana is cute and very childlike – such as when she’s casually held up by someone or wanders out of bed in frog pajamas.
It’s this childish nature of Hana that really throws me off. It’s similar to what I felt when reading CLAMP’s Suki series. The lead is cute and quirky but maybe too much so. Enough in fact that I wonder if their cute-factor borders more on mentally handicapped. I like a lot about Hana but there’s so little we actually know. I really want to see her be more self-aware. Some of her actions show a greater awareness than her cute sound effects and strange habits suggest – such as her spell on Chikahito and random moments of creepy enigmatic stares – yet these moments are buried amidst the spacey personality features. So far she lacks a direction or purpose past habitually fighting and instinctively filling her tummy.
Hana’s gender is also in question. Granted, I find her appearance – and I use her because Dark Horse does – so feminine that it seems weird her gender is in debate at all. It’s not because I don’t think they ‘could’ be a boy since it’s CLAMP (and I think it’d be pretty keen if she was), but it just seems odd that Chikahito would consider it in the first place.
The other two members of her team aren’t anymore fleshed out but the trio make a pretty balanced group. Sakura is the group’s go-to guy and always seems to have a laid back smile on his face, more than happy to divulge information about any given situation for the sake of talking. Tachibana is the sullen member, more serious in his disposition but not so up tight that he comes across as unapproachable. They both have abilities that they can use to best their foes by channelling it through Hana, turning magic into beautiful rendered physical attacks.
CLAMP’s artwork overall is gorgeous, bringing together an assortment of stylistic elements from their different series. The character designs and loose ink style carry over from their recent Kobato while the use of heavy blacks look more akin to the work of XXXHolic and Tsubasa. One of my favourite visual elements to Gate 7 were the humourous and exaggerated expressions – which Hana has a lot – because they look so much like Angelic Layer, one of my favourite CLAMP works from an art perspective.
Comparisons aside, the detail work in Gate 7 always gives you something to look at without overwhelming what’s happening. Background details are especially impressive, though CLAMP does opt for some photo manipulation at times in place of line work. Character designs are attractive and very distinguishable from one another while chapter covers and full-spread illustrations are bound to leave you flipping back to stare further at least once.
By the time volume one comes to an end, Gate 7 has introduced us to the main characters and given some brief tours of what we can assume will the main setting in Kyoto. We’ve seen Hana display amazing amount of power while we learn Chikahito’s contribution to the story is a so-far refreshing, ‘nothing’ (you’ll get what I mean once you read it). A real charge to the story comes at the end when the concept of Oni and their attachment to their masters comes into play. It hurts the book in that it gets a little dull with so much explanation but definitely begins setting up for a lot more plot in book two.
I don’t think I need to suggest that CLAMP fans buy this title – it’s a given, right? Those who waffle on their like of the manga team or haven’t read a work of theirs before should at least pick the book up and flip it through. So far it’s also very approachable for those who haven’t read a CLAMP work before, which you can’t say as easily for some of their titles. Admittedly, if Gate 7‘s art doesn’t grab you then the content itself might fall just short of making up for it. It succeeds as a first volume though – I’m suitably curious and eager for more – but I hope in volume two things happening becomes more important than people standing around preparing readers with information they might need later. Dark Horse’s lovely wrap-around cover, smooth adaptation, slick lettering and very, very extensive translation notes are all icing on this long-awaited CLAMP cake.
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Book bought from Strange Adventures