By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Asuka. Released in North America by Dark Horse.
I had first read Legal Drug when it came out from Tokyopop back in the day, but I have to admit it didn’t leave as strong an impression on me. Possibly it was too BL for my tastes (I was so much younger them), or possibly I wasn’t taken with the lack of forward plot progression. These days, though, it’s hard not to read Legal Drug and think to yourself “…this is just xxxHOLIC, only a lot gayer, right?” Legal Drug went on ‘hiatus’ in 2003, right around the time CLAMP were arguing with Kadokawa about the ending to X. Coincidentally, around the same time, xxxHOLIC started in Young Magazine, and also featured a grumpy hero who likes to shout and his cooler, more stoic friend solving supernatural mysteries at the behest of an eccentric mentor.
When this series first came out, CLAMP’s work sort of subdivided into two main groups separated by art: there were the books that looked like Magic Knight Rayearth and X, and the books that looked like Suki and Legal Drug. The latter have Tsubaki Nekoi as their chief artist – as did xxxHOLIC, come to that. Her style has evolved a lot over the years, though, and it felt nostalgic to go back and see the cuteness in the character designs for Kazahaya and Rikuo. This isn’t as fluffy as Suki, though – there’s a lot of deep subtextual backstory here, very little of which is actually wrapped up. Rikuo is desperately looking for a woman everyone thinks is dead. Kazehaya is hiding from his sister, who he seems to love dearly, and who loves him just as dearly – in fact, possibly a bit too dearly? As for the owner of the shop where they work, Kakei, he seems familiar, and you might find yourself wondering if he’s from another CLAMP title.
Speaking of which, there was actually less crossover from other CLAMP works than I’d expected here. The most obvious one is from Suki, but that makes perfect sense in a meta way: the plot requires Kazehaya to have a high school girl give him her uniform at graduation, in exchange for a cute outfit. There is literally NO ONE IN THE WORLD who would be naive enough to do this – except Hina, of course. CLAMP readers who might have found this unbelievable now smile and nod, as all is right in the world.
I joked in some earlier posts about the BL quotient of Legal Drug compared to xxxHOLIC, but re-reading it really brought it home. Compared to this series, xxxHOLIC is straight as an arrow. Kazehaya is a social misfit (from what little background is revealed, he seems to have grown up with only his sister and no one else till about 6 months ago), and Rikuo doesn’t seem to care about much (though does show a preference for teasing Kazehaya). But Kakei and Saiga are clearly a couple, which is why I was trying to figure out what series they’d been in before, and the last third of this omnibus is set in a boys’ school where one of the students straight up admits they all get into relationship0s as there are no girls around. (Given the sheer amount of yuri titles that use the same approach, it’s nice to see things reversed here.)
The supernatural mysteries are excellent, and sometimes creepy, as you’d expect from a series whose spiritual sequel was xxxHOLIC. But the main reason to read Legal Drug is the character interaction, which can range from hilarious to heartbreaking. And now, of course, we get to see the actual sequel, as Drug & Drop began in Young Ace (thus changing genres from shoujo to seinen, though there appears to be no difference in content) in 2011. We’ll come back here soon to see how the years have changed our two leads.