Angel Sanctuary, Vol. 1

By Kaori Yuki. Released in Japan as “Tenshi Kinryouku” by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz Media.

It’s worth noting that this came out in the mid-to-late 90s in Hana to Yume, which these days is better known as the home of series like Oresama Teacher and Skip Beat!. It evolved rapidly in the early years of the 21st century, because back in the late 80s-early 90s there was a lot more darkness and a lot more androgyny in the magazine. And one of the best examples of this is Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary, a 20-volume series about angels, demons, impossible relationships, and above all strange things happening so fast the cast cannot get proper time to angst (but they manage to work it in anyway).


First of all, yes, as my Manga Bookshelf colleagues have noted, this first volume is a bit tedious at times. There’s a lot of setup, a lot of putting pieces in place, and a lot of backstory that really doesn’t make much sense. We also don’t get enough time to like Sara’s friend as herself before she’s immediately possessed/killed/whatever. That said, I think that the volume manages to succeed anyway, almost entirely on mood. Everything is tense here as we wait for horrible things to happen to our lead, Setsuna, who is a typical troubled teenager with an atypical love for his sister, Sara. He’s having enough trouble trying to shut out his own lustful desires, he really does not need folks coming down and saying he’s the reincarnation of an angel. In fact, his hotheaded and impulsive personality is very reminiscent of a shonen protagonist. But boy, is he in the wrong series.

I mentioned the incest elements, and it’s worth noting how they’re handled. Given that here in 2013 there is an overabundance of incest in almost every manga or anime designed for the otaku, you’d think it would lose its thrill. But this is not here to titillate. Setsuna’s feelings are powerful and deep, and they horrify him. I loved that the first thing he did was check the family register to make sure that one of them wasn’t secretly adopted – he’s read other shoujo manga, I see! But no, he doesn’t get an out that way. And of course Sara feels the same way, though I don’t think either of them is quite aware of the depths of their love just yet. It helps that, familial relationship aside, they make the cutest couple in the book – which, to be fair, is not about romance. Well, not shoujo schoolgirl romance anyway.

The art is another strong point here – at times, it’s the only humor in the series, and I love some of Setsuna’s facial expressions and asides. Given that the series is about angels and demons, there’s also a lot of androgyny on display here, and I guessed wrong about the gender of two of the characters TWICE before nailing it down. (Kurai and Arachne also provide much needed humor here, I should note.) But overall, if I was to use a word to describe this series, it would be overdramatic. And I don’t necessarily mean that just in a bad way. It’s a great series for teenagers – particularly, I think teenage girls would eat this up – as everyone is pretty and your forbidden love is, literally, the end of the world.

Some Thoughts on CLAMP

“And everyone lived happily ever after?”
“Well, no, almost everybody died.”

— David Addison and Agnes DiPesto, Moonlighting

(Spoilers for the ending of xxxHOLIC are within this article)

I’d been going back and forth about what to write for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast. I could always just punt and link to the many prior CLAMP reviews I’ve done – but that would be wrong. So I started pondering titles of theirs that I really enjoyed that I could discuss. Man of Many Faces, CLAMP School Detectives, Card Captor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, Wish, Suki…

Hey wait, aren’t those all over 12 years old? Why don’t I talk about the more recent CLAMP series I’m a huge fan of?


Yeah, it’s time to come out and say it. While there’s lots of recent CLAMP stuff I enjoy for a certain character, or a story arc, or maybe an interesting idea to start things off… when it comes to modern CLAMP I always find more problems than I really want to. It’s not even that they used to ‘write happy endings and now they don’t’, as I sometimes whined about on Twitter. RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon and X are not exactly happy fun times. And Kobato is a recent light and fluffy series that really never appealed to me at all.

As CLAMP have matured over the years, they’ve gained a depth to the quality of their storytelling. And while this is normally a thing to applaud, I think with their group it highlights that they come up with fantastic ideas and are not always so good at following through. Their first major epic will likely never be finished, partly due to events beyond their control and disagreements with Kadokawa Shoten, but also I think due to a lack of desire to return to it (let’s face it, I think if they really wanted to, X could be completed, apocalyptic earthquake images or no). Chobits was their attempt to write a seinen manga that also examined the otaku obsession with perfect virgin toys, but it was designed to discomfit as much as entertain, and also had enough fanservice that I felt they were trying to have their cake and eat it too.

Then there is Tsubasa. It has to be said, the main reason why I have so much difficulty with CLAMP in the 00s may be Tsubasa, if only due to its kudzu-like qualities. Tsubasa was CLAMP starting up a ‘star system’ for their characters, similar to Tezuka, where beloved characters we’ve seen before are shown in new and different roles – particularly Card Captor Sakura’s stars. And I quite enjoyed the first few volumes. It ran in Weekly Shonen Magazine, so there was a lot of action and magic, as well as the usual CLAMP BL tease between Fai and Kurogane, the manga’s only two ‘original’ characters. Indeed, seeing Sorata and Arashi as a happy couple (well, as happy as Arashi gets) in one world almost made the entire manga worth it.

But starting from around the second half, where they run into most of the X cast in an AU retelling of that world… epic plotlines that bring together elements from all your worlds are all very well and good, as long as you can keep things understandable and have a simple logic to everything. This became impossible towards the end of Tsubasa. I’ll be honest, I’m still not quite sure what happened, and after about the 4th clone I didn’t really want to go back and read it all again to find out. More to the point, everyone became so MISERABLE. Granted, Kurogane and Syaoran are normally not happy go lucky, but the angst was piled on in a way that felt overdone.

I’d mentioned Tsubasa was kudzu, mostly as I felt it grew to strangle everything it touched. No work felt that touch more than xxxHOLIC. The series were always intended to be lightly connected – the two had occasional crossover chapters when Yuko’s magic was needed – but for a while it was possible to read xxxHOLIC without bothering with Tsubasa at all. And then came the revelations about Watanuki. Now, I am totally biased about this. If I had to pick my favorite post-2000 CLAMP series, xxxHOLIC would win in a walk. And Watanuki is the main reason for this. He’s their best character in years, snarky without being a jerk, angsty without being overdone, and the perfect straight man to Yuko’s shenanigans, Himawari’s cheeriness, and Doumeki’s deadpan style.

And then, right around Volume 13, it becomes impossible to read xxxHOLIC without understanding what’s going on in Tsubasa. Now, this is hardly unique to CLAMP, and is a great way to get people to buy multiple series. The problem is what it does to xxxHOLIC: the plot stops. Seriously, all forward motion for the remaining few volumes simply halts. CLAMP must have been aware of this, they certainly telegraphed it enough. Watanuki ends up not even being able to leave the confines of the shop. Himawari and Doumeki both leave offscreen, Himawari to get married to someone we never see or hear about, and things finally grind to a halt 100 years later, where… everything is still in stasis. If Tsubasa ends with a giant 50-car pileup of plots, xxxHOLIC drifts to the side of the road and fills with carbon monoxide.

Another issue with the way CLAMP’s star systems work is that they continue some of their characters’ stories after the ‘happily ever after’ of their own titles… even if you don’t want them to. Tezuka, at least, never pretended that when you saw Rock in one title and then another, it was the same Rock later in his life. But two of my favorite cute and fuzzy early CLAMP series, Campus Detectives and Man of Many Faces, both have their leads show up in minor roles… in X. Really, CLAMP, really? I went through two volumes of adorable fluff between Akira and Utako (you too will believe in the romance between a 9-year-old and 5-year-old!) only to see them in THIS plot? So I guess they lived happily ever after until their world was consumed in fire, then.

Part of maturity is in seeing that things aren’t just black and white, and that every happily ever after is followed by ‘until they died’, because such is life. And yet this is fiction, not reality. And dammit, I admit it: I liked CLAMP better when they did sugar-candy coated happy endings. They didn’t even have to be shallow: no one is accusing Card Captor Sakura or Rayearth of a lack of drama. But in getting deeper and more complicated, CLAMP has also made things far more convoluted than they needed to be, developed ideas that tended to have unforeseen and unfortunate issues if you really thought about it (hi, Angelic Layer!), and show off a disturbing lack of pacing that may also come from ‘we are famous enough so that we can be serialized whenever we put a few pages together’ (xxxHOLIC, towards the end of its run, sometimes ran for only 8-9 pages per issue).

This is not apparently going to be ending soon. Their new continuation of Legal Drug, now retitled Drug & Drop, apparently has Watanuki popping up, and also crosses with Kobato. CLAMP just likes doing this. Which is fine. I just miss the old, uncomplicated CLAMP, with simple plots in a shoujo vein. Modern CLAMP is fascinating, but that fascination can also turn into a fatal attraction.

Kodoku no Gourmet, Vol. 1

By Masayuki Qusumi and Jiro Taniguchi. Released in Japan by Fusosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Spa!. Released in the United States by Fusosha on the JManga website.

It’s Jiro Taniguchi month at the Manga Moveable Feast, and I thought I would contribute (as I’m sure many are) by looking at his new title released on the JManga website, a foodie manga called Kodoku no Gourmet, which translates as ‘Solitary Gourmet’ (I have been told JManga is working on getting permission to actually translate titles, but it hasn’t happened yet). This is a collaboration between Taniguchi (providing the art) and another writer, and this is probably a good thing, as the repetitive nature of this series (like a lot of foodie manga, honestly) would likely be overbearing were it not for Taniguchi’s impeccable craft.

Our hero has a name, but it’s only used once in the entire volume, and I had a tendency to refer to him as “Sad Sack’ due to his general demeanor. He’s an importer of foreign goods who spends half of his time moving heavy objects in warehouses, and the other half selling them to interested parties. This leaves him a) in very good shape, and b) hungry a lot of the time. As a result, whenever he’s wandering around various neighborhoods all over Japan, he’s constantly on the look out for something to eat. Not necessarily a new exciting taste sensation – this has gourmet in the title, but is not about rare and unusual foods. Instead, he’s after the staples of Japanese diet, and each chapter shows him at a different eatery, getting different food and taking it in by himself.

There’s a backstory that we only get a tiny hint of here. The character, as the title would suggest, is always eating by himself, and though he’s not necessarily glum or depressed, there’s a consistent air of despondency about him. His work seems to be his life, and the occasional relationships he’s had in the past are shown to be long since ended. Taniguchi really captures the essence of the man in his art, with the few smiles we see from him mostly being wry self-effacing grins. He is very passionate about food, I will admit – clearly the huge amount of heavy lifting he does for his job is the only thing keeping him from ballooning up. Well, that and the judo practice. He also has no tolerance for folks who interrupt the serenity of his meal, as we see in the most startling chapter of the book. I hope as the series goes on that we discover more about his past, though given it apparently has one volume that came out in 1997 and nothing since, I may be out of luck.

As for Taniguchi’s art, as always I find it a tactile experience more than an intellectual one. Food serves him well here, though as you’d expect we also see a lot of our protagonist walking around and looking at the sites. Taniguchi’s art inspires me to remember smells and tastes in what it shows, and I think that’s deliberate – he works with the writer to make sure that each menu choice in each neighborhood evokes a different mood from the reader. Sometimes it’s nostalgic, such as when he returns to a scenic view he’d been to with a girlfriend long ago. Sometimes it’s informative, as when he goes to an industrial section of Tokyo he’d never seen before, and we see a lot of the built up factories. Taniguchi’s works in general, and this one in particular, are not something that you simply read with your eyes – you need to use all five senses to give the best impression, or else it will become dull.

JManga’s translation is pretty decent – as with most foodie manga, it’s hard to screw up folks reacting to the dishes. I wish I had a physical copy to read, but then I also wish I had a pony, so digital is probably as good as I can get right now. As for Kodoku no Gourmet, even if we never get a 2nd volume, I’m pleased we got this. The writer gives us a melancholy yet comforting story, and Taniguchi’s art is the perfect complement. Just like a good meal, in fact.