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CLAMP: Masters of Their Craft?

How it all Began: A Brief History

CLAMP is one of the most well-known mangaka groups in existence today. Being an all-female, Japanese manga artist group, they have made waves since their official debut in 1989 with RG Veda. While many readers of manga know their works, it is lesser known that they began their manga-creating journey with eleven members that focused on drawing doujinshi (fan works based on canon characters of different manga). While I am not a master of CLAMP trivia or have even read all of their works, it is known that all of the current members except Nanase Ohkawa were friends in high school who focused on creating doujinshi of Captain Tsubasa and yaoi (boys’ love) of Saint Seiya. By the time they officially debuted, the eleven-member unit had been reduced to seven members which quickly became the four queens we know after 1992.

After their debut, their time was filled with numerous projects, keeping them busy. Their next big hit came with Tokyo Babylon in 1990 followed by the cult favorite of X/1999 in 1992. 1995 saw the production of Magic Knight Rayearth followed immediately by Magic Knight Rayearth 2 in 1996. However, it wouldn’t be until 1996 that CLAMP released what is arguably their most well-known work to this day: Cardcaptor Sakura. Their next major hit wouldn’t come until 2000 in the form of Chobits. 2003 saw the emergence of CLAMP’s most ambitious works yet: Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNicle and XXXholic; two separate works that attempted to blend the stories together at pivotal points. At the time, no one else has really attempted such a feat in the manga industry. Their latest work is Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, a continuation of the previous release.

Primary Themes Used

–Duality in Life:

CLAMP utilizes many different themes in their works, one of which is the duality of human nature and the order of balance between good and evil. This is seen in Chobits with the sweet, naïve, cuddly sister Elda/Chii and her “twin” sister Freya. While Freya is not evil, her personality is completely opposite to Chii’s and plays a part in the story. X/1999 is a true example of good versus evil with the main character, Kamui, making a choice that changes the course of the story; while he chooses “good” (this can be looked at subjectively) his childhood friend, Fuma, chooses the opposite side, locking them as enemies. Another good example would be Tsubasa RESERVoi CHRoNiCLE. This story is filled with twists that deal with good and evil, right and wrong; to go any deeper would be to give away major plot points.

–The Hands of Fate:

Fate is an interesting concept with CLAMP. While many of their stories, focus on how fate is not a set-in-stone concept, they also utilize the idea of “soulmates” in many of their stories, having these people tied together by “fate”. While that ideal makes the romantic heart go “awwww”, CLAMP is still more focused on the concept of fate being affected by change through the choices people make during pivotal moments. As I mentioned before, in X/1999 the main character Kamui makes a choice that decides which path of fate he shall follow, similar to a situation in Magic Knight Rayearth and Magic Knight Rayearth 2. While these three decisions are actually completely different situations that occur during their respective stories, the concept of a choice changing fate holds true. Without going into spoiler detail, RG Veda is another manga that deals with fate in the form of a prophecy and the choices that are made thinking they would be needed for it to be fulfilled.

–Nontraditional Romance:

Considering their humble beginnings as yaoi doujinshi artists, it should be no surprise that CLAMP is notorious for including nontraditional romance into their stories. I must point out that, while CLAMP does include some form of romance in all of their stories (at least, all of the ones I’ve read), it is never the center of the story or integral to the plot unfolding. CLAMP explores many different types of romance, pushing boundaries before it became acceptable. An example would be the relationship between Touya and Yukito in Cardcaptor Sakura; these two childhood friends develop a deeper relationship as they grow up together, eventually accepting the feelings of the other. Another example would be how CLAMP includes romance between a persocom (basically a robot) and a human in Chobits. The story explores how possibly persocom’s may actually be able to feel emotion and all the discoveries that come with that idea. Another great example is the relationship between an angel and a human in Wish; while the story doesn’t revolve around this romance, it does slowly develop to include it.

Unique Art Styles

CLAMP’s art style has noticeably changed with almost every one of their works. Their debut work, RG Veda focused heavily on the occult and mysticism, using flowing robes, gemstones, and crystals to help portray that look; most of the works during that time period reflected that art style in some fashion, utilizing deep reds, purples, and golds. It wouldn’t be until Cardcaptor Sakura that CLAMP developed their signature magical girl look with puffy sleeves, fluffy dresses, and tons of pastel pinks, yellows, and blues. This cutesy art style would be used in Angelic Layer and Chobits, albeit with a different spin. After that, CLAMP moves into a more steampunk era with deep greens, browns, and blacks in Clover and Legal Drug. They also began to utilize “dead space” behind the characters, drawing the eye more to all the intricate details of the clothing and expressions on the characters. Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNicle and XXXholic would bring out similar art styles in regards to character design of long, thin bodies and extremely long legs and arms. However, the angles used were different; Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNicle was overall more angular in their character designs while XXXholic focused on showing a more sexy, sensual leading lady. Also, XXXholic focused on using more subdued tones of reds, purples, and black to emphasize the “sensual nature” of the leading lady while Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNicle used shades of white, bright reds, blues, and black.

Most Renowned Works

–Cardcaptor Sakura

While this is all subjective, it can be said that Cardcaptor Sakura is by far the most successful work created by CLAMP. The story focuses on Sakura, an elementary student who accidentally discovers that she has magical powers and needs to use them to help save Japan and, by extension, the world. However, she is not alone, relying on family and friends to help her. The relationships in this manga are complex and covers a range from loss of a parent, sibling love, and “fated” love. This series was so popular, CLAMP created a continuation that recently just finished, titled Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card. This manga was adapted into an anime of 70 episodes with two films and also had video games, art books, picture books, and TONS of merchandise.

–XXXholic/Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE

In my opinion CLAMP accomplished a masterpiece in, arguably, their most ambitious undertaking of telling two separate stories that are entwined together. How, you ask? By focusing on the main characters of each manga in their respective stories but continuing to bring the main characters from the other manga into the storylines at pivotal points. Make sense, haha? It will if you read them! These two “fated” stories have a combined manga volume count of 54, 3 anime series, numerous OVA’s, video games, and drama CD’s. While this is extremely impressive when combined, neither quite reached the level of Cardcaptor Sakura in sheer popularity.


While slightly controversial, Chobits is definitely one of the most popular works created by CLAMP. Following the story of a college student named Hideki who finds a beautiful, abandoned persocom (once again, a humanoid robot) that he names Chii and the hilarity that ensues as he realizes how innocent and childlike she is after he figures out how to turn on her system; while cutesy, the story does have a darker side to it. Chii is portrayed as simultaneously cute and sexy which is where a bit of the controversy comes in; many people accused CLAMP of using Chii for fanservice in order to draw in more male readers and I cannot completely disagree with that thought after reading the manga. Still, for only 8 volumes, it is surprisingly popular with an anime and video games.

So, Why are People Upset with CLAMP?

With the amount of extremely popular, well-written manga under CLAMP’s belt, why are people still wondering if they are worth the hype? Why are numerous people who have been fans of CLAMP for years, or even decades, becoming non-fans of the artists? To put it simply, many fans are fed up with CLAMP starting amazing series and never completing them. For perspective, CLAMP has an impressive 28 series to their name in the last 35 years, 5 of which have not been completed. That’s not a bad ratio, so what’s the issue? The problem deals with which works have not been completed, even 20 years later. You see, all of the uncompleted works are now cult favorites, with fans hoping and praying that CLAMP will finally decide to return to their past works and complete them instead of focusing on the “cash cows” they have created, such as Cardcaptor Sakura; many believe the reboot of that series was unnecessary and the time should have been spent completing X/1999. However, to play Devil’s Advocate, CLAMP are in the manga making business, which I stress is a business – bills must be paid, so can we really blame them for choosing to follow the popular path?

Bottom Line

So, what’s the bottom line? As mentioned before, CLAMP has an awesome amount of series under their belt – 28, to be exact. Many of which have become unbelievably popular and cult favorites over the years. While I do understand that it is difficult to overlook the unfinished manga titles, especially when it’s a story you’ve fallen in love with, I believe their works clearly stand out in regards to storylines, art styles, and themes. Regardless of uncompleted works, CLAMP is still a powerhouse mangaka group that I believe is 1000% worth the read! Also, if you are the type of person who cannot stand reading uncompleted stories, a quick Internet search will allow you to discover which of CLAMP’s numerous works you should skip and which you start reading. Please keep in mind that this blog is completely my opinion and not meant to be taken as proof of definite enjoyment; we all have our own hates and loves. Happy reading!

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