DRAWN & QUARTERED
CLAMP explores complexity of love
The members of the all-female group CLAMP have shown themselves adept at tackling various subjects in their Japanese manga, injecting part of themselves into their characters and explanatory notes that add a touching honesty to their stories.
CLAMP is especially skilled at taking on love and relationships with a lighthearted outlook that maintains optimism in a part of life that can go wonderfully right or insanely wrong. They show this in two of their short stories, "Suki: A Like Story" and "The One I Love," both of which will surely make you smile.
In the three-volume "Suki," first-year high-schooler Hinata Asahi lives alone in a huge house with only her two teddy bears, Waka and Tono, for company. One night, as she is standing on her balcony admiring the snowfall, she sees a light in the formerly abandoned house next door. Seeing as she has always loved that house and she loves meeting people, Hina immediately straps Waka to her back and starts climbing down the tree between the two homes, intending to peek in a window to see who is living there.
Instead, she slips and falls straight into the lap of the surprised but stoic owner, Shiro Asou. He is gruff but accepting about the intrusion, and takes her hand to help her up from where she is sitting in the snow after falling from the tree.
It does not take much to get the naturally bubbly Hina overflowing with happiness, and the brief moment of holding hands with her handsome new neighbor has her hugging her bear with delight. "I love holding hands!" she says gleefully.
NEXT DAY at the all-girls school that Hina attends, her friend Emi is bursting with the news that they will have a new homeroom teacher while their regular one is away on maternity leave. And who should walk in as the substitute but Shiro.
Later, when Hina relates the details of her first encounter with their new teacher, her childhood friend and classmate Touko is immediately worried and suspicious. The conversation between the three friends makes it abundantly clear that Hina has no concept of propriety, teen girl longings and danger.
It turns out that Hina's father is a rich businessman, so she's a prime target for certain unsavory types. Still, she sees nothing wrong in the many supposed coincidences involving Shiro despite Touko's warnings, and Hina finds herself attracted more and more to him -- all in the most innocent way possible.
And Shiro has his own past, one that makes him deliberately distant from others and forces his strict businesslike demeanor, but his plans go awry when he underestimates Hina's personality.
IF YOU can get through the first volume of "Suki" without wanting to either slap Hina silly or getting terribly nauseous, you deserve major credit. Her über-niceness and total belief in the good of humanity make her completely oblivious to the danger she's in. It's funny and frustrating to see how others try -- and fail -- to get that message across.
But CLAMP has a way of turning a person's most annoying traits into his or her most admirable qualities as that person starts to affect others.
Hina's infinite cheerfulness becomes compassion and forgiveness. Her naiveté is now charming innocence as her love finally makes a dent in Shiro's barrier -- not enough to completely smash down the wall, but enough to make him get over his heartache.
Even though Hina retains the same attitude to the end, she has grown up a bit in our eyes. She's more human now -- we have seen her tears, we have seen her be hurt by her first love and we have seen that in some ways, she understands her situation a lot better than anyone realizes. By the end of the story, even the age difference between Hina and Shiro seems almost insignificant.
What "Suki" shows is that love does not have to be complicated at all. You ultimately love someone simply because his actions and even his mere presence trigger warm and comforting feelings within you. In a complex world, it takes the simple person to make us remember what really matters.
THAT COMPLEXITY is the basis for "The One I Love," a one-volume collection of 12 short stories interspersed with essays on the subject by CLAMP member Nanase Ohkawa.
Along with the stories illustrated by Mick Nekoi, Ohkawa delves into some of the emotions among the many that lovers can experience. In doing so, we also get some insight into Ohkawa's personal life.
The beauty of this collection is that it puts into words what many of us feel but cannot always explain. The situation in each story is very different, but Ohkawa's essays at the end of each comic put into more easily accessible terms the emotion explored in that story and sometimes give advice. None of those insights are anything new, instead serving as gentle reminders of this strange thing called love.
"The One I Love" is a sweet collection that anyone who has ever had the slightest crush on someone else can identify with. Although it talks mainly about women's feelings, there are sure to be a few moments there that men can relate to, as well. So, guys, don't be embarrassed to be caught reading this.
It is difficult to say much about this short book other than it is a must-read, no matter if you are young, old, single or in a committed relationship. It tells us to remember the trials everyone faces and to be patient with the ones we love, especially when the daily grind of life gets in the way of love. It is a beautiful sentiment to be shared during this holiday season.