High school transfer Chikahito has barely spent a day with his mysterious new Kyoto roommates before he again finds himself spectator to a magical battle featuring his pint-sized cheerleader, Hana. Although intervention from another powerful runt postpones the showdown, plenty of other potential players wait in the wings, their allegiance undetermined. Will they remain neutral? Rally under the banner of Chikahito’s roomies’ master, Hidetsugu? Or join the dark forces of the beautiful, frightening Iemitsu? Taking the proactive approach, Hana and company just track one down and ask. But of course, getting an answer proves more complicated than asking the question.
This second volume adds a darker element with the entrance of a possibly evil antagonist, while continuing to build on the series’ premise of inherited blood contracts by introducing a host of new characters descended from famous warriors. Recycling so many familiar historical figures could water down the story, but they’re usually presented in ways that play with popular expectations rather than give in to them. For instance, the decision to go with Hidetsugu and Iemitsu instead of their better-known relations Hideyoshi and Ieyasu gives CLAMP more room in which to be creative. Similarly, making renowned general Masamune Date a cocky 6th-grader dead-set on someday marrying blank-faced Hana could be a step in the right direction, too – as long as it doesn’t push the silliness envelope too far (which the excessive noodle jokes already threaten to do).
CLAMP’s predictably refined, attractive artwork makes the well laid out panels easy on the eyes, with photographic backgrounds helping to give the real world setting substance without visually overshadowing the characters who live in it. With such a large cast and complicated set-up, however, character development tends to take a backseat to plot. So, while grumpy roommate Tachibana gains a hint of depth here, passive protagonist Chikahito remains something of a cipher, serving mostly as a stand-in for the reader and a useful expository tool due to his convenient fascination with history. For now, this is not a big deal, as even the other characters are trying to figure out why he’s around and what makes him special. Eventually they and the reader will need more than just spacey Hana’s attachment to him to maintain interest in the explanation.
As with other CLAMP titles, many characters are exceptionally pretty and a few are of intentionally ambiguous gender. The lack of gender-specific pronouns in Japanese makes this an easy secret to keep in the original, but not so much in English. In the case of childlike Hana, whose androgyny is a source of confusion for Chikahito (and subsequently one of amusement for Sakura and Tachibana), the translator appears either to have received verification from the creators or to have given up the struggle for linguistic neutrality since the first volume, as Hana is referred to with feminine pronouns throughout this one. In contrast, the gender of a character introduced toward the end of the volume is still hidden behind the vague “that person.” Whether such obfuscation has implications for the plot or simply provides atmosphere, I have nothing but respect and sympathy for anyone tasked with translating ambiguity-loving CLAMP, however fun they are to read.
The publisher maintains a suggested age rating of 14+. With the plot’s complex, end-note-necessitating historical components and the ominous darkness accompanying Iemitsu (whose contractual spirit is implied to have eaten a group of innocent tourists, including a child), that seems an appropriate place to start.
Gate 7, Volume 2
Dark Horse, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 14+