Sing… sing a song…

clovercoverI can’t bring myself to skim when I’m reading for pleasure. If the book is awful enough, I’ll abandon it entirely, but if it doesn’t hit that threshold, I feel compelled to read every word. This can be a problem. It certainly was when I was reading CLAMP’s Clover (Dark Horse). The book is beautifully drawn, economically plotted, often moving, and includes some of the worst poetry I’ve ever read. It includes that awful poetry dozens of times, and, masochistic completist that I am, I felt obliged to read them every time.

“a bird in a gilded cage,
a bird bereft of flight,
a bird that cannot cry,
a bird all by itself”

cloverblackThese are the lyrics of one of the lynchpin characters, a chanteuse whose untimely death did not, unfortunately, take her songs with her. They’re portrayed as so moving that even isolated psychics can be stricken by their beauty, but I was reminded of the reject pile from my high-school literary magazine.

“Letting me forget with your voice and your touch;
Breaking off the chains that bind my heart and feet”

Now I’m not going to say that my taste in lyrics is impeccable. Sure, I think Stephen Sondheim is a god, but I also liked Air Supply back in the day. But I could hear Air Supply’s awful, awful lyrics being sung, backed by lushly cheesy orchestrations with achingly sincere vocals. In Clover, I have nothing but the words over and over again. I wish there was an advanced version of that greeting-card technology that would allow me to actually hear a song rather than just read its maudlin lyrics. While Dark Horse has done a beautiful and generous job producing this collection, it doesn’t sing when you open it.

cloverwhiteWell, okay, it kind of sings when you open it, because the illustrations are very, very beautiful. The four members of CLAMP trade duties, and Clover was drawn by Mokona with assistance from Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi, with story by Nanase Ohkawa. What’s most striking to me is the use of negative space. Backgrounds are rather scant; panels float on fields of white and black, creating a precision of emotional effect. It also highlights the elegance, verging on sensuality, of the juxtaposition of the panels.

Lyrics aside, it’s got a story that’s economical and moving, as I said earlier. It’s about immensely powerful psychics identified by the government for possible intelligence and military use who turned out to be a little too powerful for that government’s comfort. The psychics try to find comfort and peace within the restrictions of their daily lives, and some are more successful than others. The collection is less a beginning-to-end narrative than a timeline-jumping look at a group of interconnected characters, a core event, and the things that led up to it. There are some nicely understated moments and many lushly angst-y ones.

“Now, come close to me,
I’ll sing an endless song,
God, please tell me,
Redder than red, the truest love.”

But, god, those lyrics.


6 Responses to Sing… sing a song…

  1. Suzu says:

    Hm, I never thought those lyrics were that terrible. In fact, I liked them a lot. Then again, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Clover… probably six years or so.

  2. I had a similar reaction to those lyrics when I read vols. 1-2 of Clover. I thought I couldn’t get into it because I was, at the time, a manga newbie. But maybe it’s because I, like you, feel compelled to read every word that’s on the page (including sound effects).

  3. davidpwelsh says:

    I almost wish they’d left them untranslated in the actual pages of the comics with a translation in the back. Then I could appreciate the visual impact of the original kanji without… y’know… reading the lyrics in English over and over.

  4. I’m still on the fence about buying the collected edition, after reading (and liking it) at the library. That was years ago, and I am afraid I might have moved on a bit.

  5. Connie says:

    This was exactly my problem with Clover when I first read it, and the story was so inextricably linked to the songs that I could not bring myself to love or even like the series the way everyone else did. I was confused, because at the time I was a huge CLAMP fangirl and didn’t understand how what most considered the master work could fail in that way. It has great book design, sure, and I love looking at the pictures, but wow.

    Now you’ve got me curious, though. I wish I had my old Tokyopop Clover books with me to compare the song translations between the two editions. I kind of have to know how big a difference that actually makes.

  6. […] ad nauseum through the first two volumes is.  It bugs me, and the lyrics are on every page.  David Welsh recently took that a step further, and pointed out that the lyrics are also atrocious.  Sure, Sue and […]

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