There are certain genres of fiction that I’ll never really be into, no matter how good individual examples of that genre are. The other week Cindy and I watched Arctic starring Mads Mikkelsen. Think Castaway, but cold. Or The Grey minus the wolves. It’s a typical man vs. nature story while also being chilly. Point being, Mads Mikkelsen movies are usually bangers. I watched Valhalla Rising and The Salvation in the same week and they were two of the more interesting movies I’ve seen lately. The former is a Viking epic, the latter is a Western, and you should watch both immediately. Point being, Mads Mikkelsen has made a body of work I’ve generally loved, from Hannibal to Rogue One (his acting, not the movie), and I couldn’t give a crap about Arctic. It’s not a bad movie, just like Castaway wasn’t a bad movie. The movie bored me, just like Castaway bored me, just like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet bored me when I read it in elementary school. I don’t care about survival movies, and no matter how good they are, they’ll likely never get my attention.
Survival movies, Harlequin-type romance novels, Harry Potter, none of these are necessarily bad, but I don’t like them. Maybe they’re not for my demographic. Maybe I’m the only Gryffindor in a society of house elves that blindly heap praise on the average fantasy stories of some rich transphobe with garbage neoliberal politics. It’s probably that first one though. Another style of fiction I don’t believe I’ll ever truly like is the work of the manga artist collective known as CLAMP. Currently made up of four female manga writers and illustrators, CLAMP has been around since the 80’s and generally produces mangafor an audience of teenage girls. You might know them as the creators of the anime Cardcaptors, which was the girl-centric anime of choice for the younger siblings of Sailor Moon fans. Works I’ve read by CLAMP tend to be fantasy based in nature, with a cutesy art style that serves as a backdrop to a romance that is usually tense, but chaste. Typical romantic comedy stuff: the guy and the girl hate each other, various awkward moments then turn into mutual attraction, if the audience is lucky they’ll kiss or some shit at the end of a 20 volume run. They essentially make young adult lit with an anime twist.
Occasionally they add some interesting ideas. CLAMP’s manga Chobits imagine a society where computers are made to look and act like real people, complete with all the weirdness that would naturally result. Between guys marrying their anatomically correct desktops and a lot of uncomfortable robot groping, it’s an interesting if shallow exploration of the limits of technology and what can be defined as a “conscious” being. This book isn’t that. It doesn’t come close to whatever philosophical depth Chobits had, and without that, it’s a rom-com style love story that’s been done to death since Moonlighting. This is Wish by CLAMP.
Shuichiro is a 28-year-old block of wood shaped like a pediatric surgeon that lives in what is essentially a mansion in downtown Tokyo. Walking home one night he sees what looks like a living Hummel figurine stuck in a tree. After rescuing this munchkin, it reveals not only that its name is Kohaku, but that it’s an honest to God angel straight out of the Bible. Shuichiro reacts to this with the gruff nonchalance that is his only character trait and is then followed home by literal proof of God’s existence. The remaining 800 pages of this book revolve around Kohaku the angel trying to repay Shuichiro in some way for saving her. As luck would have it, she’s only a cherub at night and during the day turns into a classically beautiful androgynous looking blonde lady that acts like a weirdo because she doesn’t know how things on Earth work, like shopping and eating. Throughout the book they acquire a collection of other angel and demons side characters that live in their house and cause sitcom related hijinks, which our erstwhile doctor doesn’t even bat an eyelash at. These minor characters are all pretty interchangeable and only serve the purpose of cheap physical comedy. None of these jokes are memorable, and aside from a few minor tragedies, this story ends up as neatly wrapped as any Hallmark Christmas movie.
The real tragedy of this comic is that it hints at greater questions that are largely ignored in favor of a love story that’s not particularly well told. Kohaku’s human form is deliberately androgynous to the point that some characters can’t tell her gender when they first meet her. This causes no conflict in the slightest, as Shuichiro blindly accepts everything around him with as much internal conflict as a light switch. The androgyny of the female lead could have been used to explore human sexuality. Is Suichiro conflicted about being attracted to her? Do his friend or family think he’s dating a trans person? Does this lead to any judgement or questions from other characters? It’s actually quite woke that Shuichiro doesn’t care, but it leads to a story with essentially no conflict. There’s also barely any romantic tension in this story. Angels in this universe apparently do have sex, but this story is old-time Bollywood levels of chaste and no one really does anything beyond hugging.
The world building in this story is also lacking. Chobits created a world with fully lifelike computer people and a lot of thought was clearly put into how that technological breakthrough would change both our society and how humans interact with each other. Wish creates a world where Heaven and Hell are real places and we barely leave the main characters’ backyard. The work sets down rules that are interesting but never followed up on. Reincarnation is a thing in this book. Demons literally eat human souls for food. God apparently knows the fate of every human on Earth from the minute their born, proving Calvinism of all things is the one true religion! That’s mentioned exactly once despite being existentially terrifying. This could all be acceptable as window dressing if any of the characters at the center of the story were interesting. Shuichiro could be a cardboard cut out the whole time and it would pretty much be the same story. Kohaku is a Bella Swan style ‘special’ lead character whose singing voice is SO beautiful that it literally causes baby angels to be born (actually they’re hatched from acorns in a giant, magic tree. This book sucks.). Aside from her special powers, Kohaku is annoyingly submissive to the make lead, her entire sense of self-worth tied up in how well she does chores for him. Yeah, they end up together, but the only catharsis you get from that is that the book is almost done.
Quote of the Story:
“I love you, Shuichiro. Last time, I realized that too late. But this time, I felt it instantly. I want to be by your side, my darling. I want to grant your wish.” –Kohaku (I had to seriously dig to find this).
Keep or Donate?:
Donate this book. Better yet, don’t even read it. Read Chobits, stream Cardcapotors. CLAMP has done enough good work that this need only be a footnote in their collective output. It’s uninspired, it’s boring and there’s no reason it has to be as bloated a story as it is.