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so take me someplace far away
I want happiness.
From the title pages
Clover is a manga by members of artistic collective CLAMP. It is typically categorized as shoujo manga, or "girls' manga", like most of CLAMP's work. This is not without reason - it follows shoujo trends of having a young girl as the main character, and featuring thin, wispy, possibly-homosexual bishounen (literally, "pretty-boys").
It was serialized in the United States in the shoujo magazine "Smile", and has since been released in collections by Tokyopop. The collections are wonderfully designed, with glossy paintings before and after the story, and translucent dust jackets of thin paper, with illustrations and text that overlay the illustrations and text on the covers themselves. Here they juxtapose original Japanese text with translations on the overlay, as they do in the glossy opening pages with song lyrics and chapter titles in both languages side-by-side. The artwork is reversed to follow English reading conventions, but it does not pose a problem (except for a minor point about Kazuhiko's missing hand - the translation is altered to refer to his "right hand", and match the artwork, which confused me since I expected it to not match because of the reversal).
The art is absolutely stunning, and is the reason I love the series. With a fine, delicate line and a good sense of detail, the artists are nevertheless unafraid of looser, messier illustration when the atmosphere calls for it. This is mostly confined to the backgrounds, though, and there's an almost cartoony lack of variation in characters' appearences, considering the gritty, violent circumstances they go through (Kazuhiko takes a lightsabre through the shoulder at one point, but while he was recovering someone seems to have bought him a new jacket). Still, whatever shortcomings or oversights I can nitpick, the art is consistently graceful, and I never get tired of it. The layouts are a big part of it - text and speech balloons form the visual composition of the page, and panels (or art without a border) and careful expanses of negative space fill the page around them. It's almost as if the entire story was done as one long scroll, and then slid around magnetic poetry-style to fill each page in turn. The layouts give a wonderful sense of space and location - though there are often visual gaps between one setting and another, each place is introduced with several establishing shots on one page, different sizes and from different angles, showing the lay of the land or just what a character is looking at. The only problem that the sprawling, composed pages pose is one of dialogue - because there are no "tails" on the speech balloons, it can be hard to tell which side of a conversation represents which character sometimes. But for all I know, this could be a problem because of the uniform type of the translated edition - I get the idea that the creators wouldn't have let this ambiguity slip past, so it may have been something clarified by lettering or phrasing of the Japanese edition.
Clover takes place some unspecified time in the future. Significant changes include:
Great advances in robotics, both in prosthetic limbs and in lifelike robot animals.
Lightsabre-like weapons, and "weaponry modules" that mechanically rebuild themselves - able to configure into a firearm, blade or shield, or compress into a small disc. Presumably they're made with force-fields or nanotechnology.
The existence of teleportation, through the "Instant Travel Transporters", and the quicker, short-range "local transporters". Though teleportation must be manually guided, it is difficult to point to a destination, and the process itself seems quite unreliable.
Travel in general seems simpler and more efficient than it is today. On top of teleportation, there's little ground traffic, and prevalence of strange, graceful airships.
There may be some spoilers after this point, but there's only one major surprise in the first three volumes - what happens to Kazuhiko and Sue when they reach Fairy Park - and I've carefully left that entirely unmentioned.
To-do: Incorporate volume four, especially more details about the Parliamentary Council, the Clover Leaf Project, and of course A, B, and C, the three-leaf clovers.
Sue - A fourteen-year-old girl. She has a pair of mechanical wings on her back, which allow her to fly, and can be folded up tightly against her back. She has been living in an enormous, guarded, glass-enclosed garden for the past ten years. Originally her mother turned her in to a government search for psychic children, but she is imprisoned of her own free will when Kazuhiko comes for her. She is a powerful psychic, and has a four-leaf clover with a bar code tattooed on her arm - she is a "Clover", a "four-leaf", and it is the mark of some the government's secret Clover Leaf Project (which is slightly reminiscent of Akira, in its numbering of psychic children).
She seems attracted to Kazuhiko, which is unsurprising for several reasons. She is a teenage girl, and he's probably the first man she's ever known. Despite their age difference, he's still young and handsome. His job is to protect her, and he seems to honestly care about her welfare on top of it being his duty. It's as if fate is pushing them together, while the circumstances of reality make love impossible...
Kazuhiko Fay Ryu - A former soldier, called back into service by his superiors to escort Sue to some location. His rank was Deputy Commander, in "Secret Operations". He lost his hand once, in a fight with Bols. Though he cares about Sue, he seems uncomfortable with her attraction to him, and his reactions to her are alternately tempting and rebuffing.
Ora - The woman who wrote the song, and a former lover of Kazuhiko's - once the subject to competition between Kaz and Gingetsu for her attention. She and Sue grew to know each other during Sue's imprisonment, through the radio, telephone, and their mental link, for she is a Clover as well, a one-leaf. The only thing she ever achieved with her psychic ability was the prediction of her own death. She died years before Kazuhiko met Sue, but she is still known because of one song...
Bols - A soldier in command of a unit of the Azaiean Special Forces. Despite having taken Kazuhiko's hand (which he claims to still have, in his bedroom), he appears to be attracted to Kazuhiko, referring to him as "Prince", and making suggestive comments about him. He's after Sue as much as Kaz, apparantly as his official assignment, though he doesn't show any concern for capturing her until she's in danger.
Lieutenant Colonel Gingetsu - A soldier, and former colleague of Kazuhiko's. A formidable fighter, though apparantly not thought of as highly by their superiors as Kazuhiko is. Seemingly held in reserve by General Ko, he nonetheless is watching Kazuhiko's back - by following him, Gingetsu can avoid the attention that is directed towards Sue and show up to bail Kazuhiko out if necessary. Surprisingly, Gingetsu tends to wear his full uniform in public, accented with a pair of large sunglasses and his katana or no-dachi.
Ran - An attractive, effeminate-looking young man, another of Kazuhiko's former colleagues. He's been Gingetsu's partner since the Lieutenant Colonel brought Ran to either the military or his particular division two years ago - that is, Ran is definitely Gingetsu's colleague/assistant in the military, though it's suggested that he is also Gingetsu's lover. Ran seems to be proficient with computers and communications, and is able to run a Transporter. He is also a Clover, which may explain why he's good at coordinating teleportation. He's only designated "three-leaf", which is why he is allowed to have a somewhat normal life, rather than consenting to imprisonment as Sue had to.
General Ko - One of the five members of the Parlimentary Council in Kazuhiko's nation, this immensely old woman is in charge of Secret Operations. She, like the other Council-members, is a "wizard", one of the most powerful psychics aside from the three- and four-leaf Clovers, who are called "sorcerers" by comparison.
Shiao Mao - An underground rebel group in Azaiea, apparantly with a large amount of children in its ranks. The Azaiean underground is supposedly controlled by the Parliamentary Council. The Shiao Mao's young leader owns a large housecat that has several nonfunctional mechanical prosthetics, so that people will think it's a synthetic animal and not want to steal it.
In the manga, there are omnipresent images - statues, holograms, video images - of an angelic or fairy-like woman with butterfly wings (The largest of these statues is in Fairy Park, an amusement park that is the initial goal of Kazuhiko and Sue's journey). She is usually accompanied with the playing of one of Ora's recorded songs... the first shown to us in the story is called simply "Clover", and we later learn that it was written by Ora and Sue together. The second song, shown in Volume 3, is called "Love", and actually predates "Clover" - since Volume 3 starts around the time Sue first contacted Ora, it was before they wrote "Clover". "Love" was probably written about Kazuhiko. If I ever write up "Love", I'll do it in its own node - it would take a lot of reading and checking, because Ora actually mentions changing the lyrics during her friendship with Sue, and we see her singing different versions.
There are two English versions of "Clover" - one translation inside the dust jacket, and another presented in excerpts within the pages of the books. The in-story lines are absolutely pervasive - they're in every other scene, whether heard, sung, or just repeated in the margins. The original Japanese is inside the dust jacket as well, but I'm not proficient enough to know how to display it here - anyone who is, is welcome to. The version in the story is tricky to write down, since it's split over many pages, repeats itself several times, and never is presented in one continuous, complete version. It repeats barely-altered sections like "I wish for happiness/I seek happiness/To find happiness with you/To be your happiness" and "Take me/Somewhere far from here" many times, but it's the parts that aren't in the dust jacket version that really stand out - these following are repeated a few times in Volume 1:
An unbreakable spell
A never-ending kiss
An endless dream
The birds sing a song
In a foreign tongue
In a place where words
Are not enough
Not reachable alone
(this is my favorite of any passage from the song)
I don't want your past
I seek your present
Retrace my broken future
The warmth of skin
There are a few other variations in the lyrics in Volume 2:
A bird in a cage
A bird without wings
A bird without voice
A lonely bird
My first thought is of you
My last thought is for you
A promised land where fairies dwell
With room just enough for two
(This rephrasing of the "original" lyrics is another of my favorites.
It's more musical and less literal than the others in this volume,
and unlike them is actually an improvement over the lyrics in the dust jacket.)
I want to forget reality
To be in my dreams with you
Where I can be thinking of you forever
Below I've transcribed the lyrics exactly as they appear in the dust jacket.
I want happiness
I seek happiness
to cause your happiness,
to be your happiness.
to a true Elsewhere.
a bird in a gilded cage,
a bird bereft of flight,
a bird that cannot cry,
a bird all by itself.
so take me
I want happiness
happy just to be with you,
happy just to see you smile.
so take me
to a true Elsewhere
please, take me
my first thought
and my last wish,
a promised land where faries wait*
with room just enough for two.*
so deliver me, help me
to forget the tribulations of day
and to stay in this dream of night
where I can be thinking of you forever
to my bliss.
I only want your happiness, knowing
I can never be yours to share it.
How I wish to make you happy,
Though I won't be able to see you
From the back covers