Kazuhiko is a young, but already deeply wounded black ops agent of a baroque, retro-tech future – pulled out of retirement to escort Sue, a mysterious waif, to a destination she alone knows. Suu and Kazuhiko have never met . . . yet she knows him, having grown up since the age of four with her only human contact being two distant voices: that of her elderly “grandma,” General Ko, and of Kazuhiko’s dead girlfriend, Oruha. And Suu has been kept in that cage all these years because of what she is, and what the Clover Leaf Project found her to be — a military top secret, and the most dangerous person in the world.
CLOVER is labeled as shoujo, although it feels very seinen-ish at its core. It’s not the sci-fi setting; there are a few shoujo sci-fi like Please Save My Earth, They Were Eleven and Jyu Oh Sei. It’s the presence of many adults, their way of talking (swears, sexual innuendos) and the cropped out sex scenes. It’s the atmosphere: you can almost hear metals clashing and creak, electronic noises, wings flapping. The experimental cinematic layout surely adds to it with plenty negative space between the panels, titles positioned in the middle of a page or vertically across it, speech bubbles outside or in their own panel, and chapters of a single page. The beautiful character designs and the focus on the feelings and relationships of the Clovers- supervised individuals who have special powers- are probably the reasons that this title is categorized as shoujo.
It consists of four volumes: the first two are about Suu and Kazuhiko delivering her to the Fairy Park, the third tells the story of Oruha, and the fourth revolves around Ran (C) and his brothers. CLAMP had intended it to be six volumes (thus four arcs long like a four-leaf clover), but unfortunately the magazine it ran in ceazed publication. Probably the last two volumes would concern Gingetsu’s past with Kazuhiko and the final part of his relationship with Ran. Even with its on-hiatus status it doesn’t feel incomplete though. Dark Horse has recently republished the existing volumes of CLOVER in a wonderful omnibus with some stunning illustrations that weren’t included in earlier editions.
CLOVER is basically a story of loneliness, of seeking happiness in the ephemerality, of love and death. The few moments of kindness and warmth are emphasized by the unfairness of the solitary life imposed onto the Clovers for being who they are. The themes of government control, totalitarian regiment and military experiments are there but humanity is also present as the five governing Wizards appear capable of compassion; it’s the fear of being overpowered that motivates their decisions.
The characters, despite the fact they don’t have much room to develop, are still very definable and we do get a glimpse of their different faces towards different people in their lives. Most of them are amicable and if not that, they are at least very cool. Only A, a three-leaf Clover, and Barus, who is Kazuhiko’s rival, are shown to be sadistic and thus aren’t at all likeable – though that still depends on your tastes.
Sue is brave and quick to react when needed; Oruha charming, straightforward and passionate about her music and her lover; Ran is strong and determined enough to leave his jealous and catastrophic brother even at the cost of the length of his life; all three are kind, meek and self-deprecating due to the conditions of their lives. Kazuhiko is a bit possessive as a lover, yet still very caring, he respects the secrets of others, doesn’t shed blood unnecessarily and cherishes the ‘bromance’ with his commander. Lastly, Gingetsu is the stoic guy who at first wanted to avoid getting out of his way for others, but after getting to know Kazuhiko and Ran he becomes willingly entangled in their affairs.
The manga got an artistic animated summary of the first two volumes which is really short and although beautiful and mysterious, it omits too much to actually make sense or move emotionally someone who hasn’t read the story. We can listen to the Clover song throughout the OVA much in a similar way the lyrics encompassed the action and dialogues in the manga. Yet it was more of a prose set to a melody than a song, which was disappointing because I am very fond of Oruha and expected something more close to what we got in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle with Kaze no Machi e. I still appreciate though the 3D and the camera angles in this effort. And as I said, it’s pretty and clean.
Back in 2009 there were some talks about a live action film based on CLOVER, but so far we unfortunately got nothing. It’s definitely very fitting for such an adaptation and I can’t wait for all the songs in the manga to come alive, hopefully better than in the OVA.
For more of my CLAMP series reviews, visit the Down the Clamphole! post.