Delving into the history of CLAMP is delving into the history of doujinshi and manga. However, if you’re reading this it’s either because you’re a fan of them or because you at least recognize the name, probably because of some anime adaptation. So yeah, it would be weird for a manga or anime fan not to know about Cardcaptor Sakura or Chobits just to name a couple, but there’s much more behind this 5 letter name!
How about a brief lesson on CLAMP’s style and themes? How about getting to know a little more about CLAMP’s members? If you join us, there are even a few recommendations of where to start and what to expect when reading their manga. Are you gonna miss it?!
When CLAMP Were 11 Girls
There are still some mysteries surrounding CLAMP's creation, not only regarding the original members but also the reasons behind that particular name. However, what we do know is that they were 11 high school girls joining forces to produce a doujinshi (an elaborated fan-fiction manga) circa 1984.
Even though CLAMP is widely associated with Shoujo manga —to the point of being considered "the queens" of the genre— their first works were based on popular Shounen manga like Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya. It was in the late 80's when they presented CLAMP BOOK, a collection of their doujinshi and some separate illustrations, closely followed by CLAMP NEWS.
In 1989 they were contacted by Shinshokan's Wings magazine and that's how RG Veda became the first manga made by CLAMP... and a litmus test for its core members. Over the years, some girls moved away and by the early 90's CLAMP had 7 members, but with RG Veda's success, they started working with other magazines like Shinshokan's South (Tokyo Babylon, 1991) or Kodansha's Nakayoshi (Magic Knight Rayearth, 1993).
Speaking of 1993, that was the year in which CLAMP was reduced to the 4 ladies who are still active: Nanase Ohkawa (also known as Ageha Ohkawa), Mokona Apapa (or just Mokona), Satsuki Igarashi and Tsubaki Nekoi (also known as Miku Nekoi). As you see, pen names have changed a little since CLAMP's creation, but these women never lost its passion!
From Doujin Artists to Manga Culture Sensation
As with many other popular manga creators, Tokyo's Comiket was a huge part in CLAMP's early days. Being a group of girls with some art education but no work experience, this was the best way to learn from others in the same position and, if they were lucky enough, to earn some money in the process.
One thing to mention is that, unlike other famous manga creators, the CLAMP ladies never had a position as assistants of an established mangaka, so everything you see in their works is 100% self-taught. Part of this spirit is that, now they are the ones to look at, they rather do all the work with nothing more than an occasional collaboration.
Even if they continue to produce manga and most people at least have heard of the name CLAMP, another way of measuring their success is anime adaptations: from RG Veda to the recent Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen, most of CLAMP's manga has become either an anime series or an OVA, although a fair share of this adaptations doesn't live up to the source material.
We already mentioned CLAMP as the "queens of Shoujo" but somehow that's just underestimating them: you can find traces of Drama and philosophical content even in Cardcaptor Sakura (one of CLAMP's sweetest Shoujo manga) yet we have darker works as Tokyo Babylon, complex works as Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE and sexual content as in Miyuki-chan in Wonderland, just to name some examples. CLAMP is a versatile group that experimented in several areas and demographics, always with some degree of success.
This success is due to the affection that these women put in each story and each character, and not just because of a great talent in drawing or scripts. In fact, many of CLAMP's manga remain unfinished! After all, giving an ending that satisfies every hardcore fan is not an easy task, right? At least 2 of their best works do have an ending and they are even good!, which bring us to the next step in this trip: the holy CLAMP Universe and what it means for CLAMP’s creations.
Shaping Up the CLAMP Universe
Something that puts CLAMP above other fiction creators is the ability to create a shared universe for all of their characters and plots. This is known as the CLAMP Universe, connecting every reality you see in CLAMP's manga even if they aren't directly related. However, let us tell you that the CLAMP Universe only refers to manga and anime is not a part of it as not always respects the source material. Other anime series where CLAMP collaborated aren't taken into account either, like Blood-C or Code Geass.
For most of CLAMP's fans, the cornerstone of this universe is Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, but we should also consider xxxHOLiC which began at the same time. You see, CLAMP likes to create new stories using earlier character designs even if it isn't a crossover, so there has to be some sort of explanation for 2 characters with the same name and looks... other than they may be fond of them, or just laziness.
For example, Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE's main characters are Sakura and Syaoran, but here you can find versions of almost every character in other CLAMP stories. The main plot here is princess Sakura losing her memories in the form of feathers, so they must visit different dimensions —thus interacting with other CLAMP characters— to help her. That's why every new manga has CLAMP fans theorizing about secret identities or long-lost family links!
The importance of xxxHOLiC, on the other hand, comes from the fact of it being the same story but told from other characters perspective: Yuuko Ichihara, the powerful and mysterious woman who granted Tsubasa's characters the ability to travel through dimensions, and Kimihiro Watanuki, a boy who became her assistant to return a favor. If you read both stories, many things that seemed like simple details become revealing facts about events that change the lives of other characters, either within these two stories or in other previous ones. Maybe even stories yet to come!
Another thing to note is that you can find certain themes and "fetishes" in all CLAMP works, like esotericism (tarot, dreams, spirits), identical twins (sometimes representing good and evil), the importance of fate and destiny, characters having wings, the Tokyo Tower and some hints at homosexual love that never concrete. However, what catches the attention of almost every CLAMP's manga reader is their use of "dress porn", creating some of the most beautiful costumes and inspiring lots of amateur cosplayers.
For the last 2 and a half decades, the 4 remaining CLAMP members have been working as full-time manga creators and they even share a place so they can be in constant communication. For greater efficiency, the 4 women have specific tasks and try not to confuse their personal friendship with the employment relationship.
The leader of the CLAMP project is Nanase Ohkawa, writing scripts and story-boards or approving every anime adaptation they get... or just declining an offer if it isn't good enough. Then we have Mokona leading character design and Tsubaki Nekoi helping her with illustration and composition, with Satsuki Igarashi acting as the group's editor. The best part of this is that even if their roles are well established, they can just change if they feel like it!
As for ongoing projects, Kodansha is publishing xxxHOLiC: Rei in Young Magazine and Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card-hen in Nakayoshi magazine. Other than that, you can check Clear Card-hen's anime adaptation, which just aired until last June.
It doesn't matter if you discovered them by accident or some friend told you about it. CLAMP manga makes you look for other related works only to be amazed at how they handle complex plots and characters without losing their essence. Remember you can also leave a comment telling us how and when was your first encounter with any CLAMP related work, be it a manga or an anime.
Oh, and now that you know the story behind these legendary women you should totally check our CLAMP related articles. Their best character designs, their best manga... they’re just a few clicks away and you won’t regret it!