Like many TOKYOPOP readers, my introduction to Clamp was through the immersive world of "Tokyo Babylon" and "Chobits". With writing as crisp as the detailed illustrations, both works provided engaging stories with unique and colorful characters that emphasized the best of action-based manga.
So, when "Legal Drug" was released in 2004, I quickly purchased the first volume in high hopes. I was quickly disappointed.
The first item to note is that the illustration of this story lacks any organic feeling. The page layouts are neither dynamic or emotive. The manner in which the characters are posed seem stiff and flat. The line work never deviates from the fine drafting, making the art seem more like an engineer's diagram of the human, which is strange, as it is painfully obvious the artists have no understanding of human proportions. This is not new in manga, but it is take to such an extreme in this work that each character looks like they are wearing 80's-style, shoulder-padded, women's business suites.
And perhaps this is the point. There are clearly homo-erotic undertones to this work. This is only important as it is done so poorly. The interactions between the two main protagonists, Kazahaya Kudo and his roommate Riikuo, lacks any humor, warmth, or even basic camaraderie. Instead, the reader is left with the distinct impression that the entire point of this story is to place Kudo in overtly uncomfortable situations that abuse both his spirit, his sensibilities, and his person. If the reader is supposed to sympathize with Kudo, it is only because we share the awkwardness he expresses at how forced upon he feels. (Just ask yourself, if Kudo was female, would we approve of the unearned familiarity others exert over him?)
It is difficult to pin-point where the story goes wrong. The reader is immediately dropped into a scene where Kudo is fighting for life. He is saved/embraced by the stalwart(?), resolute(?), constipated(?) Rikuo; only to find out that it is too late and that this must be what death feels like. That is, until he is rudely woken by a heel to the stomach.
That's right. The story starts with a dream sequence where the character that we are meant to identify with, and feel for, dies.
From here we are given a proper introduction of the primary players: the abusive roommate, Rikuo; the smarmy store-keeper, Kakei; and the do-nothing, chain-smoking, sun glasses-wearing bum, Saiga. Each takes perverse joy in making the prude Kudo blush, curse, or otherwise crawl out of his skin. It goes on to explain that in exchange for room and board, Rikuo works in Kakei's Green Drug Pharmacy as a stock boy. And just like any company store, the work done never seems to be enough to cover all of Kudo's expenses. This makes him a prime resource to exploit for "special", supernatural tasks that he seems uniquely equipped to investigate - inevitably at the risk of his own life.
I'm sure that Clamp was not attempting to be derivative, but each investigation feels like an abbreviate episode of either the "X Files" or "Kolchak, the Night Stalker". It should come as no surprise that the reader will constantly resolve the "perplexing" puzzles long before our hero. What exasperates this is the fact that, while Kudo will eventually come to some solution, often it will be right before he needs saving.
It is pretty evident that these side tasks are not the driving focus of the story. This is supposed to be a character-driven manga. The problem is that you won't feel for the characters. They are unlikable, flat, and ultimately boring. Clamp tries too hard to make everyone (but the protagonist) mysterious, dark, yet juvenile - that they become superficial and cliche.
Gorgeous edition with vellum inlays.
Interesting manga by Clamp, but not complete. It is rated 16+.