Gate 7, Vol. 1

I have good news and bad news for CLAMP fans. The good news is that Gate 7 is one of the best-looking manga the quartet has produced, on par with Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic. The bad news is that Gate 7‘s first volume is very bumpy, with long passages of expository dialogue and several false starts. Whether you’ll want to ride out the first three chapters will depend largely on your reaction to the artwork: if you love it, you may find enough visual stimulation to sustain to your interest while the plot and characters take shape; if you don’t, you may find the harried pacing and repetitive jokes a high hurdle to clear.

Art-wise, Gate 7 most closely resembles Tsubasa. The character designs are elegantly stylized, rendered in delicate lines; though their proportions have been gently elongated, their physiques are less giraffe-like than the principle characters in Legal Drug and xxxHolic. The same sensibility informs the action scenes as well, where CLAMP uses thin, sensual linework to suggest the energy unleashed during magical combat. (Readers familiar with Magic Knight Rayearth will see affinities between the two series, especially in the fight sequences.) Perhaps the most striking thing about the artwork is its imaginative use of water and light to evoke the supernatural. As Zack Davisson observes in his review of Gate 7, CLAMP uses a subtle but lovely image to shift the action from present-day Kyoto to the spirit realm, depicting the characters as stones in the water, with soft ripples radiating outward from each figure.

The story, however, is less satisfying. The plot revolves around high school student Chikahito Takamoto, a timid dreamer who’s obsessed with Kyoto as a place of “history, ancient arts, temples, and shrines.” While exploring the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Chikahito is transported to an alternate dimension, where he encounters three warriors: Sakura, Tachibana, and Hana, an androgynously beautiful, child-like figure who possesses even greater spiritual power than the other two. Chikahito watches the trio dismantle a ribbon-like serpent, but before he can question what he’s seen, poof! he finds himself eating noodles with them in a Kyoto apartment as Sakura and Tachibana debate the ethics of erasing Chikahito’s memory.

Hana astonishes Chikahito with an awesome display of power.

The biggest problem with this introductory section is that the subsequent chapter traces a nearly identical trajectory: Chikahito returns to Kyoto, encounters Hana in the streets, then is whisked onto the spirit-plane for another round of magical combat. As soon as the monster is defeated, Chikahito once again finds himself eating a meal with Hana, Sakura, and Tachibana. (This time around, however, they gang-press him into cooking and cleaning for them.) CLAMP even recycles the same gags from the prelude: Hana’s fragile appearance belies a monstrous appetite for noodles, an incongruity CLAMP mines for humor long past the point of being funny.

Other problems prevent Gate 7 from taking flight in its early pages. As we begin to learn more about the Kitano Tenmagu Shrine, for example, various characters take turns explaining its history. These narratives are clearly intended to set the table for a more complex plotline, but have the unintended consequence of stopping the story dead in its tracks. The script also makes some maddening detours into mystical clap-trap; in trying to understand how the seemingly ordinary Chikahito can enter the supernatural realm, characters lapse into Yoda-speak. “We’re alike,” Hana informs Chikahito. When asked, “In what areas?” Hana cheerfully replies, “In areas that are… ‘not.’ Where he’s the same is… ‘not.'”

The most disappointing aspect of Gate 7 is the flimsiness of the characterizations. CLAMP seems to be relying on readers’ familiarity with other titles — Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Tsuaba, xxxHolic — in establishing each character’s personality and role in the drama. Hana, for example, slots into the Mokona role: Hana refers to himself (herself?) in the third person, repeats pet phrases, and behaves like a glutton, yet proves surprisingly powerful. Chikahito, on the other hand, is a carbon copy of xxxHolic‘s Watanuki, a nervous, bespectacled everyman who unwittingly becomes the housekeeper and magical errand-boy for more supernaturally gifted beings. The frantic pace and abrupt transitions between the mundane and supernatural world further complicate the process of establishing Hana and Chikahito as individuals; with so much material stuffed into the first two hundred pages, CLAMP leans too heavily on tics and mannerisms to carry the burden of the characterization. (Cute finger-wagging does not a character make.)

The dramatic introduction of a new character in the volume’s final pages suggests that CLAMP may finally be hitting its stride in chapter four. As promising as this development may be, I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m reading a Potemkin manga, all surface detail and no depth. Let’s hope volume two proves me wrong.


21 thoughts on “Gate 7, Vol. 1”

  1. Estara says:

    *Potemkin reference love* I’ll look forward to your further exploration of this before I start putting down money.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Gotta put all those years of Russian musical study to use somehow!

      I’ll be curious to see how Melinda and Michelle review Gate 7. I think both of them liked xxxHolic better than I did, and may have more insight into the differences (and similarities!) between the two series.

      1. Estara says:

        I’ve read neither – Clamp being very hit and miss with me. I adore Wish and Card Captor Sakura and like a few others, but I’ve fallen out of love with a lot of their series, too.

      2. Melinda Beasi says:

        I’m definitely curious to see what I’ll think of it. 😀 I do like xxxHolic very much.

  2. Rij says:

    I went in expecting gorgeous art and a narrative mess so I was satisfied with what I got. I have a high tolerance for confusion when it’s wrapped in pretty and they don’t get much prettier than this. I suppose it might start to grate after a while but it’ll take a few more volumes at least. Also, I hope Chikahito gets less shrill soon, since that character type really gets on my nerves. If his constant yelling continues, I might just stop reading, no matter how much I like the rest of it.

    As far as I’m aware the prologue chapter was published several months before the beginning of the actual serialization, so some of the repetitions in chapter 1 are explained by that.

    At least there were translation notes, imagine reading the manga without those.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Rij! What you say about the prelude chapter makes complete sense; it feels like a pitch or a stand-alone story that eventually became a full-fledged series. I’m sure someone knows the details of the series’ publication history…

      And you’re right about the translation notes: they’re a big aide to understanding the cultural and historical references. In fact, those may be some of the best translations notes I’ve seen outside of a volume of Sayanora, Zetsubou-Sensei! — another book that would be impenetrable without them.

      1. Rij says:

        Best translation notes I’ve ever seen are in Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. The ones in Gate 7 aren’t nearly as good, but adequate. I think my Kurosagi CDS has spoiled me and my standards are impossibly high.

        I’ve never read Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei so I can’t compare those.

        1. Katherine Dacey says:

          How could I have forgotten Kurosagi?! Those are truly a labor of love.

  3. Akaihane says:

    Mmmm. I’m hemming and hawing over whether to get this or not. I love xxxHOLiC and a lot of CLAMP’s older stuff, but I haven’t been as keen on the likes of Tsubasa and Kobato, so I’m quite worried about being disappointed by Gate 7. And what you’ve mentioned here is very much what I’m worried about; beautiful, but a lacklustre, kind of rehashed story which is a little messy and therefore a bit confusing. With funds limited with pocket money and a few other series I’m collecting, I think I’ll wait until the second volume is out and I’ve read some reviews of it before deciding whether to pick it up, or leave it alone.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      I had the same dilemma: I don’t usually get review copies from Dark Horse, so I spent several days on the fence about whether I should buyGate 7. I’m giving it one more volume before I throw in the towel, but I’m getting the same kind of Kobato/Tsubasa vibe off of Gate 7. For a different perspective on the material, you might want to check out John Rose’s review at The Fandom Post. He points out some of the same structural problems, but is more enthusiastic about the story than I am.

  4. wandering-dreamer says:

    I was following the scans for this series for a while but there was just too much Japanese history/historical characters being mentioned that I felt like I was missing half the conversation. Might pick up the series again later but only if the American volumes have pages of translator notes so I’m not lost.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      FWIW, the English-language edition of Gate 7 does have extensive translation notes. I found them helpful, especially when the conversation shifted away from very famous figures to ones that a Western reader like me was less likely to know.

  5. Outou says:

    “We’re alike,” Hana informs Chikahito. When asked, “In what areas?” Hana cheerfully replies, “In areas that are… ‘not.’ Where he’s the same is… ‘not.’”

    I haven’t yet read the English-language volume (and thus don’t know if the following is covered in the translation comments), but this seems to be an error on Dark Horse’s part. Earlier in the series, one of the characters mentions how every living thing is affiliated with either “yin” or “yang” — save for Hana and Chikahito, who are similar in that they’re affiliated with “wuji,” or nothingness. “Not” is a very clumsy translation to have used.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Hi, Outou! Since I don’t read Japanese, I try to give the English translator the benefit of the doubt whenever there’s an awkward passage. Your comment, however, inspired me to review the translation notes again. I didn’t see this particular passage explained; most of the notes focus on food, places, and historical figures mentioned in the text. There are a few notes pertaining to Shinto and Buddhist practice, but none specifically addressing yin, yang, and “wuji.”

      Thanks for your comment!

      1. bahamut says:

        Is this translated by William Flanagan who did Tsubasa and xxxHolic? I think he does all Clamp series, though I might be wrong on that. Anyway, I’ve always found his Clamp translations to be a bit awkward, so much so that I end up rewording sentences in my head as I read (particularly in Tsubasa), which I never do with any manga. Clamp’s writing can be confusing enough, so a clumsy translation can be quite a problem. If Outou is correct, “wuji” sounds like something that should have been left in Japanese, especially since this series seems heavy on Japanese mysticism and such.

        I might wait until there’s a few more volumes to start collecting this. The art looks great, for sure. And I don’t really mind Clamp’s confusing-ness . For all it’s twists and loops, Tsubasa wrapped things up surprisingly well.

        1. Katherine Dacey says:

          Hi there! Yes, William Flanagan is the translator and the adapter. (He’s given separate credits on the title page.) From what I could tell, a lot of terms have been left in the original Japanese; many of the less familiar ones are explained in the translation notes.

          As for the art, yup, it’s pretty fabulous—no matter what else I can say about CLAMP, they never disappoint on that front!

  6. Joe H says:

    Definitely agree with this review. I saw the cover, and even though I’m not big on Clamp, decided to flip through it. The art was gorgeous so I took it home. When I flipped through it, I was a bit underwhelmed with the story. Not awful, but not too engaging. I’ll give it another volume to see how it goes though.

  7. Femmi says:

    I just got done reading this first volume and I felt really lost, I had to reread a lot of things and read the translation notes and I’m still lost. Beautiful artwork so I’ll stick with it I suppose. I’ve read Chobits and haven’t finished xxxholic and I’m about to start card captor Sakura.

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