Suki: A Like Story by Clamp
Suki: A Like Story is a three-book story by Clamp. Clamp is one of my favorite modern creators of manga, and I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that Clamp is an all-female collective. Though they’ve had in the past a rotating membership, for the most part, Clamp now consists of a fairly stable roster of four women: Nanase Ohkawa, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi, and Satsuki Igarashi. They started out in the 1980s as an eleven-member group of amateur, self-published indie writers (known as “dojinshi” in Japan), and in the 1990s, they turned into a highly successful, professional creative enterprise. Ohkawa leads the group and writes most of the material, and the other three women vary their roles from lead to back-up artists from project to project.
The group’s work has varied greatly in terms of audience: Sometimes Clamp writes for girls (shojo), and at others times the group’s manga has been serialized in publications for boys (shonen). However, some of the group’s work, such as Chobits, is aimed at young men (seinen), and because it is sexually explicit, it often is labeled as pornographic in the United States (but not by the Japanese, who label more explicit works as hentai). All of this detail is to say that you never know what you’re going to get when you open a work by Clamp.
Suki: A Like Story is a perfect example of why a work by Clamp is a confusing one for audiences in the United States. The story is about a sweet, innocent, upbeat girl named Hina. Even though Hina is sixteen-years-old, she acts much younger than her actual age. Her two best friends, Touko and Emi, see life much more realistically and are constantly trying to get Hina to take off her rose-colored glasses. This story would be an excellent young adult graphic novel in the United States, except for what happens to innocent Hina: She falls in love with the new, young, good-looking male teacher at her all-girl high school. He also has just moved in next door to Hina, and her desire to be with him all the time seems to be reciprocated. Before we know it, he’s coming over for all his meals. What makes his visits even more disturbing is that Hina lives alone in her house, so their meals are private ones that she fixes for him.
The story is very creepy, and yes, Lolita comes to mind. Emi and Touko keep warning Hina to stop spending time with the teacher, but Hina says that she knows he is a good person. As readers, we start noticing stranger and stranger, creepier and creepier details and hints about the teacher’s character. He knows more about Hina than he should, he seems to know little about teaching, and he has strange meetings with mysterious men on school outings. Something’s not right, and the fact that Hina is in love with him makes the reader very uncomfortable. Plus, a dark past for Hina is alluded to, but we have to wait to figure out what that’s about. She’s an odd girl who carries around and talks to her two teddy bears.
Though this manga is not my favorite work by Clamp, I certainly think it’s worth reading. One of the reasons it’s worth reading is because of how different it is from anything we normally encounter in the United States: The book IS aimed at young girls, and in the end, it’s appropriate overall. However, all the sexual suggestions have prevented me from passing this Clamp work on to my twelve-year-old daughter, though I have given her other Clamp manga to read.
Suki: A Like Story will be of interest to those who like to read manga, or just want to try out different kinds of literature from other countries. It’s well-done for what it is, too. Clamp always turns out top-level work: The art is fantastic, and the story is told in an intricate manner. There’s even a narrative within a narrative: Hina loves a particular series of picture books about bears, and as readers of Suki: A Like Story, we get to read at least three of these picture books along with Hina. We even meet the author of the books eventually, and that meeting is not merely a minor plot point. It touches on a more serious theme about innocence and vulnerability, dream and nightmare, fiction and reality. Though I recommend reading other books by Clamp first, don’t overlook Suki: A Like Story.