At the dawn of creation, gods and men walked together in Tenkai, the place between heaven and earth. The former God-King Tentei was betrayed by his general Taishakuten and killed along with the most powerful Guardian Warrior, Ashura. Now, Taishakuten rules Tenkai with an iron hand, killing the entire clan for one person’s opposition to him. A prophesy foretells the end of Taishakuten’s rule, and it starts with the awakening of the last of the Ashura tribe by Lord Yasha, king of the Yasha tribe. These two being a journey filled with blood and tragedy, as they try to end Taishakuten’s rule while defying prophesy.
And the quest continues to find a CLAMP series I like. Right now it’s one yay, one nay, and one abstention. This series will be the tie-breaker, and is the last CLAMP series I own. It’s also the first CLAMP series I ever bought, and completing it took a while, so it was easy to put off. This Manga Movable Feast motivated me to finally read it. RG Veda is CLAMP’s debut series as professional manga artists, and tells the story of ancient gods and humans and the struggle against destiny, in the vein of the Hindu Veda text. And while I was warned off this series on Twitter, I found I really enjoyed it.
RG Veda follows Lord Yasha, the Guardian Warrior of the North, as he goes on a journey with Ashura, the last of the Ashura clan, in defiance of the God King Taishakuten. They follow a prophesy that is believed to foretell the end of Taishakuten’s reign, gathering “the Six Stars”, others who hold a grudge against Taishakuten. Meanwhile, Taishakuten is trying to stop them, as he send his “Four Gods”, powerful warriors and their armies after them, killing anyone who gets in his way. But stopping Taishakuten isn’t really the point of the journey. There is another purpose that isn’t revealed until the end, but like life, the story isn’t really about the destination, but the journey.
What really makes the story fun to read is the characters, and there is quite a cast of them. Lord Yasha is the strong, stoic hero, who can be dense sometimes, but is deeply loyal to his friends and family and keeps his promises. He is also a bit of a softy when it comes to Ashura, who he develops and father-son relationship with. Ashura as he is seen through most of the series, is a sensitive boy. He cares greatly for his friends, and feels it personally when someone dies because of him or for him. There is another personality within Ashura we’ll call Dark Ashura, that doesn’t care about anyone, or anything other than causing destruction. Ashura doesn’t know about this side of him, and Dark Ashura only pops up occasionally until the end. The relationship between these two is really the focus of the series. Yasha sacrifices everything for Ashura, who he is told is destined to kill him. At first Yasha does this for a promise he made, but soon really does care for the boy. Ashura is able to grow and become stronger thanks to Yasha’s faith and love for him, which all leads to the climatic ending.
Joining Yasha and Ashura are the prophesied “Six Stars.” Souma is the last of her tribe which was killed by Taishakuten because of the ability to give immortality to one person, and was saved by Lady Kendappa, the Royal Musician. Souma acts as scout and spy, gathering information for the group. Lord Ryuu of the Dragon Tribe, is there for the comedy relief mostly, joining so he can become and better fighter and take on Yasha in a duel. He and Ashura become friends, as Ryuu is the closest in age to him. Jukaju adds a lot of comedy relief as well. He isn’t one of the stars, but is more of an observer, giving out clues to Yasha about the prophesy they seek to fulfill. Lady Karura of the Karura tribe has deep grudge against Taishakuten, and who can blame her. He kidnapped her weak sister, forced her to sing with her last breath before Karura and then fed her body to his pets.
Speaking of Taishakuten, there is no other way to describe him than to say he’s a total bastard. What he did to Karura sister is a prime example. All the way through to volume 5, that is exactly how he acts. I thought he was going to be one of those rare pure evil villains in manga. But starting in volume 6, there are hints that he might not be as bad as he seems. Even after his past is explained, I don’t buy it. He’s still a bastard. He ruthlessly kills Karura and Kisshouten, saying he was doing them a favor. He claims that he’s doing what he’s doing to keep the Six Stars from gathering, but if anything, he’s just encouraging them! I think he just wants to fight Ashura, and isn’t really serious about stopping them. The general he sends after them, Koumokuten, is closer to comedy relief, and his minions, the elemental gods, ARE comedy relief. He doesn’t want anyone to kill Ashura but himself.
I really enjoyed RG Veda. I love myths and legends, and this story is very much in that vein. It feels like a myth you would here Joseph Campbell talking about. The story’s theme, that love can overcome all, even destiny, is very much in the tradition of the Arthurian legends and courtly love. The fact that the lovers are two men, well that is definitely more of CLAMP touch. While it’s mostly action and drama, there a good moments of humor to break the tension and keep the story from being a complete downer. A lot of people die that you want to see live. There are also a lot of twists! The last two volumes are one twist after another, nearly giving me whiplash, but they were well planned and executed. I totally did not expect the reveal of the God of the East, even though the signs were there. What made these twists work is the way CLAMP played with the reader’s expectations and kept the changes in character. So while the twists were a surprise, they weren’t a shock.
One of the things I use as a meter for how much I like a title is how involved I get in the story and characters, and I got really involved with RG Veda. Every person who died for Ashura and Yasha only made me want to see them succeed more. When Karyoubinga was killed, I felt Karura’s grief and anger. That moment moved Taishakuten from jerk to bastard, and he became unforgivable. The stronger I feel about a story and or characters, the more likely I’m to enjoy the story. And I felt very strongly about these characters and their journey. The art is filled with lots of beautiful men and women with long flowing hair and ornamental jewelry. Everything I love in a fantasy manga.
I had my doubts at first, but RG Veda has won me over, and my count goes to 2 yays, one nay, and one abstention. So I can now say I have read and do like some CLAMP titles. But I can now also see the polarizing effect it can have on people. The two titles I’ve liked the most, are also the two I’ve heard the least good about from other reviewers. But that’s okay, I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon. I do tend to want to check things out that people are talking about, but I’ll still make my own decision about how I feel. And that’ what I love about these Manga Moveable Feasts. I’ve read more titles that I probably wouldn’t have without them. I am more likely now to try out other CLAMP titles as well, with Card Captor Sakura being at the top of my list. If only Dark Horse had their omnibuses available in digital format.