Title: Gate 7
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Volume: Volumes 1 and 2 (ongoing), $10.99 each
Vintage: 2011 by Shueisha in Japan, October 2011 and February 2012 by Dark Horse
Genre: Fantasy, history
High school student Chikahito Takamoto loves Kyoto. A history buff, he loves the traditional architecture and rich history and mythology of the area. He would like nothing more than to go to college there, but his mother has forbidden it. Somehow he convinced her to let him go on a sight seeing trip on his own. While cheerfully visiting the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Chikahito finds himself enveloped by blackness with three warriors fighting a battle against some strange looking creatures. He passes out and wakes up in a tea house with the three warriors – the strong looking but cheerful Sakura, the brooding and short tempered Tachibana, and the adorable and child-like Hana. Realizing that Chikahito is just a normal guy and not a spy or other dangerous element, they decide to erase his memories of the entire encounter, but to their great surprise it doesn’t work. Hana pulls Chikahito out of the tea house and sends him off with a kiss. Three months later, circumstances worked out in Chikahito’s favor, and he was transferred to a high school in Kyoto. Almost immediately upon his return, he runs into the mysterious trio at a restaurant. He ends up walking around town with them, and they wind up at another shrine, where Sakura envelops them all in blackness again, including an unintended Chikahito. Chikahito watches helplessly as Hana battles the creature before them, defeats it, and then cheerfully invites Chikahito to comes and live with them. The next morning, Chikahito is sent out on an errand with Hana, which turns out to be a set up to introduce him to the owner of the Ura-shichiken where they live. This shady looking man named Hidetsugu wants to assess Chikahito’s personality and power. When he asks Hana what is special about Chikahito, Hana replies that they are alike, that they are both “not.” To Chikahito’s great surprise, an Oni appears at Hidetsugu’s side, and he’s suddenly pulled into a world he never thought could exist, and yet strangely enough, brings his dreams into reality. Hidetsugu isn’t just any man – he’s the spiritual reincarnation of Hidetsugu Toyotomi, nephew of Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi from Japan’s Warring States era (Sengoku period, mid 15th century-early 17th century). His Oni, Mikoto, chose him as the one with the strongest blood of the Toyotomi in the current era and bound herself to him. As Hidetsugu explains the situation to Chikahito, his love of history overwhelms him and he puts together all the pieces, rather forgetting the danger lurking behind this new mystery. Until Hidetsugu reveals his true motives – he wants to find the most powerful Oni said to exist, an Oni bound to the infamous Nobunaga Oda, an Oni named Dairokutenmaoh. No one knows where Nobunaga’s body is, however, and Hidetsugu isn’t the only one looking for it. As they’re discussing how to track down the powerful Oni, Mitsuhide Akechi appears and calls upon his Oni, Enka, to fight against Hana and take Mikoto for himself.
Volume 2 begins with Hana’s battle against Mitsuhide, and Chikahito finally learns what Hana’s real power is. Hana has the extremely rare ability to store in her body the attacks of enemies she has fought before, and then use them as needed. Hana convinces Mitsuhide to reveal his true motivations, but she isn’t pleased with his answer. Enka lets loose, but his attack is blocked by the appearance of yet another ancient warrior – Masamune Date. Mitsuhide decides the battle isn’t worth the trouble any longer, and departs, leaving a very young, very hot tempered, and very in love with Hana Masamune Date to scare the pants off Chikahito. Masamune’s guard and strategist, Kojyuuroh Katakura, arrives to calm him down so he can inform Hidetsugu why he’s come to Kyoto. Masamune brings dire news indeed – Tokugawa has also learned of the current search for Nobunaga’s body and Oni, and of course wants them for himself. The entire gang returns to the Ura-shichiken to discuss this news, which has a curious effect on Tachibana. Mikoto informs everyone that the knowledge she gained about finding Nobunaga’s body was transferred to her by an Oni aligned with Tokugawa’s group. Chikahito, ever the history buff, starts asking too many questions, and is sent on an errand by Sakura so the others can talk without causing him further worry. While on this errand, Chikahito comes across a beautiful young man who appears to be sick, and stops to help him. This person has some ulterior motives for getting Chikahito’s attention, however. Meanwhile, the others are discussing what they should do about Iemitsu Tokugawa, and soon learn that he’s poking around Tokyo. Iemitsu is extremely dangerous; he can’t be tracked, and his Oni feeds on innocent lives. However, there’s very little that can be done if he’s hiding his presence. Sakura, Tachibana, Hana, and Chikahito go to Osaka in search of answers. They have tracked down yet another ancient warrior – Yukimura Sanada. Hidetsugu has sent them to try and persuade Yukimura to either join them, or at the very least not join Tokugawa. Yukimura respects strength more than words, however, and summons his Ten Braves. After talking with Hana, whom he seems to have some prior connection to, Yukimura decides to fight either Sakura or Tachibana to test the strength of the Toyotomi. Sakura volunteers right away, and after a short scuffle, both warriors decide not to hold back and unleash their powers.
Gate 7 is the newest manga series from Japanese female manga superpower group CLAMP. Dark Horse, who has been publishing several beautiful omnibus collections of CLAMP’s older titles recently, is working closely with CLAMP to publish volumes of Gate 7 within months of the Japanese release. I’ve had these two volumes sitting around waiting to be read for a bit, though had I realized this was a story involving figures from the Warring States era, I probably would have jumped on them sooner. I love history, and I really love Asian history (it’s just so rich and filled with amazing historical figures), though I’m not quite as cuckoo for ancient Japan as Chikahito. Chikahito finds himself in the middle of a dream come true. Not only does he find himself living in the city of his dreams, he’s now surrounded by present day versions of famous historical figures that he has long studied. With each new warrior he meets, he goes through various stages of absolute giddiness as he nerds out over coming face to face with them, and knee knocking fear as he realizes how much power they wield even today. It’s quite the conflict for a perfectly average young man who has suddenly found himself thrown into a bizarre world of elemental monsters and mystical warriors. Of course, he isn’t average, as Hana is quick to point out. There’s something unique about him, but unfortunately, no one really understands why he’s unique or what powers he might have. His position as someone without past-life allegiances and unknown abilities makes him a target of interest, and judging by some of those on the “other side,” he’s quite lucky to have been found by Hana and her friends. He’s done very little so far aside from filling in historical backgrounds for the reader, and being a source of general amusement for the other characters in the story as well as the reader. Most of the people he’s run into find both his excitement and obvious naivety amusing and charming. Though again, he hasn’t really done anything except stand around and talk. There is a distinct impression that he’ll have a greater role in the future, however. Hana appears to be a sort of “independent” quantity as well, free to choose whose side she joins, though her motivation isn’t made clear in these two volumes. Nor is his or her gender, to be honest. Chikahito never gets a straight answer out of anyone, and gender pronouns are never used to refer to Hana. Masamune is absolutely nuts over Hana, though, in the way a teenage boy would be over a teenage girl, so I’ve assumed for now that Hana is a girl so I don’t have to fiddle around with pronouns in my reviews. Like most CLAMP characters, everyone in Gate 7 has their secrets. Who does Hana represent? What does Hidetsugu plan to do with Nobunaga’s Oni? What is Tachibana’s relationship with Tokugawa? Why is Chikahito able to interact with this secret world? It’s going to be a treat watching everything unfold, especially with CLAMP’s beautiful artwork. If the history is confusing, or if you’re having a hard time keeping things straight, Dark Horse has provided some generous translation notes in the back of both volumes, compiled by translator William Flanagan.