The CLAMP exhibit

Beginning on July 6 (though there was a special lottery ticket event for July3-5) and running unil September 23, an art museum in Tokyo is playing host to a special CLAMP exhibit.

The official poster for the exhibit


For those of you who don’t know, CLAMP is a four-member team that makes manga such as Magic Knight Rayearth and Card Captor Sakura. Their name is weird, but I think it’s a combination of the first letters of their names (last I checked that’s what was the explanation was anyway).

Their stories can go from super bloody and dark (RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, X) to super cutesy (Card Captor Sakura), but all of their stories have the common theme (as far as I’ve seen) that nothing is what you think it is.

Magic Knight Rayearth, for example, starts out like a classic superhero story. Three high school girls are suddenly transported to another world as the “chosen ones” destined to banish an evil guy from a magical world. You spend most of the manga rooting for the three kids, of course, and delight in all of their triumphs.

But then comes the twist.

If you look closely, you’ll note the “200” hanging in the window, which is for how many minutes you can expect to wait in line for until you are allowed into the CLAMP exhibit

The Line

I think my mistake lay in the fact I wanted to go on the first day. Reading through the website’s information about the gift shop had scared me (“You only have 30 minutes,” “Pick out what you want to buy in advance,” “Print off the map of the gift shop ahead of time”), and I wanted to make sure I got all the stuff I wanted before it sold out.

The museum opened at 10 a.m., and I arrived at 9:30 a.m., thinking I was just being entirely too cautious and a bit overzealous.

I was wrong.

There was already a line snaking from the ticketing booth outside all the way inside of people who had probably been there since dawn.

The next hour and a half was a journey through the first floor of the museum, led only by the people in front of me as the line went through one of the museum’s cafes and through several switchbacks that made me think I was waiting for a ride at Disneyland.

It was a true indication that I was probably the only one taken aback by the crowds when I saw someone in front of me lounging on a portable, folding chair, a tablet in hand and earphones in place.

I learned things that day.

Waiting in line at least gave me the opportunity to admire the architecture of the museum

For anyone wanting to brave this line (and assuming it stays this bad for the entire exhibit’s run, which I pray is not the case):

Tips to brave the line

A few unfortunate souls had to wait outside in the insane heat. You may be one of them. And the first floor did not have the air conditioner on at full blast whatsoever, or maybe it was too vast of a place to properly cool, because it felt only marginally different stepping indoors.

As such, bring things to brave the heat. Japan sells -3 C wet cloths and sprays, ice cooler rings for your neck, portable fans, and sun umbrellas. I don’t care how dorky or dainty you think a sun umbrella looks, it makes a world of difference waiting outside baking on the concrete.

The wait when I left was 200 minutes, which is longer than I waited for the Beauty and the Beast ride at Disneyland. Thus, prepare for the worst when it comes to waiting. Bring a portable charger, your cell phone, a tablet, a good book, an entire CLAMP series. It doesn’t matter – just bring things that will entertain you for at least an hour.

Bring drinks. I can’t stresss this enough. The only place with vending machines was the nearby train station, but it’s a journey getting there since it’s underground, and most of the stuff you want is inside the station or on the other side, which you can’t get to since the museum blocked off several exits to funnel people into certain areas.

Bring snacks. No one yelled at me for munching away at a granola bar while in line. Obviously just make sure you finish before you get into the actual exhibit.

There didn’t seem to be a restriction on bags. I saw people lugging massive purses – I had a little backpack – and no one said “you need to stow that somewhere.” I don’t think the staff will appreciate you hauling luggage through the museum, but I think a backpack should be all right.

Much architecture was admired while waiting in the long line

The Exhibit

Each room had a theme based on a word that starts with a letter of the weird name CLAMP.

First Room – COLOR

The first room you go into has a ton of colored works, and this place has a “NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR VIDEO” rule. This is strictly enforced, too.

A guy behind me maybe accidentally snapped a photo, and there was the staff right there to tell him not only to stop taking photos, but to delete the photo. She stood right next to him and watched him delete it before she let him continue to enjoy the art.

Honestly, I don’t know why all the secrecy. It’s all artwork that’s been online for years, just the originals.

Apart from being blown away to see most were colored in using markers (Copic), none of it was stuff I’d never seen before. It was nice to see, but I really don’t understand why no one could take photos.

Second Room – LOVE

As soon as I entered this room, it was all manga panels, and photography was just fine.

People were respectful, which is nice, in that no one was pushing or shoving to get a better look at the art, and everyone was going crazy taking photos. I went crazy, too.

This was a room full of manga panels that discussed love. Any mention of “I love you” or “I miss you” or anything pertaining to love, and it was shoved into this room.

Inside the “Love” room

What impressed me the most witnessing all the framed manga panels was seeing the team’s liberal use of whiteout. There’s a scene where the entire arm of a character was “erased” using whiteout.

Note the incredible use of whiteout on the character’s arm

A closer inspection of the pivatol moment of Card Captor Sakura where Sakura becomes the official guardian of the Clow Cards reveals her left eye was entirely redone with the help of whiteout.

Her left eye was completely redone by the looks of it

It’s just entirely refreshing to see that these megastars of the manga world, people who could make such incredible stories come to life with such amazing art, had no problem redoing things with whiteout and still sending that page to the publishers.

I love that.

Not only that, CLAMP continued cutting out dialogue and pasting it into the speech bubbles well after the advent of computers. They apprear to enjoy perpetuating old-school ideals.

Possibly the biggest mystery, for me anyway, were letters that look like stickers at first glance but were probably painstakingly cut out to make the lettering really stand out on the page.

The black-and-white lettering over the place where they invited you to write someting in the manga looks like every letter was cut out by hand and pasted on

I don’t know who spent what must’ve been hours cutting out every letter so it was just so, but my hat’s off to you.

Through the archway

Third room – Adventure

Probably to make you feel like you were about to embark on something amazing, the third room was marked off with a large archway leading to a vast room with giant stickers of characters overhead.

The Adventure room

There was a section for RG Veda, X, Magic Knight Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, Tsubasa, and xxxHolic here. It seemed like they had gathered up all the defining moments of each manga and put them on the walls, starting each section with the first pages of each manga series.

It’s the 90s over here

Again, more admiring of the whiteout use (they use it to fleck the white dots that I think is their signature move in most of their artwork) and reminiscing about the scenes I’d read years before.

It was like a trip down memory lane accompanied by a behind-the-scenes tour.

Card Captor Sakura

The only thing I wished they’d had throughout the exhibit were more explanations or comments, even about a select few of the pieces.

I would’ve loved to have heard the manga artists say something like “Oh man our hands bled making this scene come to life” or “We were under such a strict deadline that day that we just threw that page together last minute, but it worked somehow” or something like that.

Another super important scene in a manga, and there’s whiteout around the hair. I love it.

That was all apparently in the audio guide, but that cost extra so I skipped out on it.

Oh well.

Fourth Room – Magic

This room was more like a breather than anything – a dark room with three floor-to-ceiling screens randomly showing scenes from the manga series in an endless loop while random music played.

I don’t understand why, but this room allowed for photography but not videos.

I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know what series this one is from

Still, it was a nice little break in the middle of viewing so many panels of manga. I would’ve loved to have seen some projection mapping and something even interactive.

Fifth Room – Phrase

There are about four boxes at the entrance to this room from which you’re told to withdraw one silver sticker.

There is one line from one character from one of the manga series on that sticker, and you have the choice to either place that sticker on the walls of this room or take the sticker home with you as a souvenir.

Each silver circle at the bottom is actually a sticker

I liked the line on mine, so I took it home with me.

Rough translation: “And what is normal? To be part of the great majority? What is the point in that?” – from xxxHolic

I like the idea of this room, but I think as the exhibit wears on, they’ll have to either start stripping off stickers or providing ladders so people can keep putting their stickers on the walls. Either that or some serious overlapping is going to happen.

Random Room

The last one had a visual timeline of CLAMP’s manga series, with the manga volumes all stacked up on shelves as versions in different languages were put in display cases below.

There was also an incredibly cool kimono featuring X symbols that I would’ve killed to have worn even once, and a wall of collaboration art, which you were not allowed to photograph.

I’d like this kimono, please

In the middle was a table full of random quotes and lines that you weren’t allowed to touch, so I’m not sure what the point of it was.

The top of a random table you’re not allowed to touch

The last room

Now this, I would have thought, would have been the one place where photography was prohibited, because in this last room lies a lone piece of artwork that the manga artist (the main artist of CLAMP is a woman who just goes by Mokona) drew just for this exhibit.

Of all the things you’d want to keep secret, I’d have thought it would’ve been this.

The line to just take a picture of it
The original artwork for the exhibit

But oh well, we all lined up and took photos next to it while revering it.

A small portion of what was being offered

The Gift Shop

In a move I think they should’ve just done for the entire exhibit, a person standing at the exit to the exhibit (No reentry so be careful) handed me a receipt with a QR code on it and a number. A virtual queue for the gift shop.

Scanning the QR code told me when I was being called, though it didn’t provide any updates on what numbers had been called thus far. It was always just, “Your number has not been called yet.”

The only good news is there’s no window of entering like a fastpass at Disneyland has. As long as your number’s been called and the museum hasn’t closed yet (I think the gift shop said up to a half hour before closing), you’re good to join the line.

The website was not lying – You get a green piece of paper when you enter the exhibit, which you need for the gift shop, and just before you enter the shop, a staff member writes the exact time you started your shopping journey.

You have to present this ticket to another staff member before they let you join the line to buy things, meaning they are really serious about you having 30 minutes and that’s it.

It was a madhouse, but not as much pushing and shoving as I would’ve expected given the time crunch.

A cafe and a cafeteria/restaurant in the basement are also offering special menu items featuring CLAMP characters

I managed to grab most of what I’d wanted, though one postcard thing I’d wanted was already sold out (I’m sure they’ll restock at some point) and there was a CLAMP exhibit book I’d wanted to buy that’s not even available yet for some reason. It will be at the gift shop starting on August 14, and it features what was said in the audio guide.

Considering this exhibit has a “Part One” and “Part Two,” where the artwork changes out, I might have to go back.

First, I need to recover from the line.