Given how popular the manga group CLAMP is I'm kind of surprised that School Detectives didn't hit DVD until over a decade after its original release. Then again their popularity has been climbing over the years, so I suppose the demand wasn't that great back in the late 90's. The only exposure this series has had in the States comes from a VHS release some years back. Due to that fact, don't beat yourself up too much if you're a CLAMP fan and you haven't seen the series before. All you really need to concern yourself with now is whether or not the show is worth checking out.
Bandai handled the original VHS release, and they maintain the DVD rights as well. All 26 episodes of CLAMP School Detectives have been brought together on six discs. Originally released in 1997, School Detectives is a fairly self explanatory show just from its title. The series revolves around some students who moonlight as detectives as a place called Clamp School. It's a straightforward name to a simplistic show, but thankfully there's more to the series than initially meets the eye.
The show takes place around various points of Tokyo and on the massive campus of the Clamp School. Actually, if you look at the Clamp School as its own city within Tokyo, you'd probably be more on track. There's a separate school on the property for every age group from kindergarten up through college. There are even shops, banks, restaurants, and living quarters for the people who work in said establishments. The place is huge and that instantly sets it apart from the rest of the world. It's fantastical and elite without being hokey and at many points during the show we get to see how the world outside of the campus looks upon the Clamp School with awe.
The focus of the series is on three students who serve as the show's protagonists. Nokoru, Suoh, and Akira are all elementary students at Clamp School, but they are more than just members of the student body. These kids are the cream of the crop and regarded as such by their subordinates, peers, and elders. Whether it is academics, athletics, or just about any other category you could think of, these kids maintain a fine balance of cunning and popularity.
The nice thing about the trio of protagonists is that they each bring something different to the show. Nokoru is the youngest son of the founders of the Clamp School and is essentially a prodigy in every sense of the word. Suoh is nearly as sharp as Nokoru, but where he lacks in the powers of observation he makes up for with his physical attributes. Akira is the youngest of the three. He's a little more naïve, a better cook, and sees things more optimistically than his friends. They play off each other quite nicely and right from the very first episode they have a chemistry that easily carries the weight of 26 episodes.
Now, with the three of them together the show hammers out its formula very early on. Basically Nokoru decides that the three of them should become detectives and help women in need whenever they come across them. It's a rather chauvinistic approach to sleuthing, but considering these kids are suave ladies men, er, boys, I suppose it shouldn't be very surprising. The episodic nature takes hold right from the beginning and each episode of the series presents the young detectives with a woman, a case, and conflict they must resolve.
While there are many outstanding episodes in the show, I can't deny how repetitive it all feels. There's a certain Case Closed vibe every now and then, but the show handles the material with a slight air of seriousness. There's still plenty of goofing off, jokes, and immature behavior, but for the most part each story is handled deftly in a way that only CLAMP could pull off. There are many instances where this series feels like a CLAMP piece of work, though if you're looking for something similar to their latest efforts such as xxxHolic or Tsubasa, you're going to be left wanting. CLAMP School Detectives definitely takes place in its own universe and it has its own sense of style and design.
At the end of the day CLAMP School Detectives is a successful series and I can honestly say I'm happy that Bandai renewed the license. This one is simply too good to be lost to VHS forever. With that being said the episodic nature becomes very repetitive if you power play the series. The show also feels a little too familiar to other detective shows and it doesn't necessarily wear its 12 year shelf life as nicely as it could. Still, if you're a CLAMP fan or are just looking for a solid, entertaining anime this one comes easily recommended.
CLAMP School Detectives is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio as it was produced with in 1997. The show still looks very good despite its age even though some of the colors have faded and there's some dirt in the production. All around Bandai did a fine job with this transfer and if you own the original VHS it should go without saying that these DVDs trump those in terms of quality. There's a little grain here and though there's some compression it's not quite enough to mar the overall presentation. I guess you could say for a 12 year old show it looks well treated, but compared to more modern shows it has a few blemishes that date it.
The series hits DVD with English and Japanese stereo tracks for its audio selections. Both dubbing crews did a good job with the material, though I felt that the Japanese language was easily the better of the two. Technically speaking the English track feels a tad more robust with regards to its dialogue, but all around both tracks are relatively flat and rest comfortably on the front channels. Full English subtitles are included as well and there is an option just to have subtitles display for songs and signs.
Surprisingly Bandai has gone the extra mile to include some bonus features on this release of CLAMP School Detectives. There are the obligatory textless opening and ending animations as well, but the rest treat here is the original "A Day in the Life" animated shorts. There are thirteen of these, and they are basically a couple minute long comical bits involving the characters animated chibi style. They are an entertaining diversion to say the least, but considering the show's age it's nice to get any original features such as this at all.
CLAMP School Detectives is a fun series from the minds of CLAMP. Fans of their work will gobble this up, but it's nice to know that even non fans will find something to love. It's an endearing program that stays entertaining throughout its 26 episode run, though I will admit that the episodic nature does grow a tad wearisome after marathon viewing. Despite that, I had a good time with this show and am going to recommend it.
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