CLAMP is a name all pretty much all manga and anime fans should know. The all-female group of manga artists created the beloved series Cardcaptor Sakura, which hit Netflix in February, and played a part in the production of the popular mecha series, Code Geass. CLAMP still remains relevant to this day, with a new anime of Tokyo Babylon slated to come out in 2021. But their first work, RG Veda, is a title largely slept on -- and maybe, the underrated CLAMP work we should be paying attention to.
RG Veda has both a manga and a two-episode OVA. The title is based on the "Rigveda," a reference to the ancient scripts of Hinduism. In RG Veda, the fearsome God of thunder Taishakuten rebels against the Heavenly Emperor and crowns himself the new ruler, starting a reign of terror. However, there is a prophecy: Taishakuten's tyrannical rule will one day be usurped when the "Six Stars" unite to defy the Heavens. Yasha-ou, leader of the Yasha clan and a powerful warrior, one day awakens the child of Ashura-ou, Ashura, by freeing them from a magic seal. To fulfill the prophecy and defeat the cruel warlord, the two begin the journey to find the "Six Stars."
Intricately detailed and shaded in a very '90s style, RG Veda is incredibly visually appealing. Its plot may seem rather clichéd -- another fantasy story where the main characters gather powerful allies to defeat an evil villain -- but though Ashura seems gentle and childish, he hides a darker, more sinister alter-ego that is kept at bay by his affections for Yasha-ou. During the manga's final chapter, the "true" Ashura reveals themself, an alter-ego is the product of the real prophecy -- a twist with a somber conclusion.
Before titles like Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits and Kobato that take on more lighthearted tones, CLAMP was infamous for stories entrenched in sorrow and despair. RG Veda serves as the foundation for such tragedies, and along even before its ending, many characters die as the manga progresses.
CLAMP notoriously does not shy away from same-sex relationships (Touya and Yukito from Cardcaptor Sakura are one of the most popular couples, as well as Seishirou and Subaru's entwined fate from Tokyo Babylon to X), but as their first original work, RG Veda is the forefront for CLAMP's LGBTQ+ representation. There are multiple instances of two people of the same sex being in love with each other -- such as Kendappa-ou and Souma, Taishakuten with Ashura-ou, though their tales are not happy ones. Child Ashura is also genderless and takes on an androgynous appearance in the manga, though some localizations have misinterpreted the pronouns used and assigned them a gender.
If any of the characters' names may seem familiar it's because they're featured in CLAMP's other work, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, though they are different incarnations. Amaterasu, Empress of Nihon and Tomoyo's older sister, is hinted to be Kendappa-ou of RG Veda. King Ashura is Fai's mentor and is in love with Tsubasa's version of Yasha-ou.
RG Veda was previously distributed by TokyoPop but is now available digitally from Dark Horse. If you want to dive into a work that shaped CLAMP's legacy, definitely give RG Veda a read.