The all-female manga artist group CLAMP has been quite successful in the anime industry. Several of their series have made the transition to animation from Chobits and Magic Knight Rayearth to Cardcaptor Sakura and Angelic Layer. The surprising thing is that there are still many more titles on their resume. The latest of which is Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.
Originally published as an on-going manga in 2003, the anime adaptation of Tsubasa contains a whopping 52 episodes. Many would consider the series as a form of homage to CLAMP's other works. Fortunately you don't have to be familiar with the intricacies of their other franchises in order to appreciate the show. Granted if you know most of the references it helps to tie everything together and it certainly enhances your experience but it's not necessary.
The main stars of Tsubasa are childhood friends Sakura and Syaoran, who you may recognize from Cardcaptor Sakura. They live in a fantasy-like realm known as The Kingdom of Clow and have an unspoken love for each other. Syaoran is the son of an archeologist and spends most of his days excavating ruins while Sakura is actually the princess of the land. Things seem to be going well for the two though one day something strange happens and changes their relationship.
Sakura is bestowed with special powers of unknown origin and when they manifest themselves she finds herself not in control of her body. Through a series of events she becomes unconscious and begins to lose parts of herself in the form of feathers. Syaoran is instructed to visit the Dimensional Witch and once there is introduced to Kurogane and Fay. The three essentially all seek the same thing and the Witch sends them on an adventure to restore Sakura's feathers.
In the first volume we received this introduction and say the very first legs of their journey. The trio, with limp girl in tow, traveled to a world populated by people with connections to magical spirits known as Kudan. Possessed with these creatures our heroes take on various abilities and become quite dominant in this alternate reality. Before long they find their first feather and Syaoran is challenged by another Kudan user. That's where the second installment picks up.
When Syaoran goes toe to toe against the guy with the water stingray things really heat up. The power on both sides is awe inspiring though it's safe to say that Syaoran is the stronger of the two. If you recall from the first volume there was a kid who possessed a rather weak Kudan. Well, his spirit becomes immensely stronger through a set of circumstances in this volume and a feather is discovered in the process. Once the feather has been reclaimed from this world Sakura gains some consciousness though her memory is still muddled at best. The trio finally leaves to head to the next world in search of more Sakura feathers.
In the new dimension things are in a bad state all around. The world resembles feudal Japan but an overlord wields some interesting magic thanks to one of Sakura's feathers. He easily controls the land and punishes the people who happen to live beneath him. Naturally Syaoran and the gang roll of their sleeves and get to work by investigating the lord and discovering the source of his power.
Many interesting things happen in this section of the story. For starters Syaoran continues to impress with his indomitable will and tenacity for seeing things through. He literally goes from mild-mannered poster boy to butt kicking hero at the drop of a hat when need be. Sakura also becomes possessed by a girl's dead mother who has magical power much like the overlord, but she used it for good while she was alive. The battle heats up and character development all around hits a new high.
Tsubasa has quickly settled into the pitfall of becoming a buddy anime. There are many good things that come from these particular elements but the show needs to spend more time focusing on the sub-characters rather than Syaoran and Sakura to be more effective. The first volume paved the way for a show with a lot of interesting ideas and an epic feel. Fortunately the second volume follows up appropriately and keeps the ball rolling. Here's looking forward to volume three!
Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The show features some downright fantastic character designs that, while simplistic (and oddly proportioned), are very endearing and unique. Unfortunately I can't say that the video quality is as impressive.
I found much of Tsubasa to be hazy with a soft appearance and a distinct lack of contrast. Shadows were relatively flat and the palette didn't seem to be as vibrant as it should have been. There was also a fair amount of compression artifacts that cropped up in the darker areas of the image. This could have had a lot to do with the mastering process for the DVD but some of it could have also been a byproduct from the show's production. Overall this volume doesn't look "bad" but it certainly doesn't achieve high marks for quality. "Mediocre" is about the best that you could say for it.
Fortunately the audio for this release is far less problematic than the video. For options you'll find a 2.0 track for the original Japanese and 2.0/5.1 selections for English. For my first viewing I watched the show in Japanese and found it to be acceptable in terms of all around quality. The soundstage is noticeably subdued for this track but things improve once you turn on the 5.1 English language. The rear channels come to life with a fair amount of music, sound effects, and ambient noise making their presence known. It may not have been the most immersive track that I have listened to before but it was certainly acceptable.
The second volume of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle includes some relatively light bonus material. The Character and World Guides return as well as the "Faces in the Crowd" profile-like feature with cameos from the CLAMP universe. Other than this fare all you'll find are some trailers and textless animations.
If you're a fan of CLAMP then you already know about Tsubasa. It is treated as a present to viewers of their series and in so many ways it embodies the spirit of most all of them. So far the show has been stamped as a buddy adventure but with an epic feel, decent character development, and an interesting story there is plenty to sink your teeth into. Sure some of the material here is kind of light but it's entertaining and there is a lot of potential. Recommended
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