For quite some time we have been watching CLAMP releases through FUNimation. Dating all the way back to 2007 when the first DVD was released here in the States, Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE has certainly been a popular title. All twelve volumes with 52 episodes have been released on DVD along with a film that also tied into xxxHolic. Now that FUNimation has fully backed Blu-ray as a format we're seeing several of their more successful titles ported over, and Tsubasa just so happens to be on that esteemed list. The Tsubasa "Collected Memories" boxed set hits Blu-ray with seven discs that contain all 52 episodes and the feature film, The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom.
Tsubasa started out as a manga in 2003 and it's still going pretty strong with several volumes and artbooks being released onto the market in Japan. In many ways this franchise pays homage to CLAMP's other works (of which there have been several). 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 happens that changes their relationship forever.
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. This event creates feathers, which are actually fragments of her memory. Making matters worse is the fact that these feathers have been scattered across several dimensions, and if they aren't recovered Sakura is in some serious trouble.
Syaoran is instructed to visit the Dimensional Witch and once there is introduced to Kurogane and Fay. The three all arrive on the Witch's doorstep looking for something, and they will find it via her help, but for a price. Each of the heroes must give up that which they hold most dear in order to be sent on their quest. In Syaoran's case he must give up all memory Sakura has of him in order to save her. It creates a twist of irony in that he's trying to help her recover her memories, but in the process she'll forget all about the relationship they had.
With this set up in place Tsubasa launches into its 52 episodes with a strong episodic pattern that lasts until the end. Basically what you have here is a series that offers up two episodes at a time (for the most part) as they tell a particular story of some kingdom the heroes travel to that is in need of assistance. Generally speaking, one of Sakura's feathers has managed to find its way into the hands of someone who would use its power for their own gain. Syaoran and company have to find where the feather is, help some people out, and recover the feather for Sakura. At the end of that they're ushered off to their next location by the magical creature known as Mokona.
Really that's the series in a nutshell. Several of the adventures they go on are quite interesting from a world where people connect to magical creatures for supernatural powers to a snowy kingdom haunted by a ghost, and even to a world where demon hunters are all the rave. Each story has its own charms to offer, and quite honestly the biggest draw here is the daunting amount of character development that grows and grows. Flashbacks for each character are peppered throughout the series, and though Sakura will lose her memories of Syaoran, it's clear that she's making new ones while on the journey. In an addition to that sense of continuity there's also a villain that works on his own to gather feathers as well. He makes appearances throughout the series and plays a more important role at times as well.
While Tsubasa does drag at times, it's a series that will endear itself to just about everyone. The journey holds more value than the destination here, and throughout this show the characters, story, and sense of humor will really get to you (in a good way). CLAMP has a way with stories and many of their anime series are regarded as some of the best. While I wouldn't necessarily call this show the be-all and end-all of anime, it's definitely a must for CLAMP fans, and recommended for everyone else.
For a review on the film that's included in this package, please click here.
As one might expect Tsubasa has been upconverted from the original standard definition DVD transfer to make for a 1080p output. The show receives its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio with MPEG-4 AVC encoding. I ran a side-by-side comparison of the two and it's certainly worth noting that the Blu-ray image was the superior of the two. The colors were more vibrant, the black levels were better all around, and there's really no aliasing of any kind to complain about. Grain is still present to some extent and there's some haloing in the image as well. Overall this is a decent transfer and it's the better of the two that we've seen. Sure it's not showcase high definition material, but it's a beautiful picture just the same.
In the audio department Tsubasa hits Blu-ray with Dolby TrueHD English 5.1 and Dolby Digital Japanese 2.0 (the movie receives a TrueHD Japanese 2.0 and TrueHD English 5.1). The quality of the English tracks surpasses the Japanese thanks to the TrueHD support. The soundstage has more dynamism and everything just packs a little more punch. The dub quality is solid as well. As far as the Japanese track is concerned things sound alright, but this presentation really is no better than what we listened to on the DVDs. These tracks are suitable for the material here, but when looking at the technical quality there's nothing that will blow you away.
For bonus features there's actually quite a bit to dig through, and that's mostly thanks to the fact that the majority of features on the DVD releases have been ported over (there's a missing commentary). Here you'll find cast auditions, character guides, clean animations, and trailers. There're also features called "Faces in the Crowd" and "World Guide", which help expand upon the visited dimensions and CLAMP characters.
The film also has bonus features as well, which includes trailers, production art, background art, and a trio of videos from the 2005 Japanese premiere of the film. A two minute collection of behind the scenes footage from the recording floor is also available. The beefiest feature on the first disc is an original Japanese audio/video commentary that takes place during the entire movie. Watching the film with this commentary was a lot of fun and gave some insight behind the project. It was also nice to see the commentators in conjunction with the movie as it was being shown, which is something of a rarity.
Tsubasa is a fantastic show with a lot of heart and some great storytelling. The characters are endearing and memorable, and from start to finish this series will entertain viewers to the fullest. The best part about this series is the fact that you don't need prior knowledge of CLAMP shows in order to enjoy it. Though it borrows heavily from other franchises, it's entirely self-contained. The series may drag at times during its 52 episode run due to the episodic nature of the program, but taken one story at a time it isn't so bad.
If you've held out on the show, but were interested, consider this Blu-ray your best bet. The entire series is here, along with the film, and the supped up presentation definitely helps. Though it's not a night and day difference by comparison, this Blu-ray is the better of the two format releases. Strongly Recommended
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