Originally scheduled for early 2009, FUNimation may have been a little late releasing Season One of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle on Blu-ray, but it was worth the wait. Created by Clamp, a studio that has produced several well-received series including X, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Chobits, the show features a few inside jokes that fans of their work will enjoy as well as a sprawling dimension travel story that's both interesting and exciting. The HD presentation is an improvement over the earlier releases, though the lack of a lossless Japanese soundtrack is an unfortunate omission.
Syaoran is the adopted son of an archeologist who has spent his life working to understand the ruins in the country of Clow. Since he was a young age the boy was best friends with the country's princess, an attractive lady named Sakura. Together they grew up and after Syaoran's father died the young man continued his adopted parent's work. Visiting the ruins one evening, Sakura is attracted to an odd pattern etched into the floor. Falling into a trance, she rises up into the air and sprouts gossamer wings. Fearing that she'll float away forever, Syaoran leaps up and grabs the princess destroying the wings in the process. The feathers from the wings fly off in different directions and disappear. Consulting with Sakura's brother, now the king, and his court adviser it is determined that the unconscious lady is in dire trouble. The feathers that were lost represent all of Sakura's memories, and without them she would surely die. The problem is that they've been transported to different dimensions and are not anywhere in Clow.
Deeply in love with Sakura, Syaoran vows to do whatever it takes to get her memories back. So the court magician transports the young man He and his love to the Dimensional Witch, Yūko. She has the power to let him travel between dimensions, but at a price.
There are two other travelers who arrive at Yuko's at the same time, Kurogane, a powerful warrior who was banished from his home world and wants to return, and Fay D. Flourite, a mild mannered magician who is running from a powerful mage that he imprisoned. All three have reasons to travel the dimensions and so Yuko sends them off together, but only after claiming the thing that each person prizes most. For Kurogane it is his sword, for Fay, it's the mysterious tattoo on his back, but Syaoran has to give up something even more precious: the bond between he and Sakura. Even after she gets all of her memories back, the young girl will remember nothing of her past with Syaoran. He'll always be just a helpful stranger to her.
Yuko gives the group an egg-shaped rabbit-like creature, Mokona, who can sense when Sakura's feathers are near and can also transport the gang to another world once a memory has been found. Additionally Mokona can contact the Dimensional Witch if need be. Together they all travel across the dimensions searching for magical feathers and helping the people they encounter along the way.
One of the things that I enjoyed about this series is the dimensional hopping. Each time they land in a new world they have to get used to the way that place works. Some allow magic, in others people have innate abilities that they don't in the 'normal' world. In addition, they discover people in need in each new place they visit and helping them always leads to the discovery of a feather. It's interesting to see how each world works and the problems that the locals face. If you're not enamored of one world, in a few episodes they'll be someplace else which keeps the series feeling fresh.
Having said that, there were a few aspects of the show that grew thin after a while. Syaoran's constant exclamations of "I will do this!" and "I will get it done!" were tiresome after a while. This isn't a fighting show, but it has the same philosophy that sheer will power will always triumph that is pretty ridiculous. Syaoran is also too noble, self-sacrificing, and egoless. While the idea of someone saving their love at the cost of loosing that love is touching, they take it just a bit too far.
Mokona was included mainly as a comic relief (and presumably so they could license the look and crank out countless Mokona stuffed dolls) but comes across as irritating. The ultra-high pitched voice is grating and none of 'his' jokes are funny. Anytime he does anything remotely helpful (draws a picture, teases Kurogane) he proclaims "That's one of Mokona's 108 Secret Skills!" Are you laughing? I didn't think so. If that's not enough, the rodent refers to himself in third person too.
The character designs are rather simple and in a few cases the proportions are oddly off. Sometimes Sakura will be standing still and her forearm will be way too long or Kurogane's neck will look like it's stretched. These weren't terribly common, but it did occur several times and was pretty strange.
The characters never really get fleshed out as much as I would have liked, but they are fun to watch. Kurogane's constant desire to fight is a cute running gag and Fey's almost drug-induced calm makes for interesting viewing especially during fight scenes.
This set presents the 26 episodes from the first season on three Blu-ray discs, which come in a pair of standard-width case. The two cases are housed in an illustrated slipcase.
With this release viewers have the choice between the original Japanese track in stereo (DD 2.0) or a fuller lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English dub. Arrgh, I hate that the Japanese track isn't lossless too, but that's probably not FUNimation's fault. In any case I alternated between tracks and found that I enjoyed the dub just a bit more. The Japanese track sounded more 'natural' but the English audio is more dynamic and exciting during the battle sequences, which are not as often as your typical anime show. It also is a more immersive experience, putting the viewer in the middle of the action. The English voice actors do a decent job bringing their characters to life too. I just wish there was a 5.1 lossless Japanese track.
The 1.78:1 MPEG-4 AVC encoded anamorphic image is an improvement over the SD version. The colors are a tad brighter in HD and the blacks are nice and solid. The image, like the SD release, is a bit on the soft side but that's probably the look the creators were going for. Digitally things look nice too. The aliasing that is present on the DVDs is largely gone on these Blu-rays but banding is still a slight problem. Overall this is a nice improvement over the show's DVD counterpart with only minor problems to mar the presentation.
This set ports over all of the extras from the DVD season set release. There is a cast commentary to episodes 26, which is a typical anime commentary tracks where everyone sounds like they're having fun but little information is offered. There's also audio-only cast auditions for the English cast, which are fun, and character and world guides. The set is rounded out with a textless opening and closing as well as a series of trailers.
I was originally planning on watching a few episodes and then updating my review of the DVD release, but I ended up going through the whole series a second time. It's a fun show that is worth repeated viewings. No, it's not prefect, but the problem are minor and the show seems to fly by. The stories are often fun and though there's a section or two where things slow down it's nice to know that the group will soon be in another world and different predicament. This is an above-average series that is worth checking out especially on Blu-ray. Recommended.