Reviewby Casey Brienza, Jun 11th 2008
CLAMP Double Feature: Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC
The CLAMP Double Feature includes, as its title suggests, two DVDs containing the forty minute Tsubasa The Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom and the sixty minute xxxHOLiC The Movie: A Midsummer Night's Dream, respectively. In Tsubasa The Movie, Syaoran, Sakura, and crew tumble down into the Land of the Birds, an idyllic forest kingdom ruled by a sinister despot who has imprisoned the populace beneath a giant birdcage with the disruptive power of one of Sakura's feathers. To make matters worse, he also wants to shroud the land in eternal darkness, and to this end he has overthrown the rightful ruler, the young Princess Tomoyo, his niece. It's up to Syaoran to save the Princess and the day, naturally…which he does on the back of a giant phoenix-like bird. Meanwhile, in the crossover universe of xxxHOLiC The Movie, Watanuki, Yuko, and Domeki, enticed into visiting a sinister mansion, arrive to discover that a lonely ghost has been collecting the spirits of exceptionally dedicated collectors. After a night exploring the larger than life, M. C. Escher-like décor and braving its myriad dangers, the trio realizes that escaping alive means reminding the ghost of what, or rather who, is most important to him—and then reuniting him with that someone.
Although CLAMP's original Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC manga do on occasion cross over extensively with each other, their respective animated adaptations, pitched as they are to a larger and potentially less savvy television audience, tend to avoid explicit, plot-intensive references to each other. This unavoidable accommodation has naturally led to inevitable disappointment amongst some of CLAMP's more dedicated fans, so it is with much pleasure that they greeted news back in 2005 of the CLAMP Double Feature, which boasts two all original storylines that cross over briefly with each other.
But of course, because these short films' primary raison d'être is fanservice, they are necessarily limited in scope. The production quality, though significantly higher than that which the two TV series enjoy, is not going to wow discriminating viewers with its artistry or its soundtrack, and the respective narratives are little more than inessential side-stories—the less generous term would be “plot-filler”—that do nothing to advance either series' overarching plot. It isn't clear whether or not they should even be considered canon. One of them is a “Midsummer Night's Dream,” for crying out loud! The voice talent, though, both in Japanese and in English, is the same. Regardless, new viewers will find it impossible to make heads or tails of either series if their ill-advised point of entry is this one.
In any case, I recommend beginning any showing of the CLAMP Double Feature with xxxHOLiC The Movie. It is by far the stronger of the two films, and it is also twenty minutes longer. Indeed, it seems to have been where most of the creators' admittedly uneven effort went. Though quite stylistically derivative—think watered down Mamoru Oshii weirdness crossed with watered down Hayao Miyazaki wonder—it is at least plenty of fun to look at. The various rooms of the veritable funhouse-like mansion, though digitally rendered, are richly colored and imaginatively textured, making the unanimated parts of this film are arguably better than the animated parts. And while alas this haunted house crumbles away in the light of morning and the unusual (for the series, at least) happy ending, it's quite enchanting while it lasts. I wouldn't mind an overnight stay myself, actually.
Alas, Tsubasa The Movie is, after its counterpart, disappointing by comparison. The original series is pitched to a younger audience, which makes it very different in style and tone. However, taking into consideration the fact that the two films are intended to be screened back-to-back, the anime comes across as unnecessarily insipid and childish. Also, in an unnecessarily gratuitous plot point, the people in the Land of Birds are all paired with a particular bird in some sort of deep, spiritual way that seems to have been plucked (excuse the pun) from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy. In fact, it may be that the people themselves are birds—it is never made entirely clear. This further reinforces the feeling that one is watching something intended primarily for little kids. And like any mediocre children's series, the characters, recurring stars and new personages alike, are all simple and one-dimensional. You don't actually care about their struggles if you're an adult, which empties the story of meaning and affect. In final analysis, the anime is, despite higher than average quality visuals, derivative and airless. It adds nothing to the franchise or the art of Japanese animation.
Even so, despite the many drawbacks, the CLAMP Double Feature, which is priced at $29.99, represents excellent value for the money for hardcore fans. Besides the two films themselves, FUNimation's two-disc set includes over two hours of bonus features. Both come with a number of short documentaries and storyboards as well as full staff and cast commentary. The commentary videos in particular prove to be significantly more riveting than the films themselves, chock-full of intriguing anecdotes and behind the scenes information. All in all, this is a sound purchase for that niche audience already sold on xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa, but the rest of the world, on the other hand, would do just as well not to bother.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : C
+ Two all-original stories presented in higher than average quality animation. Reasonable price and plenty of bonuses.
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