Review

by Mikhail Koulikov, Jan 10th 2006

Tsubasa

G.novel 7: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE

Synopsis:
Tsubasa GN 7
As Sakura and her companions continue to unravel the secrets of the country of Outo and search for the mysterious man who is seemingly able to control the demons, it becomes obvious that they are not the hunters, but the hunted. The only way they can continue the journey to recover Sakura's lost memories is to meet their enemy head on. To Kurogane and Fai, he is just an obstacle, to be dealt with in their own ways. But to Syaoran, he is much more...
Review:
Warning: This review contains some spoilers


Months ago, when the first volume of Tsubasa was released, fan reaction was decidedly mixed. Many were all too happy to welcome any new CLAMP project, and more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt, but there were also plenty of others who could never quite accept the basic concept at the heart of the story. In fact, Tsubasa was almost easier getting into if you had no prior expectations, and were not surprised that the Sakura and Syaoran of this world had little in common with their Card Captor Sakura prototypes. But regardless of where this series began, one thing is clear – over the course of six volumes, it has settled into a comfortable, if somewhat predictable, pattern. Sakura and company come into a new country, model new, period-specific outfits, chat and banter and argue, meet a couple of characters from another CLAMP title, solve a mystery, capture a feather, move on. As far as that goes, it's cute, but supremely fluffy.

Except, of course, this is CLAMP we are talking about: Card Captor Sakura and Clamp School Detectives and Suki are one thing, but Clover and Tokyo Babylon and of course X are another entirely. Starting with volume five, where the group made their entrance into the country of Outo, modelled apparently on early-20th-century Japan, and into an almost RPG-like monster-hunting plot, but with undertones of something even more sinister, it became progressively more obvious that things are not as simple as they first appear. The end of volume six saw one of the basic rules that governed the story – that Sakura and her companions are the only ones traveling between the worlds – broken. With the explanation of how and why this is so, Volume 7 may very well turn out to be the pivot that launches this entire series in a new direction. What had been fairly light-hearted action/adventure suddenly changes into action/fighting in an urban fantasy setting.

CLAMP and light-hearted shoujo are almost synonymous with each other. But in the end of things, Syaoran, Fai, and Kurogane are all fighters, and this volume finally treats us to what many readers doubtless have been waiting for - a fight to the death, no punches pulled, between each of the three and an opponent that pushes them to the limit and beyond. In each case, the personality of the fighter is revealed better than it ever could be in conversation - Fai's desperate attempt to keep up a cool, detached, happy-go-lucky exterior, Syaoran's admirable recklessness, Kurogane's simple lust for the rapture of combat. From a purely artistic standpoint, the fights are handled wonderfully - manga does not yield itself well to depicting dynamic action, but with its combination of irregular panel sizes and shapes to suggest different kinds of actions, and an almost cinematic sense of when to zoom in on details and when to move back for the bigger picture, it is easy to not merely keep up with what is going on, but to actually feel shocked when the first two fights reach their resolution...and then to realize that, since you are only halfway through the volume - and since this is certainly not the final volume of the series - there must be some kind of trick here.

Unfortunately, there is a trick. CLAMP are by no means the first ones to resort to the old “everything that just happened was a dream/game/simulation” method of resolving a plot that seemingly has painted an author into a corner. But that is also not an excuse, and at best, makes the reader feel manipulated. On the other hand, even as the story stumbles, it manages to recover its balance; the world of Outo, which turns out to be just an elaborate VR game, collapses, and the “real” world within which it is contained turns out to be another iconic CLAMP setting - Fairy Park. Ultimately, CLAMP has their faults, but it's easy to forgive them, if only for the tantalizing possibility that somewhere in a future chapter, Hokuto is still alive and Subaru is not yet just an empty shell of his former self. Before you are quite ready for it, the volume, and the Outo arc that has now played out over two and a half volumes, both come to an end, and Sakura & co. are off to yet another world.

Precisely because it is so different from everything that came before in Tsubasa, this volume demonstrates powerfully both the dexterity of CLAMP as artists, and their unique ability to weave a complex, self-referential story that rewards the fan for sticking with it. The fights are one highlight of this volume, but ultimately, what really carries it - and the whole series - is the simple fact that Sakura, Syaoran, Kurogane and Fai (...and, of course, Mokona) are one of the most appealing teams of characters manga has seen in a long long time.
Grade:
Production Info:
Story : B-
Art : A

+ A twist in the story that takes the entire series in a potentially new direction, excellent character interaction.
Reliance on a cringe-inducing gimmick that is surprising coming from an experienced SF/fantasy author

Story:CLAMP
Character Design:Mokona
Art:
CLAMP
Satsuki Igarashi
Tsubaki Nekoi

Full encyclopedia details about
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE (manga)

Release information about
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE (GN 7)

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