Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 28th 2008
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Traipsin' through the dimensions can be tricky business, as Syaoran and his buddies discover when they are separated upon arriving in the world of Shura. Shura is split by a war fought by two godlike leaders over a floating fortress with the power to grant any wish, and the separated comrades inexplicably find themselves on opposite sides of the deadly conflict. Of course, at other times things aren't nearly so dark, nasty or complicated. Such as on Piffle World, where a whimsical sky race will determine who has possession of Sakura's feather. Or in a fictional world where the power of creation is wielded by, of all horrors, Mokona. There's also a kingdom whose leadership issues can be solved by a date with Fay, and a desert road-trip whose only peril is roving gangs of motorcyclists who apparently got lost on their way to the set of Mad Max IV. None of which really prepares Syaoran for a magical book that gives him an unauthorized peek into Kurogane's less than happy childhood.
There are series that evolve slowly, there are those that evolve quickly, and there are many that devolve into various lower life-forms and spend their latter days squirming around in stinky muckholes of their own making. And then there are series like Tsubasa that don't evolve at all. In the case of great series, such as Mushi-Shi, that's a good thing. In the case of awful series—take your pick from each year's moldy harvest—that's a bad thing. In the case of Tsubasa it's somewhere in the middle—the second season, like the first, serves up steaming platters of junk food adventure drenched in the cold sauce of Koichi Mashimo's somber direction.
The series isn't entirely static, of course. Though not enough to qualify as evolution, the second season features a combination of disposable one-off episodes and little stylistic tweaks that give it a marginally lighter feel than the first season. Perhaps thanks to the addition of co-director Hiroshi Morioka, Mashimo's treatment of the original manga's humorous interludes has markedly improved—to the point that some of them are actually funny—and his two-by-four-to-the-cerebellum approach to musical scoring shows signs of softening, even going so far as to be ironically perceptive when used during the all-SD Mokona episode. On occasion an element of self-reference even creeps in—it's no coincidence that the Duck Amuck-influenced Mokona episode is immediately followed by an episode whose backgrounds were nicked straight from Wile E. Coyote.
But for the most part Mashimo sticks to his stylistic guns, directing the series as a chain of slow-crawling pans over eyes, characters, and gorgeous settings—occasionally interrupted by short bursts of balletic martial arts, and all slathered in one of Yuki Kajiura's patented spooky soundtracks. As before it slows piffle like Piffle World to a fun-smothering crawl and complements bleak adventures such as Kurogane's flashback episode with plodding apocalyptic panache. The farther the content drifts into Mashimo's limited stylistic range, the better it gets: the dark backroom dealings of Piffle World pack an expressionistic punch that the zippy, admittedly enjoyable sky races lack, and the Shura arc is steeped in gloomy atmosphere that oozes from its blasted landscapes. In the meantime, arcs that should float by on a cloud of gee-whiz fun creak under the weight of his ponderous direction, and Clamp's oddball sense of humor is frequently asphyxiated under somber camera movements and Kajiura's beautiful but gloomy score.
As the adventures of Syaoran and company grow ever more tediously formulaic—as the one-off episodes inevitably do—Mashimo's incessant downshifting of the plot's energy becomes more and more problematic. Never a series to rush itself, Tsubasa for the first time feels like it is actively spinning its wheels. Too many episodes give off a telltale filler odor, and over the course of these fourteen episodes, only one—count 'em one—important change occurs, and it's a cryptic one at that. With the plot losing its tenuous grasp on entertainment, the task of dragging viewers back each episode falls heavily onto Sakura and Syaoran. Hardcore Clamp-ites will of course lap up the cross-over character references, but for everyone else the series' beating heart is Sakura and Syaoran's relationship. Luckily Mashimo and his crew are fully aware of this. Sakura has developed into a grave but charming heroine, Syaoran's selfless devotion is still cause for the occasional misty eye, and their warm, cute interplay is cannily inserted into even the most disposable of side-stories.
Funimation's English cast and crew are also aware of this. Though they sometimes adapt the original script with the gentle touch of a blitzkrieg (within minutes of starting, the dub bulldozes an extended reference to White Day, altering the meaning of the scene entirely), they are careful to preserve the sweet tenor of Sakura and Syaoran's relationship. Jason Liebrecht and Monica Rial bring a soft quality to both roles, floating their feelings a hair closer to the surface than their more reserved Japanese counterparts. Chris Sabat and Vic Mignogna dig into Kurogane and Fay when given the chance, proving again the efficacy of the dub's casting decisions. The changes that Funimation makes to the script—and they are many—are overwhelmingly positive, livening up the often dull dialogue and steamrolling translation issues that give less adventurous dubs no end of problems. This is one of a select few series that even the sub-preferring crowd will want to consider jumping the fence on.
Each disc features the same collections of background and character line-art (and accompanying descriptions and explanations) that every disc before has included, in addition to clean versions of the snoozeworthy opening and closing sequences.
Other than a slight lightening of tone and a rash of increasingly formulaic throwaway stories, the second season of Tsubasa continues just as the first season did. The Clamp faithful will enjoy the cross-overs with other titles and fans of low-investment adventure will eat it up, while most others will find its effects startlingly similar to a those of a bottle of Valium—though not nearly so addictive.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Syaoran and Sakura have grown into a charming couple capable of saving boring, formulaic stories with little more than warm mutual smile.
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