Reviewby Carlo Santos, Dec 16th 2008
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Having survived the perils of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, Princess Sakura and her band of adventurers now find themselves in a bleak world known as Infinity. Under Sakura's direction, Syaoran, Kurogane and Fai participate in an extremely violent "chess tournament" where losing can mean serious injury, or even death ... but winning will bring a great monetary reward. However, Sakura has heard whispers of an even greater prize, a tool that she will need to hunt down the evil clone-Syaoran that broke loose after the Tokyo incident. Can she lead her companions to victory in this arcane deathmatch? And if Sakura succeeds, will she be able to handle the magical prize that is handed to her—a magic so great that it surpasses even Fai's ability? There's just one catch to this plan of attack: the next step of journey will be one that Sakura must take alone...
What just happened? What just happened?
No, this is not a cry of confusion. (Volume 16 still holds the prize for that.) This is a cry of awestruck wonder, the realization that, even after the dramatic revelations in the Tokyo arc, CLAMP is still able to pull out shocker after shocker. All that foreshadowing about Fai's dark past? The payoff finally shows up here. Sakura's recent transformation from damsel-in-distress to feisty go-getter? It turns out she has a very good reason—a reason that could change everything forever. And of course, there's sorceress Yûko on the sidelines, greasing the gears of fate and allowing these events to unfold ... because it makes for some amazing reading. Sakura is ready to jump into the adventure—are you?
It begins with the usual action-adventure routine: Syaoran (the other one), Sakura and friends have arrived in a new world, and are fighting their way through to claim an object of great value. But even at its most ordinary, the series manages to achieve moments of great verve and polish—not just in the eye-catching fight sequences, but also in dialogue scenes where Sakura's emotional intensity practically radiates off the page. Even amidst the fantasy-babble, the meaning is clear: Sakura wants something really bad, and she'll even make a deal with Yûko behind everyone's back just to get it. Frankly, if we could keep this proactive Sakura forever, it'd be a fantastic improvement over the sleepy, near-useless version that permeated the first 15 or so volumes.
But that's just the beginning. The dominoes only really start falling when Sakura and Syaoran enter the finals match of the tournament, which, in a feat of crossover madness, integrates the characters of Magic Knight Rayearth with an Angelic Layer cameo who in turn was originally based on Rayearth and everything just goes crazy once Chobits shows up. For the non-CLAMP-obsessed, what this means is: an epic fight scene takes place, followed by an unleashing of magical energy that uncovers a whole new plot thread. As it turns out, the particulars of Fai's past—carefully kept vague for so long—are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, revealing a destiny that will leave readers just as slack-jawed and wide-eyed as Fai himself. And after all that, Sakura's fateful decision provides the perfect volume-ending cliffhanger—one that will inspire even more cries of "What just happened?!"
With all these shockers and new story details, perhaps we should be thankful that at least one thing remains constant: the stylish, dynamic artwork. Raw penstrokes, gravity-defying angles and a bevy of special effects illuminate each fight scene, especially in the final match where both combatants rely heavily on speed. Then comes the grandeur of sorcery when Sakura unleashes the secret magical prize that was granted to her; few will ever forget the sheer impact of "the thing that Fai does to Sakura" in this volume's climactic moment. Even plain old conversation scenes carry a sort of emotional magic, with bittersweet longing expressed on the faces of Sakura, Fai and friends as they ponder the changing bonds of friendship. Of course, this kind of artistic virtuosity can be its own worst enemy as well, and it would not be the first time in Tsubasa that certain battle scenes end up as inexplicable tangles. But when it really matters—when two full pages are absolutely necessary to show how dramatic something is—the visual layouts nail it perfectly.
It's probably just as well that the best scenes in this book are the ones expressed entirely through art, as dialogue seems to have taken a nose-dive here. (Or was it always that way?) Some of Sakura's deep ruminations get lost in clouds of awkward phrasing—some of which can be blamed on translation—and it gets even more confusing when people like Yûko get in on the game and start explaining the technicalities of magic. Slightly less mind-boggling is a glossary that explains the technicalities of Japanese language and the CLAMP universe, and thankfully, the sound effects, which are so essential to the artistic style, remain exactly as they are with only small unobtrusive translations to accompany them.
Whether Tsubasa is even close to reaching its final story arc is anyone's guess—and with all the wicked plot twists coming this way, it'd be a fool's game to try predicting how it ends. All that can be said is that Volume 19 takes readers on a fantastic ride that only gets more exhilarating with each successive chapter. The days of prancing through fantasy worlds and collecting feathers seem to be over at last; instead of just trying to save a princess, it seems that everyone's next move in Tsubasa could potentially shake up the world. Or worlds. With stunning visual pageantry and a storyline that becomes ever more gripping and unpredictable, this series is firing on all cylinders in a way that even the Tokyo arc couldn't have anticipated. What just happened? Something amazing.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Quite possibly the most stunning plot revelations and the finest action-adventure-fantasy eye candy that this series has turned out yet.
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