Reviewby Carlo Santos, Sep 16th 2009
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
After his tragic battle with King Asura, the magician Fai wakes up in another world ... and is relieved to find that his fellow adventurers Syaoran, Sakura and Kurogane have also arrived there safely. Their ongoing quest to retrieve the feathers of Sakura's memory, and possibly thwart the schemes of magician Fei-Wang Reed, have brought them to the country of Japan, where the kindly Princess Tomoyo is helping them recover. Their peace is short-lived, however, as vampire hunter Seishirô makes an unwelcome appearance and Syaoran challenges him to battle. It is a battle that will lead to some very unexpected events—events that may have been set in motion by the space-time witch Yûko, the only person with the power and foresight to take down Fei-Wang.
After the stunning, heart-wrenching events surrounding Fai and his home country, it's only fair that Tsubasa takes a little time for a breather. But even in the peaceful chambers of Princess Tomoyo's castle, there is no rest for the weary—at least, those who are weary of reading vague, convoluted discourses on fate and happenstance and how the actions of a few plucky adventurers could completely throw off a wicked sorcerer's plans. The plot complexity of Tsubasa continues to grow in these chapters, for both better and worse, as it draws connections to past events while also setting things up for the future. In the meantime, there's also room for magic-laced combat and breathtaking visual effects, the kind that make the series what it is—and the reason why people keep on reading it.
This volume begins in a good spot, right after the end of Fai's final showdown, and at the doorstep of a new world. If Fai's homeland was the previous destination, it may be no surprise that the next stop is the realm of warrior Kurogane—perhaps implying that the series is truly entering the endgame at last. The change of scenery also brings in a much needed slowing-down of pace, where everyone can recap what just happened and wrap their heads around the manuevers involved. This is one of the few times that re-telling previous story events is actually a good thing; there are so many underlying layers of plot that it doesn't hurt to spend a couple of chapters just straightening matters out.
At the same time, some of that straightening-out involves tying things in to past events, and in this volume we get cameos from the Tokyo cast and even the xxxHOLiC gang. (Yûko alone is responsible for much of the vague, maddening dialogue as she tries to describe the ineffable ways of ultra-powerful space-time magicians.) But the most crucial visitor from the past is Seishirô, who was last seen in the world of Ôto—if readers can even remember that far back—and triggers a battle with Syaoran that could be the next big game-changer.
It's in the last few chapters that this volume turns the intensity back up, and the change of mood is well-timed—any more chatting about fate and destiny and the price of personal sacrifices and wishes and this might as well be a Ph.D. dissertation on magical theory. Instead, it turns back into a good old action-adventure manga, and when Syaoran suddenly comes face to face with the one person in the universe he least wanted to see, the drama and tension look to be on the way back up.
Of course, much of that drama can also be attributed to CLAMP's dynamic art style, which kicks into high gear once more as Syaoran jumps into battle. However, having just seen the very limits of magical combat in Fai's arc, Syaoran's impassioned swordsmanship doesn't seem quite as stunning as it used to be. Still, there's plenty to enjoy in the sweeping curves, the forceful strokes, and the crackling special effects. In addition, the ever-changing view angles and perspective also add to the visual impact, although there are still times when the fight scenes get way ahead of themselves and become a pure mess of lines. Meanwhile, the dialogue scenes in Princess Tomoyo's palace are more laid-back, but still captivating in their own way—the richly detailed backgrounds and grand sense of scale (where do you put a sleeping Princess Sakura? In a giant sakura tree, of course) provide plenty of eye candy even during moments of rest. The occasional cuts to the mysterious world of dreams also brings in some of the darker, subtler xxxHOLiC aesthetic.
If there's one thing that could single-handedly ruin this epic adventure, however, it might be the vague, roundabout dialogue that constantly spews out of everyone's mouth. Yûko tries to explain what's going on, then Tomoyo tries to explain what's going on, then Kurogane expresses his feelings, and at some point watching these people talk just gets ridiculous. Some of that blame also falls on the translator, though, who has to tread carefully around what the characters are saying in case their statements foreshadow future events. As a result, we often get lines of dialogue that appear to have been run through a Dickensian English filter. The glossary in the back does a thorough job of explaining these language points, however, which is a slight consolation. Sound effects are also translated seamlessly, leaving the Japanese characters intact (which is essential when they factor so heavily into the fight scenes), while providing small English translations in blank areas.
There are times when Tsubasa seems on the verge of collapsing in on itself, especially in the last several volumes, where dramatic plot revelations keep piling on top of each other. That's why the all-talking, no-fighting chapters in this volume are a much welcome relief—it's about time someone explained just what happened with Fai's world and what's going on with everyone else. At the same time, though, the manner in which the characters talk makes this explanation way more difficult than it needs to be. And that is the paradox of Tsubasa: fascinating in its complexity, but for that same reason, absolutely maddening to figure out. Even Syaoran's fancy battle with Seishirô sums up that paradox: it's a beauty to look at, but a pain to follow. Yet we continue following anyway, because the path of destiny still holds many more surprises.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Provides a much-needed recap and explanation of what happened in the last couple of volumes, then charges up again with another beautifully rendered battle.
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