Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 25th 2010
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Years before they became dimension-hopping adventurers, Princess Sakura and Syaoran were childhood friends in the Kingdom of Clow. Syaoran had made a deal with the space-time witch Yûko in order to travel from his homeworld to Clow, and his stay there was only meant to be temporary. During the purification ritual on Sakura's seventh birthday, however, the sorcerer Fei-Wang Reed interfered using some very powerful magic—and Syaoran, unable to protect the princess, realized that his brief visit would not be enough. Syaoran would return to Clow permanently so that he could look for a way to lift Reed's curse on Sakura, but with her fated coming-of-age day coming ever closer, it would seem that certain magical events—and the subsequent struggles—remain inevitable...
Over the years, Tsubasa has reached its epic scale by revealing layer upon layer of carefully planned story, often with the use of flashbacks. But no flashback will ever be as important as the one going on right now, which details the events that triggered this grand adventure in the first place. The first stage of the flashback, in Volume 24, explained how Tsubasa was rooted to the original Cardcaptor Sakura universe. But in this volume, at last, we come to understand the roots of Tsubasa itself. The masterful way in which CLAMP tells the tale—with fairytale wonder, mind-blowing sorcery, and intense emotion—just goes to show why they are the premier manga storytellers of this generation. The fantasy world is full of fateful encounters; they just know how to make this one more fateful than anything else.
Although Tsubasa's stock in trade involves dramatic twists and shocking revelations, the first few chapters in this volume are a surprising change—mostly an idyllic account of Syaoran's first few days in Clow. The palace grounds provide an imaginative fairytale setting, while child-Syaoran's budding relationship with Sakura, which actually got started in Volume 24, continues to deepen. But at the same time, this quiet stretch of storyline is colored by a sense of foreboding: hushed discussions, uneasy thoughts, and prophetic events. This unease gives the series just enough momentum to move on to the next act ... which is where the magic really starts to happen.
The middle chapters may seem like just another round of biff-bam-pow sorcery, but to understand its impact, it must be taken in the context of the entire series so far: this is the event that got everything started in the first place. We'll forgive Fei-Wang Reed for his simplistic motivations as a villain ("I want the power of space and time! Wahahaha!"), since everything that happens in this scene—the churning waters, the unworldly magic, the imprinting of the curse—is magical fantasy at its best. Even better is the aftermath, which adds emotion to the action that just took place: Syaoran must go back to Clow! He must protect Sakura! He promised her! That kind of deep-seated devotion is what elevates a series from typical save-the-world sorcery to something with genuine weight to it.
But the magic isn't over just yet: the last couple of chapters in this volume may be the most satisfying, with scenes that actually loop right back to the very beginning of the series. Talk about coming full circle—even if it did take 25 volumes to get there. And what better place to leave off than on a cliffhanger where time has, quite literally, come to a stop. The show's not over yet, and it looks like it's only going to get better.
Naturally, the grandiosity of this series wouldn't be possible without its distinctive visual style. The seven-year-old versions of Sakura and Syaoran are button-cute, and the courtiers of the Clow Kingdom are a cosplay gathering just waiting to happen, but it's the special effects and the environments that really catch the eye. Out of all the worlds our adventurers have traveled through, it's Clow that embodies the true fairytale feel—ornate palace hallways, sweeping towers, and a purification shrine that would be considered a natural wonder of the world on our own meager Earth. The occasional visits to Yûko's house in the xxxHOLiC world also add a touch of elegance to the art. Ultimately, however, it's the spellcasting that brings it all to life: swooshes and curlicues bordering on the abstract, ink and screentone stretched to their limits—all for the sake of showing what a momentous event this is, the day that Sakura and Syaoran's wheels of fate were set in motion. (Even more momentous is that, for a series that has notoriously messy visuals, the action is actually pretty easy to follow this time.)
When it comes to discussing the wheels of fate and other such metaphors, however, there are still some glitches to be found. Just like its predecessors, this volume has snippets of "mysterious proclamation that makes no sense" dialogue, even though the entire saga is about 80% explained at this point. Yûko will occasionally spout out an ominous line, or present-day Syaoran will make a cryptic statement but not expand upon it—just the kind of stuff that we should come to expect by now. To its credit, this volume is far less mind-boggling than others when it comes to plot details; the Sakura-Syaoran childhood dialogue is simple and heartfelt, and most of the crazy magical-clone stuff has already been covered anyway. The fact that the translation glossary can get back to discussing Japanese language and culture, rather than hemming and hawing about plot points or references to other CLAMP titles, suggests that the most complicated part of the series is thankfully over. Except for sound effects, maybe, where trying to find the translation for a giant two-page-spanning "DON" becomes its own game of hide-and-seek.
For most other stories, a flashback is something of a crutch, a quick-and-easy out when something needs to be explained but it can't be done from the perspective of the characters in the present day. But when a flashback covers the very origins of a shounen adventure masterpiece—and does it with so much pomp and flair—it becomes a marquee event in itself. In fact, the Clow flashback may go down as one of the great Tsubasa arcs of all time; if one were to pick a good candidate for OVA material, this one would probably be pretty high on the list. The story explodes with drama and sorcery, the emotions and relationships grow ever more powerful, and the artwork continues to dazzle. The only problem is that, at some point, it'll have to jump back into the main story—and who knows what will happen then?
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Tells a crucial part of the story with great artwork and emotion, and none of the information overload that often plagues the series.
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