Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The fabric of space and time hangs in the balance as sorcerer Fei-Wang Reed continues to put his evil scheme into motion. Despite the best efforts of Syaoran and his comrades, Princess Sakura remains in Reed's clutches, and Fai and Kurogane must step in to help Syaoran save Sakura. The moment he saves her, however, it only makes Reed stronger—all because of a shocking secret lying beneath the Kingdom of Clow. Unfortunately for him, Reed is about to meet his match in the form of space-time witch Yûko Ichihara. Stored away in Yûko's shop of oddities is a glass cylinder containing an incredible secret, and once she breaks it open, it unleashes a magic—and a revelation—powerful enough to counter Reed's sorcery. As unstoppable forces collide, everyone involved must hang on and survive the oncoming storm.
At this point in the game, it would be inaccurate to say that Tsubasa has gone off the rails. No, what we're looking at right now is Tsubasa pulverizing the rails, tumbling down an embankment, and erupting in a giant, hundred-mile-per-hour ball of flame. That's about where the momentum of the series is headed right now.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Tsubasa seemed poised for a soaring and dramatic finish. The Sakura/Syaoran flashback fell into place as the final puzzle piece, after which Syaoran and the gang would finally lock horns with Fei-Wang Reed and good would triumph over evil in an incredible shower of magic. The way things are going right now, that's still sort of the plan—except that CLAMP has (unsurprisingly) gone way, way overboard with it.
"Syaoran versus Syaoran's Clone," the battle that occupies the latter part of Volume 26, is probably the last intelligible thing anyone will remember about this series. The end of that fight brings us to the start of this volume, where things quickly turn from ridiculously awesome to just ridiculous. More clones and decoys come out of the woodwork (enough already, please), Fei-Wang Reed stands around making ominous-sounding proclamations, and a complete overload of magical special effects destroys any sense of time, place, or action. There was a time when casting a world-altering spell was a major event. Now it's indistinguishable from anything else that's going on.
Funnily enough, this story arc doesn't suffer from the "too many characters" syndrome that plagues most other adventure series at their climax. Instead, it's too many plotlines that are choking it into submission: a bold loop back to the "Tokyo Revelations" portion of the series, an overlap into the events of xxxHOLiC (necessary, but still disorienting), and an invocation of the Cardcaptor Sakura universe. That last one will have die-hard fans nodding and smiling knowingly—as a whirlwind tour through CLAMP's oeuvre, there'd better be a really good reason why they left one of their most beloved works for last. That reason is finally revealed here, but not without the added headache of even more clones and counterspells and dimensional warps. Are Syaoran and friends still battling Fei-Wang Reed, or are they just having a contest of who can spit out the most ridiculous plot twist?
While one's head is busy spinning and trying to make sense of the story, there comes the added aggravation of trying to make sense of the art, which has also gone overboard in its own way. As far as fantasy adventures go, the series' visual style is still unmatched in the genre, with elemental swirls and magic circles that won't be seen anywhere else. However, when they all pile on top of each other for two hundred straight pages with hardly a spot for the eye to rest, it just becomes a chore to read, rather than an impressive delight. At least there are only a handful of characters to keep track of, but with all the sudden close-ups and bold, busy linework, it's still a challenge to figure out who is doing what. Through all this, however, there remain some moments of chaotic beauty—wordless action sequences where every split second counts, as well as dramatic double-page spreads where multiple universes are shown in fragments. Clearly, CLAMP is continuing to evolve their visual language, even though mere mortals may have trouble comprehending it.
Written language, on the other hand, presents its own set of challenges in the way it uses simple words to express mind-boggling ideas. As mentioned before, Reed's ominous utterances are of the typical booming-villain type, and our heroes are even more taciturn as most of their dialogue revolves around "Syaoran! Go! Fight!" Yet as soon Fei-Wang or Yûko starts to explain their latest feat of witchcraft, here come the vague buzzwords involving wishes, dreams, life, death, memories, and who knows what else. This kind of ambiguity is the best that one can expect from the translation, since so much of the dialogue implies or refers to things unsaid. On the plus side, at least there's no need to worry about Japanese wordplay or cultural references at this point; the glossary is reserved mostly for a couple of clarifications about the storyline. Oh, and if anyone feels compelled to parse every single sound effect embedded in the artwork, the translations are indeed there—albeit completely overshadowed by the raucous action on each page.
What Tsubasa is suffering from right now, and may have no hope of recovering from, is the Disease of More—that every battle has to top the last one, that every magic spell must have an exponential increase in power, that every plot twist must defy even more laws of logic. Thus we have reached the point where even events that were planned ages and ages ago only add to the headache of trying to keep everything straight. Remember back when our adventurers were just moving linearly through each universe, trying to recover Sakura's memories and neutralize the evil magic that started this whole mess? Those days are long gone, only to be replaced by a bigger mess that is all but collapsing in on itself. It's not so much that CLAMP have written themselves into a corner. Rather, they've written themselves into a funhouse mirror maze, and nobody knows the way out anymore.
Overall : C
Story : D+
Art : C+
+ Visual style remains unique, and some of the latest revelations will leave CLAMP fans grinning knowingly.
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