Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 18th 2008
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Syaoran and his crew discover the true culprit in the disappearance of Jades' children and the true reason for their kidnapping, but in the process learn something unsettling: someone somewhere is watching them. They've hardly wrung their hands over it when it's off to another world, where men are competing in a tournament to decide the country's strongest, with a magical prize at stake. Thinking that perhaps the prize is one of Sakura's feathers, Syaoran throws himself into the fray, bringing him head-to-head with a young man determined to use the prize to save his girlfriend. From there the interdimensional adventurers head to the country of Outo, a land used to accepting adventurers from other worlds. Mokona senses a feather nearby, so Syaoran, Kurogane, Fai and Sakura set up shop. Fai and Sakura put together a cafe in hopes of gathering information and Syaoran and Kurogane sign up to fight demons for the special access the job gives them to otherwise forbidden areas. But something is rotten in the country of Outo. There are signs that the state controls the demons and further, that someone is interfering with that control. After a couple of close scrapes with a few unusually aggressive ones, Syaoran asks Kurogane to train him in the way of the sword, something that may end up pointless—as well as painful thanks to Kurogane's strict tutelage—when he learns that his opponent may be someone he never wanted to fight.
If Funimation's reason for releasing the abominable Ragnarök was to make Kōichi Mashimo's pokey take on Clamp's slight but fun team-based adventure look good, then they've succeeded admirably. There's nothing like watching something done murderously wrong to help you better appreciate it when done even partially right. True Tsubasa is pokey, and yes, its characters can be frustratingly inscrutable. But at least they function logically (if oft simplistically). Action, though sporadic, is occasionally exciting and generally well choreographed—especially when Fai joins the fray. Heck, even as Outo reveals itself to be suspiciously RPG-like, the worlds that Syaoran's troop visits remain atmospheric and interesting, even if the adventures that occur there aren't.
That, however, is merely Tsubasa being competent; Ragnarök-tinted glasses aside, anyone can see that the show's heart isn't in the rote adventure or fantasy—it's in Sakura and Syaoran's relationship. And as Sakura's personality emerges from her amnesia and the extremity of the price Syaoran paid for her memories becomes clear, that Heart Grows to estimable size. It's been a long time coming, the character development moving as through molasses thanks to Mashimo's ponderous pacing, but patience is a virtue. Sakura proves that a female lead needn't depend on footlong cleavage and butt-floss armor g-strings for appeal—her earnestness and consideration are more than enough, and more than a match for Syaoran's own. She's still less than a fully-formed person, and familiarity with her from Card Captor Sakura undoubtedly colors one's appreciation of her character, but her realization of Syaoran's importance to her and that realization's aftermath are as heartbreaking as anyone could reasonably hope, and her relationship with Syaoran is almost adorable enough to excuse the glacial pace of its advancement.
Mashimo hasn't changed his style of animation, and likely as not, he never will. There are still too many flashbacks, too many slow pans over inexpressive eyes, and too much blunt trauma to the intellect thanks to his use of Yuki Kajiura's otherwise superb score. Those pans and flashbacks continue to slow the pace to a sloth-like crawl, drawing (and occasionally quartering) each story out until it ranges over far more episodes than it deserves. His inflexibility has its benefits however. Stay in one place long enough, and the content is bound to drift into your stylistic range. The too-serious tenor of the opening volumes suits the darker tone of the Outo and Jade arcs well, and Bee Train's focus on gorgeous background visuals dovetails nicely with the atmospheric intent of the two arcs. Mashimo's decision to keep Clamp's gangly character designs (and spend the budget he saved with all of those creeping pans) pays dividends in the Outo arc's bursts of action, where the unique combat styles of each character (particularly Syaoran and Fai) add spice to otherwise predictable confrontations. The presence of a lounge-singing secondary character even allows him to sate his appetite for insert songs without being obtrusive.
Where most companies handle dubs with kid gloves, Funimation often wades in barehanded. Such is the case with Tsubasa. Some passages, particularly those Fai/Kurogane exchanges that flirt with shounen-ai, are altered to the point that the feel and in some cases, even the meaning are nearly lost. But then, Tsubasa is hardly a sacred cow. To be sure the changes that alter entire scenes are questionable, but most of the others (and there are enough to send sticklers for accuracy into the hills) are positive. The script is livelier than the original (which isn't a great feat) and periodically quite clever in its translations (a potentially sticky sequence involving formal Japanese is defused by using, would you believe it, formal English), and the performances, still cast and acted with perception and skill, are warmer and easier to relate to. It remains a fine work, so long as you ignore that nagging urge to make fresh-squeezed rabbit-thing juice out of strident little Mokona.
Tsubasa's extras have settled into a comfortable rut: character notes, world notes and a short description of one or two of the many characters from other Clamp titles to make an appearance in each volume. There's also a preview on volume five for the two-part Tsubasa/xxxHOLiC movie that gives rise to an almost physical desire to get one's grasping hands on Tsubasa's clearly superior sister title.
Tsubasa isn't a serendipitous meeting of source material and animator—neither Clamp nor Kōichi Mashimo can achieve together that they're capable of separately—but for better or worse they are together, and it just so happens at this stage that it's more better than worse. Though perhaps that's those Ragnarök-lowered expectations talking.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Some quality Sakura/Syaoran time at last; leaden pacing and grave tone are actually appropriate for the Outo and Jade arcs.
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