Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
The Dragonfly race is raging full bore as the traps laid by persons unknown whittle down the contestants at an incredible rate. Once it reaches its inevitable conclusion, the identity of the mastermind behind the rigged race is revealed, to everyone's shock. Afterwards Kurogane finds that Princess Tomoyo isn't quite so distant as she might seem, and Sakura gets the White Day jump on everyone else.
Those who are looking for Tsubasa to evolve into something more than a slam-bang, gee-whiz shadow of the darker, more introspective xxxHolic will not find their answer in this volume. This volume, which contains the conclusion of the Piffle World arc in its entirety, is undiluted fluff, interrupted only by some hints that the different versions of characters that they meet in different dimensions may not be all they seem.
Of course, anyone who despises fluff probably hasn't gotten this far into the series anyway, and this is some superior fluff that, like any good fluff, doesn't forget that its appeal lies in its characters. There is little role for Syaoran and Fai this volume—outside of Fai's usual antics and another demonstration that Syaoran is a truly bizarre drunk—but there are several golden moments between Kurogane, by far the series most compelling character, and the Piffle World version of Tomoyo that speak volumes for the relationship between Kurogane and Princess Tomoyo. Kurogane aside though, the bulk of this volume is Sakura territory. The race that occupies the entire first half is the perfect platform for displaying the cumulative results of the sneaky incremental change that retrieving her feathers has had on her character. The lively, resourceful Sakura of this volume is miles removed from the somnambulistic shadow that haunted the opening volumes. The return of the Sakura-Tomoyo dynamic so familiar to fans of Sakura's original incarnation is also welcome, and, even grown up, Sakura remains one of the top ten most adorable manga characters of all time. Unfortunately, the price Syaoran paid for the ability to save Sakura, the series' emotional core, is largely ignored this volume, and it suffers for the lack. Without it, it can't help but feel as if the series is just killing time until the next big development.
The highlight of Clamp's art for this series has always been the subtle manipulation of style that communicates the mood and atmosphere of each new world. Piffle world gets its light fluffy look from a combination of characters' light, smooth-lined sci-fi flight suits (even Kurogane wears some white), brightly lit, virtually shadowless settings, and lots of delicate, fine line-work. Clamp's love of swirls, spirals and curlicues is at full strength, transforming hair and the water that plays such an important role in the race into sometimes bewildering artistic tableaux. The sheer volume of lines and detail, and the lack of contrast and context occasionally render scenes virtually incomprehensible, especially during action sequences. The long-limbed interpretations of classic Clamp characters are still a treat, especially during humorous scenes, but Kurogane is so much more overpoweringly cool than everyone else that they sometimes seem pale and weak in comparison. Panel layouts are reasonably complex, yet entirely intuitive, regulating the pace with practiced ease.
In the very back of the book, underneath Del Rey's logo it says "The Otaku's Choice." This isn't entirely accurate--in terms of book quality, that would probably be Broccoli Books--but it comes close. While things like binding and paper quality are on par with Viz and Tokyopop titles, Del Rey distinguishes itself by way of including things like explanations of honorifics, translator's notes (very important!) and other select extras—in this case an "untold story" that explains all about the amazing manga magazine that Kurogane reads whose stories manage to be continuous despite each issue being from a different universe and time.
It's good fluff for fans of the series to this point, but this volume is nevertheless desperately low on content. If you found the Piffle arc from the previous volume boring, then feel free to skip this volume altogether, since it's 100% Piffle. If you don't mind losing those precious few Kurogane moments, that is.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Airy fluff with enough Sakura to sate her fans and some invaluable Kurogane tidbits.
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