Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Syaoran and his intrepid traveling companions find themselves in a country that has distinguished itself in the study of magic. Syaoran, ever the historian, is delighted to find that the country is blessed with a fabulous library of rare books. While perusing the collection, he comes across a book with no words, and upon opening it he is dropped into yet another different dimension. Able to observe, but not influence, he learns that—like Kurogane's world—this new world is called Japan, and the events he witnesses revolve around a feudal lord who bears more than a passing resemblance to the antisocial swordsman. While figuring out what is going on is a simple task for a bright fellow like Syaoran, bearing witness to his friend's harsh past is far from it, both emotionally and morally.
There's a brief mention of Syaoran's doppelganger and one precious moment of Sakura/Syaoran cuteness, but otherwise this volume is 100% Kurogane. And as one might expect given his dour demeanor, Kurogane's past is no cakewalk. The events shown here go a long way towards explaining his reticence and ferocity, as well as his underlying kindheartedness and his affection for Syaoran. This volume also explains fully the enormity of the price he paid when he gave over his sword Ginryu to Yuko. It's a feast of Kurogane backstory, one that has been a long time coming. This is, nevertheless, an extended flashback (the telling of which relies on a narrative device almost as old as storytelling itself), and as such runs the risk that all such flashbacks run: the risk of hampering the momentum of the narrative, and of testing the patience of the portion of the audience that isn't interested in the information imparted. This is especially true here, where the flashback is well removed from the ongoing plot, though there are hints at the end that Kurogane's past may have more to do with Sakura's current predicament than even he knows. Of course, for Kurogane fans, this will be pure gravy regardless, and the leisurely pace of the manga overall allows for easy insertion of such side-trips. On the other hand, the more objective eyes of non-Kurogane fans will probably be drawn to some of the volume's niggling narrative annoyances. Besides the terribly convenient book, there're also platoons of equally convenient (and poorly explained) monsters, and yet another person afflicted with that "cough up blood and die" disease that preys so heavily on manga and anime characters. Even so, fan or non-fan, his story builds to an undeniably powerful climax, one that culminates in a breathtaking rampage and a chilling demonstration of the destructive capabilities of Kurogane's swordsmanship.
Following hard on the heels of the light 'n fluffy Piffle World arc, this arc performs one of those light-to-dark whiplashes that anime and manga seem so fond of, and the art reflects it. Though just as dependent on intricate line-work and prone to detail overloads during action scenes, the vast expanses of white are gone, replaced by midnight skies, dark shadows, silhouettes, and blackest blood. The series' artistic idiosyncrasies—the lanky small-headed characters and Clamp's love of flowing rivers of hair—are still in full force, as is the skillful manipulation of pacing via panel placement—specifically the one- and two-page spreads that pause the action at important points and a pair of flawlessly executed cinematic impact sequences during the climax.
Del Rey continues to treat its properties pretty well, with another thick, solid-feeling volume. A more arresting cover and some color for the elaborate splash pages wouldn't go awry, but why nit-pick? The usual next-volume preview and translation notes (which explain some of the subtleties of naming and culture in this book) are present and accounted for, while this volume's "Tsubasa: World of the Untold Story" short is a little more serious and relevant to the storyline than previous entries.
There's precious little Sakura or Syaoran in this volume, which makes it a volume that strongly targets Kurogane fans. It isn't devoid of issues, and isn't nearly enough to overpower the series' conventionality, but its impressively executed finale packs a harder punch than anything the series has managed in quite some time.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B
+ Fleshes out Kurogane's past; excellent climax.
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