Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 6th 2007
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane and Fai—cross-dimensional adventurers in search of Sakura's missing memories—have just arrived in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. In a world ravaged by acid rain, a small number of survivors are guarding the world's most precious resource: fresh water. Despite the initial hostile reaction, Tokyo's residents gradually warm up to Syaoran and company, who are only looking for a place to rest. However, things are not all well for the group: magician Fai clearly has something to hide, and Kurogane is still suspicious of him, while Syaoran has a doppelganger threatening to invade his mind. Sakura, meanwhile, is still unconscious, and might remain that way for a while as her soul falls deeper and deeper into a mysterious dream.
What the heck just happened here?
After the breathless action of the previous installment, and a cliffhanger ending that promised a dramatic entry into the world of X, one would think that Tsubasa's 15th volume would deliver on that promise. In a way, it does—they do enter the world of X, and the bleak vision of CLAMP's end-of-the-world epic is presented in all its glory. But the other things that make this series great, like the swashbuckling adventure and twists of fate, are nowhere to be found. Instead, we get a clump of ugly, dangling plot threads, people acting mysterious for no good reason, and a general lack of coherent storytelling. Why is it that the good Tsubasa only seems to show up every other volume?
It begins with Kamui. Although best known for being the troubled teen who determines the fate of the world in X, his presence in Tsubasa starts off with a whimper: he's basically shown as a ringleader who fights a bit and then walks off to brood over a reservoir of drinkable water. Seriously, the kid just stands there and broods. For several chapters. His supporting cast isn't much better; Kamui's gang is basically there to show the adventurers around and provide support such as clothes and medicine. Even Kamui's counterpart Fûma, who leads a group of his own, only shows up to menace him a little bit and throw a few punches. Honestly, it looks like CLAMP got so caught up in the thrill of X fanservice (Hey look! It's THAT dude from THAT series!) that the idea of giving their characters interesting, Tsubasa-specific storylines just went out the window.
Even the storylines that do matter—Syaoran's search for the feathers of Sakura's memory, Fai's mysterious motives, the machinations of certain powerful wizards—seem to churn without really going anywhere. Rather than focusing on one specific event or arc, this volume tries to keep us updated on all of them, resulting in a disjointed, poorly paced effort. Syaoran's "evil twin" is the only one who really gets anywhere, momentarily visiting the xxxHolic world (there goes that crossover gimmick again) and threatening the real Syaoran's mind. But like the other storylines being juggled here, most of it is just setting the stage rather than development or resolution. Fai, for example, acts all enigmatic and asks a favor of Kurogane—but then we never find out what it is. Even Sakura, who in her unconscious state shouldn't be causing any trouble, generates yet another dangling plot thread when it turns out that her soul is in mortal danger (or something—it's hard to tell when the authors are purposely obscuring the story).
If the storytelling in this volume seems ragged, perhaps the dialogue is to blame as well: most of it comes in declamatory sentences that are either stupidly obvious or irritatingly obtuse. Kurogane summons his sword and Mokona says, "It came out!" ... er, yes, we can see that. Later on, Kamui faces Fûma and says, "We're not giving it to you," and only 20 pages later do we realize they were talking about water. It's as if the text is there to hinder the story, rather than help it, and whether that comes from the original script or the rather bland translation it's hard to say. However, the back-of-the-book glossary is well written, not only explaining Japanese cultural details but also references to other CLAMP works.
Despite the unsatisfying mess of a plot, at least the art still manages to deliver: burnt-out Tokyo may not be as fanciful as the other worlds, but there's plenty of magic and combat to please the eye. Kamui's hand-to-hand fight against Kurogane comes alive with swirls and speedlines, and the powerful sorcery that puts Evil Syaoran into motion is quite unlike anything else in the genre. Where more mediocre artists might fall back on screentones and pre-printed patterns, this brand of magic gains its visual potency from the elegant, hand-drawn lines and designs. Even the water effects (Kamui sure spends a lot of time brooding at the reservoir) have a unique style to them. The character designs, although pleasing, aren't quite as striking: it's fun to see X re-interpreted Tsubasa style, but the novelty gets old quickly.
There's no kind way to say it: the debut of post-apocalyptic Tokyo in the Tsubasa universe is a disappointment. Several plotlines are spun into motion, but there's no clear direction here; right now the story is looking like a multi-headed creature that doesn't know which way it's going. The supporting cast in this world also fails to capture the imagination: Kamui is mostly there just to look cool, and his little friends act as mere tour guides for the dimension-hopping adventurers. There's definitely something serious in store for Syaoran and Sakura, but none of it is actually revealed. Instead, it's just a display of what goes wrong when you're trying to write too much story at once.
Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B+
+ Stylish, energetic artwork as always and the hope of deeper plot points to come.
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