Reviewby Carlo Santos, Mar 8th 2008
Tsubasa, RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
The ongoing search for the feathers of Princess Sakura's memory have brought Sakura, Syaoran, Fai and Kurogane to a polluted, post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo. But things in this world are not going well for our adventurers: Sakura has fallen into a deep coma, and her soul lies deep within a freshwater reservoir, while the meddling of certain magicians is causing Syaoran's soul to deteriorate. When Syaoran dives into the water to save Sakura and recover her feather, local resident Kamui engages him in battle, and things quickly go from bad to worse. Syaoran loses control of himself, Fai jumps in to stop the madness, and then a second Syaoran shows up ... and the motives of sorcerer Fei-Wang Reed are fully revealed at last. In the end, it may not be Sakura who needs saving, but Syaoran himself.
Oh, so that's why they call it Reservoir Chronicle!
When we last left X fan favorite Kamui, he was standing by the only pool of drinkable water left in Tokyo—and not doing a whole lot else. Fortunately, this volume more than makes up for that, with Kamui's little watering hole serving as Ground Zero for an epic magical battle. The back-cover blurb is entirely justified in calling it a "pivotal volume" in the series—but just because it's pivotal, doesn't mean it's an instant masterpiece. The art is beautiful but confusing; the story is dramatic but poorly planned out. It may be the biggest turning point in the series so far, but it stumbles over its own grand ambitions.
Of course, one cannot fault CLAMP for being ambitious. If you were a creator with an epic story idea that used almost every character you've created in the last 15-plus years, wouldn't you want to build things up over time, dropping hints along the way, until finally springing the Ultimate Crazy Plot Twist on everyone? But pulling off a plot twist of that caliber can be tricky business, and in this case we end up with huge amounts of information being revealed in a very short amount of time. It's the kind of stuff that makes for great drama, but it can also lead to great headaches in trying to understand why there are two Syaorans and why Kamui is trying to wake up Subaru and why everyone has an eye missing. Even more head-spinning are the various events that only seem to happen out of convenience: unconscious characters wake up at just the right moment, magical powers activate exactly when they need to, and Fei-Wang Reed suddenly decides that now would be a really good time to explain everything.
Despite these flaws, the pacing and action are still breathtaking, and the revelations are a worthy payoff for those who have been following the series all the way through. More importantly, every character in the main cast experiences some sort of personal crisis: not just Syaoran coming to terms with his true self, but also Sakura realizing that her hero is not who she thought he was, and Fai being forced to make a terrible sacrifice, and Kurogane facing the ultimate test of friendship and loyalty. With the team being torn to shreds, can they pull themselves together? This volume may be a showcase for magical battle, but it's the internal battle of hearts and minds that make it a true page-turner.
Not surprisingly, the artwork goes well beyond typical action-adventure standards, with sweeping lines and curlicues that look unlike anything else in the genre. Fire, water and lightning effects all come into play here, and the level of stylization often comes close to pure abstract art. But abstract art isn't always a good idea for pictorial storytelling, and there are far too many scenes where the character action gets lost amid all the curls and swirls. It's not much fun trying to guess who's attacking who, especially when one of the combatants is a clone of the other. Character design also gets some of the blame for that confusion: yes, they come from many different places in the CLAMP universe, but now they've all been homogenized into lanky young males with swishy hair. At least the layouts provide enough room for all those big action scenes, so you can sit back and appreciate the impressive technical work despite not really knowing what's going on.
If a labyrinthine plot and overly busy artwork weren't troublesome enough, more confusion can be found in the vague dialogue. Not only do the text bubbles fail to identify the speaker, forcing the reader to guess from context, but they often contain sentence fragments that don't flow very well. Maybe it's just bad writing, maybe it's an awkward translation (and yet the glossary goes so far as to explain kanji wordplay), but there are utterances coming out of these characters' mouths that don't really make sense until you go over it multiple times and re-read the entire scene. Aside from language issues, the glossary also explains tie-ins to other CLAMP series as needed, and the sound effects in this volume are left in the original Japanese with small translations placed in unintrusive areas.
The 16th volume of Tsubasa could have been an artistic triumph: plot twists galore, huge battle scenes with earth-shattering magic, and intense drama for all the characters involved. Certainly, loyal followers of the series are in for some amazing surprises as they find out just what Fei-Wang Reed was up to and where Syaoran's quest will lead next. However, high-level ambitions don't always lead to high-level craftsmanship, and these plot revelations can feel like an awkward string of arbitrary events, conveyed through artwork that's too fancy for its own good. When it comes to clarity and making sense, this volume is kind of a mess, but what a dramatic and beautiful mess it is.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : B
+ Plenty of excitement and drama, stunning visuals, and mind-blowing plot revelations that come one after the other.
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