Jul 26, 2009
Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, often shortened for the sake of convenience to "Tsubasa", is one of the newest additions to a large body of work by world-renowned manga studio CLAMP. After 6 years of faithfully following this series' serialization, I have come to the conclusion that it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

~STORY~: Tsubasa has an original and fresh story under its belt, which is to be expected from a CLAMP work. The main antagonist (Fei Wong Reed) causes a desert princess (Sakura) to lose all of her memories in order to achieve his dream. Her childhood friend (Syaoran) is forced to go to the Space-Time Witch (Yuuko Ichihara) for help, because only through the Witch's powers can he be sent to different dimensions in order to retrieve Sakura's memories. He is, by a stroke of fate and unmistakable destiny, accompanied by a swordsman (Kurogane) trying to get back to his homeland and back to the princess whom he serves (Her Royal Highness Tsukuyomi). Syaoran is also accompanied by a secretive magician (Fay D. Fluorite) who is running from his mysterious past. However, to pay the price for traveling worlds, they must each pay with the thing they value the most. Syaoran loses his relationship with Sakura forever, Kurogane gives up his precious sword, and Fay parts with the tattoo which keeps his magic intact. Along the way, they encounter corrupt worlds full of war, despair, and lies. They find treachery and abandonment within their very own group. It's a story that sends a refreshing and ominous chill down your spine, especially in the second half of the series. The majority of the series is just savagely cruel..I'm warning you that Tsubasa steadily grows to be extremely dark and depressing. The story plays out to be more than worthy of Greek tragedy. It's a fool's game trying to predict how it ends. I definitely recommend this if you like magical adventures, fighting action, or forbidden romance.

~APPEAL~: CLAMP excels at creating manga series that perfectly mesh the conventional attributes of shōnen and shōjo manga. Tsubasa is, like many of their works, a strong example of this. For guys, there are many badass, wondrously-illustrated fighting scenes, along with fantastic displays of weaponry in the splash pages and in the Infinity arc. The sheer amount of destructive chaos and spilled blood are enough to classify Tsubasa as a seinen manga. For girls, the romance genre will definitely pull them in. There are (literally) about 20 years' worth of crossover bishies who appear throughout the course of the series. Vampire Knight fans will be delighted at the appearance of vampires and their hunters in the Acid Tokyo arc. Shounen-ai fans will be wild over the boys' love teasing that CLAMP is renowned for, specifically interaction between Kurogane and Fay (what their relationship IS remains questionable, but has been addressed by editors at VIZ Media, prominent cartoonists, and professional manga critics). The hints of shounen-ai and minuscule doses of virginal eroticism are so specifically placed into subtext that it's enough to make anyone go crazy. Some worlds resemble feudal Japan, ancient Korea, Victorian London, and post-apocalyptic Tokyo, among others. Did I mention that there's clones, time-travel, and lucid dreaming? Yeah, this is a trippy manga. There's definitely something for everyone.

Tsubasa is, without a doubt, the most incredible and epic crossover series to date. It's not necessary to read CLAMP's other stuff, and it's perfectly all right to read Tsubasa by itself, but you will finish the series feeling empty inside. Let me warn you that you won't enjoy this manga nearly as much. Why read a crossover series if you don't know the true essence of the characters? Why read a crossover series if you are unable to understand the constant references, shout-outs, and cameos? If you are new to CLAMP, the fascinating charm of "bringing back the characters" has no effect on you whatsoever, and the magic of Tsubasa is altered in a very unfavorable way. All of their manga have been given such a unifying tone that you must read them to enjoy Tsubasa to the fullest extent. I honestly cannot stress this fact enough...the more CLAMP series you have read, the more you get out of the experience. Tsubasa was truly made for the fans who sobbed, bawled, and found themselves complete wrecks throughout the courses of RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, X, and CLAMP's other tragic classics. I have emotionally invested all of my soul into these characters ever since I was a little girl, and to see them appear again at last was absolutely blissful. The least you can do is read Cardcaptor Sakura. If time is of the essence, you can always go straight to Tsubasa after CCS and then re-read Tsubasa later, after you've plown through all of their other works.

~PLOT~: From the very start, Tsubasa grabs interest. However, the pacing begins to slow down due to filler chapters, repetitiveness, and childish innocence. I found it frankly a bit boring, but I didn't drop this series because...come on, it's CLAMP. A joke within the fandom is that anything and EVERYTHING by them will either develop into a dark, bloody, diabolically-slaughter-and-decapitate-every-living-thing-in-sight series, or into a disgustingly cute, fluffy, this'll-give-you-diabetes series. In this case, Tsubasa is leaning towards the former. I don’t argue with those who find the series weakening around the 10th/11th/12th volume mark, but just read a couple more and everything pays off.

At the Acid Tokyo arc, things begin to pick up with wicked plot twists being introduced left, right, and center. These 'twists' had been foreshadowed very frequently before in the storyline. Halfway through, the story takes on a distinctly darker flair, as bucketloads of blood and angst are suddenly deemed imperative. It's around this time that the series morphs from what used to be a light-hearted nakama adventure story to what TvTropes describes as "something out of the drug-induced hallucination of a deranged Sigmund Freud." From this point on, Tsubasa only gets more exhilarating with each successive installment. Lissa Patillo: "You can certainly feel the excitement and suspense as the story is pulled along to dangerous, but enthralling, territory." Some people have a preference for the first half of the series...when no one is dying, Syaoran and Sakura's personalities are yawn-worthy, and the plot lacks promise of depth. Hey, if that kind of stuff floats your boat, you shouldn't be reading CLAMP. They enjoy making their characters go through living hell. But they do this artfully. And they like to torture their readers.

Did I mention that every single time a new chapter came out, people would start panicking and screaming "WTF?! I WAS WRONG!" and then proceed to curse at CLAMP for unleashing yet another plot twist? I admit that even I felt frustrated, as the theories I took months to come up with were immediately disproven and dissolved with a mere statement in the manga. Don't even bother trying to come up with theories. To quote some of my friends: "Even Einstein's brain would implode trying to understand the time paradoxes in this series. The plot's not just deep, it's BOTTOMLESS." "In fact, my brain expired three months ago." "Ohkawa has an even stranger mind than Salvador Dali, Quentin Tarantino and John Lennon put together." The sheer number of storylines that come together will undoubtedly threaten your state of mental health, as they are very confusingly executed. Tsubasa begins to rely so heavily on symbolism that it can only be labeled a huge mind screw. However, CLAMP has been tying up all the loose ends in xxxHOLiC, and I applaud them from allowing the plot unfold at its own natural momentum.

There are still many unexplained questions about this series, but the vast majority of it makes sense if you have the patience to read xxxHOLiC, consider other fans' theories, re-read Tsubasa, and dive in a little bit on symbolism. All the true Tsubasa/CLAMP fans have already done this, while others start trashing this series simply because they lack the potential to understand it. You can't just skim through pages and expect to soak up all the information like a sponge. This is a manga that makes you think. This is a manga that forces you to come up with your own ideas and analyze subtext as you read. I'm quite sure that CLAMP will spoon-feed explanations to lazy fans in xxxHOLiC's ending, so make a note to check that out if the need arises. The two series intertwine very heavily, with emphasis placed on the later chapters. You'll gain an enormous amount of insight this way, and the majority of your questions will be answered.

~ART~: Viciously gorgeous artwork, as expected from CLAMP. It's the typical highly detailed hair, heavily stylized eyes and human figures, and elaborate clothing which remains a unique style to them. Over time, the art gradually undergoes a dramatic transformation. The result is akin to that of X/1999. Tsubasa adopts a distinctly contrasting, black-and-white style, with the panels becoming more polished due to the heavy use of screentones.

Carlos Santos of ANN: "What really matters—when two full pages are absolutely necessary to show how dramatic something is—the visual layouts nail it perfectly." In fact, the most memorable scenes are the ones expressed entirely through art. Words mean nothing in this series...silence means everything. The sheer amount of raw emotion concentrated all into a single panel manages to hit you right in the heart. CLAMP knows their tragedy; they know how to reduce a hardcore fan to tears just by having them look at an isolated, wordless page. C.S.: "Even plain old conversation scenes carry a sort of emotional magic, with bittersweet longing expressed on the faces of the characters as they ponder the changing bonds of friendship."

C.S.: "Raw penstrokes, gravity-defying angles and a bevy of special effects illuminate each fight scene. Thanks to the number of speedline intense, dialogue-scarce action panels ... don’t be surprised if you fly through this [series] quicker than most." The backgrounds might even be too detailed, to the point where it's hard to see what's going on. All in all, the art translates effortlessly onto paper with the story's emotional, psychological, and tragic beauty. I can't praise it enough.

~CHARACTER~: Subtext is huge in this category. Every single time I re-read Tsubasa, I discover something new about the characters. You have to let things sink in slowly, and ask yourself questions. "Why did she decide to do that?" "Why did they exchange that look?" "What went through his mind when he closed his eyes in that panel?" Tsubasa is the kind of manga that you can't read through quickly. You have to analyze and theorize. One of the main reasons that people give Tsubasa a low rating is because they aren't in tune with the characters and don't pay attention to the subtext. The subtle yet powerful looks on the character’s faces reveal everything you need to know. If you look hard enough, that is.

Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane, and Fay have distinct personalities. They change tremendously. They lie and distance themselves from each other in a way that just breaks your heart. They find the meaning of true strength and break the chains that bind their pasts. They make horrible decisions and end up paying greatly for them. One thing that Yuuko said to Fai was, "To all the young ones in your group, you are no longer someone who passes through their lives and is forgotten. You have become someone very important to them. Your hardships are their hardships too." In short, our characters become extremely well-developed and have radically different ways of viewing the world as a whole. It's impossible not to relate to them, and you are dealt painful blows to the heart with the countless numbers of obstacles that are thrown between them. I would have liked a little more development for Syaoran and Sakura, though. Their love is too "pure" for me, and they're too kind-hearted for their own good. Kurogane and Fay are the ones that truly shine in this category. They're so human that it scares me to death. Lissa Pattillo couldn't have put it better: "The whole [saga] tailors heavily to fans of character-relation dramas, as the connections between emotionally-scarred characters prove to be some of the most sweet, but also chilling, moments of [CLAMP] series in recent memory."

~OTHER~: This is a real treat for CLAMP fans. People who say that the creators were just lazy obviously aren't familiar with them. In a story where countless characters come and go, do you really expect that people will remember their names? What makes these characters memorable is the fact that their personalities and traits were unraveled when they were the main focus of a different series. The very roots of their hearts, or 'souls', are essentially the same. If you've read most of CLAMP's works, you know in exact detail the lives, true natures, and pasts of every single minor character in Tsubasa (in an alternate universe). It's nothing short of extraordinary. Like I sad before, I have been emotionally invested in all of CLAMP's characters, so to have them all again in this tragedy is almost sensory overload. I was struck with waves of nostalgia and a dizzying feeling.

~ENJOYMENT~: I enjoyed Tsubasa tremendously, and am mourning over the fact that it has ended. It was a great 6 years, CLAMP. This manga is definitely worth your time. So why not give it a try? You certainly won't regret it. This metaphorical gem will stay lodged in your mind for a long time to come. A continued recommend read that I cannot stress enough the worth of sticking with.

~FINAL VERDICT~: A great story, appeal for a wide range of audiences, absolutely breathtaking artwork, and good characterization make it a 'must-read' manga. However, the convoluted plot and the extremely depressing scenarios that occur in the second half of the manga will throw readers off-guard (though it's a wonderful improvement compared to the boring, comedic, "gotta-catch-'em-all" feel of the first half). The storyline gradually begins to make sense after months of ceaseless pondering, but once the majority of puzzle pieces are in place, you can't help but love Tsubasa even more. Definitely recommended if you're a CLAMP fan, but definitely NOT recommended if you've never touched any of their other series. All in all, I would rate this series a '9.5'. However, since there's no decimal rating available for reviews, I rounded it to '10'.

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS WHATSOEVER regarding this series, or if you need someone to aid you in dissecting that absolutely mind-boggling plot, feel free to message me! (:
Reviewer’s Rating: 10
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