Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE–Anime Review

2.5 Stars
Even if you didn’t already know it, the title of this series should tip you off that the team of manga artists known as CLAMP has a weird sense of humor. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, I generally like their stuff. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours watching anime series based on their work. That’s what makes this particular series such a disappointment.

  • Title
    Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE
  • Genres
    Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
  • Demographic
    Shounen
  • Contents
    52 Episodes on 12? DVDs
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Based on
    a manga by CLAMP
  • Director
    Hiroshi Morioka, Koichi Mashimo
  • Script
    Hiroyuki Kawasaki
  • Character Design
    Minako Shiba
  • Art Director
    Shin Watanabe
  • Music
    Yuki Kajiura
  • Animation Studio
    Bee Train
  • Broadcast
    NHK, 2005-2006
  • Region 1 Publisher
    FUNimation Entertainment

The central conceit of this series is that there are a large number of universes which include multiple versions of familiar characters from other CLAMP series.

The people you know and the people you have met in previous worlds will have sometimes lived completely different lives in other worlds as well. You may meet persons who have the same appearance in many different worlds, many times over.

Those two are the same…and yet not the same. You might say they have the same essence.

One reason that the show has been harshly criticized is that Princess Sakura, one of the main characters, is clearly presented as an alternate version of Sakura Kinomoto of Cardcaptor Sakura. If you happen to own the rights to one of the most beloved heroines in anime you had better be careful how you treat her or some people will indeed get very annoyed with you. Princess Sakura seems a nice enough girl but she is so completely different from Sakura Kinomoto that it seems ridiculous to suggest that they are essentially the same.

I am not going to downgrade this series for that. I think that a series should be judged on its own terms, not on how much it resembles, or fails to resemble, another series. On the other hand I’m not going to give this series extra points just because it is full of references to other, superior, series.

But I will criticize this series for its ending, or lack of one. I’m fairly open-minded about endings, but I do have a pretty inflexible rule that if you start a quest you must show the end of it. Before the final credits role, Jason must find the Golden Fleece, the One Ring must be thrown into the Cracks of Doom, the shikon no tama must be glued back together, or Sakura must collect all the cards (or in this case feathers.)

This series has a strong dramatic start, but it quickly falls into a repetitious pattern of 2- to 4-episode story arcs, all of them rather similar. The heroes arrive in a new universe, scout out the territory, make some acquaintances, solve a problem or defeat a villain, locate and acquire the McGuffin, then depart for the next universe. New mysteries are added but few are resolved. There is little sense of progress being made toward the goal. Ultimately the series ends Inuyasha-style, with nothing but a promise that the quest will continue.

To a large extent this series is about fan service. No, no, not sexual fan service–there’s nothing like that here. It’s more a matter of “spot the cameo,” the little in-joke thrill of recognizing characters from other CLAMP series. But this tends to wear thin since these aren’t, after all, the real characters.

Still, for dedicated CLAMP fans there are occasional tidbits of information that shed light on other stories. For example, if you have ever wondered who controls Piffle Enterprises, the giant industrial conglomerate that financed the development of the Angelic Layer game and the persocoms of Chobits, this series provides a surprisingly logical answer [1].

Parental Advisory

As far as the TV series is concerned, I don’t see too much to worry about. There is a fair amount of bloodless cartoon violence, but there’s nothing likely to upset any but the youngest children.

The OVA is another matter. It is much darker and bloodier. I would only recommend it for teenagers.

Premise and Characters

Kingdom of ClowThe story begins in The Kingdom of Clow, a desert kingdom that was founded by a legendary wizard named Clow Reed.
King TouyaThe land is ruled by King Touya, a dour young fellow who is worried about his younger sister.
Sakura and TouyaPrincess Sakura is the nominal heroine of the story. Actually she mostly plays the role of a damsel in distress. A true princess, she never seems to get angry or frightened, always serenely confident that she will be rescued.
SyaoranPrincess Sakura is secretly in love with her childhood friend Syaoran, a brave young archaeologist.
Sakura and SyaoranShe is trying to get up the courage to confess her feelings to him. Syaoran is currently busy excavating the ruins of a lost civilization that once occupied this land.
YukitoA worried King Touya consults the High Priest Yukito, his best friend and most trusted adviser. Yukito tells him that Syaoran and the princess are fated to be together.
Xing Huo and Fei WongFrom his secret headquarters in another dimension Fei Wong Reed (a.k.a. Fang Reed) observes all of this and makes evil plans. His assistant Xing Huo watches, seemingly unmoved.
Sakura Activating MachinePrincess Sakura is drawn to the ruins where Syaoran is working late at night. Somehow she activates a mysterious ancient machine. Glowing wings appear on her back, then explode, scattering the feathers across hundreds of universes [2]. Sakura falls unconscious.
Clawed WarriorsThis is what Fei Wong has been waiting for, and now he makes his move. Implacable warriors with clawed gauntlets appear throughout the city. King Touya summons his guards to fight them, but they prove to be difficult opponents.
Touya DefendingKing Touya and High Priest Yukito fight their way to Syaoran and Princess Sakura. The high priest tells Syaoran that the feathers contain Sakura’s memories and she will die unless they are recovered.
Yukito Casts SpellHe casts a spell to send Syaoran and Sakura to another universe and tells Syaoran to seek the help of the Dimensional Witch.
Princess TomoyoMeanwhile, in the magical Kingdom of Nihon, Princess Tomoyo has a problem.
Souma and TomoyoKurogane, her strongest warrior, has become uncontrollable.
Kurogane EnspelledShe casts a spell to exile Kurogane to another universe, sending him to the Dimensional Witch.
FaiMeanwhile, in still another universe, a wizard named Fai D. Flowright (a.k.a. Fay D. Flourite, and various other spellings) has succeeded in sealing away the evil King Ashura. However he fears that he has doomed himself by doing this. Hoping to escape, he casts a spell that will send him to another universe to consult with the Dimensional Witch.
Dimensional WitchYuuko Ichihara (known in other universes as “The Dimensional Witch”) runs a mysterious little shop nestled among the skyscrapers of present-day Tokyo. She is prepared to grant any wish as long as the wisher is prepared to pay a commensurate price. She is waiting for the travellers, dressed formally and flanked by her servants.
Yuuko Meets TravellersYuuko declares that all of them want basically the same thing. Syaoran needs the ability to travel to other universes in order to retrieve Sakura’s feathers. Kurogane needs the ability to travel to other universes in order to return to the Kingdom of Nihon. Fai needs the ability to travel to other universes in order to escape the vengeance of King Ashura.
Yuuko Fai KuroganeShe promises to grant their wish if each of them will give up the thing he values most. Kurogane must give up his sword. Fai must give up the tattoo that he uses to perform magic.
Yuuko with MokonaSyaoran must give up his relationship with Sakura: even if all of her feathers are recovered she will never regain her memories of him. In desperation they all agree.
Mokona ModokiYuuko then gives them Mokona Modoki, a fat white rabbity thing that has the power to transport them to other universes, though with no control over where they will end up. Mokona can also serve as a portable storage locker, a video projector, a communications device and a feather detector.

The Movie

A short 40-minute movie called Tsubasa Chronicle the Movie: The Princess of the Country of Birdcages was released in 2005 and shown as a double feature with a similar episode of the related series xxxHolic. Both are available on a combined DVD from FUNimation.

This adventure can be inserted anywhere in the story-line without making any difference to the overall story.

The OVA

According to rumor the abrupt end of the TV series was related to a falling-out between CLAMP and the animation studio. Whether or not this is true, a different studio recently released a 3-episode OVA called Tsubasa Tokyo Revelations which continues the story.

This adventure is set in a variation of the world of X/1999, and not surprisingly is much darker than the TV series. It answers some of the questions raised in the TV series, but also raises new ones.

In the end the story seems no closer to a conclusion. However what originally seemed to be a mostly upbeat story, somewhat reminiscent of Cardcaptor Sakura, has now become grimmer and more tragic, more reminiscent of X/1999.

Links

Anime News Network Encyclopedia entry.

Wikipedia entry (major spoilers, including storylines from the manga that have not appeared in any version of the anime.)

Notes

[1] No, I’m not going to make you watch the show to find out. Piffle Enterprises is controlled by Show ▼

[2] Tsubasa means “wings”, which explains that part of the title. “RESERVoir” may refer to the reservoir that is featured in the OVA.

2 thoughts on “Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE–Anime Review

  1. On the other hand, one of the good guys is also arguably Chinese. (Or maybe half-Chinese.)

    All kidding aside, for something really offensive to the Chinese, check out Nijuu Mensou no Musume episode 2.

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