Monday, January 5, 2015


Well, it's January once more, which means that it's time for another month full of CLAMP works.  To kick things off, let's take a look at one of CLAMP's biggest, most notorious, and most intimidating works.

TSUBASA RESERvoir CHRoNiCLES (Tsubasa: Rezaboa Kuronikuru), by CLAMP.  First published in 2003, and first published in North America in 2004.

On the world of Clow, Syaoran spends his days working on archeological sites when he's not spending time with his oldest friend, Princess Sakura.  When she comes to visit him at the mysterious ruins he's excavating, she is seized by unknown forces that scatter her memories to the winds and leave her unconscious and on the brink of death.  Now Syaoran now must travel to another world to find a way to save Sakura before it's too late.

On the world of Nihon, the warrior Kurogane is the fiercest, most fearless swordfighter in all of the kingdom, but it's come at the cost of his humanity.  In an attempt to teach humility and the value of life, the Princess Tomoyo sends Kurogane away to another world, even as he wishes only to return to his own.

On the world of Celes, the mage Fai D. Flowright has sealed King Ashura in a crystal tomb under a deep pool of water for reasons only known to Fai himself.  Now he needs to escape to another world in the hopes of escaping his troubled past.

All four find themselves transported to Yuuko, the Space-Time Witch.  She can help all of their causes, but at a steep personal price for each member.  Now they must team up together along with Yuuko's creation Mokona to travel between other, distant worlds to recover Sakura's memories and find the solutions to their own troubles.

A lot of people feel intimidated by Tsubasa.  They know that it's this sprawling series with numerous cross-overs to CLAMP's other previous works.  As such, some think that the only way one can get Tsubasa is to read all their other manga first, and for many that's simply too much homework to do for a single shonen series.  Speaking as both an honest reviewer and as someone who has read most of CLAMP's works, I can say with some certainty Tsubasa can be in fact enjoyed on its own merits.  Yes, there is a lot of crossovers and cameos, but the characters and settings are altered enough that even those who have never touched a CLAMP book previous can follow and enjoy this series on their own.

That being said, there are a LOT of CLAMP cameos in just this single volume alone.  It features cameos or alternate versions of characters from:

  • Cardcaptor Sakura
  • xxxHolic
  • X/1999
  • Chobits
  • RG Veda
  • Miyuki-Chan In Wonderland
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
Their inclusion doesn't interrupt the flow of the story, though.  If you can recognize them, then it's a fun little bonus for a fan, but you don't have to know a thing about them to continue.  This is even true for the characters from Tsubasa's sister series xxxHolic.  Yes, Yuuko is the one who sets our main cast upon their way and serves as the primary source of exposition, but one doesn't need to know the events of that universe to understand what's going on here.

That's even true for our leading man and lady.  While they do share names and basic personality points with the Sakura and Syaoran of Cardcaptor Sakura, they are not the same characters.  In all fairness, it's harder to say that for Sakura than for Syaoran, but that's because she spends most of this volume in a coma and as such we don't learn much about her beyond the odd flashback.  Still, that lets them fit in smoothly with the original characters of Fai and Kurogane.  Those two have long been the most popular cast members, and it's easy to see why.  While their respective dilemmas are quite opposite of one another, both are simple and compelling in their own right.  The two also form what is essentially a manzai duo, with Fai being the one dishing out the sly jokes and teasing and Kurogane being the straightman whose frustration is always met with laughter.  Admittedly, this is used mostly for a bit of ship-teasing on CLAMP's part, which was (and still is by many) met with enthusiastic approval.  Still, I enjoyed that they were treated as characters in their own rights with their own issues and dynamic and not just the chaperones for the rather milquetoast leads.

I do have to say that as a shonen series, Tsubasa starts off on a strong note.  It doesn't waste any time introducing our main quartet, setting them upon their quest, and ending on a cliffhanger fight.  It doesn't rush through things, but neither does it have the glacial pacing of its animated counterpart.  The tone is light and breezy, and exposition dumps are kept to a minimum.  Tsubasa really is just a very pleasant sort of action-adventure story, and it does a good job at finding the balance between introducing the cast and premise and getting the plot proper moving.  It has a lot of callbacks for the fans, but they don't get in the way of telling the story or engage those new to CLAMP.

The artwork here is very much in the same vein as previous shonen and seinen works from CLAMP like Angelic Layer and Chobits.  The linework is dark and thick, but the long, lanky bodies and faces are far more simple and less stylized than those of their older works or the finer, more elegant style of xxxHolic.  In particular, I really like Kurogane's striking visual design, who spends most of the volume looking like a block of stark black accented only by his face and a few minor details. 

There's not a lot of action here, and most of what we see is the sort of swirly tendrils of magic that fill the page instead of a lot of hack-and-slash sort of fighting.  The page composition is rather free and easy, with plenty of big, roomy splash panels and characters often spilling out over the panel borders, and this is emphasized by the fact that backgrounds are rare and sparsely drawn.  There's just a general sort of lightness to the art which fits the tone of the story perfectly and helps visually distinguish Tsubasa from CLAMP works of both past and present.

In spite of its reputation, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles can be just as enjoyable to a CLAMP newcomer as it can be to the hardened fan.  It's a light and breezy adventure helmed by an engaging cast (well, half of one at least) and it's simple a well-assembled bit of shonen.

This series is published by Kodansha Comics, formerly Del-Ray.  This series is complete in Japan in 28 volumes, and all have been published in North America.  The single volume releases are out of print, but the series is currently available in 3-in-1 omnibuses, of which 3 are currently in print.

This volume and many more like it can be purchase through!

No, I don't get why the title is so randomly capitalized.  I doubt even CLAMP knows at this point.

1 comment:

  1. I have a mild fondness for this title, as it was one of the first manga series I ever read. Sadly, I don't recall what I made of any of the CLAMP crossover stuff, though I think I just didn't notice that much of it, as I wasn't really all that familiar with anything CLAMP had done at that point, except maybe for xxxHolic. I also don't recall what I thought of it at the time, though I did buy a few more volumes, so I apparently liked it enough to keep reading it for a while and I think I dropped it because of laziness and/or lack of funds rather than disinterest in the story. Perhaps I'll pick it up again and give it another shot.