Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle by CLAMP

Title: Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle
Author: CLAMP
Volumes: 28 (completed)
Volumes (English): 28 (completed)

Sakura is the princess of Clow - and possessor of a mysterious, misunderstood power that promises to change the world. Syaoran is her childhood friend and leader of the archaeological dig that took his father's life. They reside in an alternate reality...where whatever you least expect can happen - and does. When Sakura ventures to the dig site to declare her love for Syaoran, a puzzling symbol is uncovered - which triggers a remarkable quest. Now Syaoran embarks upon a desperate journey through other worlds - all in the name of saving Sakura.

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Skip to the bottom of the page for final thoughts.

CLAMP is notorious for creating a story that will fuck with your mind and wrench your heart strings before tearing out the weeping organ, using it as a sponge to mop up your tears only to shove it back in your chest to repeat the process again in the next volume. Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, along with its companion series Xxxholic, is the crowning achievement of this process.

Tsubasa has one of the most complex story lines I've come across in a manga series, even without adding in Xxxholic. While the driving force moving the plot, collecting Sakura's memories (in the form of feathers), is simple enough the relationships and character development are quite complex and involved. The world building is epic, spanning several alternate worlds and uniting CLAMP's beloved characters from previous series together. If you've read Xxxholic, Cardcaptor Sakura, X, Chobits, Tokyo Babylon or Magic Knight Rayearth, many of the characters will be familiar to you even as their situations or personalities may be new to you.

The central story follows Sakura, Syaoran, Fai, Kurogane and Mokona as they travel through several dimensions to collect Sakura's memories. What starts out as strangers being thrown together by happenstance, or as the Space-Time Witch would say "Hitsuzen", the relationships that these characters forge during their travels is enduring.

Syaoran's selfless love for Sakura is bittersweet. With every feather collected, Sakura's memories of Syaoran are lost forever. His willingness to continue the quest regardless of his own pain as his past is forever severed from Sakura's is tragically beautiful. During the quest, Sakura's growing feelings for a Syaoran she no longer knows is endearing. The optimism in this relationship, that love will win out, has a kind of innocent hope that leaves one remembering first loves.  

The friendship between Fai and Kurogane is a mixture of playfulness and faithfulness. There's a self sacrificing element to this relationship as well. Both of them are willing to sacrifice for the other, Kurogane his arm and Fai his magic. They begin to depend on each other further cementing their friendship. For Fai, this is a difficult process as he has a past he's concealing and running from. Fai is my favorite character and without Kurogane he wouldn't have been nearly as interesting. Part of Fai is Kurogane and vice versa.

There are some crazy plot twists, which goes back to CLAMP fucking with your mind, that leaves you asking yourself what just happened? I won't go into the details, because I wouldn't want to ruin the series for anyone, [VIEW MAJOR SPOILER AT YOUR OWN RISK]
[and really how do you explain the plethora of Syaorans, Watanuki's realationship with Syaoran and Sakura, or the Clow Reed connection to all of them without people thinking you're mad?]
but the last few volumes are especially thrilling and just plain entertaining. You won't be able to put it down until the very end. 

Speaking of the ending, I loved it! It's not a typical ending, but it's satisfying. (The opposite of Xxxholic's ending, which while atypical, is not at all satisfying.) Tsubasa's ending plays a pivotal role in Xxxholic's ending, especially with regards to Watanuki. (More on that in my Xxxholic post.) [VIEW SPOILER]

[I love how choice plays an important role in the ending of both of these series. Syaoran's choice to continue traveling, and Watanuki's choice to never leave is powerful. I also love that Syaoran, Fai and Kurogane decide to continue to travel together. There's a bond that won't be broken. At the same time they have direct access to Sakura's dimension, so that they can visit anytime. It reminds me of Star Trek the Next Generation (my nerd is showing). At the end of TNG you knew they'd be friends forever, and that's what you get from the ending of Tsubasa. Friendship and love triumph. It's a beautiful way to end the series.]


The artwork in Tsubasa is beautiful, as all of CLAMP's artwork is. I love how their wardrobe changes to conform to each new world they visit. I especially love the Goth/BDSM look they have during the Infinity arc.

My favorite world has to be Infinity, where Sakura becomes a Chess Master and Syaoran, Fai and Kurogane are living pieces who have to fight to the death. A close second, is the ruined city of Tokyo. Part of it is that I really like post apocalyptic stories, but I also think this had one of the best story arcs in the series and some of the best secondary characters. (The vampire brothers were especially interesting.)

One disappointment I have with Tsubasa, is Chi's role. (Chi is a character from CLAMP's Chobits.) In both series she isn't truly alive, rather she's an automaton, in Chobits from technology and in Tsubasa from Fai's magic. I think my disappointment stems from my wanting her to be truly alive. Something I wanted when reading Chobits and hoped for in Tsubasa when she made a brief appearance.

Final Thoughts
I love this series and I recommend reading Tsubasa and Xxxholic together, especially the later volumes. I wouldn't read Cardcaptor Sakura first, if you're over the age of twelve, as it might put you off of CLAMP entirely. I read Cardcaptor after Tsubasa and Xxxholic and I think I would never have read them if my only experience with CLAMP, as an adult, had been Cardcaptor Sakura.

People who like Kimi ni Todoke, One Piece, Bleach, or Pandora Hearts would like Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.