Tsubasa: Those With Wings Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Sakura Eries
Review Date: Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An ex-thief discovers adventure and love as she strives to find a "normal job" in the harsh world of the 22nd Century.

Creative Staff
Writer/Artist: Natsuki Takaya
Translation: Kinami Watabe
Adaptation: Stephanie Duchin

What They Say
Kotobuki is an ex-thief who tries to find a job for herself by traveling with Raimon. He used to be a military commander and would always run after Kotobuki, but now he has to fulfill his dream, which is to forget about thievery and get into the militia and to live with Kotobuki forever. However, people seeking the Tsubasa, a legendary object that grants wishes, never stop causing them trouble. Everyone is trying to claim it as their own and use Kotobuki and Raimon's skills to do so!

The Review!
The front cover features Kotobuki wearing a dark orange midriff-baring top, fringed skirt and leggings, and arm coverings. Around her neck is a light green cape blowing in the wind. White feathers swirl against a blue sky as she mounts stone steps. The cover illustration appears to have been made sometime after this manga was drawn (between 1995 and 1998) as the character design differs markedly from that within the book. For those familiar with Takaya-sensei's Fruits Basket, the Kotobuki of the front cover more resembles Yuki from Fruits Basket than the pictures of Kotobuki on the pages. The white title logo decorated with feathers is placed across the center, and at the bottom left is the mangaka credits.

The light blue back cover design is quite simple; a subdued feather illustration to the left and the title logo and story synopsis placed to the right.  At the bottom are ISBN, genre, and age rating icons.

Although this is only volume 1 of this series, it is thick (over 370 pages) about the size of Tokyopop's Samurai Champloo Complete (three volumes), but the paperback binding and materials are sufficient to accommodate the thickness. The print quality varies; it's overly dark in places, muddy in others, and faint in other areas. Extras include untranslated splash page art, the four-page video letter, a closing note from Takaya-sensei, and a 28-page excerpt from Takaya-sensei's Phantom Dream. There is a table of contents, but it's not very handy; in addition to the pages not being numbered, the only entries on the table of contents are the opening of the manga (page 5) and the Video Letter (page 367). There are no color pages.

Those familiar with Fruits Basket might be somewhat surprised by the artwork. As mentioned in the Packaging section, the style for Tsubasa: Those with Wings is quite different than that for Fruits Basket, and there’s even a remark about the change in the characters' look in the Tsubasa: Those with Wings Video Letter. Overall, the drawing style is rougher and less consistent than Takaya’s more recent work, and characters have smaller, more angular faces and larger eyes with more shine spots. Outfits in the Tsubasa world are mostly Western with styles taken from several different eras. Women wear short skirts and tops whose sole purpose seems to be accentuating their breasts, and most male characters are in military uniforms with the exception of Raimon in his tunic and pirate-like bandanna.

The Tsubasa world is a ruined future Earth (though not post-apocalyptic). However, panels, especially in the first chapters, are crowded and cramped, and setting illustrations are so simplistic they don't convey a strong impression of this world. The crowded panels also make for action sequences that, while they are easy to follow, don’t have much impact.

Most Tokyopop titles I've read tend to be sloppy when it comes to text/translation, but this one felt more slapdash than usual. Sound effects are not translated, which makes for confusing dialogue in a scene involving stomach-growling and another with scraping nails. Only diagrams and key signs and papers are translated with overlays; however, the original Japanese words were not completely removed for a couple of overlays. In addition, there were a scene label and speaker indicators in a few speech bubbles that were left in kanji. A couple of cultural notes are provided in footnotes, and this translation does not use Japanese honorifics.

It's the 22nd Century, and the Earth is in a state of desolation. Countless wars have left fields withered and buildings in ruins. The rich, the military, and politicians still have access to nicer amenities, but the vast majority suffers in poverty.

In the midst of this despair, many cling to the hope of Tsubasa. Supposedly, this mysterious force appeared one day from beneath a poor town and granted all the villagers' wishes before vanishing. Rumor has it that it still lies somewhere deep beneath the ground and will grant the wishes of whoever finds it. As such, thieves, the military, and many others are desperate to get their hands on it.

Ex-thief Kotobuki, however, doesn't care about finding a legendary force -- what she wants is a job! However, in the economy of a ruined world, finding honest work is as elusive as tracking down the mythical Tsubasa, and for all the efforts of Kotobuki and her companion, former military commander Raimon, to find normal employment, they keep getting dragged into the schemes of those seeking Tsubasa. But what will happen when Kotobuki actually has an encounter with the mysterious Tsubasa?

Though I am familiar with Takaya-sensei's work in Fruits Basket, I didn't have any expectations when I started Tsubasa: Those with Wings, yet I still came away disappointed. Tokyopop has categorized Tsubasa: Those with Wings as a fantasy, and while the magical powers of Tsubasa do lend it a mystical flavor, it also feels like it's striving to be a science fiction, a romance, an action/adventure, and a comedy as well. It begins as the comic misadventures of Kotobuki the ex-thief trying to find a real job amid encounters with evil scientists, inept criminals, and lewd military officers. The plot then shifts to drama as Kotobuki discovers her feelings for Raimon and deals with the tragedies of her past. In short, the story feels like it's trying to do too many things and doing none of them well.

In addition to not having a strong direction, the characters aren't very compelling. Though several have major quirks, their actual interactions aren't that interesting, and the impression they leave is more tiresome than goofy. The romance aspect is also lacking. There is no progression in Raimon's feelings for Kotobuki -- he simply is in love with her. As there aren't any real rivals on the scene, the only tension in the relationship comes from Kotobuki as she goes from "like" to "love" with Raimon.

The story's plot is also weakened by its details. Supposedly, crime is rampant, and Kotobuki isn't a very good thief as she only steals things of no value. However, she still stands out enough for the military to know her by name and for Shoko to go out of her way to recruit her. In addition, the impetus for Kotobuki giving up her life of crime is Raimon, who, as a member of the military, has a much higher social standing than Kotobuki. However, that continues to be her motivation for finding a job even after Raimon leaves the military (for her sake) and turns to than honest means (gambling) of bringing in income.

With a lackluster story and cast and artwork to match, following Kotobuki on her journey feels more like a chore than an adventure.

This title is rated 16 + for swearing, violence, and sexual innuendo.

Mania Grade: C+
Art Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translation Rating: C
Age Rating: 16 and Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 14.99
Pages: 400
ISBN: 978-1427814289
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left
Series: Tsubasa: Those With Wings (omnibus)