Tsubasa Vol. #01 (also w/box) (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, May 11, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What They Say
The fates shine upon young archeologist Syaoran and his life-long love, the Princess Sakura. As the moon hovers silently above the kingdom, a beautiful and otherworldly sound fills the air, drawing the princess to the ancient ruins. Her latent powers stir, awakening an ability to cross dimensions. But the process is interrupted as unseen forces conspire to claim this magic as their own.

Sakura's soul is sent adrift across the universe, each memory a feather dancing through the stars. Syaoran will make heroic sacrifices to track down the remnants of her soul... With fellow travelers Kurogane and Fai, a warrior and a wizard, the epic quest begins.

Contains episodes 1-5:
Destinies Converge
The Power to Fight
Sword of Demon Destruction
Innocent Wandering
The Battle of the Mage

The Review!
When Sakura loses all her memories into the form of feathers, Syaoran must journey across multiple realities to restore his one true love.

In fairly standard form for FUNimation, this release has three audio tracks. The two stereo mixes, one for English and one for Japanese, are both done in a standard 224 kbps encoding and sound pretty good. The bass level on them seems a bit high at times to the point where I ended up turning the subwoofer off. There is also an English 5.1 mix which is done at 448 kbps and that has a bit better clarity and placement for the music and ambient effects as well as a smoother feel to the bass level. In listening to the 5.1 mix first and then again in the Japanese 2.0, both tracks came across as clear and problem free.

Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With animation by Bee Train combined with the stylistic nature of CLAMP for this series, the series is a visual treat. Or at least, it should have been a visual treat. With a number of Bee Train series out in this market and having become accustomed to their style, Tsubasa is something of a surprise. The animation lacks a real sense of vibrancy and instead feels fairly muted here. The first two episodes in particular feel like there is some gauze on it with the way it's so hazy and soft. There are some scenes that you can imagine being done intentionally soft, such as certain flashback moments, but the entire disc feels this way. The softness has really upped the level of fuzziness that's there throughout which means backgrounds look alive quite a bit. This also infects the character animation where Kurogane is heavily affected. In later episodes when he's wearing just a black t-shirt you can see the blocking artifacts easily. With no Japanese release to do a direct comparison I can't say for sure that all of this isn't intentional, but looking at the body of Bee Train's works that have been released over here this doesn't stand up well at all.

Using different artwork than the Japanese retail release, the first volume has a good looking shot of Sakura in the background with her hair flowing in the wind with the petals while Syaoran is in the foreground with his staff and looking all action hero like. With the logo mirroring what Del Rey has used for the manga release, there is a good sense of continuity and cross promotion there that works well. The back cover goes for a minimalist feel with the logo taking up a big chunk of space along the top and a smaller shot of Syaoran from the front cover appearing here again. A few shots from the show make it in and episode title and numbers are clearly listed. The summary goes over the basics without giving away too much and the discs extras are clearly listed. The remainder of the cover is given over to the usual boilerplate and production information as well as the tiny technical grid. No insert is provided but the cover has artwork on the reverse side with a two panel spread of the four lead characters and Mokona against a hazy blue backdrop.

The first volume also comes in a disc+box edition that will house the first season. FUNimation has continued with their design experiments with this release to some moderate success. Designed as box in the form of a book (but not like the books Geneon has done), the heavy chipboard box sites upright vertical like the discs but the right side panel opens outward. The exterio of the box has some good illustrations on it, with the panel that opens featuring the first volume's artwork and the other main panel featuring Kurogane and Mokona. The spine that faces out on the shelf features just the logo sideways while the other spine has everyone's favorite time and space witch. Opening up the main panel, the interior has a really good looking piece of artwork attached to it with the majority of the cast that just shines. The interior side side of the spine has more character artwork as does the placeholder cardboard where the disc is. Where the box design becomes tricky is in the latching. The box does latch with a magnet, similar to the Negima box. The Negima box worked with the magnet for me because it was a top loaded box. With the side box here, I'm a little more leery of how it'll hold up when pulling a filled box off of the shelf. It's a solid looking box that feels like it has some solid weight behind it though and the mixed feelings I have about the latching are fairly minimal the more I use it.

Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the menu for the first volume has a good looking shot of Kurogane in a letterbox design. The static image has a decent background of blacks and reds to highlight his nature while some of the instrumental music plays along for the standard thirty second loop. The logo takes up a good chunk of real estate while the navigation box along the bottom is the simple and effective. Access times are nice and fast and moving about the menus is easy. As usual, player presets are completely ignored with FUNimation releases, not that it would matter as they label the full subtitle track as Japanese for some reason.

A nice selection of extras are included in the release though some of them fall short a bit in potential. The character auditions section is nicely broken down into each of the characters while showcasing a piece of static artwork for the duration. Similar to previous audition sections on other releases, it's designed by someone who doesn't understand basic functionality. Not only can you not chapter forward to end it, you can't fast forward either. No time codes are placed on it either so you can't see what the duration is. You can hit the menu button to get out of it however. The character guide section is a good piece that provides a breakdown of some of the lead characters along with conceptual pieces of artwork. You can move back and forth throughout them but there is no button for getting back to the menu. Again, you can hit menu to do this but it's simple navigation basics to have a button for it or to allow the enter button to shift you back to the menu.

The World Guide is similarly plagued in design as it takes us through the Clow Kingdom and Hanshin. Providing some liner notes on the various locations along with conceptual artwork, it also includes a number of characters and magical elements that appear in those episodes. The weakest of the extras and the one that I think is most key for this series is the Faces in the Crowd section. Designed to be a who's who of the cast of characters that show up along the way, the first installment covers only Toya Kinomoto. There are characters from other series that appear in these episodes that would be far more suited to being discussed here. The Del Rey manga has done some excellent work throughout the series in highlighting the numerous characters that appear from other series but FUNimation has fallen flat here on it. Also included in this release for extras are the clean versions of the opening and ending sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Tsubasa was first announced as being animated it was a moment where I was practically giddy. While the manga has been somewhat difficult at times to get into, the idea of getting to have more time with some of these characters was greater to me. Having fallen in love with Sakura and Syaoran in their Cardcaptor Sakura identities, seeing a new version of them that would also run through multiple incarnations of other characters from the CLAMP universe was basically a huge amount of fanservice. These kinds of stories have been done for years and since I first read Isaac Asimov tying some of his various series together long ago I've loved the concept.

Tsubasa revolves initially around a simple cornerstone of the series. In the Clow Kingdom, teenagers Syaoran and Princess Sakura have long been childhood friends. Syaoran has lost his father but is continuing on with the archeological dig that he had started which is unearthing an amazingly huge and intricate location just outside of the castle. Sakura is close to revealing her true feelings for him but has to contend with the fact that his work keeps him away for a great lengths of time. The time the two spend together however illustrates how close their bond is and that they are on the cusp of transforming their friendship into something more serious.

At the same time in different worlds, we're introduced to Kurogane and Fai. On Kurogane's world, he's a feared warrior who now fights simply to become stronger and has killed many. The princess of that world, Tomoyo, has decided to send him away where he can do little damage while also attaching a curse to him that will cause him to kill far less indiscriminately. On Fai's world, things he's been up to now has him on the run and he intends to journey to another world and beyond in order to avoid his fate. As these smaller plots bear out, there is a larger storyline looming with a mysterious pair of people who intend to use the hidden power within Sakura to manipulate time and space to their own desires. That leads them to using her within the ruins that Syaoran is unearthing but events cause her and Syaoran instead to be cast to "our" Earth at the same time that Fai and Kurogane arrive.

While an adventure on a regular Earth with this group would be interesting enough, they instead have been sent to the Dimensional Witch Yuko. With a price to be paid by each of those who want her favor, the meat of the storyline is truly established. The events that Sakura had to face have left her without any memories and on death's door. All of her memories have taken the form of feathers and been scattered across the multiverse. Syaoran is prepared to protect her and seek them out, but he has to pay a high price to Yuko for it. Kurogane's desire to return home has him tagging along with Syaoran and Sakura while Fai's desire to avoid going home has him doing the same. The group is given a guide of sorts in the form of Mokona, an adorably cute white critter that can seek out feathers and transport them across each world. From there the journey truly begins.

Like any good road trip series, there is plenty of time for the lead group to get to know each other and their quirks. Though they do start to work together well just a little too early for my tastes, each of them have definite reasons for continuing to journey together. There are boundless mysteries to be explored as they journey from one realm to another and seek out the feathers. The tie that binds them is that the purity and honesty of Syaoran. His desire to help Sakura strikes them deeply over time, just as Sakura's innocence and presence does once she awakens again. Though she's not who she was at the start, the promise of seeing her return becomes motivation, albeit slowly. Some of the best material for me comes in watching Mokona interact with the group. Friendly and cuddly with Fai, Mokona is far cuter when dealing with Kurogane as she manages to tweak him just right.

With the first volume of five episodes, the first two episodes deal with introducing the basics and setting up the deal with Yuko. The remaining three kick off the journey to the first world where spirit powers are used in different forms and it has something of a gang atmosphere to it. That opening arc doesn't complete here and it's one that just like the manga I felt was weak in getting going. The manga took me some time to truly get into but as it progressed and the complexity of the worlds and storylines evolved it became far more intriguing. The real guilty pleasure of a series like this however is seeing familiar faces from other series in new roles. A pairing from the X/1999 series show up in these episodes and their nature is priceless to see.

With a group like CLAMP that has an extensive body of work, much of which has been released in the US, it's been interesting to see their progression in style and storytelling over the years. With Tsubasa, they've taken on an even more lanky look for the characters that I've found quite appealing. In doing that book and xxxHolic at the same time I wasn't surprised to see slightly simpler character design and more diverse facial expressions but it's translated well the animated form here. There is plenty of detail to the backgrounds and overall designs but there is also a real simplicity to it that. With plenty of cloaks and a sense of epic, Tsubasa hits all the right notes for me with how it's portrayed.

In Summary:
While the transfer for Tsubasa is one that left me highly unimpressed for such a high profile title, the content certainly saved the day by a large order. Sweeping vistas, beautiful music and a sense of power and importance to all of it, Tsubasa could easily come across as pretentious. It's easy to say that this is accessible to anyone unfamiliar with the characters in their various otherworldly forms, but the more you know the more you will get out of the series. At its core there is a great simple storyline but it becomes all the more because of the nuance. With a second season finished and a third season planned in Japan this is a show with some serious legs to it. These first five episodes aren't stellar but they set the stage for what is a much larger series of events that play out. This is an easy recommendation both for fans of the manga and the CLAMPverse as well as for those that are new to all of it.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Cast Audition, Character Guide, World Guide, Faces in the Crowd: Cameos for the Clamp Universe, Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tsubasa