Tsubasa Vol. #02 (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, July 13, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What They Say
Each new world offers Syaoran, Kurogane, Fai, and Sakura new adventures, but trouble has found them in this one even before they arrive. Delivered into a land of suffering under evil rule, the noble crew must unite a weary populace to overthrow the cruel feudal lord and his brutal son with the help of a young orphaned rebel. The uprising will prove fierce and the magic astounding, but victory must be achieved before the quest can continue.

The Review!
Closing out one arc and kicking off another, Tsubasa replicates things with a few new additions as it sets the larger stage.

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. Though it doesn't feel quite as soft as the first volume, particularly the first two episodes, it still doesn't feel like it's as sharp as it should be. The softness has 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, this installment features a good mix of character artwork though with a bit of heavy darkness due to the way Kurogane and his cloak come across. Mokona provides a bit of cuteness to it though that just brings a smile to my face. 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 Syoaran in an action pose while the two girls are off to the side. The colors look great and it's a decent looking piece to use for an interior piece of artwork.

Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the menu for the first volume has a good looking shot of Chunyan in a letterbox design. The static image has a decent background of blacks and reds to contrast her bright design while some of the instrumental music plays along for the standard thirty second loop. The logo takes up a small bit of space 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 small selection of extras are included in the release though some of them fall short a bit in potential. 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 land of Nayutaya. 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, this one only covers Chunyan. 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)
Bringing out another five episodes of the series, Tsubasa gets all the way up to the episode ten mark with this volume and almost all of the way through the second full arc. With the first volume providing the initial setup and then the bulk of the first arc, it was designed with a fairly decent cliffhanger to try and get you back for more. This volume is essentially setup the same way as it takes things to a high point and asks you to come back for more.

The closure of the first arc where Syaoran has a Kudan of his own and is engaged in a fight for the feather plays out fairly predictably while bringing in some unbalanced material. Having one of the weaker characters actually be really powerful isn't a surprise but it's done in a campy way with his Kudan taking on a poor look. This arc hasn't felt all that interesting to begin with and has been weak with regards to the rest of the CLAMPverse but it got the basic premise of how the group has to work out of the way. What this arc has established is how Syaoran and the others have to deal with the upcoming situations and the methods that they can use to secure the feather and continue on to the next world.

The downside is that yes, it's fairly predictable and formulaic. Once you see how this arc plays out you can see how several others will as well. The next arc takes the group to the land of Nayutaya, a place where the village they end up in is being shielded and kept under the control of a powerful wizard. Syaoran and the others naturally fall in with a young girl who has been hard hit by this wizards control of the town as she lost her mother during an attempt to free the villagers. Chunyan is a bright and energetic young girl who has had a rough time of things and is looking for a way to avenge her mother as well as free her soul from where the wizard has placed it. Initially she's quite interested in Syaoran and the others as she believes that they may be part of the Meittishou, a group that works under the rulers of the land that deal with local area issues where power is abused.

Similar to the first arc, this one does feel just a bit too long and suffers from not having much CLAMPness associated with it in terms of other properties. Beyond having Arashi and Sorata appearing again as the token characters, nothing here really stands out from other properties either in character form or locations. At the least we have Yuko making an appearance briefly which adds a bit of fun to the show since she's such a great character. What does help this set of episodes is that with Sakura having a feather back in her after the previous arc she's far more involved in the storyline. Of course, she does have the problem of being a relative blank slate but it allows for some good moments with the cast as they deal with her being more involved. Things do go far too smoothly overall though with Sakura's waking up with no reaction to her complete loss of memory. Of course, any realistic interpretation of events like that would be a series killer.

The arc that dominates this volume does play out pretty well all told though it does seem to feel more appropriate for a much younger set at times. My seven year old adores the show and is able to follow it easily enough which is a plus since it's potentially a great gateway show. For older folks it's a bit more hit or miss, particularly for heavy CLAMP fans as there is precious little to get excited about here. The lead characters do continue to be pretty good however and we're slowly starting to get a bit more out of them, such as Fai talking a bit about his past and a few more nods towards Sakura and Syaoran's own past. If not for the amount of the manga that I've read, I can see myself having more problems with this show but the potential is still strong in my mind for what's to come.

In Summary:
Tsubasa is still a bit too generic right now and it's missing some of the appearances it needs from other CLAMP characters but the main draw of Sakura and Syaoran is what's driving it for me. Adding in that Kurogane seems interesting enough and Fai fits perfectly with the group while combining it all under Mokona's apparent wit, Tsubasa has plenty to keep me entertained even if it isn't terribly deep or original. So far it's had some darker moments in the first couple of episodes but has since fallen into lighthearted fun with some cute comedy. The designs are quite appealing and the potential is strong but it's just a matter of waiting for it to kick in with one really good arc featuring more characters from the CLAMPverse.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,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: 29.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tsubasa