Tsubasa Vol. #04 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, October 11, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 09, 2007
What They Say
Mysteries swirl like a sandstorm around the enigmatic ruins of Sakura's homeland; a site of unknown power, clearly coveted by forces both dark and light, evil and right. Syaoran and his noble friends, Kurogane and Fai, are observed from on high. Destiny's finger might not be the only force pushing them through their hunt.
From world to world, a hero's adventure unfolds across the dimensions; their path unmarked yet well defined. Lands of legend and history, contests of magical strength, friendly days and hostile nights... Syaoran must stay constant or all is lost. Feathers float down from the stars, torn asunder if only to prove the power of love.
Contains episodes 15-18.
The journey is the main focus and it moves across multiple worlds once again as the search for the feathers becomes more interesting.
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. 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.
The cover artwork is suitably dark considering these episodes locations and when they tend to take place. Yuko is given the most space here as she takes up the bulk of the background in her costume while Syaoran and Sakura are clutching each other in the foreground. It has a good look to it but also some of the softness that's somewhat normal for the series. 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 main cast of characters as well as Yuko.
Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the letterbox design houses the artwork of Syaoran and Sakura from the cover with a few sigils wrapped around him and his young companion. 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 is 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 new 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 Oto. 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 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 Soma. 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)
The world of Tsubasa starts kicking things up a bit in terms of character crossovers as we see people from different series and nods towards other areas. With Kusanagi and Yuzuriha showing up, alternate versions of what appear to be Syaoran and Sakura and a nod towards Clover, it's starting to feel like CLAMP is getting more comfortable in providing aspects of more varied series into this one. Unfortunately there isn't much in the extras department to really let people new to this figure out where everyone is from which sort of takes away from the charm of the series.
Similar to the previous two volumes, the layout of episodes here really does make this feel awkward when watching it in total. Three separate stories are covered across the four episodes and it starts off by finishing out the first storyline from the previous volume with just one episode. This is a rather nicely done story arc as it's focused around Princess Emeraude and the missing children. The storyline from the manga had left me rather indifferent but the animated version brought it all to life better with a more enticing atmosphere. Little is really left to do with the storyline at this point beyond the actual confrontations with Dr. Kyle and a rescue attempt so it goes by rather quickly but proves to be enjoyable enough. It comes across as weak in the sense that it's been several weeks since we saw the bulk of the storyline however.
Tsubasa sneaks in another standalone episode with this volume that doesn't have much to do with the storyline at large. Mokona is a bit cute in how she words things when they arrive so that it gets everyone active and involved in the tournament to see who the strongest person out there is. That person will win a grand prize of great value which Mokona is giving the nod towards. The tournament aspect is admittedly predictable but the interplay and banter between Fai and Kurogane as they go at it is worth the price of admission. The episode is also interesting in that we get to see what look to be versions of Syaoran and Sakura that are involved with each other. That can certainly provide some thoughts in the leads minds if they really think about it. Of course, you know that they really won't do much with it since it is essentially just a filler storyline.
Where the real fun comes in is with the start of the new two part storyline that makes up the second half of the disc. With the knowledge, albeit minimal, that someone is out there watching them and possibly interfering with their journey, Kurogane is on edge when they arrive in the land of Outo. Or Oto if you go by the extras (which also changes Eriy to Erii... some lovely consistency there). Outo is an interesting country that feels almost European in a quaint way where the group is greeted by a gaggle of maids that introduces them to the concept of their land. They're familiar with travelers from another world and have a system setup where everyone who comes through has to register their names and take on a job of some sort.
Fai is devilish in this as he names Kurogane and Syaoran as Big Doggie and Little Doggie while he and Sakura are Big Kitty and Little Kitty. The doggies are assigned to Demon Hunter duty which will let them earn some money and gain information on the land from other Demon Hunters while Fai and Sakura end up spending a few days setting up a coffee house from which they can make connections. Amusingly enough, the café does get named Cat's Eye after Yuko finds out and offers that as a suggestion. The setup for this world is certainly fascinating enough as it's dealing with people who are aware of the larger dimensional world that's out there. The demon hunting makes up a good chunk of it but the real focus of what's going on here is still relatively hidden from view.
While Tsubasa is a somewhat generic journey series in terms of plot and design, it's the character interactions that make me smile and look at this warmly. The way Fai and Kurogane interact is certainly appealing, especially since Fai is so playful and knows how to push all of Kurogane's buttons. Even Yuko gets in on that in a subtle way at times. But it's also the almost parental nature of the relationship that both Fai and Kurogane are taking on when it comes to Syaoran and Sakura. They have a clearer understanding of what's going on, though surely Syaoran knows subconsciously as well, of just what's involved with their journey and the prices that are being paid. Yet each of them are looking for ways to mitigate it and lessen the impact so that the two of them can actually really find each other. And, of course, there's Mokona and her antics which just make me laugh far more than they should.
A lot of times it can be a kiss of death to say it, but Tsubasa is quite accessible. People who don't follow anime can get into it easily enough and enjoy it even if they haven't a clue about all the connections and nods. Those aspects simply do not dominate the series and that helps immensely. Unfortunately though, FUNimation is dropping the ball (perhaps not through choice though, depending on legalities) in highlighting those connections for the more aware fans. This could be a great experience that would bring people to new shows and properties but also something that would show some extra care and attention on a title that's very marketable to an audience that is quite aware of it. In the end though, it's the show itself that must win over the audience and this fourth installment has me quite eager to see more of it.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,World Guide,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Character Guide,Faces in the Crowd
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver 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.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2