Tsubasa Vol. #03 (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, August 24, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What They Say
After planting the seed of revolution among an oppressed populace, the heroes travel to a new world - a snow-covered realm, at once both haunting and haunted. A crumbling castle lurks on the village edge, from which the townsfolk suspect a royal specter emerges to roam the streets at night, stealing children. When Sakura disappears into nocturnal silence, the truth proves even more chilling than the legend... Nothing is as it seems as a tale that has spanned the centuries seeks its end.

The Review!
Tsubasa makes its way through three worlds across this volume as the search for Sakura's memories continues.

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.

The cover for this volume is interesting in that it has a really good piece of Fai with a young woman but it doesn't fit with anything that's going on with these episodes. The artwork is nicely detailed in places and Fai with his softer brighter colors is rather striking on here. 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 main cast of characters as well as everyone's favorite Time/Space Witch.

Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the letterbox design houses the artwork of Fai 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 Nayutaya and the country of Jade. 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 Emeraude. 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)
After ten episodes of Tsubasa, and with a strong familiarity with the manga, it's safe to say we're not going to see any great depth here. Nor are we going to see CLAMP rewriting what has made shonen series work for so long either. What we are continuing to get is a show that tickles the fancy of many CLAMPverse fans while also providing something of a gateway show for a younger audience or newcomers to their library of characters. While there are series that you can call guilty pleasures, Tsubasa is simply a pleasure that doesn't have much meat to it. Not that that is a bad thing.

What's proving to be awkward for the series is the way the story arcs are breaking down on the disc. This volume has the problem of having one episode that closes out the arc from the previous volume before it jumps into a standalone episode. From there it kicks off a storyline that felt far too plodding in manga form with the first two episodes of the new arc. On a weekly basis this doesn't come across as disjointed in the slightest but in this form it's a bit more problematic. With several weeks between releases, the conclusion of the arc with the first episode here is a bit anti-climactic since the build-up has lost a lot of its momentum. It's still entertaining however as it ties together a few obvious areas and brings in the outsiders who are familiar faces.

What surprised me was that Tsubasa would still delve into the standalone realm. The story is one that helps to cement the way Sakura's memories are incomplete as it shows her remembering certain events from her past but with parts of it not fitting right. A birthday party with a guest who isn't there but she can clearly tell that she was talking to someone. These flashbacks are good in how they show her situation but also in fleshing out parts of her simple past and her personality. At the same time, it's done to help illustrate her and Syaoran's relationship from the beginning and how his life was shaping up after his foster father took him in. Though the background story about why the group has arrived in this world is very shallow, the characterization is effective enough to overcome it.

The new arc that kicks off in this volume brings the cast to the country of Jade wherein it's wintertime. The heavy snows and European designs to their costumes gives it a classic feeling as we discover the mystery of the day. As seems to be a common theme, time passes different in each of these places and it appears that Sakura's feather arrived here a few hundred years ago. At the time, it spawned a historical legend about a princess who gained power from it and took away all the children. That legend is playing in the present as the children of the village are disappearing one by one and there is rumor that it's related to the princess from back then, a wispy yet beautiful woman named Emeraude.

Syaoran and the others have the uncanny knack of showing up in places just as events are becoming problematic. And since they're strangers in these places they are instantly suspected by the locals as being involved in what's going on. That gives them a chance to align with some of the locals who aren't quite as superstitious and learn what's really going on. This new arc was one that felt like it dragged on too long in the manga and was plotted poorly but the pacing seems to be a bit faster here as it's moving along fairly well in the first two episodes. Emeraude in particular comes across well in this form as she interacts with Sakura at times while still maintaining the kind of ethereal beauty she had in Magic Knight Rayearth. Her direct involvement in the story, instead of the passive secondary characters many others have been so far, is a very welcome change that makes this all the more interesting to watch.

In Summary:
Though it's terribly easy to find fault with Tsubasa's logic at times, such as when the leads swim underwater for far too long or Sakura can't think of calling for help as kids are sleepwalking out of town, the show is simply a good bit of fun. The appeal of the character designs and the tweaks on various worlds and characters that are familiar are highly appealing. CLAMP is able to revisit their past and breath new life into it while also potentially attracting a new audience for their older works. Even for many that I've read, there are times when these simple visits to an alternate take has me wanting to haul out the old books. Easily accessible to new and old fans, Tsubasa walks the line of wanting to play to both and does it outside of a few missteps early on.

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 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.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Tsubasa