Tsubasa Vol. #07 (also w/box) (of 12) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, August 14, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The second season kicks off with a bang as the Piffle Princess Company challenges everyone to a race to gain Sakura’s feather.

What They Say
They say nothing as no summaries have been sent to retailers or press sites.

The Review!
Unlike the first six discs, FUNimation has dropped the English 2.0 mix from this release and has kept it to just two language tracks. The Japanese stereo mix is done in a standard 192 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 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Tsubasa comes across as a much stronger show in this series, partially because the softness that plagued much of the first season is largely gone. What we get, along with much higher bitrates and no alternate angle for the opening and closing sequences, is a show that is more vibrant looking and retains a stronger set of solid animation pieces in the foreground and background. There’s still noise to be found in places and in particular colors in the backgrounds at times, but by and large it’s a very different looking show in comparison to the first volume of the first season. With no noticeable cross coloration and only a few instances of notable aliasing going on during panning sequence, Tsubasa looks a good bit richer and more alive than it has in its first season.

While the background is unfortunately black which really doesn’t help sell the show, the fact that it’s basically a Cardcaptor Sakura cast reunion makes it all worthwhile as the three principles from it are there along with Mokona. Set to smiling characters and some bight colors, particularly for Sakura, it brings quite a smile to my face. 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 titles 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 that features a rather good image of Syaoran when he was young with his father in the midst of a dig.

Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the letterbox design houses the artwork of the characters from front cover. The cover artwork doesn't come across quite as dark as the colors that are in it are more vibrant here than in print. 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.

A small selection of extras is included in the release and FUNimation has fixed some of the problems with them from previous volumes. The main offense was that with the two guides, you had no selection to go back to the main menu with and had to use the remote to do it, which takes you often to the main menu. This is fixed and you can easily navigate the particular extras with ease now. The character guide section is a good piece that provides a breakdown of all the primary characters of the series as well as some new ones seen in these episodes along with conceptual pieces of artwork. Providing some liner notes on the various locations along with conceptual artwork, the World Guide also includes a number of characters and magical elements that appear in those episodes. 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 second season of Tsubasa gets underway without much in the way of anything really noteworthy going on to transition from one season to the next. In a way, the lack of a real opening episode to set the stage makes it important that FUNimation doesn’t reset the series to a first volume but rather labels this as the seventh. It could have garnered more sales probably by calling itself something different and starting with a first volume, but I imagine that it would also cause some problems from unsuspecting new viewers.

Thankfully, this season of Tsubasa does start on one of the more enjoyable and fun storylines from the manga, and in fact was the point where I had fell out of manga in general so things going forward are going to be new. The Piffle Princess arc, which runs for three of the five episodes here, is simply just good fun as it involves a lot of the cast of characters we’ve seen so far. The core group has landed on this world where Sakura’s feather is now the prize in an aerial race where many different people from different lands are competing for it. Hosted by the Piffle Princess company and its president Tomoyo, she’s set it up so that the feather that her company discovered can find a home without a particular preference being given to whoever claims it. It’s all about the competition itself.

A good chunk of the arc focuses on the race itself, first the preliminaries and then the actual contest. There are dangers along the way as unseen forces are competing in less than savory ways, but the race itself is pretty tame and fun to watch as they go through relatively protected accidents where nobody is really going to get hurt. It’s fun watching Kurogane take on the race so easily as well as to watch Sakura constantly ending up in last place but still doing well enough and having Syaoran cheer her on. What lets the arc work well is that we get the meeting of several characters with ties that are simply fun. Kurogane coming across this Tomoyo is very well done since Tomoyo has talked with Kurogane’s princess in a dream, and that makes him both uncomfortable and very interested in what she had to say.

What made this the most fun for me is that the show reunites, albeit in very different forms, one of my favorite trios with Tomoyo, Sakura and Syaoran. With a number of trappings from the Cardcaptor Sakura work, such as Cerberus as the company mascot and the wings all over the place, it captured a lot of the magic that made that show so much fun. Add in little moments such as Tomoyo fawning over Sakura and wanting to dress her up in special costumes and you get the feeling that a lot more than souls are the same across the dimensions. It’s these things that allow this arc to exude a certain charm and lightheartedness that was necessary after the events of the first season finale and to draw people back into the show while reminding them how much fun it can all be.

Unfortunately, after this three episode arc Tsubasa turns a little bland. The first standalone episode after the arc involves going back to a place they had been before, where they had to climb a series of stairs in an impossible place to bring the dead back to life. The land is at first seemingly beautiful but events from when the group was there last are now quite different as Sakura’s miracle is about to be undone. Those who had come back to life are now being told their time is done and that nothing can be done about it. With the discovery of another feather in this world, there’s hope that they can replicate the miracle and save everyone once again. There are some interesting things brought into it about what people can get away across the various worlds and dimensions and it’s more a story about the way the group is being manipulated. Revisiting a place feels awkward though since there is so much more that can be done in the series. Essentially repeating the previous story in short form simply doesn’t click that well.

The final episode on the volume, another standalone piece, isn’t bad either but it’s one that’s more focused on telling a simple tale that helps us to connect better with Syaoran. The story revolves around them landing on a world in the middle of an ocean and getting picked up by a cargo ship that’s passing through. Working off of comments made earlier in the volume about familiar faces, the story introduces us to Syaoran’s father in this world who is working as an engineer on board the ship. The twist is that he’s actually several years younger than Syaoran is in this. Syaoran connects easily with his pseudo-father and wonders how much similarity there is between the two, something that becomes the focus of the show as the deal with each other and eventually a small crisis that bonds them even more. It’s simple, it’s mildly heartwarming and it gives you the appropriate fuzzies, but similar to the episode before it, it feels like the time would have been better spent on something else.

The second season of Tsubasa largely seems to be following in the same animation style as the first, which is appealing to some and problematic at best for others. The video quality has certainly helped to ease some of the issues with how the first season looked as this is a much cleaner and more vibrant looking show, a show that I expected it to look like. The visuals have plenty of punch to them and the fluidity, when used, is quite good. There are still a number of cheap moments to be had, notably the very long drawn out end to each episode which is largely designed to sell more music CDs I suspect, but by and large I finished out this volume feeling quite pleased with how it looked overall. Though perhaps my expectations were suitably lowered after the first season.

In Summary:
FUNimation’s return to Tsubasa feels a bit awkward by starting with a seventh volume after the hiatus. However, it’s generally good to be back with the crew and enjoying what adventures they’re going through. The five episodes on this volume bring me some of the more enjoyable lighthearted material of recent memory for the property before it dips into rather basic and formulaic pieces in the standalone episodes. The little hints here and there are nice but they really need to start getting to something more substantial. Tsubasa isn’t high art to be sure, not master level storytelling, but it is pure CLAMP geekery for me and it’s enjoyable on that level and it makes me happy to have more.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles, World Guide, Character Guide, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
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