Humor and drama provide wonderful bookends to an otherwise very dull set of episodes for the ninth installment of the series.
What They Say:
As fate tosses Syaoran and his companions across the dimensions, some of the worlds they visit are far stranger than others. Though in each and every one danger is inherent. First trapped in fiction, the band of travelers finds themselves characters within a storybook where even time bends to the author's whims. Then chasing feathers down freeways, the group hitches a ride on a bus until things stall and night falls, hell on wheels fast approaching. And with familiar faces found throughout the many lands, times such as these only reinforce one of the journey's constant truths: There is no such thing as coincidence, there is only inevitability.
What We Say:
Unlike the first season, FUNimation only has two audio tracks for this release instead of the three we saw before as there is no English 2.0 mix. 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 volumes 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.
The dark background again works well with what the character artwork is like for this volume. The central focus is on that of a young Kurogane as he holds his mother in his arms with a very serious look in his eyes. The background hints at more with a shadowed face but also a very light and appealing young woman who gives it all a bit more balance. 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 Kurogane 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 Sakura and her brother along with Yukito when they’re younger, almost all at the same age, in a very cute moment.
Using some of the same style and coloring as the back cover, the letterbox design houses the artwork of Kurogane only 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 first seasons’ volumes. 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)
Sometimes I have to wonder what the CLAMP folks were thinking when they came up with some of their story ideas. There are certainly ones that I enjoy as Tsubasa has been a lot of simple silly mainstream fun in general, but there are certain stories that leave me boggling. It’s when you look at it and you feel that you really can’t blame the creative team itself but rather have to look to the editor and wonder how they let such a thing fly. And then you want to smack around the anime production company for actually wasting the time in adapting it.
Thankfully, there is good material to this volume and I’d rather talk about that first. Tsubasa has had its share of serious material so it was a real treat after the Shura arc to spend an episode being silly. Very silly in fact as the group arrives in a world where the core group outside of Mokona ends up in a storybook. A magic storybook where they’re drawn almost in a super deformed manner with all sorts of cute expressions and wild takes at times. Outside of the book, Mokona finds herself with the storyteller who has gained one of Sakura’s feathers. With a simple smile, Mokona is given permission to draw her own story using the four leads and she comes up with something very silly that allows her to bring them into the “real” world. It’s all pure silly stuff and I have to admit that I laughed at it, much in the same way xxxholic had its very silly snowman fight episode. This is just bright, vibrant and brought a lot of smiles to my face.
On the flip side, Tsubasa does delve into the more serious as well. The final episode on the volume, which seems to be a prelude to the next arc, has Syaoran picking up a book in a library where he suddenly finds that it’s writing itself the story of a friend and he’s unable to literally put the book down. That story is of Kurogane from his youth in which we see his time in his home country where he was living with his parents and being raised as a strong yet curious child. Though he hadn’t taken on the name of Kurogane yet, much of his personality is very much intact here as he does his best to help his ailing mother while trying to please his warrior father. The father son relationship is pretty standard for this style but it’s done very competently and effectively in showing us the why and how of Kurogane from this period. That it all impacts Syaoran so profoundly isn’t a surprise, but it’s still a strong moment that potentially changes how he interacts with him in the next storyline.
Where Tsubasa lost me pretty easily was with the two part storyline in the middle. Syaoran and company are dropped into a new world where they pretty much have the feather given to them on a silver platter. The rub is that at that moment, they’re in the middle of a road that’s in the middle of nowhere and a big truck is coming down on them. They go running and the feather ends up stuck to the truck itself. So now they’re racing after it and trying to catch it, since it’s an automated truck and it doesn’t stop for anybody. They luck out in that an automated bus is coming along and they’re able to get on due to the generosity of one of the passengers to pay their fare. The few people on the bus all have their own stories as we see familiar faces like Yuzuriha, Syogo and Chitose.
There’s some basic things in this story about how people like Syaoran will do whatever is necessary for those that he cares about that has an impact on the secondary characters of the storyline. Everyone on the bus seems to be running away from something in varying degrees so seeing someone like Syaoran running towards something is enough to shake them up a bit over time. But where the episode fails is in that it’s so mind numbingly slow. Tsubasa already suffers from a sense of slow because of the various pans and extended gazes that the characters have. Put them on a bus that has them locked down overnight and one that they can’t speed up in order to catch up to something else and it’s forced numbness. When you have some of them, like Sakura, literally sleeping away the bus ride, well, you start to feel the same way about the episode. This storyline felt like a train wreck across the board.
On the positive side, the book end episodes of this volume are really solid pieces for very different reasons. The comedy episode at the first is worth it just to see Mokona going all artistic with a red beret on as she creates a world around the core cast. The last episode finally introduces us to some of the deeper aspects of what makes Kurogane who he is and it has a significant impact on Syaoran as he learns about it in a very emotionally connected way. It provides for some good action and development of a character that really needed more. But in between these two very good episodes is a pair of road trip episodes that has you wanting to get off the bus before you take your life. How a story like this made it not only into the manga but into the anime is beyond me and is one of those stories that reminds you that CLAMP can’t do filler material well either. This is a real mixed bag of episodes unfortunately.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Character Guide, World Guide, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
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.