Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE Vol. 10-11 (Del Rey)

Despite a seemingly convoluted back story, this action series from the Japanese women's artistic collective CLAMP is surprisingly accessable and hopelessly addicting.

186 pgs. ea. B&W; $10.95 ea.


The tenth volume probably isn't the best place to hop onto a long-running series, let alone one whose back story is as convoluted as Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, but surprisingly, this fantasy tale crafts such a compelling and visually fascinating world that once the initial confusion wears off, new readers will find themselves just as addicted to the series as readers that have been onboard from the beginning.


First some background: Tsubasa is one of two concurrent series from CLAMP, a four-woman collective whose ornately illustrated manga (X, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Chobits, to name just a few) are some of the most popular titles on either side of the Pacific. Tsubasa and its companion series xXxholic frequently cross paths, and while it isn't required to read both series to understand the two by themselves, reading both gives readers a fuller view of the characters' world, as well as a chance to see the same situation from the perspective of multiple characters. Tsubasa becomes even more complicated, however, as it features the return of characters from previous CLAMP series in new roles, almost as if it were the same actor playing a new role in a new movie. Having a full understanding of CLAMP continuity adds another layer onto an already rich story that is, thankfully, quite compelling in its own right.


The basic plot: the princess Sakura and her childhood friend and not-quite-love-interest Syaoran (both previously seen in Cardcaptor Sakura, aired on US television in highly-butchered form as Cardcaptors a few years back) set out on a quest to retrieve Sakura's memories, which have been transformed into mystical feathers and scattered across space and time. The tenth volume opens by plopping readers right in the middle of the previous volume's denouement. Sakura and Syaoran recover another feather and are joined by their friends Fai and Kurogane, but they unfortunately don't get much time to dwell on what they've been through before they're whisked off to Piffle World, a massive sort of cloud city in the sky.


On Piffle World, the foursome runs into Princess Tomoyo, who is sponsoring a "Dragonfly race" of fantastical flying machines. The prize for the winners is a "super energy battery," an item that Sakura and friends recognize as one of Sakura's memory feathers. Tomoyo also chooses Sakura as her personal champion and insists that Sakura enter the contest herself, despite not being the skilled pilot that her companions are. The 11th volume sees the four pilots and a variety of other colorful characters run through their paces in the Dragonfly race's opening round, where one of the pilots has apparently sabotaged many of the other racers. It's then a race against time to find the cheater before the race's final round, which kicks off in time for a wonderfully executed cliffhanger sure to make reader's count the days until volume 12's release in January. 


Tsubasa is an easy series to like. The characters are full of life and vigor, and the plot moves at a fast enough clip to gloss over some of the more trite elements. The race, for example, is a ridiculously silly plot device to guide the characters to their next feather, which CLAMP seem to be fully aware of as they speed by the introduction to get down to the nitty-gritty of the race itself. The race can certainly carry its own weight, as it is gorgeously illustrated with large panels that crackle with kinetic energy as the magnificently designed flying contraptions speed through the story's pages. CLAMP plays it a little bit looser with the art than they have in past series, giving some panels a slightly sketchy quality with chunky, slightly uneven inks, but the overall effect plays to the series strengths by sacrificing exactitude for energy. The only real artistic complaint one could possibly lodge is that they play a little too fast and loose with the anatomy at times. CLAMP's standard design style has always featured notoriously lanky characters with impossibly long, skinny arms and legs, but at times in Tsubasa they stretch that style past its limit, resulting in the occasional shot of a character with a laughably small noggin. But again, this is a minor quibble that effects only a few panels in each nearly 200-page volume.


Despite its convoluted history, Tsubasa is a thrilling action series, pure and simple, and a rare one that features a female protagonist yet appeals just as easily to both male and female readers. While volume 10 may not be the best place to start, sampling volume 1 should be enough for most readers to eagerly snap up the rest of the series.

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