Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles is a fantasy manga by CLAMP, the mangaka behind famous titles such as Cardcaptor Sakura, X/1999 and Chobits. The plot is set in a series of alternate CLAMP universes, where the characters from CLAMP’s other works live out their lives in different universes as different (yet similar) people. The story follows a group of four dimension-travelling companions: Syaoran the Archaologist boy from the desert country of Clow, and Sakura, the princess from the same country who shares feelings of love with Syaoran. Also in the group is Kurogane, a skillful ninja from the country of Nihon in a different world, and Fai, the magician from the magical snow-covered country of Ceres.
They are all brought together at the house of the dimensional witch Yuuko Ichihara, each seeking something different from her. Syaoran arrives with Sakura unconscious in his arms, seeking the witch’s help to save Sakura’s life. Kurogane the ninja had been forcibly banished from his country by the princess he was serving, and only seeks to return to where he came from. Fai is a mysterious fugitive who only seeks to escape the world he came from and flee to other worlds. The witch explains to Syaoran that Sakura’s soul (her memories) had been lost in the form of magical feathers which have been scattered throughout the dimensions, and the only way to save Sakura is to retrieve all of the feathers and help her regain her memories bit by bit. The witch is able to grant all their wishes by giving them the power to travel through dimensions at random, ending up somewhere different each time. Such is possible with the ability of their new companion, Mokona, the small cute creature with an odd resemblence to a steamed bun. But the price for receiving Mokona is great, and requires each of the three to give up their most precious things. Kurogane is forced to surrender his sacred family sword, Fai is forced to sacrifice the mysterious magical tattoo on his back, and Syaoran is forced to give up his relationship with Sakura. To elaborate, Sakura loses all memories of Syaoran, and any attempts at restoring those memories will be fruitless. Even so, they all accept their prices, and they begin hopping through the worlds together, each for their own purposes.
The story begins with a slow pace, the overall feel a mix between a typical shoujo and shounen manga. Sakura’s dying, and YOU GOTTA HELP HER! Syaoran is the do-everything guy, a man of indominable spirit and strength who will never, EVER give up. He will always find a way to make what he wants happen, and he never stops fighting for Sakura’s sake. In the beginning, Sakura’s role is the defenseless damsel, which can get old quickly. It’s cheesy cliche stuff, but I think it’s more of a hook than evidence of the feel of the whole story, as I will explain later. At the very least though, there is some depth to her character, as she hates how she’s forced to simply wait and be carried everywhere by Syaoran. Kurogane has a lot of personality, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The tough guy who always keeps to himself, has an insatiable desire to be the strongest man in the world, all fueled by a horrible childhood past. But I like how CLAMP kept his character from getting shallow. I think the way all of it works is, the characters appear very cliche at the beginning of the story, but they grow more and more complex as we begin to understand them better. This guy may not look it, but he understands a lot about human hearts, and though he may be quiet, he always knows what’s going on around him. This is proven when it’s realized that Kurogane is the only one of the group to understand Fai’s true nature. I think Fai is a much more interesting character, personally. He’s the mysterious wizard with a mysterious past, but at the start of the story he plays the role of the almost gay-looking guy. He’s ALWAYS smiling, always making lame jokes and jabs, and has very girly mannerisms… But in actuality, every bit of his outward personality is a farce used to keep others at distance. His one goal, as Kurogane soon understands, was to keep from getting ‘personally involved’ with his travelling companions. While he was always polite, he never bothered to talk about himself or go out of his way to care about the others. When we realize just how much of his personality is constructed by lies, the readership gets very hungry for explainations regarding his true nature, and his real intentions. Many plot twists ensue when his deep dark past is revealed, but that’s not til near the end of the story, so I won’t spoil it here. But it’s something crazy, blew my mind…
Onward to the extended cast… We have Mokona Modoki, the mascot character of TRC. He’s the comic relief character, the object of ‘cuteness’, the cuddly face. But I won’t say it has NO character, because that’s not true! CLAMP’s dedication has been proven time and time again in their ability to construct deep characters, even when based on cliched shallow archetypes. Mokona is a symbol of extreme kindness and warmth, and thanks to him many of the characters are able to cope much better. He’s the little helper, the guy who doesn’t get much attention but is the backbone of the team. He just wants to help any way he can, after all, that’s what he was CREATED for. Another frequent character is Yuuko Ichihara, the dimensional witch, and creator of Mokona. Readers of CLAMP’s other manga, xxxHOLiC will recognize the name, and yes, they are the same person. Not mirror images, but the exact same character. You see, TRC and xxxHOLiC are parallel stories, and they both contain references to one another throughout. They were written at roughly the same time, so you got the full experience from reading them both together. Anyway, if you don’t know her, Yuuko is pretty much the ‘orcale of everything’ in the modern CLAMP universe, taking the reins from the now deceased Clow Reed (the great magician from Cardcaptor Sakura). As a matter of fact, the two characters were once friends according to the story, but enough of those little details. Yuuko is the embodiment of the sage-like minds behind CLAMP’s creations. Her character is that of an infinitely wise master of magic, but she is bound by her duty of granting wishes to people all throughout the multiverse. She has friends among humans, spirits, demons, angels, and even beings which transcend time and space. Pretty much, if you can imagine it, Yuuko has the power and knowhow to make it happen. During their travels, Mokona is able to communicate with it’s twin Black Mokona in Yuuko’s possession, and act as a way of contacting Yuuko for help when the travellers are in a bind. She helps the travellers many times, creating magical items, giving invaluable advice, and even castin
g special spells. But each wish requires a price of equivalent value, so sacrifices must always be made to move forward. But I love how it’s not just material objects that can be sacrificed, but anything you can think of that has some kind of ‘value’. The mechanics of granting wishes in this fashion are shown to be quite restricting, but navigating through them with various tricks and unexpceted sacrifices is very interesting. If you’ve read xxxHOLiC though, you’ll know more than anyone that Yuuko is as childish and playful as she is wise, which I think adds to her appeal that much more. Who says you have to be serious ALL the time, eh?
The plot follows the travellers as they hop from dimension to dimension in search of Sakura’s feathers. Each world has a completely original feel to it. The first world is a modern Japan where every living person in the world has a spiritual companion with which they can summon to perform certain magical powers, reminds me a bit of Pokemon. The second is an old eastern world where an entire town has been enslaved by a powerful magician who utilizes the power of Sakura’s soul feather. The third world takes the form of a murder mystery, another is a futuristic hovercar race, another is a virtual reality, another is a mythical war, and so on and so forth. With each world being so distinct, it allows so much freedom and creativity on the part of the writers. And some really imaginative stuff comes out! But it’s not just a casual disjointed adventure, there is a much larger plot underneath the surface, and it doesn’t show itself until halfway through the manga. This is the point where the OVAs branch from the Anime series, where it was TOO DARK FOR TV. (not really, but the atmosphere takes a dramatic shift, so they couldn’t air it) And yes, there is a big bad in this story, Fei Wong Reed. I can’t say too much about him without spoiling some crucial plot points, but he is incredibly evil and intelligent, and has incredible magical powers which rival even Yuuko’s. As you can probably tell, this story is a heavy fantasy, with the mechanics of magic playing an important role in the plot. I find that very interesting personally, it shows they put a lot of thought and effort into their universe (or multiverse).
As I said earlier, the plot starts off with a very slow pace, nothing too distinguishing from your ordinary teenage manga. But halfway through, the underbelly of the plot reveals itself, and the story becomes serious business. Alliances are formed and broken, new threats are discovered, and Sakura herself takes the initiative for once. The plan is thrown into chaos, and everybody has to decide what they really want to do from that point onwards, and if it’s really in their best interests to walk together. It’s so hard to describe without spoiling, but it really changes everything about Tsubasa. The story wouldn’t be the same if it continued the mood of the first few volumes. Some people found it very alienating in the second half, as it descends into tragedy and mindf***, but personally that just added to the appeal of the story to me. No more is it a casual adventure, but it’s a quest that puts everyones’ lives at risk. It’s all about fate, time, the will to move forward, the bonds between people, the courage to step into the unkown and confront it. It’s full of hugely powerful and inspiring messages, and they’re much more powerful when you realize the struggle of the characters towards the end of the story… Not to mention, the ending was utterly amazing. Kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. The story is no stranger to plot twists, expect an incredible amount of them. It’s like LOST, haha. When stereotypical character archetypes develop into the most complex characters you could know, it’s really amazing. That’s CLAMP for you. It’s hard to put it into words really… Tsubasa wasn’t the first anime/manga I’ve seen, but it’s the first one that really impacted me, so I have undying love for it. It still remains in my top 3 even today. Tsubasa was almost lifechanging for me in my confusion of adolescence, it gave me strength! I think any text that can accomplish that is amazing, and it’s never going anywhere in my heart. The story will pull your heart strings til the end, the convoluted plot will have you figuring it out, speculating and creating theories long after it’s over, and the depth of the characters will steal your heart. Don’t be turned off by the early stages of the story; Tsubasa goes above and beyond your average manga, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s CLAMP at their very best, and if it were me, I’d say this deserves a place in manga history. It’s just brilliant, and so much passion was put into it. The ultimate in fantasy manga!
PS. This blog was based almost entirely on the MANGA, not the anime. The anime series does it’s job of maintaining the feel of the first few volumes of the manga, the nonchalant not too serious atmosphere, and that’s alright I guess, but I really feel the anime inappropriately represents the majesty of the original manga. Except for the OVAs, they are pretty much identical to the manga, page to scene. But I’ll always recommend the manga over the anime, any day. (Not to mention the anime/ovas still have no conclusion, yet…)(This blog post was extracted from Eccentricity, from before Kakera Complex was made.)