Tsubasa: Gathering Of Fates - Volume 1 review
A Fantastic Interdimensional Chronicle
Fan of anime and manga? Yeah? Cool. Then there's a good chance that you're at least familiar with some of CLAMP's works, who have made quite a name for themselves. Series like Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits and X are amongst some of their works kicked off in manga and adapted into anime that have attracted plenty of fans. The idea of a cross series mashup is the kind of dream found in dedicated fanfiction as characters from different universes interact with each other, and even throwing familiar faces into alternate roles. So imagine the sheer joy when the creators decide to take this idea and run with it themselves, producing a manga that was likewise brought into the animation scene. So here we have the first volume of such a series, but can Tsubasa appeal to more than just the hardcore CLAMP fans?
In a word: yes. I guess that's not quite enough though so I'll explain from the beginning. The whole premise behind the series involves travelling between alternate worlds where we can find alternate versions of existing characters who take on entirely different roles. A mighty king in one world may be a chef of a cafe in another (which happens to lead to a fairly amusing minor plot point). With this in mind the creators found freedom in running wild with the idea. Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura? Let's make her a magical princess. Chi gets to take on more human properties. Yeah, you get the idea. The fortunate thing is that, despite taking on different roles, the core personalities are preserved so that fans will immediately associate with them.
Thankfully it's not required to be a fan to really understand the gist of everything. The worse that will happen is that you'll miss all the neat little references and series nods that are present throughout it all. Tsubasa manages to stand on its own remarkably well by having a clear cut story. The whole adventure revolves around Princess Sakura, who appears to trigger the unsealing of a power the big bad wants. Syaoran interrupts and prevents the power from falling into the wrong hands (accidentally, as he was just trying to save Sakura), but as a result Sakura's memories are scattered across alternate worlds in the form of magic feathers. This serves to kickstart the adventure for the pair, who are sent to the dimensional witch to gain the power to travel between worlds. They are coincidentally joined by two others who seek to travel between worlds for their own reasons ands thus the hero band is formed.
While we have the main plot threads always being worked on throughout the series, each world also has its own story that plays out as the group search for the feathers. In this disc we visit a world where people can call upon Kudan - powerful spiritual entities that assist people. It seems that even visitors gain their own Kudan and in searching for the feathers they find themselves caught up in a gang war. It works very well in giving the world a sense of depth and brings with it a host of character both as familiar alternates and new faces.
Without a doubt Syaoran and Sakura are the focal leads of the show, who present themselves as interesting without being too surprising. Syaoran (pronounced Shao-ron) is the headstrong male lead who fixates himself of the goal of finding the feathers and will gladly jump into dangerous situations to do so. Fai even comments at one point how it's fitting that he gained a fire based Kudan as he blazes straight ahead and the viewer finds themselves truely rooting for the guy. Sakura brings a more serene aura to the group. Her screentime isn't as much here as it is in later discs due to her spending a large portion of time asleep, but her gentle nature brings about resolutions that cannot be found through brute force and help show how violence isn't always the answer. Her portrayal makes it obvious how much she is struggling with the loss of her memories and trying to cope with it, which makes both her attempts to keep on a smile and the efforts put forth by her friends all the more touching.
The pair have three companions along for the ride. Fai is a sorcerer who seeks to visit any world other than his own to escape a mage he imprisoned on the off-chance that he should escape. It soon becomes apparent that his always smiling lax attitude hides a much more complex character; someone who is often troubled but seeks to find the most pleasant way through and someone who knows the art of combat all too well. Kurogane (know by various nicknames bestowed upon him by Fai, much to his chagrin) is the serious dismissive warrior who seeks only to return to his own world. At first it seems that he wants nothing to do with the search for feathers and only does so because the gate won't be opened until feathers in a world are found. Later on though we find that he cares more than he wants to let on and willingly assists. His dark nature makes him a prime target for a lot of the humour too, which is great. Then there is Mokono, who is a little hit and miss. His voice is the kind of thing that makes you want to stuff him in a blender and flick the on switch, but at the same time he provides much of the show's humour and I don't think it would be quite as good without his contributions.
The big bad so far is something of a mystery. We see the pair of villains behind the scheme and hear the big guy (complete with monocle for the truely evil look) speak about the power he wants, but outside of that a lot of is purposely vague about them. What we do know is that the man is cocky and is confident that the heroes will led him to victory unwittingly, whereas the woman is naturally more reserved and still sees a chance of failure looming ahead. It produces an interesting dynamic, as while their is very little vocal conflict between them it is obvious that they don't entirely agree on the methods used.
Supporting characters vary through the series. In this disc the main ones are the Kudan users of the first alternate world. A young boy becomes something of a focus, as he undergoes a "coming of age" maturing when he sees Syaoran's group fighting hard to achieve their goals, helping him to overcome his timid nature. The gang leaders come into play, with one being a good natured defender who seeks out powerful opponents to better understand the power of the spirit and the opposing bad guy seeking control of the city but having a whole different layer underneath (for reference see his scene with Sakura, which really helps solidify her role in the series).
Given the direction of the series you should expect plenty of action, and Tsubasa does not disappoint. Syaoran uses various kicking attacks, Fai has an unusual melee fighting style and Kurogane uses swordplay to his advantage. In this disc these abilities are mixed in with their own Ku Don powers to produce some spectacular battle sequences. The action is allowed to flow freely as characters dance around attacks and produce some killer blows both in the form of physical strikes and magical blasts. Oh yeah, and things just get better with this as the series goes on, so disc 1 provides a nice prelude to what is to come.
The art style and quality is simply amazing. The standard of the visuals is kept to a distinct high as a lot of care has been taken with all the characters and backgrounds. Many scenes are packed with the level of detail that cannot fail to impress and helps elevate Tsubasa's flair to a standard that many anime can and should aim for. Artwork is cleanly drawn and very colourful. Movement tends to be very fluid and this lends itself well to everything, but especially to the combat sequences that deliver a visual sense of energy that is most welcome and helps to maintain interest.
The series adheres to the classic CLAMP character designs especially well. Some characters are purposely portrayed as lanky, which allows for a degree of surrealism and provides some interesting quirks to their animation. See Fai's combat scenes for how this contributes to his unusual fighting style. In terms of costume design you can see that they're making use of the alternate worlds concept to provide us with a solid variety. However, its the "normal" outfits sported by each of the main cast that strikes the viewer as amazing - lavish fantasy themed outfits like Sakura's elegant dress and Fai's sorcerer cloak really are a treat for the eyes.
The music in the series is excellent. The theme songs, such as the opening "Blaze", set the scene for Tsubasa with some powerful music that wouldn't be amiss as part of a playlist. During the episodes you can expect such wonderful tracks like the high energy "A Song of Storm and Fire" or the calmer "Hear Our Prayer". As expected of a show of this quality the audio composers manage to hit the entire range. Therefore it pains me to admit that this is an area that needed extra care. The music is fantastic, but the usage of it can be off at times. It can be a bit excessive in its use and may insert music where it doesn't really need to be. A bit more of a reserved approach would have helped here.
The voicework is top notch. Funimation have done excellent work in pairing up appropriate VAs to each character and each person puts forth a stellar performance. When Jason Liebrecht voices Syaoran you can really hear the emotion in his voice and understand the enormity of his sacrifice to travel the worlds. Chris Sabat's gruff moody rendition of Kurogane is spot on and brings life to his scenes. Of course, no anime review of mine would be complete without mentioning a female VA, and given just how well Monica Rial does to convey Sakura's kind gentle nature it would be wrong not to give her praise too.
The DVD is packed with a load of extras as well. It's interesting to listen to the English VAs doing their cast auditions. There's also a very useful guide detailing the various characters we met, the worlds that are visited and we also get the first of the "Faces in the Crowd" that provides background information on characters originating from other series. Then we also have the various textless opening/closing and trailers on offer too. Those interested in the subtitle and language options will be pleased to note that this disc contains the whole lot - audio tracks include both the English and Japanese dubs, and the subtitles options allow for all on, all off and the option to subtitle onscreen Japanese text only.
Well, what more can I say? Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle Volume 1 kicks off the series in style and leaves the viewer wanting more. The way that knowledge of other CLAMP works boosts interest but does not become reliant on it is masterfully done. It's an amazing first five episodes that gives us a magical journey across worlds with a very likeable cast of characters with an excellent split between drama and action.
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