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Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Anime Review

Updated on June 17, 2013

Being a CLAMP fan, when I heard about Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic, I read them right away, and loved them both, but Tsubasa in particular really blew me away. So when I heard about the anime, I was extremely excited to see how it would play out in the animation, especially when I heard that Vic Mignogna, who plays Edward Elric and Tamaki in Fullmetal Alchemist and Ouran High School Host Club, respectively, was playing Fai, my favorite character. When I began watching the anime, however, to say I was disappointed would be a major understatement.

What Made the Manga Good

Character Development

CLAMP is consistently great at creating complex characters who grow and mature as the manga progresses; Tsubasa is no different. Syaoran and Sakura, two characters they brought back from Cardcaptor Sakura, were given new depths throughout the series, and the two original characters, Kurogane and Fai, deceptively start out as very simple characters, but are given more and more depth as the series continues. However, all of the characters remain fundamentally the same, which is key in creating great dynamic characters – you want a character to grow, not develop an alternate ego. Tsubasa manages to make you root for the characters, empathize with their motives, and enjoy their development.

Artwork

Since CLAMP is a group of manga artists, their style changes every so often. In Tsubasa and xxxHolic, their style of character is long and impossibly skinny. Even so, they make each character unique and fitting to their personality: Kurogane is noticeably thicker than the rest and slouches; Fai lounges about similar to a cat; Syaoran sits and stands straight, matching his extremely polite personality (at least in the beginning); and Sakura is as graceful as usual when she isn’t falling asleep. And, as usual, they provide some stunning ‘fashion porn’. In a series where a great variety of clothes makes complete sense in the story, Tsubasa soon becomes an excuse for CLAMP to draw as many frilly dresses and sharp suits as they can. The outfits are stunning, and some manage to hold beautiful significance. The different worlds the group travels to are diverse; some show vividness and beauty, while others are steeped in ruin and tragedy, and each definitely sets up the mood of the particular arc. Tsubasa really gives CLAMP the chance to show off their talent.

Plot

The reason I like this manga is because, unlike InuYasha or Bleach, it does not run to soap-opera lengths. There are 28 volumes in total, and the fillers are cute while the plot manages to go at a steady pace; there are very few, if any, places where the story noticeably drags. The reason the plot ranks lower is because the plot twist is either loved or loathed, and even if you enjoy the twist, the amount of confusion you experience is staggering. It was a great idea, but the execution wasn’t as great as it could have been. Compared to Fullmetal Alchemist’s steady, complex, but very tight, plot, Tsubasa is a bit of a disappointment because it turns very confusing and a bit rushed near the end, but it still stands that the plot was better done than plenty of other manga I’ve read.

What do you think about the anime?

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Reasons Why the Anime was Dismal

Audience

The TRC manga was marketed to mid- to older teens for the most part, with an emphasis on older teens after the plot twist occurs. The anime, however, was clearly geared towards young children, ages eight to ten, I would say. Now, there is nothing wrong with anime geared towards younger children, but if a manga designed for older people is adapted so that the two audiences are drastically different in age, the anime waters down a lot of themes, or even abandons them, all for the sake of the younger audience understanding the material. Gags become more prominent, occasionally becoming hackneyed and painful to watch after a while. Of course, there are many children’s anime that manage to subvert these expectations, allowing them to appeal to both older and younger audiences. Tsubasa is not one of these animes, and somehow manages to do all three of the cases above. Those who read the manga were not pleased with the anime, needless to say, because the dissonance in tone and maturity was staggering.

Pacing, Plot Changes, and Fillers

One of the great things about Manga!TRC is that it never drags. Each story is succinct, important to the plot, or important to character development. In fact, up until the last two or three volumes, each arc has a good amount of weight to it and is neither rushed nor prolonged. In the anime? Everything is stretched out, and for no good reason. The first arc in the Hanshin Republic, which is arguably one of the shorter long arcs, takes about four or five thirty-minute episodes to finish. That, in TV terms, is absolutely ridiculous: Small A plots should only take one or two episodes, three if it is exceptionally long. To stretch it any further hinders the story’s pace, not allowing it to further develop anything because the plot and characters remain stagnant until it is finished. A lot of the episodes are filled with great music, but the characters spend minutes of staring at each other, with insufficient amounts of dialogue. Sometimes they change the plot about to accommodate this stretch, like making Sakura wake up early to try on clothes then fly (you read that correctly) around for about seven minutes. Seven minutes is a lot of time in TV Land, so writers have to use it well. Bee Train uses it to focus on a barely conscious girl floating about, which is also never explained nor mentioned again. As whimsical as it might have been, watching a nearly comatose girl fly without taking notice of the world around her does not hold anyone’s attention, least of all little kids. Bravo, BT, you managed to waste quality episode time while alienating your audience group. Bravo.

Fillers are generally great, in the context of adaptations. They are episodes that contain an A plot that never existed in the manga. The writers are essentially just told to make something up. I personally love fillers because they are basically fanfiction that can be considered canon (explicitly deriving from the original source), so it allows them to either work on developing character, increasing suspense, giving the audience a “breather episode,” or exploring the fantasy world. They also make sense from a pacing standpoint because, in an ongoing manga, it allows the anime team to buy time while the manga artist(s) crank out more chapters without dragging out an arc. However, all fillers must adhere to the rules of the story. It might be acceptable if the story reveals a plot twist and the filler is then never mentioned again, or ignored in the mythos of the story, although it does show shoddy communication between the manga artist and the anime team. In Tsubasa’s anime, there is a filler where Sakura brings all the dead to life with her feather; in the manga, it is shown again and again that people cannot be brought back, and when the episode aired, it had already been revealed that bring people back is the one thing magic cannot do. The episode unfortunately throws away the entire point, the over-arching theme, if you will, in the manga. After all, if Sakura can bring back anyone with her feather, surely all of the dead characters could be brought back with no problem. The manga shows that ignoring the consequences of your actions to fulfill selfish desires such as bringing back the dead brings is wrong and evil.

Another filler explores Fai and Chii’s relationship with each other by having them go on a date in a flashback. What’s the problem with this? Well, other than the fact that the manga strongly implies that Kurogane and Fai fall in love during the travels, the manga explicitly states that Fai would not have any interest in Chii as a potential partner. After all, he crafted her in the image of his mother, whom he definitely didn’t show romantic interest toward. To further the point, every instance that they are together in the first volume, Fai treats her as one would a dog or other loveable pet, not a lover. And lastly, he leaves her in an alternate form to watch Ashura while he is away, and when she does die he doesn’t look particularly upset over her passing. It is one thing to try to tone down the subtext because you (bigotedly) think that homosexuality will lose ratings and scar children (as the English translation of Sailor Moon did with Haruka and Michiru), but to invalidate the relationship by diverting from canon to pair up another couple is unacceptable.

Voice Acting and Animation

Yes, voice acting has to have a section. Again, as I said in the beginning, I was excited for the voice acting, since one of my favorite voice actors was doing the English dub of the anime. Hoo boy. Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. Syaoran’s VA is flat, for lack of better term. For a determined little fire-cracker of a boy, who is on the brink of manhood, monotone just doesn’t cut it. In the manga, he is so full of passion and drive, and in the anime he is… dull. And for the main character (and designated hero in the anime), the voice actor should be able to emote his personality.

Sakura’s voice actor was simply the wrong choice; she is great as a petulant, childish character with entitlement problems, such as with Renge from Ouran High School Host Club; as a selfless princess, not so much. I really do love the VA, but her voice grated on me every time she talked. It made me rather glad that Sakura was unconscious for a good part of the beginning, which is a shame because she’s such a great character in the manga.

Let’s just not talk about Mokona and try to forget about it. Mokona is really great and wonderful but the voice made me understand why Kurogane might want to pummel her every now and again.

Fai. Whoo boy. Fai. The one voice actor I was positive would give a great performance. Mignogna can deliver, whether it’s serious acting, such as with Edward Elric, or playful, like Tamaki Suoh, but Fai was absolutely not correct. I expected him to use Tamaki’s rather whimsical tone, but instead every time Fai talked, I heard Edward Elric. Which is fine, but the characters are two entirely different people with different personalities. Fai, if anything, should have been overly bubbly to keep his ruse up. Instead, it was a more somber voice with only a hint of joking. It just doesn’t bring the same feel to the anime, and it definitely showed.

Kurogane’s was the only one that I thought matched pretty well, but the problem is that it’s only one of five characters. All of these voice actors are probably wonderful at what they do, but it was the wrong match from the start, and the casting crew should have noticed this from the beginning. (The Japanese voices, however, from what I’ve watched of the subtitled episodes, are quite adept and fit the characters’ personalities well.)

And last, the animation. Yikes. Especially since they are adapting CLAMP, who do a brilliant job in their art. The animation was nowhere near the quality of CLAMP’s artwork. The characters were often inconsistent in their animation: is Mokona the size of Kurogane’s head, or twice that size? Is Kurogane a muscly soldier, or is he a wiggly noodle? Bee Train didn’t seem to care to get it right.

It's fine as a screenshot, but the animation is dismal at best.
It's fine as a screenshot, but the animation is dismal at best.

Don’t Watch the Anime

Seriously. It just isn’t good. In fact, it’s so bad CLAMP themselves cancelled the anime. If it didn’t meet CLAMP’s wishes, then it won’t meet yours. Read the manga instead, or watch the OVA’s (all six episodes of which are beautifully animated, follow the storyline, and manage to wrangle wonderful performances from all of the voice actors).

Watch the First of Six OVA's Here

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