Home > CLAMP, Tsubasa > Manga Review: Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-

Manga Review: Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-

Story: 9.5

Plot: 9

Art: 10

Character: 9

Enjoyment: 10

Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, often shortened for the sake of convenience to “Tsubasa“, is one of the newest additions to a large body of work by world-renowned manga studio CLAMP. After 6 years of faithfully following this series’ serialization, I have come to the conclusion that it is nothing short of a masterpiece.

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STORY: Tsubasa has an original and fresh story under its belt, which is to be expected from a CLAMP work. The main antagonist (Fei Wong Reed) causes a desert princess (Sakura) to lose all of her memories in order to achieve his dream. Her childhood friend (Syaoran) is forced to invoke the Space-Time Witch for help, because only through the Witch’s powers can he be sent to different dimensions in order to retrieve Sakura’s scattered memories. He is, by a stroke of fate and unmistakable destiny, accompanied by a swordsman (Kurogane) trying to get back to his homeland and back to the princess whom he serves (Tsukuyomi-hime). Syaoran is also accompanied by an enigmatic magician (Fay D. Fluorite) who is running from his dark past. To recompense the price for traveling worlds, they must each pay with the thing they value the most. Syaoran loses his relationship with Sakura forever, Kurogane gives up his precious sword, and Fay parts with the tattoo which keeps his magic intact. Along the journey, they encounter corrupt worlds full of bloodshed, despair, and lies. They find treachery and abandonment within their very own group. It is a story that sends a refreshing and ominous chill down one’s spine, particularly in the second half of the saga, which is savagely cruel. One should commence reading with the expectation that Tsubasa grows to be extremely dark and depressing. The story plays out to be almost worthy of Greek tragedy. It’s a fool’s game trying to predict how it ends. Tsubasa is definitely recommended for readers that enjoy magical adventures, fighting action, or forbidden romance.

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APPEAL: CLAMP excels at creating manga series that perfectly mesh the conventional attributes of shōnen and shōjo manga. Tsubasa is, like many of their works, a strong example of this fact. For guys, there are many “badass”, wondrously-illustrated fighting scenes, along with fantastic displays of weaponry in the splash pages and in the Infinity arc. The sheer amount of destructive chaos and spilled blood alone are enough to classify Tsubasa as a seinen manga. For girls and many young women, the romance genre will definitely pull them in. There are about 20 years’ worth of crossover bishōnens who appear throughout the course of the series. Vampire Knight fans will be delighted with the appearance of vampires and their hunters in the Acid Tokyo arc. Shounen-ai fans will be wild over the boys’ love teasing that CLAMP is renowned for, specifically interaction between Kurogane and Fay (what their relationship actually is remains questionable, but has been addressed by editors at VIZ Media, prominent cartoonists, and professional manga critics). The hints of shounen-ai and minuscule doses of virginal eroticism are so specifically placed into subtext that it’s enough to make any self-respecting fangirl go crazy. Some worlds resemble feudal Japan, ancient Korea, Victorian London, and post-apocalyptic Tokyo, among others. Characteristic of CLAMP, there are also instances of cloning, time-travel, and lucid dreaming. Yeah, this is a trippy manga. I dare to say that there is definitely something for everyone.

Tsubasa is, without a doubt, the most incredible and epic crossover series to date. It is entirely not necessary to read CLAMP’s other series, and perfectly acceptable to read Tsubasa by itself, but the series will not conjure much feeling at all if read in this manner, and will not be enjoyed nearly as much. Why read a crossover series if you do not know the true essence of the characters? Why read a crossover series if you are unable to understand the constant references, shout-outs, and cameos? If you new to CLAMP, the fascinating charm of “bringing back the characters” has no effect whatsoever, and the magic of Tsubasa is altered in a very unfavorable way. CLAMP’s manga have been given such a unifying tone that they must be read in order to enjoy Tsubasa to the fullest extent. This fact cannot stressed enough. The more CLAMP series you have read, the more you can get out of the experience. Tsubasa was truly made for the fans who sobbed, bawled, and found themselves complete wrecks (rather redundant, but emphasis is key) throughout the courses of RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, X, and CLAMP’s other tragic classics. I have emotionally invested all of my soul into these characters ever since I was a child, and to see them appear again at last was quite nostalgic for me.

The least you can do is read Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Magic Knight Rayearth, Tokyo Babylon, and X before reading Tsubasa. If time is of the essence, you can always go straight to Tsubasa after CCS and then re-read Tsubasa later, after you plown through all of their other works. As aforementioned, it is not vital to be familiar with CLAMP in order to understand the events in the series, but stylistic themes and obscure character relationships will be much less understood than if one had the knowledge from reading their other works and was able to use them as references. Undertaking in the reading of this series before CLAMP’s other series, I believe, defeats the very purpose of what Tsubasa is supposed to be.

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PLOT: From the very start, Tsubasa grabs interest. I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that I was enthralled after glancing at the first two pages. However, the pacing begins to slow down due to filler chapters, repetitiveness, and childish innocence. I found it frankly a bit boring, but I didn’t drop this series because it’s CLAMP. A joke within the fandom is that anything and everything by them will either develop into a dark, bloody, diabolically-slaughter-and-decapitate-every-living-thing-in-sight series, or a disgustingly cute, fluffy, this’ll-give-you-diabetes series. In this case, Tsubasa is leaning towards the former. I can sympathize with those who find the series weakening around the 10th/11th/12th volume mark, but in a couple more volumes everything pays off.


“You can certainly feel the excitement and suspense as the story is pulled along to dangerous, but enthralling, territory.” ~Lissa Pattillo

At the Acid Tokyo arc, things begin to pick up with wicked plot twists being introduced left, right, and center. These ‘twists’ had been foreshadowed frequently before in the storyline. Halfway through, the story takes on a distinctly darker flair, as bucketloads of blood and angst are suddenly deemed imperative. It’s around this time that the series morphs from what used to be a light-hearted nakama adventure story to what TvTropes describes as “something out of the drug-induced hallucination of a deranged Sigmund Freud.” From this point on, Tsubasa only gets more exhilarating with each successive installment. Some people have a preference for the first half of the series…when no one is dying, Syaoran and Sakura’s personalities are yawn-worthy, and the plot lacks promise of depth. Hey, if that kind of stuff floats your boat, you shouldn’t be reading CLAMP. They enjoy making their characters go through living hell. But they do this artfully. And they like to torture their readers.

Did I mention that every single time a new chapter came out, people would start panicking and screaming “WTF?! I WAS WRONG!” and then proceed to curse at CLAMP for unleashing yet another plot twist? I admit that even I felt frustrated, as the theories I took months to come up with were immediately disproven and dissolved with a mere statement in the manga. Don’t even bother trying to come up with theories. To quote some of my friends: “Even Einstein’s brain would implode trying to understand the time paradoxes in this series. The plot’s not just deep, it’s BOTTOMLESS.” “In fact, my brain expired three months ago.” “Ohkawa has an even stranger mind than Salvador Dali, Quentin Tarantino and John Lennon put together.” The sheer number of storylines that come together will undoubtedly threaten your state of mental health, as they are very confusingly executed. Tsubasa begins to rely so heavily on symbolism that it can only be labeled a huge mind screw. However, CLAMP has been tying up all the loose ends in xxxHoLic, and I applaud them from allowing the plot unfold at its own natural momentum.

There are still many unexplained questions about this series, but the vast majority of it makes sense if you have the patience to read xxxHoLic, consider other fans’ theories, re-read Tsubasa, and dive in a little bit on symbolism. All the true Tsubasa/CLAMP fans have already done this, while others start trashing this series simply because they lack the potential to understand it. You can’t just skim through pages and expect to soak up all the information like a sponge. This is a manga that makes you think. This is a manga that forces you to come up with your own ideas and analyze subtext as you read. I’m quite sure that CLAMP will spoon-feed explanations to lazy fans in xxxHoLic‘s ending, so make a note to check that out if the need arises. The two series intertwine very heavily, with emphasis placed on the later chapters. You’ll gain an enormous amount of insight this way, and the majority of your questions will be answered.

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“Raw penstrokes, gravity-defying angles and a bevy of special effects illuminate each fight scene. Thanks to the number of speedline intense, dialogue-scarce action panels … don’t be surprised if you fly through this [series] quicker than most.” ~Carlo Santos

ART: Viciously gorgeous artwork, as expected from CLAMP. It’s the typical highly detailed hair, heavily stylized eyes and human figures, and elaborate clothing which remains a unique style to them. Over time, the art gradually undergoes a dramatic transformation. The result is akin to that of X. Tsubasa adopts a distinctly contrasting, black-and-white style, with the panels becoming more polished due to the heavy use of screentones.

“What really matters—when two full pages are absolutely necessary to show how dramatic something is—the visual layouts nail it perfectly.” ~Carlo Santos of Anime News Network

The most memorable scenes are the ones expressed entirely through art. Words mean nothing in this series…silence means everything. The sheer amount of raw emotion concentrated all into a single panel manages to hit you right in the heart. CLAMP knows their tragedy; they know how to reduce a hardcore fan to tears just by having them look at an isolated, wordless page.

“Even plain old conversation scenes carry a sort of emotional magic, with bittersweet longing expressed on the faces of the characters as they ponder the changing bonds of friendship.” ~Carlo Santos

The backgrounds might even be too detailed, to the point where it’s hard to see what’s going on. All in all, the art translates effortlessly onto paper with the story’s emotional, psychological, and tragic beauty. I can’t praise it enough.

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CHARACTER: Subtext is huge in this category. Every single time I re-read Tsubasa, I discover something new about the characters. You have to let things sink in slowly, and ask yourself questions. “Why did she decide to do that?” “Why did they exchange that look?” “What went through his mind when he closed his eyes in that panel?” Tsubasa is the kind of manga that you can’t read through quickly. You have to analyze and theorize. One of the main reasons that people give Tsubasa a low rating is because they aren’t in tune with the characters and don’t pay attention to the subtext. The subtle yet powerful looks on the character’s faces reveal everything you need to know. If you look hard enough, that is.

Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane, and Fay have distinct personalities. They change tremendously. They lie and distance themselves from each other in a way that just breaks your heart. They find the meaning of true strength and break the chains that bind their pasts. They make horrible decisions and end up paying greatly for them. One thing that Yuuko said to Fai was, “To all the young ones in your group, you are no longer someone who passes through their lives and is forgotten. You have become someone very important to them. Your hardships are their hardships too.” In short, our characters become extremely well-developed and have radically different ways of viewing the world as a whole. It’s impossible not to relate to them, and you are dealt painful blows to the heart with the countless numbers of obstacles that are thrown between them. I would have liked a little more development for Syaoran and Sakura, though. Their love is too “pure” for me, and they’re too kind-hearted for their own good. Kurogane and Fay are the ones that truly shine in this category. They’re so human that it scares me to death.

“The whole [saga] tailors heavily to fans of character-relation dramas, as the connections between emotionally-scarred characters prove to be some of the most sweet, but also chilling, moments of [CLAMP] series in recent memory.” ~Lissa Pattillo

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OTHER: This is a real treat for CLAMP fans. People who say that the creators were just lazy obviously aren’t familiar with them. In a story where countless characters come and go, do you really expect that people will remember their names? What makes these characters memorable is the fact that their personalities and traits were unraveled when they were the main focus of a different series. The very roots of their hearts, or ‘souls’, are essentially the same. If you’ve read most of CLAMP’s works, you know in exact detail the lives, true natures, and pasts of every single minor character in Tsubasa (in an alternate universe). It’s nothing short of extraordinary. Like I sad before, I have been emotionally invested in all of CLAMP’s characters, so to have them all again in this tragedy is almost sensory overload. I was struck with waves of nostalgia and a dizzying feeling.

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ENJOYMENT: I enjoyed Tsubasa tremendously, and am mourning over the fact that it has ended. It was a great 6 years, CLAMP. This manga is definitely worth your time. So why not give it a try? You certainly won’t regret it. This metaphorical gem will stay lodged in your mind for a long time to come. A continued recommend read that I cannot stress enough the worth of sticking with.

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A great story, appeal for a wide range of audiences, absolutely breathtaking artwork, and good characterization make it a ‘must-read’ manga. However, the convoluted plot and the extremely depressing scenarios that occur in the second half of the manga will throw readers off-guard (though it’s a wonderful improvement compared to the boring, comedic, “gotta-catch-’em-all” feel of the first half). The storyline gradually begins to make sense after months of ceaseless pondering, but once the majority of puzzle pieces are in place, you can’t help but love Tsubasa even more. Definitely recommended if you’re a CLAMP fan, but definitely NOT recommended if you’ve never touched any of their other series.

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  1. Overcast
    July 13, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Wow this was really fun to read…and yes, it actually was insightful.

    Tsubasa.

    It was one of the first manga I ever came across…my best friend was reading it in sixth grade. Back then manga was a forbidden mystery to me. My mom really does not appreciate Japanese comic books like I do, so for many years every anime except for Hamtaro and, of course, every manga on the market was forbidden to me. My mom even begrudged my Pokemon! (But I still dragged her to see the movies anyway). I had always been mystified by it though. Whenever my mom would take me to the bookstore I would always pester her into using the bathroom while I waited outside. In the manga section. But since it had long been labeled as “dirty” in my mind, I began to associate it with the many stereotypes that are assigned it today.

    So those were my basic feelings when I first saw Tsubasa. Just another silly kid’s comic book.

    Then my friend tried to explain the story to me, and immediately my previous assumptions were shattered. My (then) pure and innocent heart went all out for the girl and boy in the series, whom I was told were destined to be kept apart from each other.

    I still didn’t have to courage to pick up the book.

    A year later certain events had dragged me to the start of the path that I still walk to day; that of an extreme Otaku who even writes fifty page school reports on Neon Genesis Evangelion (no kidding, the best damned anime in the world), dresses up like their favorite character, and has so much Japanese crap in their room that it’s hard to believe they’re an American. But back then I was still experimenting. I got most of my manga by borrowing it from friends, and when one of them offered my Tsubasa, I remembered those “magical” moments from the year before, and took the book from her hands.

    The first two pages had me entranced.

    But…uh…enough about me. Well, sort of.

    I disagree with you (and most other critics of this series) when you denounce the first thirteen-fourteen volumes. Sure, they were SOMEWHAT light-hearted (maybe it’s just the fangirl inside of me but Syaoran’s expressions always put knives into my sides), but that’s CLAMP’s magic. They don’t have to change the world in order to have an enjoyable series. That’s what it was like in the beginning, anyway. Man of Many Faces isn’t life altering but it’s enjoyable and, of course, the art is superb. And Syaoran’s relationship with Sakura is actually perfect, I believe. The purity of their childhood days contrasted with the bleak, rainy darkness of the present always drove it home for me. It adds contrast, and, of course, that adds meaning, tension, and drama.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with you on the crossover thing. Tsubasa was the first CLAMP series I ever read, and even though I stopped reading it (ironically) at volume fourteen, it was strange to see all of the crossover characters. I thought it was terribly clever, but it didn’t make my heart skip a beat of make me squeal like a pig in the slaughter house to see Miyuki-chan running in the background or Chun-Hyang (did I get her name right?) leading a country. (The worst case of this was at the end of volume fourteen where Kamui gets a whole huge-ass panel to himself and there is this dramatic “KAMUI!” and I was like “Uh…okay…[but he is hot]”).

    However, I have just started reading Tsubasa again, with many, many more CLAMP series under my belt. I’ve only read the first six or so volumes of xxxHolic (but I’m working on getting the rest), and I’ve done tones of research on my favorite manga group (plus reading the CLAMP no Kiseki magazines is also very helpful…as I was collecting those and CLAMP in 3-D Land I forced myself to learn the names and stories of each of the characters so I became pretty familiar with the CLAMP multiverse). Trying out my new “CLAMP skills,” I watched the anime for CLAMP School Detectives which I recently purchased. I had avoided this series for a long time thinking that it would be pure episodic soporific mediocre crap (although I LOVE Man of Many Faces and LOVE LOVE LOVE Duklyon: CLAMP School Defenders), but, seriously, I feel ashamed for thinking that of anything touched by the name of CLAMP. I mean, really. These are some of the very few geniuses of our century. And although it was a bit episodic, it was awesome. What made it really awesome though…was seeing a whole episode dedicated to Akira as Man of Many Faces. And, OMG! Is that Kentarou and Takeshi announcing the baseball game!? And Miyuki-Chan’s in the play? Oh yeah, the pig blood was flying that night (thank God my mom wasn’t home, she almost called the police when I was watching Neon Genesis Evangelion I was screaming so much). So it really makes the experience when an unexpected face pops up again.

    ESPECIALLY BECAUSE CLAMP NEVER BOTHERS TO FINISH ANY OF THEIR SERIES!!!!

    When I checked Wikipedia and saw that Tsubasa was completed, I was thinking “Thank the Lord! I was worried they’d get to the final story-arc and decide to put it off for another thirty years.”

    I mean they’ve tried to find an end for Tokyo Babylon three times now. Once in the (due to terribly frustratingly unfortunate circumstances) unfinished X and now in Tsubasa (well, kind of). And will we ever see those missing four volumes of Clover? What about Legal Drug, that’s fairly new!?!?

    -Sigh-

    I’m getting off topic here. CLAMP is amazingly prolific and I wouldn’t want them to strain themselves too much…but…it sucks to be a CLAMP fan sometimes…

    ANYWAY.

    -SPOILER. Yeah (always wanted to write this…)-

    Yeah, Ageha Ohkawa (That is her name…right? Agh! Id’ be so ashamed if I got it wrong…especially when I could easily look it up!). She’s so friggin brilliant it’s not even funny. The classic example is the “Sakura joke.” From this series/xxxHolix. So in the first volume or two Watanuki is cleaning out Yuko’s storehouse or something (it’s been a few years) and he pulls out the Cardcaptor Sakura wand. Yuko makes a joke, after building up some suspense alluding to the powers the real Sakura wand holds, then turns it into a “typical” Japanese comedy joke by calling it a fake. Later though…we find out this wand is not a fake. IT’S THE FRIKKIN KEY TO HALF THE SERIES (in a way…)! So they take a lousy one-two panel joke and turn it into one of the biggest plot twists of the century. Only CLAMP…

    -END “SPOILER”-

    I’m really excited to hear that Tsubasa gets dirty. Well, excited and queasy at the same time. Syaoran is one of my favorite characters of all time…and the whole “clone” thing really disappointed me when I found out. But, I haven’t read it yet, just heard about it from my friend because she read the whole thing online and I was too proud to pirate from CLAMP (and too eager to have those beautiful museum pieces in my own house). So maybe it will be better than I think.

    Tsubasa has symbolism. Those words are surprising music to my ears. That’s one of the reasons why Evangelion is the amazing anime (don’t try to disagree I might explode) anime that it is. Because every frame, (even during the theme song!) has meaning. And I’m delighted to hear that so much emphasis is put onto expression. That is what makes anime an art, an art that can’t be replicated by any Hollywood movie (which, I have to say being the Eva freak that I am, was pointed out by Hideaki Anno himself). Anime has its own terrifying potential…and when that potential is used to its fullest (usually written off by people [who I can’t help but feel ashamed for and guiltily turn away from] because they don’t understand it as art and instead call it “mind-fucking crap” (I use this vulgar language to quote a ridiculous article I read on Evangelion)) it truly is the greatest thing on Earth (well, to me, anyway).

    So I’m very much looking forward to what Tsubasa has to offer. I’ve never thought about the “full potential” of manga before…

    And because I began to tip my immature little fingers into philosophy and psychology when researching Evangelion, I’m so UBERLY EXCITED to hear that Tsubasa takes the same route. That is what THOSE BIZZARROES DON’T UNDERSTAND! MANGA AND ANIME ARE THE FEW VICTORIAN-WORTHY STORIES THAT ARE CREATED TODAY! Geeze I’m so sick of the crap people call “great literature” nowadays; the modern era should be ashamed! That’s may be why even a person like me can love this Japanese stuff so much…;_;

    I totally agree on the artwork. I believe Mokona is the main artist for this series…and she’s…well, just about as Godly as Ohkawa. I love the “noodle style” CLAMP introduced in this series (or at least I think it was this one…). I used to think that a lot of other people did that, too. But no, it’s just CLAMP. The clothes the characters wear, their facial expressions…I love the new CLAMP eyes. They are so full of emotion without being…well…quite so pixel-y. I mean look at Kobato. She wears the coolest clothes ever! All designed by CLAMP.

    Well, I’m starting to babble here. Thanks for this review…sorry if I rambled on and on…I really love to talk about CLAMP! I’m buying the rest of the series in bookstores from here on out…and I can’t wait to reach that epic conclusion.

    -Any typos were a result of a lack of editing-

    • August 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

      Oh yes, thank you for your comment. I didn’t exactly denounce the first half of the series. All of the beginning arcs help introduce themes and ideas that Tsubasa revolves around; the story wouldn’t be the same without them. The light comedy provides a stark contrast with the dark atmosphere of the second half, and many seemingly unimportant situations are actually great opportunities for showcases of character development. I’m just saying that it got old after a while. I actually lost interest in the series around Volume 13 and started reading again after a couple months. There was nothing in the series that particularly grabbed my attention.

      Tokyo Babylon and Tsubasa were actually supposed to have open endings. I personally believe that their endings couldn’t be more perfect. CLOVER, according to Ohkawa, needs two more volumes to complete the series (not four). Also, I believe that the CCS staff Watanuki saw in the first volume really was a plastic wand, as stated, and not the real thing. The actual Star staff was a separate item in the treasure room.

      Yes, I do agree with you that the younger generation of today should start reading more manga. According to something I found on the internet, approximately 80% of Japanese people regularly read manga. Upon meeting someone, it’s not uncommon to ask “What’s your favorite manga?”, in a similar way that Americans ask “What’s your favorite TV show?” Not surprisingly, very few Japanese people watch anime (and I can see why).

      You can always purchase CLAMP series on eBay! You’ll save a lot more money that way. I found a post on LiveJournal from a person who was moving. She was selling all of her manga for $3 each, and I added a lot to my CLAMP collection by purchasing from her.

  2. Alexa
    February 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Tsubasa was the first manga series I bought! I bought all 28 volumes and I was kind of disappointed at the ending, but I heard that there’s a post-series so I can’t wait to get it!

    If it wasn’t for Tsubasa, I wouldn’t have been such a manga and anime geek.

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