Tsubasa: Vol 6 - A Wish Upon Waking
It's been nine months since the last volume of Tsubasa was released, practically an eternity for those waiting for their next instalment of this serial adventure anime. But Revelation Films are slowly getting back to releasing anime this year, following a lengthy pause last autumn. We've had the first Full Metal Alchemist Collection, and the Spiral Complete Series Boxset is released early in March. Tsubasa Volume 6 represents the first new anime released by Revelation since the Full Metal Alchemist Movie Special Edition last September. To say this has been eagerly anticipated is an understatement, as Volume 6 concludes the Tsubasa series, which is released in its entirety in limited edition boxset form on the same day. Except that it's not actually the conclusion. It's the end of the first season to be sure, but in the US, Funimation had just a brief hiatus before releasing volume 7, the first part of season 2. It's too early to tell if Revelation will be continuing with Tsubasa, these shows are usually licensed season by season, but stopping at this point may be even more infuriating than the length wait for this volume. I'm hoping that these final episodes at least offer a season conclusion worthy of the name, and we avoid one of those typical cliffhanger endings that will have us pleading for season 2.
Syaoran, an archaeologist following in his father's footsteps, and Sakura, princess of the Kingdom Of Clow are an ill-matched couple, but despite their differences they develop an abiding affection. All that changes at the local ruins. Sakura has an innate power, a destiny that is revealed when she undergoes a transformation. But something goes wrong, and her memories in the form of feathers are sent scattering through the dimensions. For Syaoran to restore his beloved's memories and save her life, he has to find all the feathers. But the price is high. For the Dimension Witch's aid, he has to sacrifice Sakura's memory of him, but she gives him a cute creature named Mokona that will take him from world to world and help find the feathers. She also gives him two companions, a wizard stripped of his magic named Fai, and a warrior named Kurogane divested of his sword. Together they travel from world to world working to restore Syaoran's lost love. All the while, dark forces watch and wait…
The country of Oto arc continued in the previous volume, a world where demon hunters fought demons for reward, which had become warped when the demons started behaving out of character. It was likely that one of Sakura's feathers was to blame, but when it was revealed that Syaoran's former teacher Seishiro was responsible, matters became far more confusing. How is Seishiro travelling through dimensions, and what is his ultimate goal in destabilising Oto? As Syaoran and Kurogane sought answers in a dangerous tower, Fai stayed behind in the café with Sakura. Then Seishiro walked in looking for Syaoran and Kurogane.
23. The Fading Life
Seishiro has one need, one goal to fulfil. He's looking for two powerful immortal beings, and he believes they are here in Oto, disguised as one of the strongest Oni. But to reveal them, he has to gain ultimate strength, and defeat all the other demon hunters. He needs to be the last one standing no matter what happens to Oto. He has the feather under his control, and he can use it to summon Oni himself. He needs to defeat Syaoran and Kurogane, but when he realises the strength that Fai wields, a battle unfolds that warps the very reality of Oto. Syaoran and Kurogane return far too late. Sakura has vanished, and all they can do is avenge their friend. Syaoran insists that he be the one to face his former teacher, but it's a hopeless battle.
24. Blade of a Desperate Fight
Syaoran and Sakura wake up in the next world, and they find they're in a giant amusement park, but one that has been evacuated because of a forthcoming calamity. The controller, a woman named Chitose tells them that Oto and her world, Edonis are fusing, and the unreal is becoming real. It's all down to Seishiro and Sakura's feather. Back in Oto, Kurogane is mourning his friends the only way he knows, by taking the fight to Seishiro. He isn't expecting to see his fallen comrades again, so it's something of a shock when the world of Oto suddenly impinges on Edonis. Finally the moment that Seishiro has been building toward occurs, the A1 Oni demon appears, only it's a familiar face.
25. The Ultimate Game
With the collision of the two worlds running out of control, and the demons threatening to run amuck in Edonis, Syaoran has to stop Seishiro, and that means facing him again in battle. The last time that happened, he lost badly, but at least this time he has help.
26. The Last Wish
The adventurers arrive in a barren, desolate land, with a meagre aging population and not a lot of hope. The only remarkable thing is that there is a temple in the sky. The villagers tell of what happened a year previously, when a great rumble shook the land, and the mountain on which the temple previously perched, crumbled and fell away. The God of the temple has changed as well, he's now offering to grant one wish to the first person to enter his temple, but that temple is now guarded by powerful beings, and the lure of the wish has seen the village's young men slaughtered before their time. It's obvious that one of Sakura's feathers is responsible for the change in the temple, and if they want to retrieve it, they will have to face the dangers as well. But for those watching from afar, the wish is a greater danger, and the last thing they want is for Sakura to prematurely regain her memories.
Tsubasa gets a rather spiffy 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. It's nice and clear throughout; I didn't notice any artefacts and even the perennial problem of digital banding seemed minimal. There did seem to be a constant level of grain applied to the animation, and this seems to be a creative choice. The character designs are thin and elegant, allowing for fluid animation.
You get a choice of DD 5.1 English or DD 2.0 Japanese, with optional subtitles and signs. As per my usual preference, I went with the original language track, and found that even though it's just a stereo track, there is a fair bit of separation and vibrancy to the sound. The effects are impressively accomplished, and Yuki Kajiura's (Le Portrait de Petite Cossette) music is distinctive and memorable. I don't think this dub will ever rank among my favourites, but it will probably be acceptable for all who prefer English to Japanese.
Animated menus, jacket picture, textless credit sequences, and trailers (Peach Girl and Mushi-shi) one final time.
The character guide offers 12 pages of text and line art, which go into more detail about the characters that you will meet on this disc.
The World Guide similarly offers 9 pages of text and art, which looks at the new worlds of Edonis and Zarastra.
Faces In The Crowd takes a look at some of the CLAMP cameos that appear in the show. This time around it's Seishiro and Sakurazuka
It's the final volume, the final episode, and we finally get a commentary. Colleen Clinkenbeard (ADR Director) is joined by Monica Rial (Sakura) to talk about the show, the dubbing process, and their careers. It's more of the same actually when it comes to anime commentaries, although with Monica Rial, you'll be assured that a good portion of the time will be spent giggling.
You can rest easy now, as Tsubasa's first season doesn't end on a pesky cliffhanger. Instead it neatly wraps up the immediate story and Mokona even appears at the end of the show to say goodbye, mentioning that their adventures will continue, and because it is an infinite universe, we may even see them again if we're lucky. Apparently the producers of the anime were unsure if there would be a second season, so they hedged their bets. On the other hand there is the annoyance that the overall story doesn't get a conclusion. Instead we get even further intrigue when a boy looking similar to Syaoran is introduced, floating in a mysterious tank in the forbidding observers' secret lair. Twenty-six episodes have passed, and we still have little idea of who these observers are, or what their ultimate goals are. In fact, it wasn't until this volume that I learned what the main villain's name was, and that only because it's mentioned in the extras. Considering the Japanese audiences have passed the second series, a movie spin-off and are now onto a series of OAV adventures still without getting that main story resolved indicates that it isn't really what we should be focussing on.
It's the individual stories, the various worlds that the adventurers visit that really are the point of Tsubasa, and in this volume, my favourite arc of the series, the Country of Oto arc is concluded. There's a really cool conceit to this story, one that I've tried to be as obscure about as possible in my synopsis, which really adds mystery and dimension to the story beyond the usual 'enter world, complete quest, get feather, and then leave' routine. The world of Oto is bizarre, the rules just don't follow common sense, and the way people behave is illogical. The longer the travellers stay there, the more confusing it gets, until the big reveal which offers a dawn of enlightenment moment, and all the clues that have been given so far make absolute sense. There is also a more personal development for Syaoran in that he has to face his former mentor Seishiro, who is on a mission of his own, and one that he's single-minded about to the point of rabid obsession. Their story gets one of those inconclusive conclusions that pretty much ensure that he will return. If there is one annoyance with the story, it's one that's common with most of these world-hopping stories; we don't get to see the aftermath and the effects of their stay in that world. I really would like to see more of Edonis, and what happened to the characters in that world, but alas, Mokona decrees that the adventurers move on.
The final episode of the season is exactly what you would expect it to be, a reminder of just why they are travelling, a reaffirmation of their mission, and a recommitment of their purpose. They are given an ultimate temptation, the chance to obtain a wish that will grant what they truly desire, and as we learned at the start of the series, they all desire different things. Syaoran wants to restore Sakura's memories, the wish offers a short cut to that, Fai wants to be safe from pursuit, and Kurogane wants to return to his own world. It turns out that Mokona wants the friends to stay together, but the wish offers a temptation that could have the friends competing against each other. At the same time, Wong Fei, the dark mysterious bloke who has engineered all this, doesn't want Sakura to regain her memories just yet, so he's willing to throw a whole lot of soldiers into the fray to stop them from succeeding. It's a short but frenetic battle to get to the temple, and during the fight, we get to see that these friendships that have been formed over the last 26 episodes are strong, and while their mission is clear, they aren't about to sacrifice their principles to achieve it. It's just the right note to end the series on.
Now that the wait is over, the final volume has arrived and been watched, I find that my opinion of the series really hasn't changed. Tsubasa is perfect, middle of the road anime. It's the sort of thing you watch when you're moving on from the Saturday morning cartoons, and want something with more substance and intelligence, but also want to play it safe in terms of edginess and content. It's a very pleasant adventure show, with likeable characters, varied worlds to adventure in, and stories that hold the interest and engage the emotions. It doesn't hurt that the production values are high, with vibrant and fluid animation, with a Yuki Kajiura soundtrack that punches well above the show's weight.
The thing is, that if you have a wide variety of anime to compare it to, it's also a little tame, sugary and bland. It's inoffensive stuff that would be the first thing on my lips if someone was looking to venture into anime for the first time, after being subjected to a host of Daily Mail scare stories. The odd thing is that I feel the producers played it safe. Six volumes ago, I mentioned that Tsubasa was a Clamp creation that crossed over in manga form with xxxHolic, and that if you were reading the manga of one without the other, you were really only getting half the story. This wasn't so much the case in the anime, as while Yuko the Dimension Witch showed up in the start of the series, and made the occasional appearance every few episodes, Tsubasa was more a stand-alone show. During the wait between volumes 5 and 6, Manga Entertainment managed to release the first xxxHolic anime series in its entirety, and that made no mention of Tsubasa at all. It was however far more subversive, edgy and dangerous feeling an anime. Considering that the two stories were originally two halves of a whole, I'm left wondering whether Tsubasa was diminished, or xxxHolic spiced up.
Fans who have been eagerly awaiting the conclusion can now fill that last vacant gap in their DVD shelves, while those who are looking for some anime entertainment with broad audience appeal can go straight for the boxset. Pleasant stuff.