#1 The big CLAMP cross-over is… meh
Tsubasa Reservoir is a genre-hopping fantasy story about a princess who has lost her memories, which have taken the shape of feathers and were spread across various dimensions. Together with a group of friends, she journeys between these worlds to collect them and foil the ambitions of the evil villains who caused all this to begin with.
It’s a fascinating story that has a lot of opportunities to remain fresh, as each story arc sees the cast travel to another world and having to learn how that world operates. It’s just a shame that such an interesting concept is then filled in with pandering cameos of familiar CLAMP characters. Rather than explore a new setting with new faces, the princess in this story is Sakura and the male protagonist is Syoaran, who also served as the protagonist duo in CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura. Truly, if you look up a list of all the recurring characters and plot devices, it’s absolutely staggering to behold, and that both overshadows Tsubasa‘s own achievements, while also retroactively souring memories of the stories these elements were borrowed from.
Their inclusions feel gratuitous and often lazy, which as an average CLAMP fan just serves to frustrate me. And I know this is kind of petty, because the existence of Tsubasa doesn’t magically make my Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits manga vanish in thin air. At the same time, it’s hard not to feel like my fond memories of these characters are being misused when clones and alternate dimension versions of them start popping up all the time, but now they are also super badass warrior dudes that develop dark, edgy stories over the course of the adventure.
Tsubasa had every opportunity to be a cool fantasy story, but as it stands, it feels more like fan-fiction.
#2 Yuki Kajiura is too good for this
Everybody loves Yuki Kajiura and for damn good reasons too. Her music is iconic and her excellent soundtracks have made several anime that more memorable. Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online, Garden of Sinners, this woman is truly one of the greatest musicians of our time.
With that said, you can’t just have Yuki do your soundtrack and then throw her music in almost everywhere. Especially the early episodes make a habit of having some superb tracks thrown in during scenes that don’t come anywhere close to matching the pace of the music. A song that sounds like a Sword Art Online battle is about to take place can easily feature as the theme song of a random town, or even scenes of characters peacefully sleeping. After a while, it just gets tiring to hear the same kick-ass songs play while nothing is happening. And in the cases where there is action to be seen, it’s usually stiff and not that well animated, again falling short of the soundtrack.
With that said, the music does sometimes work amazingly well for emotional scenes. Which makes it a shame that the characters… are not very emotive. The voice actors do a good job, it’s just that the animation is awkward and ruins some of the better scenes.
#3 The pacing
Tsubasa Reservoir is kind of a big project. I once bought the first omnibus thinking it’d be fun to collect, until I learned there were 10 of those. Similarly, the anime has 52 episodes and I only got through 15 of them before boredom started to kill me and I ran out of distractions. By episode 18, I opted to just read the rest of the story on the wikia and was severely disappointed with pretty much all of it.
The first two arcs, covering the events of the first book, take up a collective 11 episodes and feel very stretched out and padded. After this, a number of short arcs follow that go for the other extreme, only featuring a brief 1-2 episodes and leaving their settings underdeveloped. At the same time, each story is hard to take seriously because the trio of Syaoran, Fai, and Kurogane quickly turn out to be the strongest, smartest people no matter where they go. Even when they get to a world all about martial tradition, even the wizard Fai steamrolls the warriors there without even trying.
While I now know that events later in the series will raise the stakes, going for 18 episodes without any at all left me bored with the show. Discovering the culture of all the worlds the cast visits alleviates this problem somewhat, but I found most of the worlds to be rather shallow, again because of the inconsistent time management and the show’s tendencies to lose itself in references and shout-outs. And honestly, I am glad I distracted myself throughout the Demon Hunter arc by reading the plot summary; some of the edgy bullshit they pull later down the line would have no doubt made me drop the show anyway, so I am glad I saved myself another 30 episodes of this.