Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE (manga, vol. 17) by CLAMP

The group (Sakura, Kurogane, Fai, Syaoran, and Mokona) are still in the world of acid rain, where hardly any shelter or drinkable water exists. It is finally revealed that Subaru is a vampire who needs to feed off of Kamui in order to survive. Subaru wants to provide the people in his group on this world with drinkable water again, and asks for Yuuko's help. Yuuko has Kurogane ask her to provide the water, and in return he must ask Subaru to give his vampire blood to the dying Fai. Fai will be saved if he drinks Subaru's blood and Kurogane's blood, becoming a vamprie who must feed off of Kurogane in order to survive. Kurogane does as Yuuko tells him, but he must still pay Yuuko a price. Sakura offers to pay that price in Kurogane's stead, going off into the dangerous, acid rain-filled environment alone.

There's a bit more to the story besides that. A hunter with one of Sakura's feathers shows up and reveals secrets about himself, the new Syaoran has a heart-to-heart talk with Mokona, and Fai has a very interesting talk with Yuuko.

While I do enjoy this series, there are times when I'm very confused, and this volume was one of those times. Throughout this whole series, there are times when it's helpful to have read CLAMP's other works. While I've read several of their works, I haven't read all of them, and I happen to be mostly unfamiliar with X/1999 and all its various incarnations. It's possible for the story to stand alone (although I'm sure it helps if you've read the previous volumes of Tsubasa more recently than I have), but it helps to have read whatever work CLAMP references, if only to better understand some of the unsaid things about the character relationships. I had a horrible time following along with the purely Subaru/Kamui/whatever-his-name-is bits, and I imagine it might've helped a bit if I had read the series that they came from.

In addition to the X/1999 references, there's an added level of enjoyment and understanding if you read Xxxholic - as the translator mentions at the end of the volume, the bottles that Yuuko gives everyone in order to replenish the water supply originally appeared as part of the story in Xxxholic (now I finally know why Watanuki thought those bottles felt much heavier than they looked). In order for readers to realize that Watanuki's task isn't some meaningless thing Yuuko is having him do, and in order for readers to know how Yuuko got the water used in Tsubasa's story, readers need to keep up with both stories. If you didn't already know that CLAMP is good at wringing money out of their readers, these stories, especially Tsubasa, with its references to multiple CLAMP series, prove it. That doesn't mean I don't still love CLAMP's works, and I still have times when I get excited over a reference to a certain series or over a cross-over with the Xxxholic storyline that I manage to notice all on my own, but it can get a little annoying after a while.

As confusing as I occasionally found this volume to be, I enjoyed some of the changes different characters went through. CLAMP hasn't revealed enough about the new Syaoran for me to be sure how I feel about him or the loss of the old Syaoran. Also, I thought it was a bit weird how Sakura briefly morphed into action girl in order to handle Yuuko's task - although she's done a few dangerous things before, I don't think she's ever shot and killed things before, so her behavior in this volume was a bit jarring and almost (but not quite) out of character. What I really enjoyed was the Kurogane/Fai relationship in this volume. Kurogane basically binds himself to Fai, even knowing that Fai may hate him for what he has done, in order to save Fai's life. For once, Fai isn't his usual relaxed and smiling self, and he shows his anger at Kurogane by not referring to him by a nickname (for regular readers of this series, this is an upsetting moment, and it shows just how much Fai is able to hide behind a smiling expression).

In a way, the lessons that Fai has to learn (or at least start to learn) in this volume remind me of the lessons that Watanuki (from CLAMP's Xxxholic) has to learn. Both characters find themselves in situations where they need to realize that their friends love them and consider a little pain and suffering to be a reasonable price to pay in order to provide them with help. I don't think Fai realizes this after his talk with Yuuko, despite the fact that she flat out tells him all of that, but I think/hope that he has realized this after he sees Sakura again at the end of the volume.

Although I like Fai's silly side, I also enjoy it when his masks are stripped away and the reader is allowed to see a little of what's underneath, as is the case in this volume. Fai and Kurogane are my favorite characters in this series, and I can't wait to see how the change in their relationship affects how they interact in future volumes. As for Syaoran and Sakura, this volume didn't really focus on them that much, so I'm sure CLAMP has lots of interesting things in store for them in the near future. Overall, I like this series, although I wish I weren't confused by it so often. That confusion is part of the reason why I prefer Xxxholic over this series - in the future, I think I'm going to be more likely to buy Xxxholic than Tsubasa.

As far as extras go, there's Del Rey's usual "honorifics explained" section and an incredible short (2 pages) translation notes section. For a Del Rey manga this is pretty pathetic.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • X/1999 (manga) by CLAMP - It's the year 1999, and the Dragons of Heaven and Earth are gathering in Tokyo for the final battle for humanity's future. The fate of humanity centers around a teenage boy named Kamui, who must either choose to become a Dragon of Earth, preserving the planet by destroying humanity, or a Dragon of Heaven, protecting humanity from ruin. In connection with this series, there's also a movie, an OAV, and a TV series. I've only seen a bit of the movie (which I thought was horribly confusing, if pretty) and nothing of the other two, although, from what I've heard, the TV series is quite good and far better than the movie. Those who'd like to see the series several of the characters in this volume of Tsubasa came from might like to try this manga series.
  • Xxxholic (manga) by CLAMP - Watanuki is a high school student who is plagued by the ability to see spirits. One day, he meets a woman named Yuuko who can help rid him of this ability. Anybody who receives her help must pay a fair price in return, so Watanuki becomes her cook, housekeeper, and errand boy for an undetermined amount of time. Until he has worked enough to earn her help, Watanuki will continue to have to deal with his abilities, which often come in handy when Yuuko gives him special errands to run. This series includes lots of mini-stories, as Yuuko deals with clients who need her special skills and knowledge. Sometimes things turn out well for the clients, and sometimes things end badly, and, due to these experiences, Watanuki gradually grows and changes. Xxxholic frequently crosses over with Tsubasa in small ways, and characters from this series show up in Tsubasa and vice versa.
  • Inuyasha (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Inuyasha (anime TV series) - Kagome is an ordinary schoolgirl living in present day Tokyo. One day, she travels to feudal Japan by way of an ancient well and discovers that she is the reincarnation of the priestess who once guarded the powerful Shikon Jewel. After the jewel is accidentally shattered, Kagome, a half-demon named Inuyasha, and others team up in order to recover all the shards. Those who'd like another series involving a group of characters who are traveling, fighting, and meeting others in order to collect missing items might like this series. In addition, like Tsubasa, Inuyasha includes some romance.
  • Samurai Champloo (anime TV series) - Fuu, a somewhat ditsy waitress, enlists the help of Mugen, a fierce and undisciplined fighter who incorporates break-dancing into his fighting style, and Jin, a samurai with a more traditional fighting style and a calmer and more controlled personality. Somehow the three of them have to get along while they try to find a samurai who "smells of sunflowers," someone from Fuu's past. Those who'd like another series involving a group of traveling strangers who gradually become close to one another and learn about each others' secrets and pasts might like this series. This series has a great deal of comedy, but some very serious moments add a change of pace.

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