Saturday, February 6, 2021

REVIEW: Tsubasa: Those with Wings (manga, vol. 1) by Natsuki Takaya, translated by Kinami Watabe

Tsubasa: Those with Wings is technically sci-fi, but it feels like fantasy. It was originally licensed by Tokyopop and is now out of print.

This review includes slight spoilers.


This takes place in the 22nd century, after repeated wars have polluted the land and oceans. The only people who live comfortably are the wealthy, politicians, and the military - everyone else is forced to scrape by with nearly nothing, and crime is rampant.

Kotobuki is an orphan who turned to thievery because her lack of parents gave her even fewer options than most. She isn't a very good thief, but she's nimble, and somehow she catches the eye of Raimon, an officer in the army. He never puts much effort into capturing her, but one day he tells her that he'll finally go after her seriously, and he'll make her his when he catches her. It turns out he was serious - some time later, he catches up to Kotobuki and tells her that he quit the military so that he could be with her.

While Kotobuki tries to sort through her feelings for Raimon, the two of them go on a journey to find a job for Kotobuki that she can actually keep, and to find news about Tsubasa, a mythical thing that is supposedly hidden in the ground and can grant wishes.

According to Wikipedia, this is the work Natsuki Takaya published just prior to Fruits Basket. I can definitely see early Fruits Basket in the artwork, if not the story and characters. Those actually make me think more of CLAMP's Clover, weirdly enough. Here's hoping the overall story doesn't end as tragically.

I was not expecting the series' romance aspect to progress so quickly. I figured Raimon and Kotobuki would spend several volumes dancing around their feelings for each other before finally admitting that they loved each other. Instead, Raimon confessed his feelings to Kotobuki by the end of the first chapter (granted, he's the type of character who doesn't look like he's serious about anything). Kotobuki came across as being a good deal younger than him - although she was attracted to him, she was unsure what she wanted to do about it and was overall much less self-confident. Thankfully, Raimon was perfectly content to wait for whatever Kotobuki was comfortable with (this was even addressed in a bonus manga in which the characters addressed fan requests that Raimon and Kotobuki's relationship move faster). He did flirt pretty much constantly, though.

I actually really liked their relationship, up until it looked like Kotobuki might have died. At that point, Raimon's response was to set things up so that everyone in the area, including himself, would be blown up. Not exactly healthy or what Kotobuki would have wanted, and yet they never talked about it when she inevitably turned back up again, alive.

The SFF aspects were light and didn't seem like they'd been thought through very well. I couldn't tell how bad off this world really was. On the one hand, the ocean was supposed to be so polluted that just falling into it could kill you, and farming land was widely considered unusable. On the other hand, you could still grow stuff if you got yourself a hoe and put a bit of work into it (how was Kotobuki the only person in that town who knew how to grow crops?), and regular people had jobs to offer if the story required it.

At this point in the story, the Tsubasa thing is pretty weak. Supposedly no one knows what it looks like or how it really works (or if it even exists), and yet the military seems to be able to track signs of it. Considering all the secrets surrounding Raimon and his connection to the military, I'm willing to bet that he knows more about Tsubasa than he's told Kotobuki.

Overall, this was okay so far. Decent enough to read once, but I don't think it's going to be a keeper.

Additional Comments:

Chapter 2 was the worst, and I don't know how much of it was due to Tokyopop's translation or Takaya's writing. Kotobuki meets the leader of a Tsubasa cult, a man with long hair who earns her dislike when he kisses her on the forehead without asking. Kotobuki then spends the rest of the chapter referring to him with transphobic language (four instances).


A few author freetalks, additional illustrations, and bonus manga throughout the volume. This omnibus edition ends with a bonus "thank you" manga starring a few prominent characters from the series, drawn 8 years after the series was released (you can see the changes in Takaya's art style). There's also a fairly lengthy preview of one of Takaya's other series, Phantom Dream.

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