CLAMP kicks the plot of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle into high gear in volumes 16-18 of this ongoing series. Readers of the first fifteen volumes would have been somewhat justified in wondering if the story’s determined group of travelers–Sakura, Syaoran, Kurogane, Fai, and Mokona–would chase feathers forever. After all, the plot had fallen into an easy rhythm, as the gang hopped from one world to the next in search of the feathers that embody Sakura’s scattered memories. In these volumes, however, CLAMP finally begins to reveal the truths toward which all these pleasant but rather repetitive adventures have been leading.In volume 15, the gang had recently arrived in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo populated largely by alternate universe versions of characters from CLAMP’s famously unfinished series X/1999. Sakura was caught in a mysterious sleep, while her companions tried to work together with the residents of Tochô, one of the few safe havens in this ruined world. When volume 16 opens, Mokona manages to sense one of Sakura’s feathers in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, it’s in a place that puts Syaoran, who is intent on retrieving the feather, into direct conflict with Kamui, Tochô’s powerful and mysterious leader.
The remainder of volumes 16 and 17 are filled with more dramatic events and jaw-dropping revelations than most series manage to come up with in their entire runs. To reveal what happens would only spoil the surprise. It is safe to say, however, that CLAMP definitely never intended for the Tsubasa gang to spend the entire series collecting feathers.
In volume 18, the main characters move on to a new world. In this new story arc, CLAMP shines in showing how the characters’ relationships have been changed as a result of their experiences in Tokyo, and it’s fascinating to compare the travelers in volume 18 to the sweet Sakura, earnest Syaoran, grumpy Kurogane, and affable Fai that CLAMP introduced to readers way back in volume 1.
All of this makes for a lot of plot for just three volumes, and readers who like a lot of twists and turns in their manga will not be disappointed here. I was impressed by the sheer daring of events in volumes 16 and 17. Very few manga creators could pull off this sort of outrageous storytelling stunt, but CLAMP does it with flair; there are just enough ties to previous events to show that the series was heading toward this turning point from the very beginning.
On the down side, the story becomes so convoluted thanks to the plot twists and shocking revelations that many readers will probably be a little confused by the end. The very long explanations offered by some characters do little to clarify the murky waters, as they raise more questions than they answer. Or, as translator and adapter William Flanagan observes ruefully in his translation notes, “CLAMP can be a little difficult to figure out at times.” And though CLAMP’s art does an excellent job of conveying the characters’ confusion and anguish, the action scenes are very difficult to follow, especially during a key fight scene in a reservoir and during a search of the ruined city. Finally, some of the subtleties of the Tokyo arc will be lost on fans unfamiliar with X/1999, as much of the characterization of the crossover supporting cast riffs off the storylines of that series.
All three volumes include the usual translation and cultural notes from translator and adapter Flanagan; they’re especially helpful during these confusing volumes and for readers who aren’t also following the related series xxxHolic. Unfortunately, there are no color insert pages; this is a shame, given how beautiful CLAMP’s art is in this series.
Long-time fans will find these three volumes to be a long-awaited, if occasionally mind-boggling, turning point in this entertaining fantasy adventure series. New fans would be well advised to begin at volume 1. This is definitely one series that a casual reader can’t hope to understand if they don’t read it in its proper order.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com.