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Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories(TV) (2005-2006)
Syaoran, a boy who wants to become an archeologist, and Sakura, a princess from the Clow Kingdom, are childhood friends with a close relationship. On a fateful night, Sakura lost all her memories as a result of a conspiracy to obtain her powers. In order to regain her memory, Syaoran seeks help from the witch, Yuuko. Yuuko tells Syaoran that he has to travel from one alternate reality to another to collect fragments of Sakura's memory. However, even if Sakura regains her memory, she will have no recollection of Syaoran. Travelling together with them is Kurogane, a warrior who was exiled from his country, and Fye, a magician who wants to escape from his King. With the help of a magical creature, Mokona, they set off on an exciting journey through time and space.
For more about Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories and the Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray release, see Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on June 5, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Miyu Irino, Yui Makino, Daisuke Namikawa, Tetsu Inada, Mika Kikuchi
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray Review
Mixing campy dialog with marginal storytelling, Tsubasa leaves a lot to be desired.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, June 5, 2010
Given the wide popularity of the Tsubasa manga series by the Clamp mangaka troupe, a two-season anime production was licensed by the animation studio Bee Train (a subsidiary of Production I.G. until 2006), who'd achieved widespread acclaim after such series as .hack//Sign, Noir, and Madlax. The concept for the manga was originally designed as a way for the Clamp team to link their prior individual manga storylines, by pulling recognizable characters from those earlier productions, and giving them new life in a universe that stretches the boundaries of reality. This proved an interesting and successful concept, since it offered long-time Clamp fans an element of familiarity in what was otherwise an entirely new production.
Though FUNimation released the initial 26 episodes in a prior season one box set, this new "Collected Memories" edition contains the entire 52 episode series, along with the 36-minute theatrical film The Princess of the Country of Birdcages. The seven disc set is contained in a thick Blu-ray case that slides out from a sturdy cardboard box.
As the story opens, we're introduced to Syaoran, a young archaeologist within the Kingdom of Clow, with deep feelings for his childhood friend Princess Sakura. One day, while the two young lovebirds are spending time with one another at a current excavation site, Sakura finds herself drawn into a symbol on the wall. Syaoran manages to save her, but the princess is robbed of all her memories, which transform into a collection of feathers. These memory feathers are scattered across multiple dimensions, leaving the princess unconscious and unresponsive. At the recommendation of the kingdom's sorcerer, Syaoran agrees to be transported along with Sakura to the dimensional witch named Yuko, hoping she can help guide them to Sakura's lost memories. Upon their arrival to the shop of the dimensional witch, the youngsters encounter two other individuals who also seek the help of Yuko. One is a violent warrior sent by his female ruler in search of a meaningful non-violent existence. The other is a wizard, who left his world in order to avoid a fateful encounter with his king. Though the four travelers each express a different reason for seeking the assistance of the witch, their paths are linked to Sakura's lost feathers. In order to possess the ability to travel between dimensions in search of the feathers, each man is required to lose something valuable. Syaoran's sacrifice is arguably the most difficult to give up, since he's asked to accept a future where Sakura will never regain the memory of their time together, presumably leaving the star-crossed lovers unable to achieve the spark that once existed between them. Nevertheless, Syaoran agrees to the terms and the four dimension-jumping companions set off in search of Sakura's memories.
Following the initial 26 episodes that comprise the first season of the series, I held out optimistic hope that the show would take a turn for the better. It wasn't that I hated the first season, but the pacing seemed far too slow for my liking, and the plotlines in several dimensions along the journey had a tendency to overstay their welcome. I fully expected my sentiments to change as we moved into season 2, since the overall story arch should take center stage in place of the small subplots that comprised season 1. Why introduce a character like Fei Wong Reed (who's portrayed as a villainous puppetmaster with a keen interest in the quest of our four heroes) unless you intend to make him an integral part of the series conclusion? To take it a step further, why is the young boy in the liquid containment tank in Reed's residence, and why does he bear a striking resemblance to Syaoran? These are the questions I expected to have answered by the conclusion of episode 52, and kept me at least marginally engaged through the slower moments of the series.
Unfortunately, this brings me to my main gripe with the series as a whole, since there's really nothing interesting or engaging for viewers to latch onto. In season one, I was mildly smitten with the idea of searching for characters I recognize from other areas of the Clamp universe, but most of those characters are merely recycled in season two. This method of reuse is superficially explained by the suggestion that these characters exist in multiple dimensions independent of the other versions of themselves, yet with similar traits. I'm not sure how other Clamp fans feel, but season 2 made it seem as if the writers went in a lazy direction to strike a chord with the core fan-base at the expense of any real storytelling. In the end, there's zero resolution in the underlying story arch, and the character Fei Wong Reed is merely left as an afterthought. Several decent villains are strewn throughout the series, but the lack of a true antagonist at the heart of the show is a tremendous disappointment.
As if the problems in the storyline weren't bad enough, the actual pacing of the episodes and the dialog in the series grew tiresome at a rapid rate. Between Fai's constant happy-go-lucky musings on what it means to be courageous, Mokona's annoying chatter (which became far too frequent in season 2), and Syaoran's overly-endearing reaction to everything Sakura does, I almost reached the end of my rope. It's one thing to walk away from an anime production knowing the characters never fully engaged you, but when you sit through nearly 24 hours of a series with characters who are downright annoying, it becomes difficult to ever imagine yourself revisiting the program.
As I mentioned in my review of the first season, I was a bit let down by the quality of the animation on Tsubasa. Although action is merely used as an afterthought in many episodes of the show, I continued to be disappointed by the use of static character animation with moving backgrounds meant to simulate combat. This was a method often used in the early days of anime, when budgetary limitations prevented animators from taking the time to draw an elaborate fight sequence; but the practice has thankfully been discarded in the majority of modern productions. During the slower moments in the series (of which there are many), character movement lacks the fluidity of other series released around the same time, and appear disproportionate from scene to scene. I know this paints a rather negative picture of the animation quality, so I should qualify my statements by noting there are still plenty of beautiful environments brought to life throughout the series, and although the animation didn't necessarily fit within my taste, other's could feel differently. Thankfully, that's one of the reasons we have screenshots.
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 20Mbps), Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles doesn't offer a dramatic improvement in the transition to high-definition. The main culprit is likely the source material, which originally aired during 2005-2006, and appears slightly soft in comparison with other recent series from FUNimation. This should likely be attributed to the upconversion of the image to 1080P resolution (creating a smoothing of the image, but not an actual resolution jump), which leads to image clarity that clearly surpasses the capabilities of DVD, but never approaches the quality of source material originally created in 1080p. Aside from the lack of fine detail and occasional stair-stepping, the only other two problems I noticed on a very minor level are a bit of banding in stark color transitions and several instances of artifacting. I'm guessing these issues won't be nearly as noticeable on a display that's smaller than 50 inches (unless you have amazing eyesight), but they become more apparent when you're viewing material of this nature on a 100 inch display. On the positive side, the show contains a beautiful color spectrum, and I rarely noticed a hint of weakness in black level depth or contrast differentiation.
While Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles isn't the strongest offering I've seen on the anime front, it still benefits from the transition to Blu-ray, and appears to be an accurate representation of marginal source material.
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Following the trend set by their season one release, FUNimation has provided a TrueHD 5.1 track dubbed in English, and a Dolby Digital 2.0 track in the original language of Japanese. As always, I prefer the native language on any foreign produced series, so I was slightly disappointed in the diminished quality of the Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The front-heavy mix lacks the depth that comes from surround separation, leaving us with an experience that's merely adequate at getting the job done, but not what I'd consider a value-added audio experience. The English dub on the other hand, demonstrates a more robust feel, separating nuances in the audio effects to create an immersive experience. A great example of what I'm referring to is the battle sequence in the final episode on disc three, which opens up the sound field with excellent spatial separation. From the clashing of blades to the boom of explosions, every element in the track brings your home theater to life with a richness that lands you right in the heart of the action. Toss in a hauntingly beautiful musical score (one of the best I've heard from an anime series), and there's little reason to complain about the English offering.
If given the option of scoring the audio offerings separately, I'd give the English track a 4.5/5, and the Japanese track a 2.5/5. The differences between the two tracks are certainly noticeable, but the lack of surround separation on the Japanese mix didn't detract from my enjoyment of the show.
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Cast Auditions (1080p, varying length): This supplement includes a collection of 6 cast auditions with the English voice actors, presented with a piece of static artwork on the screen.
Faces in the Crowd (1080p, text-based): Considering Tsubasa collects several characters previously used in the Clamp universe, this supplement provides articles that briefly explain these connections.
Character Guide: (1080p): close to a dozen characters are featured with a brief text-based description of the role they played in the first season of the series.
World Guide: (1080p): consisting of around three dozen sketches from the initial 26-episodes of the series, this supplement describes locations of importance, and some of the items they encounter along the way.
Rounding out the season one extras, we have textless opening and closing songs, and a collection of trailers for other FUNimation titles.
Character Guide: (1080p): around a dozen characters are featured with a brief text-based description of the role they played in the series.
World Guide: (1080p): consisting of around 3 dozen sketches from the second season of the series, this supplement describes locations of importance, and some of the items they encounter along the way.
Rounding out the season two extras, we have textless opening and closing songs, and a collection of trailers for other FUNimation titles.
Far and away the best supplement included in the box set, we're given the full-length theatrical movie The Princess of the Country of Birdcages, which runs 36 minutes in length. This film was originally released as part of a Clamp double-feature with its sister series xxxHolic, creating a connection between the storylines of both series. Both films were released on a separate Blu-ray disc titled "Clamp Double Feature", but if you elect to purchase this boxed set, you'll have your hands on one of the two titles without the extra cost of purchasing an additional disc. Since I'll be delving into additional details on the storyline of the theatrical film during my separate review of the Clamp disc (coming soon), I'll merely note fans of the Tsubasa series will be very happy with the results. The rest of the extras on the movie-only disc are as follows:
2005 Premiere in Ikebukuro (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:15 min): presented in Japanese with English subtitles, this supplement takes viewers to a cast/director introduction from the initial showing of the theatrical double feature in Ikebukuro.
2005 Movie Event in Shibuya (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:20 min): Recorded live at Tower Records, this supplement features the Japanese Band Kinya performing "Aerial", followed by an interview with members of the Japanese voice cast.
Recording Session Montage (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:59 min): As the title implies, this featurette presents various behind-the-scenes clips, interspersed with final animation from the film.
Feature-Length Japanese Staff and Cast Commentary (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0): Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, the format of this commentary track presents two windows within your screen, with one featuring the commentary contributors, and the other displaying audio/video of the episode. The discussions remain light and superficial, focusing largely on the characters from the story, but the contributors are lively and enthusiastic as they banter with one another.
Origin of Birdcage Kingdom (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 1:46 min): This supplement offers little more than a brief description of the events that took place prior to Sakura's arrival in the Birdcage Kingdom. It's helpful in understanding the story, but the rough sketch artwork and text-based story aren't anything to write home about.
Rounding out the extras on the movie-only disc, we have a very brief extension of the Tower Records interview with Kinya, production artwork, background slides, and a collection of more FUNimation trailers.
Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE: Collected Memories Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles is an average anime production with little lasting value. I applaud the idea behind a series focused on re-introducing prior characters in the Clamp universe, but the end result is rather sloppy in both design and execution. Combining slow pacing, disjointed storylines, weak dialog, and annoying characters, I became increasingly frustrated by the mediocrity of the entire affair. If you've never witnessed an episode of Tsubasa (or you happened to catch one of the better ones), I'd recommend you consider a rental before investing your money and time in this colossal collection.
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