I began reading and collecting Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle when it was first released in 2004. It is written and drawn by my favorite manga collective, CLAMP, a four woman team of artists and writers. Over the years I slowed down my collecting but always intended to get the entire series. When Borders went out of business, I grabbed as many of my missing volumes as they had but was four short of all twenty-eight. Fast forward quite a few years later and my eight year old started reading the series and was very put out that I didn’t have all the books. For her birthday we combed the internet and found used copies. She’s plowing through the books, but now is upset because she can’t share with me what is happening because it would be spoilers! So I have promised her to re-read and catch up. If the characters on the cover are vaguely familiar to you, it’s because they are versions of Sakura and Syaoran from Cardcaptor Sakura. By the release of Tsubasa, CLAMP had already published quite a few blockbuster manga. In Tsubasa they chose characters from many of their previous works and remixed them for the new series.
I find reviewing manga hard because, due to density of content, I’m not certain how to summarize and often write far more than is necessary. However, if I can persevere and review all twenty-eight volumes of Tsubasa, that will put me over my goal of a full cannonball. Let’s do this!
Volume 1 – The story begins in the Clow kingdom as Syaoran, a young archaeologist, returns home from the ruins he has been excavating. He is immediately greeted by Sakura, his childhood friend, current crush, and Princess of the Clow kingdom. Sakura seems to be a few years younger and has recently realized she loves Syaoran but is unsure of how to share her feelings. Syaoran doesn’t dare reveal his feelings because he is a commoner and knows he would never be allowed to have a relationship with her. The kingdom is ruled by Sakura’s older, over protective brother, Toya, who is guided by high priest, and best friend, Yukito. The pair are aware that the unknowing Sakura has an important destiny that they don’t understand.
A new discovery at the dig site has everyone excited so Sakura visits to surprise Syaoran. Sakura entering a newly unearthed chamber triggers a magical event where she sprouts wings, they shatter, and she falls unconscious, with most of her soul missing. Yukito recognizes this as the start of Sakura’s journey and sends her and Syaoran across dimensions to the Time Space Witch, who can help.
At the same time in different dimensions, two other people begin their own journey leaving their worlds. Kurogane is an efficient and deadly killer,with little regard to human life, loyal only to Princess Tomoyo. Tomoyo recognizes that Kurogane must learn temperance and the true meaning of strength to reach his full potential. She binds him to not take unnecessary life, for if he does, it will decrease his power. Tomoyo then sends him to the Time Space Witch. Fai D. Flowright is a powerful magician, who, for some unknown reason, must flee his dimension. Leaving behind a guardian watching over his magically slumbering king, Fai goes to meet with the Time Space Witch. Syaoran, Sakura, Kurogane and Fai appear in front of the Time Space, Yuko, who has been expecting them, almost simultaneously.
Pieces of Sakura’s soul, and with it her memories, are scattered across dimensions so she and Syaoran must go dimension hopping. Fai is on the run and Kurogane is seeking to find this new type of strength, so they agree to accompany the pair. Yuko never gives anything for free, as there must be balance, and sending people across dimensions requires a hefty price. Kurogane gives his sword and Fai his magically imbued tattoo. Syaoran has nothing of physical value and so is required to give up his relationship with Sakura, Syaoran will be erased from her memory. Even as Sakura recovers her memory with each retrieved soul piece, she will never regain her memory of him. Willing to do anything to save her, even if she doesn’t remember him, Syaoran agrees to the bargain. Yuko gives them Mokona, a round, white, rabbit looking creature that can communicate with Yuko as needed, and will recognize when a soul piece is nearby, and transfer them to the next world. She warns them that they will run into people who seem like those they know in their own dimensions but that these will be different versions, then sends them off to the Hanshin Republic.
Volume 2 – Upon arrival, the group is taken in by a couple. Sakura is still unconscious and deathly cold. The couple fill Syaoran, Fai, and Kurogane on how the Hanshin Republic works. Everyone has a kudan, a spirit that bonds with them, and people will battle their kudans against one another, kind of similar to Pokemon. The more powerful the heart/spirit of a person, the stronger a kudan the person will attract. Leaving Sakura under the care of the couple, the trio (SFK) head out to attempt and find her soul piece which appears physically as feathers. SFK get swept up in a kudan street battle. Mokona feels the presence of a feather but in the crowd is unable to identify the source. That night they each have a dream with a strange creature, which later are revealed to be their kudan.
It is determined that the feather must be inside a kudan, and a powerful one at that. They figure that the best way to find it, is to find powerful kudan users. This volume has multiple kudan battles and in classic anime/manga fashion characters call out silly attack names. One kudan appears as a horseshoe crab and all the attacks are crab themed, “Crab pot revolution!”. It is in this volume that we learn more about who SFK are as people. Syaoran is determined, with a big heart, and very observant. Fai is happy-go-lucky and fairly chill but has incredible fighting skills that he rarely displays. Kurogane is intense, always willing to step into a fight, and easily riled.
While searching, Syaoran reminiscences about a time when Sakura was sick with a fever. She requested that Syaoran hold her hand until she wakes so that he is the first thing she sees. Sakura’s feather is found during an intense battle and when returned to her, she finally revives. Syaoran is there holding her hand is the first thing she sees but, of course, she doesn’t know who he is. Syaoran holds it together and briefly explains things to her. Fai recognizes Syaoran’s pain and steps in so Syaoran can leave the room to process the reality in front of him, Sakura truly does not remember him.
Volume 3 – While Sakura has regained consciousness, she has barely any knowledge of who she is and doesn’t seem fully ‘with it’ yet. Kurogane describes her as being ‘asleep at the oar’. The group is whisked away from the Hanshin Republic and crash into the middle a marketplace. A big thug yanks Sakura’s arm and demands knowing what they are up to. This is where we learn that Syaoran is an extremely proficient at kicking, as he leaps up and kicks the guy in the face. A local girl, Chu’nyan, intervenes and whisks the newcomers away before they can face the full wrath of the thug.
The have come to the Country of Koryo where Chu’nyan explains, in the past year a new, suddenly powerful, Ryanban (Feudal Lord) ousted the previous leader and is grinding down the people through punishing taxes. When asked why the people haven’t revolted, the response is that the potent magic of this Ryanban makes his castle impenetrable. Our group is intrigued at how this Ryanban unexpectedly became so powerful and they surmise he might have a feather, as the feather in the Hanshin Republic super powered a kudan. However, this raises an interesting question. If Sakura lost her memories only a short time ago, how could the Ryanban have gotten a hold of it over a year ago? The only explanation is that time does not move congruently in the different dimensions.
There is a fun little aside where Chu’nyan takes Syaoran and Sakura around to see her town. A game of dice rolling is being played and Sakura is invited to join. She roles double sixes and, to the astonishment of those assembled, continues to do so eventually winning a tidy sum. Though instead of receiving money the prizes are given in food and household goods (the notes in the back of the book say this is a common occurrence in Japan as cash payouts for gambling are illegal and the prize counter at pachinko parlors look like mini convenience stores). This become pertinent as Sakura’s incredible luck becomes a way for the group to generate income/get supplies as they switch between worlds.
Lacking powerful magic of their own, they contact Yuko (the Time Space Witch) and ask if she can help. She does have something that will counter the shielding magic but it, of course, has a price. Fai gives up his staff and a magical orb is given in exchange. Insisting that Sakura stay with Chu’nyan for her safety, Syaoran, Fai, and Kurogane head to the castle. The orb crumbles the shield around the castle and Mokona indicates that the feather is definitely in there. Of course things are never easy and they instantly face challenges. Syaoran shows off his kicking skills again and we see what skilled fighters Fai and Kurogane are against the most powerful kiishim (summoned magical creature) in Koryo that had been trapped due to the feather. They make their way to the chamber housing the feather and find the Ryanban, cowering and pleading to keep the feather, as he doesn’t want to give up the stolen power source. This book ends on a cliff hanger as the kiishim steps in threatening the Ryanban.
Volume 4 – With the Ryanban’s power crumbling, the kiishim claims the man, opens a portal and takes him with her. Sakura’s feather is returned to her. Among the memories she regains is one of a birthday party. In it, she looks at an empty chair and exclaims that she is so happy someone could attend. Sakura is bewildered by this memory and we see the first instance of the effect of the erasing Syaoran, from her memories. Syaoran is constantly watching his Princess and observing her behavior. He is heartened when her current actions match the Sakura of old. While she may not have her memories, Sakura is still the kind, caring person she has always been.
We also discover that Syaoran is a bit of a mystery. His adopted father, Fukitaka-san, found him at a young age under unknown circumstances. Syaoran has no memory from before that moment Fukitaka-san found him. With no idea of anything regarding his past, he didn’t even know his own birthday, so Sakura insisted that they share hers.
After a brief stop on a world without a feather, where it is realized that Sakura is prone to suddenly falling unconscious, the jump to the Jade Country. Sakura’s gambling talents provide them with money to buy local clothes. While eating in a tavern they hear about disappearing children in the village to the north. The rumor is that it has something to do with the myth of ‘the golden haired princess’ from 300 years ago. Mokona senses a feather so they go to investigate.
Upon arrival at the village of Spirit, they are immediately cast under suspicion as outsiders. The town doctor speaks up for them and takes them in to his home. Syaoran says they are writers gathering fairy tales and uses the ruse as a way to gather information. Three hundred years ago a Princess gathered children from the village to her castle and they were never seen again. It wasn’t a myth and is happening again, children are disappearing in the night. One night Sakura sees the Princess and follows her, only to fall asleep at the edge of the river separating the castle from the town. Upon discovering her disappearance, Syaoran becomes frantic as he, Fai, and Kurogane set out to search. Sakura wakes to find herself chained in a dungeon.
Volume 5 – A little bit of housekeeping, things I’ve forgotten to mention. Fai and Kurogane have independently come to the realization that Syaoran is blind in his right eye. This is part of the reason for his kicking fighting technique, when you don’t have good depth perception you can land a kick more accurately than a punch. Syaoran has never let his disability hold him back and refuses for it to slow him down now, asking for help from Kurogane to be a better fighter. The reader is aware of someone watching over the actions of our heroes, and they have become aware that someone is observing them.
Through research and deductive reasoning, Syaoran has concluded that it is the town doctor who is luring the children to the castle. He has been using hypnotic suggestion to get the children to voluntarily leave their homes and go the castle. Sakura truly saw the ghost of the golden haired princess. Something she has forgotten is that she has the ability to see/detect spirits. The doctor wants the children to extract a feather that had been sealed beneath the castle for three hundred years. In her life, the Princess used the power of the feather to heal the children on the town from a plague, they were eventually returned to their families, older but healed. Working together, our heroes rescue the town’s children, the doctor perishes in the collapse of the castle, the Princess’s spirit is put to rest, and Sakura regains another feather. They are then whisked away to a new world.
They have arrived in the country of Oto. Everyone who enters must be registered and be assigned a job. Fai does the paperwork and since he doesn’t know the writing system, he draws a picture of a big puppy and a little puppy to represent Kurogane and Syaoran, and a big kitty and little kitty to represent himself and Sakura. Kurogane takes intense offense at being given the name ‘puppy’. The country is afflicted by demons, but they seem to follow rules as to where they attack and who they attack. They are ranked according to power and demon hunter is a profession. The officiant registering them says that demon hunting is a good profession for information gathering and also recommends hospitality. Big and little puppy become demon hunters, and big and little kitty (with the help of Mokona) open a cafe. Through demon hunting, Kurogane and Syaoran have made new acquaintances and learn that the demons have been behaving oddly, and there is rumor of a new type of demon.
Sakura comes to the conclusion that she must have known Syaoran previously for him to care for her the way he does. As soon as she says this out loud, Sakura loses consciousness for a moment. When she awakens moments later, she doesn’t remember why she entered Syaoran’s room. The price Yuko extracted is permanent, even if she comes to the conclusion again, or if someone were to tell her, Sakura will forever be barred from her previous memories of Syaoran.
Volume 6 – Syaoran and Kurogane are having success at demon hunting. Fai, Sakura, and Mokona are getting the cafe up and running. Fai is supportive and encourages Sakura to not feel badly about her falling asleep, saying that she does more than she realizes. In particular, Sakura wishes she could do more for Syaoran, who has recently been hurt hunting demons in his quest to find a lead on her feather. Fai advises her that the best thing she can do for Syaoran is smile, as her smile always brings joy to his face.
Oto seems to be a country built on information, who has it, and how to get more. Going through a variety of hoops, Kurogane and Fai learn that the new type of demon appears human, which has never happened before. Demons are also attacking in new places and not following their previous pattern of only attacking demon hunters. When a powerful demon attacks the cafe, Syaoran and Kurogane team up with their new friends. What should have been a simple defeat with so many working together becomes a pitched battle as the demon changes form, something it shouldn’t be able to do.
Once the demon is defeated, Syaoran learns that with higher power demons, his kicking technique is not sufficient, you have to use some kind of weapon. He beseeches Kurogane to teach him how to use a sword, so he can become stronger to complete his mission and Kurogane agrees. Upon acquiring a sword, training commences. The first lesson being that on Syaoran’s bliind side he is hyper reactive, and on his seeing side he is slow to react because he is relying on his vision. Kurogane blindfolds Syaoran and gives the instructions to find his way back to cafe.
On his way back, he meets up with one of his new friends and they stumble upon a demon attack. Sitting in a tree, high above the battle is a male figure that appears to be directing the demons. They surmise he must be the new demon. Then Syaoran makes eye contact, he is stunned to see it looks like Seishiro-san. Seishiro-san then calls out saying it has been a long time since seeing Syaoran, making it clear that this isn’t a look alike, this is the man Syaoran knew back in his original world of the Clow Kingdom, the person who trained him to fight, because Seishiro-san is also blind in one eye.