Story = D
Video = C+
Audio = C+
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. Traveling 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. (Source: ANN)
I usually try not to review a show unless I've seen the entire thing, or at least plan to see the entire thing. But since I've watched a good portion of this show, I figured it might be useful to any readers who are considering the series to know what it is like through the first 26-episodes. The answer is: pretty boring and tedious to get through. That's because -- despite the possibility that things may suddenly start developing at a breakneck pace from episode 27 on -- there is very little development in terms of the plot and the characters up to this point.
To start, it's worth noting that -- as fans of the all-female manga-creator group CLAMP probably already know -- the characters in this series were actually re-used from other CLAMP titles, but here they play totally different roles. So you might see one of the apocalyptic warriors from the X anime (the only CLAMP-related anime I've seen in full) but when you see him in Tsubasa, he is a humble shop owner. It's something that CLAMP fans will surely get giddy over; but for people like me, it's an interesting side note, but otherwise it doesn't add anything to the story.
However, there were a number of things that did catch my interest and made me want to keep watching. First there's the fact Sakura, Syaoran, and their crew have to gather all of these feathers, each one representing one of Sakura's memories. I had to wonder what kind of secret lay in her memories, and what would happen once she got them all back? Secondly, there's the whole concept of traveling to different dimensions. What would each new world be like? And what kind of role would the feathers play in that world? And lastly, there's the whole conspiracy that caused Sakura to loose her memories and send the group on this journey in the first place. Who are the conspirators and what are their grand plans and ultimate goals?
But after the first 26 episodes, hardly any of those things developed any satisfying way, if at all. Sakura's memories didn't seem to have any particular significance other than to highlight the fact that she did NOT remember Syaoran (which we already knew anyway). The journey to the different worlds could have had more potential, but the story in each world dragged on for way too many episodes, and in the end it didn't seem to have much point to it in terms of advancing the overall story. And the villains that initiated Syaoran and Sakura's journey don't show up much, and when they do the hardly ever offer any new information, and what they do offer doesn't bring us any closer to understanding what their grand scheme is. All in all, the story doesn't seem to be going anywhere, or if it is going anywhere it is taking its sweet time getting there.
Then there are the characters themselves. At first they seem like they could develop into something interesting, but up to this point, they have not developed much at all. The people they are at the beginning are very much the same that they are now. They haven't changed and we don't know much of anything more about their pasts or goals. And even that wouldn't be all that bad if there they were interesting enough to keep me entertained in the meantime. But their personalities are basic and cliche -- the boy-hero, the strong soldier, the happy-go-lucky guy, the saccharine moe girl, the cute animal mascot -- lacking any quirks, mannerisms, or idiosyncrasies that might have made them more interesting and less predictable.
The one key element that I think the show hinges on is the relationship between Sakura and Syaoran and the fact that Sakura will never remember him even if she gets all her other memories back. It sounds all tragic at first, but the story plays this angle up so much that it starts to seem more melodramatic and sappy than tragic. And it becomes essentially a moot point later on when Sakura starts to develop feelings for Syaoran despite having no memory of him. It becomes increasingly obviously they are going to get back together sooner or later, so any dramatic impact is lost. And again, since those characters are defined by that one tragic element and never develop any additional depth in their characters, the constant reminders of how great Syaoran and Sakura are handling such heartache gets redundant after a while and essentially looses any emotional effect.
And speaking of flat characters, that's also a good way to describe the art and animation. The character designs themselves are consistent, clean, and simple, but lack any dimension making them look 2-D, even for an anime. And the animation was also very basic and was not particularly dynamic. On the plus side though, some of the costume designs are interesting, and the color palette for the backgrounds and some of the lighting effects are often impressive and appropriately dramatic.
The music is provided by Yuki Kajiura of Noir and Madlax fame. I usually like her work; but in this show her music, surprisingly, did not enhance anything. It may be nice to listen to on a standalone CD, but it did not add anything to the show itself.
So all that having been said, here's what I think the show should have done (assuming it's one goal was to keep me watching):
- Keep the "price" of retrieving Sakura's memory under wraps (like maybe Yuuko would have told Syaoran, but he kept it a secret from everyone else) until later in the series. That would have added a layer of mystery and a whole lot more tragedy once it was revealed.
- Characters should not be in any one world for longer than two episodes... at least for the first 15-or-so episodes. That way we get exposed to something new on a regular basis.
- Provide some kind of hint as to the overarching story after the characters leave a world. That way you'd get an idea that the story is moving in a definite direction.
- Get Production IG to do the animation (though they did produce the movie version, so I'll have to see how that one turned out).