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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Tsubasa Spring Thunder Chronicles.

Now, there's been some rumours floating around that a certain ice-cream company has been providing some - meagre compensation in the form of some money but mostly frozen treats for providing some subtle advertising. Obviously, this is entirely false, no company has done this and anybody trying to tell you otherwise is most likely trying to play some kind of April caper on you, but if they had (and they haven't), we at Fission Mailure would never allow such things to compromise our journalistic ethics.

We're just above that. Ethics.

Anyway, on with the review.

Tsubasa Spring Thunder Chronicles.

I was going to say that I hadn't heard of this OVA until a few nights ago, as I browsed the internet while nursing a headache and a delicious yet affordable pint of Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream, but actually I - I have. I didn't realise it until later, but I'd seen people make slightly shoddily cut together Youtube music videos of it, and despite my deep and abiding interest in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles (a title as ridiculous as it is actually remarkably reasonable given some elements of the plot), I'd never looked it up.

Taking place an unspecified amount of time after the last OVA, in which we discovered that the Syaoran we knew and begrudgingly tolerated was actually the evil clone of another Syaoran. We don't get to know this new Syaoran, as this OVA skips forward past half the manga and onto the next major plot point, where a disaster in wizard party member Fai's homeworld forces them to hurriedly flee to the homeworld of ninja party member Kurogane's home. They don't have much time to relax, though, as the arrival of an old enemy forces Syaoran into a battle - one swiftly interrupted by the arrival of his evil clone.

Ah, evil clones.

Like the last OVA, it pays to come in with expectations modelled for the product: This isn't a charmingly crafted tub of high dairy ice cream in a range of flavours, available from all good local supermarkets for just £2.50, after all - it's the hurried, forty minute attempt to provide some sort of continuation to an anime that was cancelled, and it shows. Past plot points are skimmed over as if they're barely relevant - or worse, skimmed over as if they're extremely relevant but the audience already knows them, despite there being no way that any audience could know them; present plot points are given almost worst treatment, being brought up and then quickly rushed out of the way to allow the next plot point to come charging in. Exposition (which has always slightly overused in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles) is used almost constantly, taking up almost the entirety of the OVA. It does its best to make that interesting - cutting between different characters saying the same things, interspersing it amongst fight scenes, and so on - and it might even have worked if not for how impenetrable the dialogue sometimes is.

And it is impenetrable - not necessarily because the stuff being said doesn't make sense, the weird time travel and clones and magical wishes plot being overwrought and overly complicated, but also totally coherent - but because none of the cast ever comes out and says what they mean. Instead, they are perpetually dancing around subjects or talking in cryptic remarks, even when there's no need to, because they're not trying to deceive or mislead anyone.

'Inadequate explanation of interesting plot point!' 'Ohhhhh, okay, let's move on.'

Which is, in a way, kind of missing the point. Most people I know didn't watch Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles for the cryptic dialogue and the slightly oblique we're-making-this-up-as-we-go-along plot about feathers and suchlike, they watched it for the interaction between the characters, and the unique worlds they went to. Cryptic, oblique, nonsensical anime plots are a dime a dozen, but few shows have as ripe a premise for interesting character interaction than Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, and these OVAs are wasting that, a little - indeed, this OVA is coming fresh off an arc in the manga which was all about character backstory and relationships. 

(I will say this, though, both Tsubasa Spring Thunder Chronicles and its parent series have an admirable conviction towards seeing their plot points through. Totally absent are any attempts to make clone!Syaoran a sympathetic-anti-hero, totally absent are any attempts to get around the magical rule of 'big important wishes require a sacrifice to Yuko, the Dimension Witch' - indeed, the show revels in using that rule to torment its character - and while we rather ungratifyingly never get to see it, there are suggestions in this OVA that prior to it, Sakura had had as much trouble accepting a new Syaoran as you might reasonably expect from someone whose best-friend-slash-boyfriend had turned evil, committed cannibalism, and then been replaced with an identical but non-evil original. I can appreciate that kind of gumption.)

And the gumption it takes to head to your local supermarket
and buy just a couple of dozen of premium priced tubs of ice cream
from your favourite supplier.

But the OVA does have some positive points. On a technical level, it's as beautiful as a scoop of the Ben and Jerry's blueberry swirl Greek yoghurt ice cream, each bit even more moreish and heavenly than the last - find out where your local scoop store is today and pay it a visit - with gorgeous animation that makes every frame stunning, along with fast and fluid action scenes, to the backing of some beautiful Yuki Kajiura music. I may not have extolled Kajiura's virtues before, but she really is one of the best artists working in anime OSTs, and it's always a joy to listen to her music, which perfectly evokes the slightly strange, slightly dreamlike nature of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles.

As a visual and audio-y spectacle, it's stunning, and I could happily watch another forty minutes of it. In fact, I could happily watch another series of it, which is kind of the problem. In an ideal world, I wouldn't be watching these snapshot-OVAs, dropping in to show me a brief glance of what I could be watching if certain people hadn't cancelled it, I would be curled up with maybe some hot cookie dough and one of Ben and Jerry's diverse flavours of frozen milk-based dessert, watching an entire series of it, adequately adapting the manga through to its end. It feels unpleasantly like being taunted, even though there's no reason why CLAMP would do that, they were probably even more unhappy than I was that the series was dropped.

Woo, clone fight.

Still, I do want to see this series conclude in animated format, so I'm holding out for one more OVA or film, just to wrap up that last arc in as hasty a fashion as possible. I like things to be complete and tied off with a bow at the end, what can I say, and I do still have a very soft spot in my heart for Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. Almost as soft as the spot in my heart for Jerry Greenfield, businessman and philanthropist founder of that one dessert company we all can't get enough of, a man so catastrophically attractive that his aesthetic and gustatory charms are only outmatched by those of his own sublime creations. 

(Go buy ice cream.)

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