Anime Review: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle – Season 1

Being an older adult anime fan comes with its own set of struggles you don’t really encounter when you’re a teenager or young adult college student. When you’re younger, you tend to have more time, especially when school is out for the summer, to binge watch a longer series. Attention spans, at least mine back then, aren’t too short to watch an entire series to completion. When it takes a good seven years to finally finish one season of an anime, I tend to think the issue may either lie with you or the anime itself. This is the problem I encountered with Season 1 of the anime Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle.

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is based on the manga series by CLAMP and it follows the story of Syaoran, a young archaeologist who is best friends with the Kingdom of Clow’s young princess Sakura. An incident at the kingdom causes Sakura to lose all her memories and the pieces of her memory, in the form of a feather, becomes scattered across dimensions. Syaoran, along with two mysterious travelers Fai and Kurogane, embark on a journey to travel across different dimensions and worlds to collect the feathers and restore Sakura’s memories.

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When the manga first published in North America, I was immediately drawn to the fact that this series seemed like an alternate universe type story for Syaoran and Sakura of Cardcaptor Sakura fame, another beloved CLAMP title and one of my personal favorites. The main story seems to have some similarities to CCS, only in reverse. CCS has Sakura collecting important cards called Clow Cards to seal them back in the Clow Book from which they escaped. Syaoran in Tsubasa is tasked with collecting important feathers to restore the memories of his dearest princess. The tasks may feel familiar, if you’ve read Cardcaptor Sakura, but the stories and the journeys these characters go on are entirely different. For one thing, Syaoran and Sakura are much older than their Cardcaptor Sakura counterparts, which makes the issues and situations they face in this series much more mature and serious.

I actually briefly wrote about my experience watching Tsubasa three years ago. Much like what I have said in that old post still rings true today––the pacing for much of the season is really slow. Maybe the reason my entire time watching Season 1 of Tsubasa felt like a slow crawl to the finish line is credited to reading the manga first before watching the anime. While I haven’t exactly finished the manga, the last volume I read was Volume 11, I never felt bored with the story. The artwork is always beautiful to gaze at, if you’re a huge fan of CLAMP’s art style, and the story moves effortlessly. There’s enough action and main plot points revealed to give readers a sense of a bigger picture gradually coming together, even if a few chapters or volumes finds Syaoran and company lingering in a new world longer than the last one they vacated. Season 1 of the anime felt boring for the most part.

Tsubasa’s biggest problem may actually be that this story doesn’t translate well as an anime. If the manga is largely based on a slow buildup, laying the groundwork for a huge event or major plot point to turn the characters’ lives upside down, the anime isn’t doing a good job at making the viewing experience enjoyable. As atmospheric and beautifully animated this series is with an amazing soundtrack to go with it, watching each episode felt more like I was in a rush for them to get to the point already. Why are we spending so much time here? Why is this character so interested in Sakura? I was mostly impatient and I had a hard time watching more than one or two episodes at a time. My attention span for this anime was severely low. This may have led to my erratic viewing habits with Season 1. When the mood struck, I’d watch a few episodes then leave it alone for months or years at a time until the mood struck again. It’s truly a miracle I finally finished the whole season at last.

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The anime does start picking up a bit towards the last six episodes of the season, but by then it was difficult to tell if I was starting to become a little more invested in the anime or I was just eager to finish it because I knew I didn’t have much left of the first season to watch. Knowing I have Season 2 and the anime’s OVAs to get through, I’m hoping my feelings toward watching the anime will change when I tackle these next. I really want to like it, but I do think I might have been better off sticking with the manga and skipping the anime entirely. I won’t give up on Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle just yet. You never know, it may actually turn around for the better.

Is this an anime I’d recommend watching? Honestly, read the manga first and if you’re really curious to watch the anime, then use a rental or streaming service to watch it. I don’t think it’s worth the money I spent, but it’s a lesson I had to find out on my own.

Reviewer Rating: 7.0/10

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5 thoughts on “Anime Review: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle – Season 1

  1. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is a really draggy series for me. I watched it because CLAMP and Cardcaptor Sakura but I ended up just watching the series for the sake of finishing it. It was disappointing considering how I loved Cardcaptor Sakura and I was looking forward to how my favorite characters Sakura and Syaoran will be in the series. The only good thing about the anime is the awesome OST courtesy of Yuki Kajiura.
    But if you really love CLAMP, then I guess reading the manga will be fun because of the various CLAMP easter eggs in every page. Still, I recommend staying away from the anime and just focus on the manga.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. Does it get any better in Season 2? I haven’t started watching it yet, but I’m not looking forward to it being much of the same as Season 1. Like you, I was excited to watch the anime because I loved Cardcaptor Sakura (at least the bits I was able to watch from the dubbed and subbed episodes) and easily thought it’d be a similar experience. Instead, the pacing is what makes it extremely difficult to get through. I did buy up the entire anime and OVAs a long time ago, so I certainly can’t skip the anime now. I agree that the only consolation to watching the anime is the beautiful OST of Yuki Kajiura. I can listen to that soundtrack for hours. 🙂

      1. It actually gets worse in the second season XD It has more filler episodes and the season finale deviated much from the manga. I think they did the ending that way to properly conclude the anime (and not left the viewers hanging) but if you’ll be watching the OVAs right after finishing season 2, then you’ll have a hard time trying to connect the scenes .

      2. I was afraid of that. I was really hoping it’d get better with time. Either way, I’ll stick it out but it may take more time to actually finish the second season. XD

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