Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle

What can I say about Tsubasa Chronicle other than talk about how charming and fantastic it is. Every single episode is completely heartbreaking, yet it's a real joy to watch for just that reason.

Princess Sakura and young Syaoran are childhood friends (and you know where that tends to lead, and this series is no different). Syaoran's adoptive father was an archeologist for Sakura's kingdom but he died prior to the events in the series, and Syaoran has since taken up his father's work uncovering a set of vast ruins not far from the castle. One night as Syaoran is investigating some deeper parts of the ruins, Sakura appears, called there by some mysterious force. Syaoran thinks little of it, and is indeed happy to see her, until she activates some sort of seal and vanishes. Syaoran runs through the ruins to find Sakura floating in front of a similar seal, and arrives just in time to see wings sprout from her back. As she begins to slowly be absorbed by a dimensional portal, Syaoran jumps up to save her, knocking her to the ground and causing the feathers on her wings to scatter. Sakura falls into a coma and Syaoran learns that the feathers were Sakura's spirit, or more specifically, her memories. Without them she will fade and die. The king's adviser Yukito sends Syaoran off to visit the Dimensional Witch, where he arrives simultaneously with a mage named Fay and a warrior named Kurogane, both from separate dimensions.

The Dimensional Witch offers to aid the three (four if you count Sakura, but she's not the one asking for aid since she's unconscious). Syaoran wants to recover Sakura's feathers, Fay is running away from something, and Kurogane wants to return home. However the Witch doesn't do anything for free, and so she asks a steep price from each of them - the thing they value the most. Fay gives up a strange tattoo on his back, Kurogane gives up his sword, and (and this is the worst of all), Syaoran gives up all of Sakura's memories of him. This means that no matter how many feathers they find, and even once they have all of them, Sakura will NEVER remember who Syaoran really is, and will never remember the time they spent together. The Witch gives them a creature named Mokona in exchange, which teleports them across dimensions and can also detect the presence of Sakura's feathers.

What makes the series so heartbreaking is that Sakura really can't remember Syaoran at all. Often when a feather is returned to her, the memory associated with it will play in her mind...with a specific person conspicuously absent. She knows someone should be there, because she'll remember speaking to someone, but it's like she's talking to the air, or an empty chair. And anytime she starts to remember him, or tries to remember him, her mind locks up and she forgets what she was trying to remember in the first place. Nearly every episode brings tears to my eyes.

Aside from a really lovely story, the show is very well animated. It's a CLAMP series, and there are a lot of cross over characters from series like Cardcaptor Sakura, xxxHolic, Angelic Layer, X and Tokyo Babylon. The music is composed by Yuki Kajiura, who is probably best known as the composer for the Xenosaga video games (episodes 2 and 3), and the various .hack// anime series. In my experience with her music, she seems to be a bit of a one trick pony, using the same musical tricks and stylings over and over again in everything she does. Now, she does this VERY well, don't get me wrong; but it seems to be about the only thing she can do. Still, it's effective in this series, even if various themes are overused from time to time.

So far the series (in animated form) consists of 52 episodes (two 26 episode seasons), a three episode OVA, a movie, and another OVA that will appear in the spring of 2009. FUNimation has the license for the 52 episode series and the movie. FUNimation is still in the process of releasing the DVDs. Volume 10 will come out in just a few days, and covers up to episode 44. Volume 11 is scheduled for a February release. The movie has already been released alongside the xxxHolic film A Midsummer Night's Dream. To that effect, I have not seen the entire series. As usual, I watched it via the FUNimation channel, which only played the series through episode 26 (the end of the first season). Still, that was plenty enough to make me want to see the rest of the series. On that note, I should mention that the English dubbing is, for the greater part, well done. The only real objection I have is the voice of Sakura, which I have an extreme distaste for, particularly when she sings (it's Monica Rial, who seems to do fine when she's not doing airy, little girl voices). It's a strong show all around though, and I highly recommend at least checking out the first few episodes. The story secrets and plot twists are revealed very slowly throughout the series, and the pacing is pretty good, but this means you'll be a little clueless from time to time (and sometimes the characters are far slower on the uptake than you will be). If you're a CLAMP fan, then it's certainly a must see. I myself have only seen a few of their shows (Chobits, X, and now Tsubasa), and haven't yet read any of their manga (except a couple volumes of Chobits), but I've enjoyed each of them.

Image: Left to right are - Fay, Yuko (Dimension Witch), Black Mokona, Sakura, Syaoran, Mokona, Kurogane and Princess Tomoyo.


A Year of Disappointments

What is it with this year? The gaming industry has consistently failed to deliver. We were promised so many amazing games, teased with fantastic visuals and inventive ideas. But when they arrived, they were so much less than what we expected.

Fable 2 made lots of promises. Molyneux is a PR machine that is often out of control. Fable was lacking in many ways, and we were left wondering what had happened. Fable 2 was supposed to deliver what the first game missed, and some. What we got was the game that should have come out years before, and a lot of new features that fell flat. The on-line co-op was a disappointment, and the reasons offered (i.e.: Excuses) - mostly repetitions of "henchmen aren't heroes" - didn't make up for anything. Menu screen lags, a missing quick menu, a missing overhead map (meant to make the game easier for casual gamers...which doesn't make sense), more bugs and glitches than are acceptable, missing codes, and a list of other things. It was still a good game, but it should have been much more.

The Last Remnant is plagued by frame rate issues, long load times, and an over ambitious combat system.

Infinite Undiscovery just missed brilliance with it's overload of characters, unpolished cinematics, and an underused item creation system.

Animal Crossing was little more than a rehashing of a game that's already been done twice. The commercials make it look like the most boring game in existence. And if you're playing it for the third time, it might be an accurate depiction.

Mirror's Edge took a brilliant concept and dragged it through the mud with useless additions.

Prince of Persia at once returned to its roots and did away with them.

The Force Unleashed is entertaining but weak. Things we were promised, like bringing down entire star destroyers with the Force, flinging poor unsuspecting Storm Troopers off of ledges, and being a total unleashed bad ass, were less than fulfilling.

Lips, the 360's version of Sing Star, did not get the reviews I was expecting either. The basic summary is that it was very flashy and pretty, but it didn't incorporate the things that made the Sing Star games work so well. So it doesn't work as well.

Now I'm seeing disappointing reviews for Rise of the Argonauts. It could have been another God of War, but it seems to be plagued with too many problems. Nothing that should break the game or make it unplayable, but enough to make it not worth its $59.99 price tag. It might play better on the PC, where it's about 20 bucks cheaper. Otherwise it sounds like a fun game, that didn't quite meet expectations, and that would be worth picking up at some point after it drops in price. Which seems to be the case with a lot of games coming out this year, and that's very unfortunate and does not speak well for the industry.

One often wonders if they actually have people play test these things. And I mean people who actually play games and know what gamers like, not people who think they know what gamers like. Until companies learn that what they think gamers will like and what they really will like aren't the same thing, we'll continue to get mediocre releases and promising titles that just don't deliver. I hear GTA IV and Fallout 3 really rocked the house though, so there's still hope.