Tsubasa: Those With Wings

March 27, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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Originally posted at LiveJournal on Jan. 19, 2010.

TITLE: Tsubasa: Those With Wings
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Natsuki Takaya
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 9 (Great)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Natsuki Takaya (mangaka of Fruits Basket and Phantom Dream), Chobits, science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, romance, action, adventure, humor

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Fruits Basket, so I was happy to see more of mangaka Natsuki Takaya’s work licensed in English. Of her two previous series that have come out here in the U.S. — the other being Phantom Dream — I definitely prefer Tsubasa: Those With Wings. While not perfect, this series shows the potential later realized more fully in Fruits Basket.

The story takes place at the end of the 22nd century in a country named Neelse (located in the area of modern day China and southeast Asia). Thanks to the many wars of the 21st century, Earth has gone to ruin. Water is polluted and fields have fallen in decay. Only those in the upper classes — the rich, the politicians, and members of the army — enjoy any kind of comfortable life. The rest struggle just to survive.

The lowest of the low is a group called the Nameless, made up of orphaned children and those abandoned by their parents. They are considered “nameless” because the government refuses to issue them identification if they don’t belong to a family and have a family name. Most people treat them like trash, and opportunity to improve their standing in society is pretty much non-existent, as they are even denied a proper education. Most Nameless resort to a life of crime to survive.

One such Nameless is the sixteen-year-old thief Kotobuki. She isn’t much of a burglar, never stealing anything of real value, but she is fast and agile, making it easy for her to outrun the army police. Kotobuki, however, dreams of one day making an honest living and decides to put her life of crime behind her in order to find a legitimate job. Joining her on her journey is the brilliant Raimon Shiragi. A former army captain, he has been in love with Kotobuki ever since the first time he saw her fleeing the scene of one of her burglaries. After months of chasing her, with no real intention of ever arresting her, Raimon decides to resign from his army post, give up his life of privilege and prestige, and start a life with Kotobuki, whether she likes the idea or not.

Together, they travel various different towns as Kotobuki searches for a job. Along the way, they meet several people who are looking for the legendary Tsubasa. The Tsubasa, according to popular myth, has the ability to grant people’s wishes. Kotobuki initially isn’t interested, but when she discovers that an army colonel implanted a bomb in Raimon’s brain to prevent him from crossing the border and leaving the country, she decides to join in the search for the Tsubasa to find a way to save him. But to find the Tsubasa, they must also go up against the army, who are also looking for the Tsubasa — and Raimon — for their own nefarious purposes.

As with Fruits Basket, the greatest strength of this story is the characters. Kotobuki shares some similarities to Tohru, the heroine of FB, in that they are both kind-natured with an optimistic, can-do attitude and have the same kind of work ethic, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Kotobuki is brash and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She also has no problem getting violent should the situation arise, and there are people she doesn’t like, which makes her feel more realistic than Tohru, who tends to love everybody she meets. Raimon, meanwhile, is definitely not your typical shoujo lead. Underneath his laid-back, kind of goofy and pervy demeanor (similar to Shigure from FB), he’s pretty much a psychopath. The only thing that matters to him is Kotobuki and her happiness. He couldn’t care less about other people, including himself, and has a habit of blowing up buildings, which becomes a bit of a running joke through the series. Yet it’s hard not to like him and even feel sorry for him when his past is revealed. Other fun characters include: Shoka, the sexy leader of a small group of thieves looking for the Tsubasa in order to wish for, in her words, “boys, booze, power, and prestige”; Adelaide Wilson, a smart little rich girl Kotobuki befriends while working as a maid; Yan Mizuchi, the leader of Teki, a Blue Rose resistance group that provides assistance to them; and Major Tohya Ingram, who has a bit of a hilarious obsession with Raimon.

Another thing this series shares in common with Fruits Basket are the little “lessons” that are interwoven throughout the story, things that seem like they should be common sense, yet are easy to forget. One that particularly sticks in my mind is that the Nameless are human and were born of human parents, even if those parents are dead or have abandoned them, just like everybody else. Obvious, right? Yet the way characters treat the Nameless, a lot of them don’t seem to remember that and consider them less than human. It’s incredibly sad, and echoes how even some people today look down on the homeless or members of the minority.

It is a bit unbelievable, though, that people would be so prejudiced against orphans in the future, to the point that they are denied last names and identification. That’s really what I consider the major flaw of this series: the fact that the whole situation seems really unlikely to ever happen in modern times just due to a devastating world war. (Maybe a meteor hitting the Earth, or something like that, but just a war?) I know, fantasy doesn’t have to be realistic, but I find it hard to believe that, for example, most records of the 21st century were destroyed, to the point that most people don’t even remember there ever used to be a country called “Japan”. That’s a lot to destroy, and I would hope that the survivors would do their best to record their memories. Then again, there is the Tsubasa… Well, I won’t spoil what happened, but I suppose it makes the world of the story a little bit more believable. Just be aware that you’ll likely have to suspend your disbelief a little to truly enjoy the story.

Another weakness is the romance aspect of the story. There’s a lot of “love at first sight” happening, with little to zero development afterwards. This is especially apparent with Yan and his love interest, whose relationship is completely shallow. Even Raimon fell in love with Kotobuki at first sight, although Kotobuki’s falling in love with him is handled much more realistically over time. Too bad it seems at times that the only reason she loves him is because he’s so in love with her. Seriously, when the guy only cares about you and you alone, what else is there about him to fall in love with? (Besides looks, of course. Raimon is rather handsome, although, personally, I find Tohya the hottest guy in the cast.) Well, I suppose Raimon has a fairly decent sense of humor, and he is kind to her, but he’s basically a jerk to everybody else, which makes it rather strange that a girl like Kotobuki, who cares a lot for other people, would fall in love with a guy like him.

On the technical side of things, the translation is kind of all over the place in respect to the romanization of names, especially between the first and second volumes. It’s understandable, as the first volume was translated by a different person than the last two, but it is rather distracting to have Kneels/Neelse, Toya/Tohya, Adilyte/Adelaide,  Phere/Fia, etc. Likewise, honorifics are used rather haphazardly. Concerning the artwork, it’s close in style to how Takaya drew at the beginning of Fruits Basket, so if you prefer her older drawing style, you’ll probably like it.

Despite these flaws, I found Tsubasa: Those With Wings to be an involving, entertaining and thought-provoking series. For fans of Takaya’s work, especially Fruits Basket, I definitely recommend checking it out.


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