Tsubasa: Those With Wings Volume 2 by Natsuki Takaya
Out of the two earlier Takaya series published by Tokyopop, this is my favorite. I previously reviewed the first volume. Thief, orphan, and doer of good deeds Kotobuki and her companion Raimon continue on their journey to find the mystical beings called Tsubasa. In this volume we find out more about Raimon’s past. He has a bomb implanted in his head, and he continues to be in the thrall of the military as shown in his obedience to the manipulative Colonel Rin. Kotobuki is dismayed to find out about Raimon’s troubles, and she is determined to find a Tsubasa in order to ask it to heal Raimon.
As the volume opens, Kotobuki and Raimon deal with foiling a plot to destroy an orphanage that is launched by Raimon’s father, who is weary of all the charity payments required of him. The duo then set off to find Tsubasa, seeking a clue in a walled forest compound owned by a rich family. The area turns out to be patrolled by ancient sentient robots constructed to mimic the form of human children. The robots are nearing the end of their battery life, but they entrust Kotobuki with the secret that they’re protecting – a beautiful tree that can help bring greenery back to the ruined landscape. They also give Kotobuki a clue – she needs to look to the east to find the Tsubasa. The setting and Kotobuki’s interactions with the dying robots made for an episode that had more emotional depth than many of the other encounters Kotobuki had experienced on her journey.
Kotobuki is more aware of her own naivety and immaturity as she contemplates her relationship with Raimon. She’s more self-aware about her tendency to consider her own feelings, and she starts to see things from his perspective more. While Kotobuki is an engaging character, one thing I found annoying was that all the other characters have a tendency to continue to comment about how innocent and pure she is. Kotobuki and Raimon head towards the east, to a sunken island nation called Japan that seems to be the source of the sentient robots. Raimon also seems to know more about the Tsubasa than he’s letting on, as he is visited by a Tsubasa in human form. There seems to be a military connection to the angelic beings, which Kotobuki may soon discover.
One of the themes that is explored in more depth in Fruits Basket is the nature of free will. The Sohma family’s control makes the members of the zodiac helpless. You see something similar here in the way Raimon relates to the Colonel. Raimon turns passive and silent when the Colonel is around, and the reader is left wondering what type of hold the Colonel still has over Raimon in addition to the bomb in Raimon’s brain. Hopefully that will be cleared up in the final volume! While Tsubasa has some narrative inconsistencies like characters randomly popping up to see Kotobuki after she’s traveled across the country, there are still enough story elements in Kotobuki’s quest that capture my attention. The art gradually gets stronger as the volume progresses, although the character designs and layouts don’t approach Takaya’s current style, a contrast that is shown when you see the back-up story included in the volume that Takaya drew more recently. I continue to like the omnibus editions that Tokyopop is putting out. I’d much rather purchase 400 pages of manga for $15 than $11 for 200 pages of manga.
Phantom Dream Volume 3 by Natsuki Takaya
I really didn’t like the first volume of Phantom Dream. It just didn’t click with me as a reader, and while I was able to get over some of the narrative lapses and enjoy Tsubasa I found Phantom Dream to be not very compelling, and I didn’t purchase the second volume. I was sent the third volume though, so I decided to give it another try. I thought that Asahi seemed to be stuck in supportive girlfriend mode in the first volume, so there wasn’t a whole lot of dramatic tension in the relationship between her and demon fighter Tamaki. However something dramatic must have happened in the second volume because Asahi has discovered that she’s the reincarnation of a being called Suigekka and allied herself with Tamaki’s enemy Hira, the head of the Gekka family. It was hard for me to continue to think of Asahi as being insipid when she is now going around violently stabbing people! I was a little disappointed to see that she’s tranferred from being Ashahi’s devoted helpmate to Hira’s so her role in her relationships with men is essentially the same
Takaya’s themes of people struggling against a dark controlling family are more fully explored in this manga as Tamaki is ordered to become engaged to Migiri and produce a child with pure blood in order to combat the demonic jaki more effectively. Tamaki finds their orders and expectations stifling and ends up leaving the Otoya family while still preparing for war against the jaki producing Gekka family. He vows never to hate Asahi, even if she attacks him. Eiji is Tamaki’s traditional rival, and he turns female as part of his duty to produce an heir who will continue to summon Jaki. Eiji realizes that he’s been duped by about the Gekka family’s goals and summoning jaki isn’t something that he’s doing for the benefit of mankind. Eiji met Tamaki when they were both children, and a chance encounter that ended with Tamaki giving Eiji a juzu bead has produced lasting feelings of affectionon Eiji’s side. The tone of Phantom Dream is much darker and more operatic than Tsubasa, as all the main characters are struggling with tormented emotions.
The result of this two family war is that most of the characters in Phantom Dream are struggling with familial expectations as well as demon battles. While the third volume of Phantom Dream was more interesting than I was expecting, it still wasn’t enough to make me want to go back and read the series as a whole. This book just isn’t clicking for me as a reader and I had to force myself to finish reading it. I do think that the quality of art in Phantom Dream has gotten much stronger as the series progressed, but the story still isn’t capturing my interest. I know that other people have not liked Tsubasa and found Phantom Dream more compelling, but I find the meandering journey of Tsubasa more entertaining than the dark family war in Phantom Dream.
Review copies provided by the publisher