Everything will be all right! – a Cardcaptor Sakura review

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Left side: Shaoran Li, Meilin Li, Kero, Sonomi Daidouji, Touya Kinomoto, Fujitaka Kinomoto. In the middle: Sakura Kinomoto. Right side: Yue, Tomoyo Daidouji, Kaho Mizuki, Eriol Hiiragizawa, Suppi, Nakuru Akizuki.

Sakura Kinomoto was an ordinary 4th grader until the day she opened a strange book and let dozens of powerful magic cards loose on the world. Keroberos, the Guardian of the Clow Cards, informs Sakura that it is now her responsibility to find and capture the freed cards. However, much to the reluctant Sakura’s dismay, things aren’t going to be easy for her; simply saying magic words and waving her wand around isn’t good enough. Each card is a living, thinking, extremely powerful being. She’ll have to learn to cope with her new responsibilities, as well as ordinary troubles involving love, school, family, and friends. With the support of her friend Tomoyo and a young boy with powers of his own, she must learn how to use her newly awakened magical abilities to collect each card and prevent the disaster that will befall the world if she doesn’t.

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“We wanted her to be something more original than just a witch with a magic wand.”

A gateway anime, the moe before moe, CLAMP’s most iconic title, and an unconventional mahou shoujo. It’s a unique piece as the use of cards -a shounen element- gets combined with the more traditional girly traits of magical girls like cute ribbons and accessories. Additionally, we see the heroine in a different outfit, made by Tomoyo, her friend; not by magic. Moreover, Sakura has magic powers on her own: the wand is only the activator of magic rather than its producer, and it doesn’t function as a transformative or healing device.

Its themes also set it apart from the rest of its kind, because love is shown in all its colors: filial love, siblings’ love, love between friends, romantic love between peers or with an age gap, of the same sex, heterosexual or with a being of undefined gender. It’s not very often we see the distinction between a crush and love, much more the heroine getting rejected, dealing with it, moving on with her life, and then building a new, stronger relationship. Besides, being positive and trying your best is hardly new a message, but it’s an exception to the majority of CLAMP works, which are usually darker and/or more doleful.

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Cardcaptor Sakura of course has a manga format, which counts 12 volumes or 4 omnibi if you go by Dark Horse’s latest release. The 70-episode anime series and the 2 movies are naturally based on it. The manga has gentler and more flowing lines, more details explaining certain situations [1], as well as a better end than the anime, but the latter is better in the long run due to its casing with music and its expanded episodes that allow a smooth and satisfactory character development. Thus one gets more excited and involved in Sakura’s adventures. Be sure to choose subs over (American) dub, since in the dub the tone of the series was changed and many critical dialogues and scenes were cut. Even the order in which the episodes aired was different.

The plot has only a few twists here and there, but overall it’s pretty simplistic and follows the monster-of-the-week formula with some exclusively slice-of-life episodes. The goal of the first season is clear from the start, while the second’s isn’t revealed till later; both though have anticlimatic endings. Going through 70 episodes without much tension can become tedious the more one prolongs the series’ viewing, therefore marathoning is recommended. Despite that, the series is emotionally appealing, so it makes up for the lack of intrigue, especially when you are an adult.

side characters

Left: Tomoyo, Sakura, Chiharu, Rika, Naoko. Right: Shaoran, Yamazaki, Touya, Yukito.

The cast is big, but unlike X, it’s not equally well-developed. The side characters are one-dimensional (eg. Naoko loves scary stories, Yamazaki lies a lot) and exist to surround Sakura with a variety of relationships as well as give Sakura a social life beyond her card- capturing and Tomoyo. But Sakura’s father has to be my favorite one: he not only understands his children, but supports them all the way through. The fact that he brings his daughter near her greatgrandfather without telling much and despite any previous disagreements; the fact that his daughter destroyed his pc with the completed paper which was due next day but didn’t yell at her; the fact he actually accepts Yukito as his son’s boyfriend and his hints for official acquaintance with his family, make Fujitaka above admirable. Maybe he’s too much of a perfect parent, yet I adore him.

The main five, meaning Sakura, Tomoyo, Shaoran, Meilin and debateably Eriol, do show signs of complexity and character development. Meilin, an anime-only character, must be the one that had the biggest change. A rival in love and cards at the beginning, Meilin, a girl without magical powers but with strong will and martial arts, became a precious friend and a great supporter to the main couple. Shaoran comes afterwards, in that his feelings not only changed but he also got stronger and more mature. Sakura’s development mirrors that of Shaoran’s and at the same time it’s distinct. Sakura remains clueless and too trusting [2] while her power, intelligence and emotions evolve. Tomoyo and Eriol are both kind and little devils [3], but remain very much the same. And everyone is adorable!

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Teacher – student relationships: Nadesiko x Fujitaka, Terada x Rika, Kaho x Eriol

The relationships between the main 5 characters and the ones developed in Sakura’s family are those that feel like a warm, fluffy scarf around your heart. That’s why, in my humble opinion, this show is worth watching. Sakura and Shaoran make a precious little couple; Meilin and Shaoran have a strong bond as friends, much like Tomoyo with Sakura; Tomoyo and Meilin are mishievious matchmaking darlings; Eriol respects Sakura and gives Shaoran courage and advice; Touya is a caring if tad overprotective and mean brother to Sakura; and as I already mentioned Fujitaka is an awesome parent.

What’s not so awesome though is the unrequited love the lesbian characters find themselves in and how the gay relationship in the story was handled. What is more, love between students and teachers is shown equally acceptable with all the other kinds of love. In the anime, Terada x Rika, which was the most outrageous of these relationships with minors, was thankfully less visible. It’s totally not ok to idealize pedophilia and encourage your young audience’s dangerous fantasies. I’ve talked about all these in the past, when rambling about CLAMP.

sakura movies

There are 2 movies, Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie and Cardcaptor Sakura Movie 2: The Sealed Card, meant to compliment and conclude the anime series respectively. The first gave us a tour to Hong Kong, Shaoran’s hometown, and an insight to the mysterious personality of Clow Reed. The second is clearly the result of not being able to wrap up well the series or an indication someone thought they could milk more money out of the series. Both were quite atmospheric and a nice watch that’ll touch your heart if not move you to tears.

All in all, Cardcaptor Sakura is an enjoyable title, but that also depends on what holds you attached to a series. There are some flaws but the series does offer other things that balance the flaws out. Although it could be a bit shorter as an anime series, it did leave plenty sweet memories.

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Notes:
[1] Spoilers: In the anime it’s never explained why Shaoran went ‘hanyan’ only with Yue in contrast to Sakura; or Fujitaka and his relationship to Eriol/Clow Reed is never mentioned. Eriol also doesn’t request from Sakura to transfer part of his power to Fujitaka as to be relieved of the responsibility and burden too much power brings.
[2] I found it redundant how Yamazaki kept lying about ‘historical facts’ yet Sakura was always fooled.
[3] Tomoyo is our cute lesbian baby, but her stalking syndrome is not cute at all. Am I the only one thinking about her obsession with Sakura this way? On another note, I am not sure that I like that we never learn about her dad. Does she even have one? Do CLAMP imply lesbianism is the outcome of lack of a father figure? :S
For more of my CLAMP series reviews, visit the Down the Clamphole! post.

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10 thoughts on “Everything will be all right! – a Cardcaptor Sakura review

  1. Personally, I think Cardcaptor Sakura is an utter masterpiece, as emotionally rich and involving as anything ever done by Disney or Miyazaki. While your criticisms are, for the most part, quite fair (though I disagree about the end to the series – I thought it was absolutely perfect and totally in keeping with the show’s understated way of getting its point across – Sakura and Shaoran weren’t exactly going to get married!), I also think that we can sometimes get too nitpicky when down in the weeds discussing some works (I include myself in that assessment!).

    Tomoyo’s unrequited romantic love for Sakura was movingly depicted, I believe, with Tomoyo never letting her dashed hopes stand in the way of doing what she thought was best for her friend. This is a TV show, remember – a kid’s TV show, no less – and I don’t think the lack of ever showing Tomoyo’s father implies anything about lesbianism whatsoever, certainly not in light of the fact that Tomoyo is portrayed as not just noble and self-sacrificing, but frequently the sharpest and most keenly observant of all the characters in the show. Moreover, I would certainly be in favor of a follow-up show focused on Tomoyo’s life! Maybe then we could meet her dad!

    Anyway, even if I don’t completely agree with your conclusions, I want to thank you for an excellent and insightful post about a rare “popular” show that I actually think deserves even more attention than it already gets.

    (By the way, I’d be interested to know which mahou shoujos you like better than CCS, as I’d be keen to check them out!)

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    • Welcome to our blog and thanks for commenting~ *waves tail*
      “Sakura and Shaoran weren’t exactly going to get married!” – Considering that CLAMP make clear they are ‘the one for each other’, they are soulmates, I wouldn’t say they aren’t gonna get married hehe 😉 Though it’s a kinda weird/scary scenario to indeed marry your childhood friend…

      “Tomoyo’s unrequited romantic love for Sakura was movingly depicted, I believe, with Tomoyo never letting her dashed hopes stand in the way of doing what she thought was best for her friend.” – That was so very sad and although its nobility is understandable (she wouldn’t like to trouble Sakura) is very discriminatory from the angle of the writers. It’s too painful having Meilin voice her feelings but Tomoyo remaining silent 😦 CLAMP really followed to the letter the meaning of the phrase ‘a love that does not speak its name’. On the other hand, Touya x Yukito are more vocative and I’m not sure how to feel about it: is it a balancing act or a discriminatory act. CLAMP never treat lesbian characters well :/
      As for her father, yes, it’s a kid’s title, but it can also be watched/read by older audiences, too. And I’m trying to analyse the authors’ intentions here taking in account other similar characters they’ve created. The fact Tomoyo looks so much like Nadesico has even made me have suspicions she was artificially insiminated/created in order to have her genes. I mean, her mother was mad about her cousin, and is a businesswoman, something very rare when there’s also a man in the family. But all these are just -wild- speculations.

      If you’re a CLAMP fan or have read/watched other CLAMP series be sure to check my other posts. Look forward to Magic Knight Rayearth, which combines mahou shoujo with mecha (though it’ll be awhile till I complete my watching).

      Recommendations are a tough thing to give if you don’t know the tastes of the one asking them. Also, know I’m no expert in Mahou Shoujo: I’ve watched around 9 titles and dropped 2 more. Shoujo Kakumei Utena is more philosophical and just uses the iconography of mahou shoujo, but it’s still a show very dear to me on multiple levels. Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magi twists certain tropes in the genre, it’s artistically great in a dark way, but it tortures the girls lots, has an ending I don’t agree ideologically with and 1-2 more episodes would help in character development. Two titles I like a lot and they are approachable to wider audiences are My Otome 0~ S.ifr and Princess Tutu. My Otome 0~ S.ifr is awesome actionwise and targeted more to a male audience. Princess Tutu appeals to my love for fairy tales and ballet while also touching intriguing themes. For more shows like CCS, I’d point out to Tokyo Mew Mew, which I’ve watched as a kid so my memory is hazy, and to the Precure franchise, which seems very beloved to many and perhaps I’ll try it in the future. For the Precures, you’d better look the Cure Blogger for advice and details.
      If you want a good western-produced magical girl series, read W.I.T.C.H. I don’t recommend the TV series much. – I hope I helped 🙂

      If you have twitter/facebook/tumblr, do add me. I’m curious which one you’ll pick and your impressions on it.

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      • Thank you so much for your recommendations!

        I’ve seen Madoka, which I also adore and consider to be about as brilliant as any work of popular culture can get. I actually thought it was sufficiently compelling to get some non-anime-watching friends interested, but have been surprised to discover that for the most part, it hasn’t swayed anybody I’ve tried it out with!

        I’ve also seen Princess Tutu, which I liked very much, but consider a solid cut below CCS or Madoka. Unlike Sakura, which mostly used its 70 episodes in a pretty efficient style (all things considered), to my mind Princess Tutu would have been a much better story at half the length.

        I’ll definitely watch and read your other suggestions, which are most appreciated!

        (By the way, I notice you’re also a fan of Hyouka, which I consider a work of art on par with anything done in any medium [admittedly, I’m playing fast and loose with superlatives throughout this comment, but I truly mean it!]. The level of artistry, subtlety and rich emotional themes just put the show off the charts in my books. Though, like Madoka, I’m not sure I could ever use it to convert anyone to anime fandom!)

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        • Ooh Hyouka! ❤ Yes, yes what a lovely work! It's ruined me -in a good way- as it has become my standard for KyoAni quality works; therefore, I get often disappointed and I should change my way of thinking 😛

          Yes, it isn't a work to introduce people to anime. The reactions will vary wildly. Unless you know one values characters over mystery or story. The 'convertion' anime are usually either gritty action stuff or most oftenly family movies like the ones by Miyazaki or Wolf Children. But I'll say that you have to know the taste of your convertion target to know what 'weapon' to use. There's no one work liked by literally everybody.

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  2. Maybe it’s because I was young and I watched the show in Portuguese but this show was by no means dark to me at all. Its romantic elements were more fleshed out than most romantic storylines but not super dee duper intense. I’m surprised the subtext between Onii-chan and Yukito wasn’t omitted overseas like Tomoyo’s love for Sakura was. On the other hand, O x Y aren’t canon outside of Japan either (as far as I know). Mei-Ling losing the battle was more like “My love wasn’t good enough for Shaoran”. I dunno, maybe getting dumped isn’t dark enough for me. It’s a part of life.

    Tomoyo will always be a legend. Her awesomeness inspired the likes of Hotaru Ichijou in her quest for love. So no, Tomoyo’s stalking is tamer in comparison to other stalkers I’ve seen. I won’t question stalking as being wrong but again, Tomoyo’s methods weren’t creepy enough to bother me.

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    • I think our discussion over Galilei Donna over at your blog got kinda mixed in here, because I reread the post and I didn’t say it’s dark, only that it contains some mature themes.
      About Touya x Yukito ain’t it the opposite? It’s their relationship not Tomoyo’s love for Sakura that got omitted. At least in my country, after the Christmas episode where they capture the Firey, they stopped airing it completely. If you go to forums Touya x Yukito is a standard discussion and they are much recognized. CLAMP fans cannot not be informed of their relationship, especially since in Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles they are seen in many different worlds always together.

      If a friend wanted to film me constantly and went that sparkle-eyed I’d certainly be bothered. It feels like no privacy :S But oh well, Sakura has a heart of gold, she’s naive, and loves her friend in her own way.

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      • Oh no Foxy one. Touya and Yukito subtext was all over the place in the dub I watched. It’s the confirmation of them being a couple that was omitted. I am not surprised that omitted content is a hot topic in CCS forums.

        At least Tomoyo wasn’t sneaking around Sakura’s house at 3 AM in the morning, or sniffing her stockings. Having a crazed fangirl as a best friend ain’t that weird to me. At least Tomoyo didn’t go on a killing spree slaying anyone going near Sakura.
        Again, Tomoyo is not a dangerous stalker, just a fangirl revealed to be an obvious lesbian.

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        • In my personal view, near the end of the anime, when Yukito rejects Sakura, it’s made pretty clear that his true love is Touya.

          Just as Tomoyo (in my recollection) never out and out says she’s in love with Sakura, it’s made as explicit as it can be without being put into words. The way both relationships are handled is actually one of the more beautiful and compelling things about CCS.

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          • Oh right, I totally forgot about it. Tomoyo does say she likes Sakura a lot, and that she’ll understand when she’s older. My bad. It’s because Sakura doesn’t get it at that point that makes me question it as a confession. I just get that Tomoyo had given up having her love reciprocated which is depressing. For Japanese standards and the time this work was created CLAMP sure did a good job. For me, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done something better, though. Then again, it’s my sympathy for the characters that makes me nitpicky.

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          • I just saw the rejection as an older guy turning down a younger girl. Still, I get what you and Foxy are saying about how the romance was handled on the show being one of its highlights.
            It’s been 20 years since I watched the Portuguese dub so maybe I’ll watch the original English subbed version again someday.

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