Cardcaptor Sakura

Cardcaptor Sakura


Watched via VHS/DVD



PLOT: I have to agree with Crystal on this one, my feelings for Cardcaptor Sakura are a little biased, but I’m going to try to be as objective as possible for this review and look at the show through my learned adult glasses, rather than my fangirly, childhood, rose-tinted ones.

Cardcaptor Sakura sort of fits into the tropes of merchandise-oriented children’s animation. Sakura collects cards that have magical abilities and uses a stylishly cool pink wand to control them. Of course both the cards and wand were mass-produced as toys so you too could capture the Clow Cards. Luckily that’s really the whole extent of Capitalism’s effects on the show, and the series doesn’t suffer from a billion seasons of formulaic events…just three.

As Crystal points out, Sakura, being the naively foolish child she is, accidentally releases all of the Clow Cards out into Japan and must recapture them so people don’t befall evil fates, like falling asleep, or losing their shadow. In all seriousness, several of the cards actually could have very fatal repercussions, but hey, this is a children’s show, so it can’t get too scary.

The three seasons are very formulaic with an average of one card acquired per episode, which makes sense because the show is aimed at children, and that’s what they enjoy. In reality the show isn’t about a magical girl who captures cards, it’s about a young girl gaining self confidence, making friends, and falling in love.

The series is rather slow paced, but compared to the manga, it does a good job of rounding out story arcs. There are ample opportunities for Sakura to both capture cards as well as build relationships with her classmates and introduce us to characters. The long pacing of the show allows us the chance to really form a connection with each of the characters, which helps us empathize more with Sakura while she protects her town from the epidemics caused by the Clow Cards.

This is obviously a children’s show, and as such, it’ll be a bit of a drag to watch as an adult for the first time.

PLOT: Disclaimer: My feelings for Cardcaptor Sakura are strongly tainted by nostalgia from when I was a kid. It was the first anime series Whitney and I ever collected, after all, back on VHS tapes. Getting them on DVD was so obnoxious!

Cardcaptor Sakura follows a normal fifth-grade girl, Sakura, who unwittingly releases a bunch of magical Clow Cards, made by the magician Clow Reed, and thus has to use magical powers to collect them all before they wreak too much havoc on the world. You should be able to figure that part out pretty easily, given the title, which follows the standard naming conventions of magical girl series.

Unlike most magical girls, Sakura’s transformation only gives her a wand, so her cute outfits have to be supplied within the narrative by her best friend Tomoyo, who loves Sakura, making costumes for Sakura, and videotaping Sakura, in that order. Tomoyo and Kero-chan, the guardian of the Clow Cards who also looks like a cute stuffed animal, always helps Sakura out when she’s going after rogue Cards. Sakura also has a rival, Syaoran, who came to Japan from China for the sole purpose of being a mysterious transfer student and trying to collect the Clow Cards instead of Sakura.

If you’re at all familiar with other shoujo magical girl anime, you should know the format most of Cardcaptor Sakura takes: Card appears, Sakura and Syaoran fight it, one of them seals the card, repeat. Fortunately, the different kinds of Cards are all fairly interesting, so I enjoy seeing them all and guessing how they’ll be defeated (or I did, before I had them all memorized). The other saving grace of Cardcaptor Sakura is that enough of the series focuses on characters that the slow pacing never drove me too crazy, though it’s still a very drawn-out series. The plot gets drawn out even more once Sakura collects all of the Clow Cards and has to change them into Sakura Cards, but that section of the plot at least includes a lot more character development than the main portion of the show. In short: if you’re in love with the characters or magical girl series in general, the pacing shouldn’t wear on you, but otherwise, it’ll probably be a bit of a drag.

SETTING: Crystal is spot on with the setting. Sakura doesn’t have to really extend much effort to continually run into Clow Cards, they just appear close by. Now if only the jewel shards could have been that easy to acquire, maybe Inuyasha wouldn’t have been that long…

Tomoeda, the town where Sakura lives, is a quaint area filled with pleasing architecture and landscapes. As shoujo would have it, there are plenty of flowers everywhere, cute gift shops, and the like. I don’t know that the town has “everything” like Crystal suggests, possibly it is a suburb that easily connects to neighboring areas that have a college, zoo, and aquarium. Having worked briefly at an elementary school, it is rather suspicious just how many field trips they go on. Field trips with kids = herding cats.

Most of the eventful action happens at Sakura’s home or school late at night. Aside from losing a bit of sleep the cards seem to make capturing them rather convenient and easy to conceal from friends and family. I can’t say the setting pushes the series to be interesting as far as magical girl action goes, but it does help us understand more about the main characters and relate with them better.

The Cards aren’t always nice about only coming out at night, but when they do show up in public, they normally present themselves in such a way that normal people can’t tell there’s magic afoot. Still pretty handy, all things considered.

SETTING: This series takes place in Tomoeda, another (shockingly!) ordinary town in Japan. Unlike most towns that feature in anime, though, Tomoeda has a lot of places that don’t normally show up—an aquarium and a zoo, an art museum, a college, an amusement park, a water park, an ice skating rink, etc. Sakura visits most of these places on school field trips or on her days off, and she almost always runs into Cards at them. I guess this extra variety keeps the show from too obviously following the standard formula of events that shoujo series follow, though those events also always come up in the plot, too. Field trips happen really frequently, making me wonder just how much Japanese schools like traveling around with children.

All in all, Tomoeda’s a pretty well-realized town for the series. I really enjoy how Sakura tends to return to similar places, such as how she always passes Penguin Park on her way to school, or when she goes downtown and sees the same shops. These events help the series feel more real to me and give me a strong sense of the town, to the point where I think I could trace Sakura’s route to school.

I think we may need a slang term for ordinary Japanese town. Like TOMJT (typical ordinary modern Japanese town). JOMT…

CHARACTERS: Looking back on Cardcaptor Sakura as an adult is very conflicting. Many of the shows I have grown to love over the years have very complex characters with deep pasts and motivations. CCS on the other hand is very simplistic. The characters could be said to be tropes, but I’d prefer to look at them as archetypes, which suit the audience the show is aimed towards (young children… or college-aged men).

Sakura is a cheerleader-type personality who never gives up and continually fights to protect those close and dear to her. Her self-confidence and abilities grow. She is obviously set up as a role model for children to look up to and emulate.

Syaoran and Meiling join the group to add a bit of conflict and comedic relief. Both of which end up falling under the charisma and purity of Sakura’s personality and can’t help but become friends with her.

Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend, would fit into the “fairy godmother” type role. She facilitates everything for Sakura so things go smoothly. Tomoyo goes so far as to provide communication, costumes, and transportation for Sakura’s battles at the drop of a hat. Actually, there wouldn’t even be a “show” without her, as she even goes so far as to document every action, in battle and out. Pretty meta for a children’s show.

As an adult I think I like Kero-chan the best. He’s goofy and adds comedic relief, but he also understands the gravity of the situation and is a good balance to how airheaded Sakura is. The rest of the support cast is also wonderful, probably a bit too unrealistically supportive, but it’s fantasy, who cares?

I really like that the show goes a bit meta with Tomoyo recording everything, even though I’ve always been aware that it wasn’t really possible. It’s a fun tidbit and sets people up well for Princess Tutu!

CHARACTERS: I love the characters of Cardcaptor Sakura, but I could see them getting irritating if you’re watching it for the first time as a adult. Everyone fits into a type of some sort, and the characters who change do so very slowly, since it’s not the main focus of the series.

Sakura’s a very normal shoujo heroine: an energetic girl who dislikes math and loves sports. Her mother’s been dead since she was two, which gives her some emotional angst, and her older brother always picks on her, which adds comedy. Most everyone likes Sakura immediately, except for Syaoran and his cousin Meiling, and she’s an eternal optimist. Watching her beat Clow Cards and slowly grow more aware and confident of herself always cheers me up because she’s incredibly easy to root for. I wish I could be as energetic and optimistic as Sakura.

The secondary characters are all quite entertaining to watch as they show layers to themselves and grow up a little bit. I’m always surprised by Tomoyo’s maturity and the depth of her love for Sakura, while I feel bad for how dense Syaoran is, especially when he begins to like Sakura (which he inevitably does). Kero-chan’s entertaining as a mascot character, but then sometimes he shows that he’s very old and knows a lot, which makes for a fun contrast. Many other people show up throughout the series, too, like Sakura’s friends and family, and they’re all perfectly nice to fit in with this shoujo world. One of my favorites, Eriol, doesn’t show up until after Sakura collects all of the Clow Cards, but the way he fondly messes with Sakura and Syaoran cracks me up. <3

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Oh ‘90s anime. All the adults have giant triangular bodies, even the women. I know it was in style back then, but it almost makes you wonder if none of the animators took an anatomy class before. And of course they are all like 11 heads tall at least (7.5 being the average in real life). The children have big heads and eyes and are slightly better proportioned. I always find it odd whenever I see Sakura or one of her friends next to an adult as they look like two different species, proportionately-speaking.

Moving on…the anime captures a lot of the charisma of the original manga designs. They didn’t lose anything with change of format, except maybe flower motifs over everything, but there still is just enough to keep the fangirls going.

Crystal is right about the animation sequences not using too many repeats or short cuts. There are maybe one or two that really stand out, but nothing too bad. The third season goes very off model for some reason, but the episodes with the most dramatic events end up making up for it with a higher than usual production quality.

Yeah, the episodes get pretty uneven in terms of production quality by the end, but most of them still look better than average.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Cardcaptor Sakura’s art style is very typical of Clamp in the late ‘90s, with all of the children and girls having huge eyes, while all of the adult men have giant, triangular torsos and no hips. In my mind, it’s very typical of what people picture when they think of “anime,” but that could be because it was my main gateway show. The character designs all follow the same templates with small alterations in hair and eyes. I think the characters are all easy enough to tell apart because the adjustments are just big enough, but I could see someone mixing up Sakura’s classmates.

For a shoujo series, Cardcaptor Sakura looks pretty great. It has some episodes where everyone’s faces look chubby, but most of the time everyone stays on model. Yes, there’s some repeat animation, but it’s a lot less prevalent than I’d thought. Sakura’s constantly-changing battle outfits make the animators put in extra work, and the series doesn’t often have her fight in her school uniform to avoid that expense. For how long this series ran and its audience, I’m impressed by how good it looks. Madhouse must’ve put some love into this series.

I still recall this one episode where Sakura is fighting a Clow Card in her uniform (but she was in a building so had her shoes off) and they still used the stock “uniform wand sequence” including shoes… Not that it really mattered, but still, continuity.

OVERALL: I think the best reason to get into Cardcaptor Sakura, if you haven’t already, is if you want to have a children-friendly show to watch with your kids and/or you are a super magical girl/shoujo/Clamp fan and want to collect them all. CCS was my real gateway into “anime” and I loved the heck out of it in 6th grade. As it is now, I probably couldn’t make it through a handful of episodes. My attention span just isn’t what it used to be, nor my ability to connect with child drama.

I’m with Crystal on getting the manga if you’re really interested. The first volume is pretty sketchy plotwise, but there is less filler overall and the series gets to the big events sooner. The largest downfall of the manga is completely bizarre battle sequences. I could never tell what was going on while reading it. The anime definitely is an improvement on that aspect, but then again, it all looks the same, and, as far as action goes, it’s rather lame.

OVERALL: If you aren’t a fan of magical girl series, I’m not going to be able to sell you on Cardcaptor Sakura, as it’s very formulaic and has very standard characters. For me, the formula and characters are all made enjoyable through childhood fondness and the emotional developments, but this series definitely isn’t for everyone. My poor boyfriend sat through all 70 episodes of it with me, and he definitely hasn’t been converted.

I know there’s a lot of hype about this series being great because it’s out of print, but take it with a grain of salt. Yes, I love Cardcaptor Sakura, and it’s good for being what it is: a magical girl series aimed at young girls. Beyond that, though, it doesn’t have too much value or impact. The anime, in particular, has a lot of filler episodes that retread the same ideas with different Cards in the background. If you want to experience Cardcaptor Sakura and haven’t already, I’d say go get the manga; otherwise, don’t worry about the anime getting license rescued. It’s definitely fun if you’re the right audience, but it’s not worth worrying about if you’ve missed it.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) I’m averaging out my old nostalgic score of “9” and my current score of “7”. FINAL SCORE: (8/10)

2 thoughts on “Cardcaptor Sakura

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