A magical girl that fights using magical cards to fight even more magical cards while also dealing with her 6th grade nonexistent love life? Well, if that isn’t a CLAMP storyline then I don’t know what is. Yes, everyone, today we’re covering CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura, one of the groups most famous and influential series. It definitely shows in the group’s later work considering Tsubasa and xxxHolic, as well as the new series that follows Cardcaptor’s lead in middle school. The original manga ran from 1996 to 2000 under the Japanese publisher Kodansha and the English Publishers Madman Entertainment and Dark Horse Comics. The anime under the same name ran from 1998 to 2000 and was made by Studio Madhouse. Recently, this month actually, the sequel series Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Edition began serialization in the magazine Nakayoshi.
Now the story follows Sakura Kinomoto who accidentally releases the magic cards, called Clow Cards, across the city when she’s messing around in her basement. After this, she is chosen by the mascot character and guardian of the cards to find them. And all she wanted to do was work up the courage to confess her feelings to a boy and get by in school alongside her best friend. Along the way she goes through some over the top adventures and grows up, I guess? It’s a show that started with the monster of the week vibe before going into long arcs in the span of like 70 episodes. It’s also a genre that CLAMP had never tried out before and it shows.
The main character Sakura, as stated above, who is a ten-year-old school girl who is just too sweet to be real. She tries super hard despite struggling to understand all the magic and adventure going on around her. In the beginning of the series she pretty openly has a crush on her older brother’s best friend Yukito, this is important I swear. Altogether, Sakura isn’t really anything beyond a strong willed girl doing her best? And that’s not bad, not at all, but it feels like they never let her really be more. She’s there to smile and be sweet because the plot demands for it. She’s always trying her best and stays positive in almost every situation, which is endearing but somewhat unrealistic.
Kero or his formal name Cerberus is the mascot character who is the guardian of the Clow Cards and ends up making Sakura find them again. You’d think he’d be this cool and mature figure cause of the whole guardian thing, but he’s just… Not? Mascot character syndrome I swear. He likes eating and playing video games and is sort of annoying as most mascot characters are. He does genuinely care about Sakura though and wants to help her get the job done. In his true form he looks like a lion with wings while his fake form looks like a stuffed animal with wings.
Then there’s Tomoyo Daidouji, Sakura’s best friend. She’s a kind rich girl who grew up around maids and bodyguards. She is someone who just wants to be with Sakura forever as a friend or something more, anything really. She also ends up filming most of Sakura’s adventures while supplying cute magical girl outfits for the other to wear. She mostly does that for her own enjoyment, but she genuinely cares for Sakura and wants the other to be happy.
Finally, there’s Syaoran Li who is a lot different from the character he is in Tsubasa. In this series, Syaoran is a descendant of the creator of the Clow Cards, which makes him believe he’s the only one who should be hunting for them. This makes him initially volatile towards Sakura as he forces his way into her business and life. Along the way though, he does begin to respect her as a cardcaptor and friend. He is originally from China, but moves to Japan in response to the cards being released to gather them. Basically, he’s a mean little kid who starts to get nice because friendship fixes everything.
There’s a whole lot of other character’s but for spoiler’s sake I’ll leave them be. The one thing I will say is that CLAMP does a lot with characters here, things you’d expect and things you wouldn’t. For instance, the group really likes writing forbidden or “taboo” relationships, something that shows up in many of their series. They do this in multiple ways in Cardcaptor, some that are really interesting and beautifully done, such as the openly LGBTQ+ relationships that we can see in the background and characters who are deeply connected to Sakura. And all of this is being viewed through Sakura who loves everyone no matter how they identify. This was something that I really enjoyed about the series, that CLAMP was giving representation and showing it to a young audience and presenting the LGBTQ+ in such a positive way to said audience. Plus, they continue to do that with much of their later work, they keep giving representation in their own way and helping many young people see themselves in popular media.
But then it gets to the relationships that are actually… Really questionable? Like, very young underage girl with a 20+ teacher questionable, which they end up romanticizing. I’m not gonna get into it though, because most of these relationships or subjects don’t really appear in the anime, instead they’re mildly hinted at compared to being out and open in the manga.
Animation wise this is an older series, but it’s actually not that bad. It holds up pretty well in comparison to a lot of other series that were produced at the time. It was produced by Madhouse, known also for Chobits and One Punch Man, a company that only got better with time. I would say that it really is similar a lot of series that were produced at the same time. It has a similar line style to that of many other magical girl series being produced at the time or even series like Battle Athletes that had heavy outlines on characters. It has extremely thick lines and for the anime was very subject to the “moe blob” face. You know the one, where the mouth is a little too close to the eyes, but honestly proportion wise, compared to other CLAMP series, it’s well done. This is a visually appealing series. It’s bright and full of color. I would say that the manga seems a lot softer in art style comparatively, everything seems softer or more gentle in how it appears. Which really works with a lot of the underlying themes in the series, because the characters stay soft despite everything that is thrown at them. The manga itself was serialized in Nakayoshi then collected in 12 books by Kodansha which would then be licensed by Tokyopop here in America. I will say that the manga has gorgeous art. CLAMP does beautifully in this genre, especially when you inspect each separate Clow Card and see the detail. Which, is something compared to how lackluster the sound of the anime is.
Sound wise, the anime is a bit forgettable. I wouldn’t say any of the opening or ending music is iconic or that the voice acting is outstanding, I’ve also only seen the Japanese version. Still, the shows score was composed by Takayuki Negishi alongside Masafumi Mima. The score itself works really well for the shojo genre and is pretty to listen to. It just isn’t… That notworthy? It doesn’t have the same feel that other CLAMP scores have, at least not for me personally, but that could be because it is such a specific genre. For voice acting, like I said it’s a good, but it’s not outstanding like many people like to claim it is. Every actor does a good job, especially Sakura Tange as Sakura, who hasn’t done much other work and Motoko Kumai who plays Syaoran, know also for her work in Chobits as Sumomo and MAR as Ginta. I haven’t seen the English dub and from what I’ve heard I don’t want to.
You see, this series was also dubbed during the day and age of localizing the character’s name and taking huge liberties with their characters. Tomoyo became Madison for instance. They got rid of a lot of things that they felt would be inappropriate or not reach the English audience. Ocean Studios did the English dub in works with the series American licensor Nelvana and actually got rid of the original musical score and replaced it with their own. There was another dub done by Omni Productions that was a lot more faithful to the Japanese version. This series was also aired out of order to appeal to male viewers more than the intended female audience. So basically, this series was butchered when it aired here in America originally and everything I’ve heard and looked up implies that the dub and editing of said dub was panned universally with how bad it was.
I would say Carcaptor is maybe worth a watch, despite anything I said above, or maybe even worth a read? I personally have only read a few chapters of the manga, after watching the entirety of the anime in like the span of two weeks, because magical girl as a genre is not my personal favorite. It is a series that tries to do a lot of fun things with the genre itself! If you like this type of storytelling or even are just looking to try something out, I would completely suggest looking into this show. I may not have enjoyed the series to its fullest, but someone else out there might adore it. What matters is that the series is fun and tries new things but remains true to CLAMP as a group of creators.
Cardcaptor Sakura: 7/10