WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Cardcaptor Sakura
No, serious question. Why DID I watch Cardcaptor Sakura? I should clarify; I’m not asking this in a “Why did I waste my time watching this” way. I’m just wondering what made me get into the show in the first place. I mean, have you even seen a single image of Cardcaptor Sakura? It doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of thing that’s aimed at guys in their 20’s. Yet, I’ve watched it, and I like it. With a new manga and anime apparently in the works, I figured now would be a good opportunity to write about this show and wax nostalgic about it.
Much like Pokémon, Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, Cardcaptor Sakura (or Cardcaptors as it was called in the West) was one of the anime I watched a lot of as a child before I knew what anime even was. Unlike those other shows, though, I was the only one (at least in my school) that watched CCS. Looking back, the reasons were kind of obvious. Everything about it screamed “for little girls” and, when you’re a child, it’s very easy to be self conscious about your gender. Boys should only like boy things – it’s something that’s drummed into us from a very early age. But CCS got around that somehow. While I never talked to anyone about it, I never felt ‘wrong’ watching it. I enjoyed it for what it was. Which brings me back to the original question? Why DID I ever watch it to begin with?
I think a main reason was probably the show’s opening. Some anime, when they get dubbed and brought to the West, are given completely different opening sequences. The usual J-pop tracks are replaced with original tracks, complete with English lyrics, and the original animation reserved for the opening is cut into pieces and interspersed with footage from the show itself. I think I can safely assume that many anime fans hate the idea of these original openings that have been made as part of an attempt to make the anime in question more approachable to the average viewer, but they can’t deny that they bloody work.
Let’s compare. Here’s the original Japanese opening to Cardcaptor Sakura:
I apologise if any of you contracted diabetes from watching it. It’s so sickly sweet and cutesy, from its visuals to its music. You can tell in an instant that this is being marketed to little girls. If I started watching CCS and this was the opening I saw, I’d probably instantly turn the TV off because it’s so inherently girly. This clearly isn’t for me. But this wasn’t the opening the dub was given.
THIS was what I saw as a kid:
Now THIS is something child-me would watch. A catchy song, characters doing action-y things, a focus on strange monsters, magic, that final shot of the main character flinging a card at the viewer with a bad-ass look and that final “dun” of the song matching the flash of the logo – does this look like the same show to you?
I am convinced that this is what got me to watch the show, though I’m sure the show itself helped keep me coming back. Stuff like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! got kids hooked partly due to the whole “collecting” nature they had. Every episode, there would be a new creature or power shown; the heroes would then obtain them and use them for themselves. There was just this strange joy and excitement about not only seeing these new elements being introduced every episode but also seeing the heroes using them. Since we felt like we were travelling with the heroes, it almost felt like we were a part of it; we were sharing the power.
I think CCS had the same appeal. It was all about this young girl, Sakura, having to collect the scattered Clow Cards, whose powers result in all manner of chaos being caused in her town. Every episode, a new card would appear and wreak havoc and Sakura and her friends would have to figure out how to defeat and capture it, usually using the power of the cards she has already obtained. There may not have been a tie-in card game, but the “collecting” aspect was still there and was probably what resonated with me the most.
That, and the fact that it had an ongoing story as well. I don’t think I saw every episode but it was clearly building up to an endgame concerning what would happen once all the Clow Cards were collected, so I think the mystery grabbed my attention too. Also, like many dubs, there was terrible humour as well, mostly courtesy of the obvious mascot character Kero. While I’m sure I’d cringe at the jokes now, as a kid I probably loved them. If something made me laugh back then, I’d instantly love it so I might’ve watched CCS partly just to hear more of Kero’s dumb jokes.
That being said, I distinctly remember not seeing the end of CCS. I’m convinced that, one day, the network that aired it just stopped showing it. Not even repeats. It wasn’t a massive blow to me; I guess I just wasn’t that attached to the show, and I moved on to other things, like secondary school and all that real-life drama. Though CCS never really left my head.
I recall sometimes my mind drifting back to the show (not often but occasionally) and wondering just what that show was really about. How did it end? Was I missing anything about it? Would I still like it now? Those questions went unanswered for years until my university days. I had begun to check out a bunch of anime thanks to recommendations from friends when Cardcaptor Sakura leapt out of the back of my mind. Maybe now was a chance to see it again? So, out of curiosity and nostalgia, I decided to give the show another look at, though this time in the original Japanese since I was now aware of some of the stuff that wound up being censored or cut out when it was dubbed (and if you’re wondering what could be in a show clearly designed for small girls that the West would want to remove… well, you’ll see).
So, what do I make of the show now? Well, watching the original, subbed version made it abundantly clear of how much the dub changed the show. Not in terms of cut content but in how it was presented. The dub (from what I can admittedly barely remember) put more focus on the action side of things, when that’s not really the case. I mean, yeah, Sakura’s quest to capture the Clow Cards was important but it was almost secondary to her home life, her school life and her interactions with her friends, family and even strangers. Her encounters with the Clow Cards served to support the story that was occurring in her life at the time, like when the Illusion tricks Sakura into thinking it’s her deceased mother – that episode’s focus is more on Sakura’s relationship and emotions towards her mum rather than the card itself.
And like I’ve repeatedly stated, even the original version is aimed at little girls. I’m pretty sure an argument can be made that it’s a magical-girl anime similar to the likes of Sailor Moon. So rather than ask why I watched it as a kid, I must instead ask “why do I like the show now?”
Well, while the action might not be as intense or exciting as something like Dragonball Z, it’s still entertaining in a different way. Sakura herself isn’t technically the one doing the fighting; she requires the power of the different Clow Cards she’s captured, but even then, it’s up to her to know which card to use. Some cards are more powerful than others but they don’t always fit the situation and wouldn’t be helpful in dealing with other cards.
For example, one card, The Silent, responds to noise and teleports Sakura way from it every time she attempts to seal it. She can’t use an offensive card to beat it, so she instead uses The Shadow to reach it from a distance and capture it that way.
An earlier example is the confrontation with The Watery. It’s a very early episode and she has barely any cards that can deal with it. So, using herself as bait, she traps it in a freezer, leaving it vulnerable to be captured. These confrontations are fun to watch because every encounter is handled differently, depending on both the card’s abilities and Sakura’s current arsenal.
Another aspect that kept convincing me to watch the next episode was, of course, the characters themselves. I can’t think of a single main or recurring character that isn’t likable to some degree.
Sakura herself is a good protagonist and, while she never loses her naivete or optimism, she is constantly growing as a person, which is presented in how she responds to later battles and her skill with magic. At the beginning of the show, she’s shown to be very hesitant to taking on her role as the Cardcaptor. To be fair, she’s only ten years old and is being tasked with capturing very dangerous and powerful spirits. I’m 22 and even I would turn down that job offer.
But she gradually becomes more confidant in her abilities; she’s naturally kindhearted and, while she does complain at first, later episodes see her jumping into battle with little hesitation. Plus, she initially struggles with using magic and is shown to get tired easily after battles. By the end of the show, she’s seen wielding multiple Clow Cards at once with no effort. I distinctly remember the moment where she used the Fly and Sword cards simultaneously and how big of a deal that was. She’s not the most fleshed-out of protagonists and does exhibit a lot of common traits seen in other anime females, but she’s still incredibly likable and, like I said, gets plenty of development.
Same applies for the rest of the cast:
- Tomoyo, her best friend/confidante who absolutely loves the idea of Sakura being a magical girl and not only makes costumes for Sakura to wear (seriously, she makes a new one for almost every episode) but also films all of her exploits for her own amusement.
- Cerberus (or Kero for short), her mentor who, while providing most of the comedy with his obsession with sweets and video games, also displays great wisdom and quickly becomes a very close friend of Sakura’s.
- Syaoran Li, her first rival who’s honestly kind of a dick to start off with, believing he is the one worthy of capturing the Clow Cards (being a descendant of the guy who made the things in the first place). Though he gradually grows to respect Sakura due to her skill, and soon becomes good friends with her and eventually falls in love with her.
- Meiling Li, Syaoran’s cousin and self-proclaimed fiancée. She kind of fills the void as Sakura’s rival when Syaoran becomes friends with her and honestly exists to just be antagonistic towards Sakura. That being said, I never found her insufferable (hell, she’s one of my favourite characters) and even she gets some nice development towards the end, becoming friends with Sakura and, despite being initially upset over it, steps aside for Syaoran to pursue his love for Sakura.
I haven’t even covered the likes of Sakura’s older brother, Toya, or his best friend Yukito (who Sakura spends a lot of time having an unrequited crush on) or her dad (AKA the nicest dad to ever exist in an anime) or even the antagonists of Season 3. CCS doesn’t have the largest of casts but it doesn’t need it. It’s a small group which means there’s plenty of room to become acquainted with them all, learn about them and learn to love them. It’s very much Sakura’s story but everybody gets the chance to enjoy the limelight at some point or another. It’s rather homely in a way.
And have I mentioned how sickly sweet this show is? I have? Well, it is. Trust me. Not just in its presentation but also in regards to what is ultimately CCS‘s main theme: love and the relationships people have with each other. The show explores pretty much every example of love that you can think of: familial, platonic, childhood crushes, unrequited – almost every facet of it is explored in some degree in this show. And it’s all so damn adorable. It’s hard to explain so I’ll just go with some of my favourite examples.
Toya, who I mentioned eailer, is very much the aloof, annoying big brother. He spends a lot of time mocking Sakura as a sibling would, but the show repeatedly displays how much he loves his little sister and will protect her. There’s this running gag where he’s seen taking multiple part-time jobs, usually near where Sakura is trying to capture a Clow Card. It’s soon revealed that he’s known about what she’s being doing from the very start and has been taking these jobs just to keep an eye on her.
Then there’s Sakura’s aforementioned crush on Yukito. It’s really sweet to see her get so giddy in his prescence and she very much acts like a child would in her situation. It’s presented as being very idealised as Yukito is very kind towards her and enjoys spending time with her. I don’t think there’s a single bad bone in the guy’s body, actually. And even though he’s several years older than her (plus she’s ten), the show kind of teases that maybe something could come out of it, since there’s a sub-plot with a minor character (another girl at Sakura’s school) falling in love with her teacher and said teacher (maybe) reciprocating her feelings (hell, in the manga, they get engaged).
Debate that however you want, but it suggests that there’s a strong possibility that Yukito could potentially love Sakura back, leading to her confessing she loves him. Even when she finds out that he’s a host body for Kero’s fellow guardian Yue (long story), she doesn’t treat them as the same person (the show even states that Yukito possesses his own independence from Yue and they have “different hearts”). It’s all for naught as Yukito gently rebuffs her and informs her that what she feels for him isn’t the same kind of love that you or I, as adults, would understand; that she loves him as more of a family member. While she understands this, it still initially hurts her and she can’t help but cry about it later on. It’s a surprisingly real presentation of the childhood-crush. There’s also the fact that Yukito’s already in love… with her brother.
Speaking of, though the relationship is never outright stated and we never see the two kiss or anything, it’s made apparent as the series goes on that Toya and Yukito love each other. When their romance is revealed to the audience, it paints all their previous scenes together in a whole new light, and it’s actually a great way of showing how lovers can also be best friends and vice versa. The crowning moment is easily when Toya gives up all his magic to help keep Yukito alive late into Season 3. I would also like to add that, without said magic, Toya will never be able to sense when Sakura’s in danger and makes Yukito (and by extension, Yue) promise to protect both himself and Sakura.
And if you think this is all very heart-warming, I haven’t even started. Remember Tomoyo? The best friend? Well, I remember when I watched the dub as a kid how obsessive she seemed to be. She was so desperate to make Sakura wear her dresses and to film her capturing the Clow Cards. In one episode, we even see that she has a room filled with all the costumes she’s made and apparently regularly watches her recordings. It’s played for laughs but I always found it a bit weird.
When I entered my teenage phase, memories of it came back one day and my response was “Wow, that was so gay.” This was a day when I thought being gay was inherently funny (yeah I hate teenage-me too), but that was just an unintentional side-affect of how the character was presented that the creators didn’t notice, right? She wasn’t actually gay, I thought. Then I watched the show proper.
From very early on in the show, it’s almost abundantly clear that Tomoyo is in love with Sakura, and it only becomes more apparent as the show goes on. Yet at no point does Tomoyo confront Sakura about it. She never expresses jealousy at Sakura’s crush on Yukito or her eventual attraction to Syaoran. In fact, she supports both instances. At the same time, Sakura is completely unaware of Tomoyo’s feelings, but does Tomoyo care? No. Because, as she admits to Sakura at one point, as long as the person she loves is happy, then she is happy, and that’s all that matters. I’m sorry but that’s heart-warming AND heart-breaking. I mean, God damn, if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
And, of course, there’s the climactic resolution of Sakura and Syaoran’s growing love for each other. It’s not super-developed or anything (you could even make the argument it’s handled in a relatively clichéd manner), especially considering they’re still very young but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t rooting for those two once Syaoran fell in love with her. The show even ends with Sakura realising she’s fallen for him, only after learning that he decided to fly back home to China. Cue rushing to the airport and, while there’s no love confession, she does accept the stuffed bear he made, which the show had been setting up as a symbol of love. Excuse me, I’m just going to go cry for a bit.
Okay, I’m back. Where was I? Oh yeah, and then there’s the second movie, where Sakura had to seal a new card called The Nothing. No big deal aside from the fact that, in order to do it, she would have to give up her strongest feelings as a toll payment of sorts. AND THEN when she does do it, it’s Syaoran who gives up his feelings for Sakura, assuring her that even if he forgets, he’s confidant that he’ll just fall in love with her all over again. Cue the entire fanbase (including me) weeping profusely. I’m pretty sure our collective tears could’ve flooded an entire country.
Fortunately, he didn’t forget due to The Nothing fusing with a blank card Sakura accidentally created at the end of Season 3, creating the Hope and allowing Sakura to finally confess her love to Syaoran (wow, this show sounds weird and nonsensical without much context).
I apologise if my attempt at analysis became more like uncontrollable gushing about ten paragraphs ago, but I think I finally figured out just why I enjoyed this show as an adult and why I’m so excited for its return. In the end, it’s not because of a deep plot, complex characterisation or exciting action. It’s because it’s a simple, sweet and innocent story featuring just as simple and sweet characters.
We live in a day now where stories seem to be afraid to be happy. Can’t have the characters enjoy happy lives – gotta be dark and gritty because that’s realism, right? Cardcaptor Sakura, despite being made in the 90s, is just a breath of fresh air. It shows that you can still have a story that’s engaging without subjecting its characters to abject misery all the time. And while there is plenty of drama and heartbreak throughout the series, it’s repeatedly shown that, ultimately, love and friendship and all that cheesy goodness will prevail.
I don’t know what Sakura’s new adventures will entail, but I’ll bet you anything that it’ll be more of the same harmless yet entertaining fluff that the series is well known for. And you know what? I probably wouldn’t want it any other way.