‘We’ll never use so much pink again, will we?’ CLAMP artist Mokona Apapa joked in a 2001 interview. Nineteen years later, and the artists at CLAMP still haven’t. Literally nothing the creative team of four has made has ever surpassed the whimsicalness of their mahou shojo opus Cardcaptor Sakura.
Outside of Magic Knight Rayearth, CLAMP had little experience with the magical girl genre when conceiving Cardcaptor Sakura. Despite this, Cardcaptor Sakura has gone on to become CLAMP’s most endearing work. Emerging as a tour de force alongside Sailor Moon during the magical girl boom of the 1990s, the adventures of Sakura and her pixified lion friend Kero-chan have become the stuff of legends.
Filled with loveable characters, flowery animation, and a pocketful of sunshine, Cardcaptor Sakura is optimistic anime at its peak. Now that the series is approaching its 25th anniversary, there is no better time to indulge in its cheery vibes.
The Plot of Cardcaptor Sakura
Cardcaptor Sakura follows its eponymous protagonist, a hapless elementary school student and aspiring cheerleader. After another typical day at school, Sakura returns home, only to find it empty. After hearing a weird slurpy growl coming from the basement, a startled Sakura comes to investigate it, nervously clinging onto her cheerleader baton for protection.
While stumbling around, Sakura discovers and opens an ancient mythical book, which accidentally releases a deck of mystical Clow Cards that start causing mischief over town. Also released is the book’s guardian, the plushy-looking so-called ‘Beast’ of the Seal Kero-chan, who excitedly greets Sakura with a shout of ‘Hey, what’s up!’ Which is exactly the type of greeting you would expect from a revered beast of ancient legend.
From here, it’s up to Sakura and Kero-chan to retrieve all the Clow Cards. She is joined by her best friend Tomoyo, and later the headstrong Syaoran and his cousin Meiling, both of which have come to search for the Clow Cards as well. Sakura’s best friend Tomoyo is all too eager to join, dressing Sakura up in a wide array of outfits, which has become one of the most well-known aspects of the series.
CLAMP liked the magical girl outfit, but thought that it was ‘pretty sad for a girl to wear the same outfit all the time.’ So they used Tomoyo as a means of breaking tradition. ‘If you’re going to do something special,’ Tomoyo tells Sakura early on, ‘then you should wear something special!’ CLAMP is truly proud with their experimentation.
The Infamous Dub
The 90s were a weird time for anime dubs, especially those that were marketed towards a younger audience. When it came time to import a popular title, many Western licensors and distributors would make major cuts and edits in order to normalize it for its English-speaking audience. Onigiri was infamously changed to jelly donuts in Pokemon, and any instance of same-sex relationships in Sailor Moon were cut from the picture.
Unfortunately, Cardcaptor Sakura was forced to go through the same process of Americanization when it was picked up by Nelvana to air on the Kids’ WB in 2000. Changes including editing the sequence of events to make Syaoran the main character, changing the title to Cardcaptors, and giving Kero-chan an inappropriate-sounding New York accent. I guess they figured that if the talking cat from Pokemon could somehow pull it off, then why couldn’t a talking lion?
Needless to say, the dub of Cardcaptor Sakura is like a lot of other dubs of 90s family-friendly anime, in that it should be avoided at all costs. The only thing this dub proves is how anime distributors would soon take note of such a colossal failure and ensure that such a thing would not happen again.
Marketed as a ‘triumphant return,’ CLAMP launched the Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card manga in 2016. Studio Madhouse, who did the anime adaptation for Cardcaptor Sakura back in 1998, would return to do a twenty-two episode adaptation for Clear Card.
In Clear Card, all the cards have long since been retrieved, Sakura is now in her first year of junior high, and Syaoran is her classmate. All seems right in the world until a mysterious cloaked figure invades Sakura’s dreams, which somehow robs the cards of their magical power. Once again, it’s up to Sakura and company to find the cards in order to prevent chaos from erupting everywhere.
The show draws a lot of inspiration from the original. Outside of following the formula of the original series, the show has a ton of call-backs to the original. For instance, the ‘Leave it to Kero-Chan’ segment that appears at the end of many episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura is the very first thing we see in the first episode of Clear Card’s 2018 anime adaptation. There’s also a magical winding labyrinth that Sakura ventures through in Clear Card’s tenth episode, mirroring the maze that she ventured through in the original’s twenty-sixth. It’s evident that CLAMP wanted to take all of its fans down memory lane. Considering the positive fan reception, it’s clear they succeeded.
Our titular main character is exactly what you’d expect from a show like this. Kind, upbeat, and a touch naive, Sakura is the epitome of the pure-hearted magical girl. When she’s not spending the time capturing the Clow Cards, Sakura can be seen rollerblading to school, whirling her baton, or eating a home-cooked meal prepared by her father and brother.
Every magical girl has to have a cute animal sidekick, and that’s exactly where Kero fits in. Having been magically robbed of his true form and powers, Kero spends most of the time in his false form, resembling that of a stuffed animal toy, much to his chagrin. However, being stuck in this state does have its benefits; being incapable of fulfilling your magical duties certainly gives you a good excuse to spend your time eating as much candy and playing as many video games as you want. These procrastination skills are something Kero more than excels in.
Sakura’s best friend and biggest fan. Tomoyo loves recording Sakura’s life, initially doing it as part of a class project. When Sakura takes up the mantle to become a magical girl, this further piques Tomoyo’s interest and takes it upon herself to make sure that Sakura is wearing her outfits each time she has to go into action.
Hailing from Hong Kong, Syaoran first appears as Sakura’s cocky rival whose goal is to capture more Clow Cards than her. At first, he’s arrogant and mean-spirited towards her, but over time he starts to feel more affectionate towards Sakura, making their relationship a focal point of the series.
This silver-haired character is perhaps the most feminine of Cardcaptor Sakura’s male characters, with his warm personality complimenting Sakura’s and standing as foil to Sakura’s brother. Though not exactly obvious at first, there is something mysterious hiding behind those silver locks and gentle smiles. As the series progresses, we start understanding what it is.