The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Cardcaptor Sakura

Title: Cardcaptor Sakura
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 70 episodes
Dates: 7 Apr 1998 – 21 Mar 2000

Synopsis: Fourth-grader Kinomoto Sakura finds the Book of Clow one day, and upon reading the name of one of the magical cards inside, the rest of the cards scatter around the city. Keroberos, a magical being who is the guardian of the cards, orders Sakura to capture the remaining cards. However, Sakura is not the only person who is after the Clow Cards.

The Highlights
Visuals: Excellent art and animation, with creative fight scenes.
Conflict: Mostly lacks a traditional villain. Sakura’s conflicts are inward, and more interesting for it.
Heart: A strong sense of emotion and growth within the characters. Very easy to get attached to them.

Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the warmest anime I have ever seen. Its protagonist, Sakura, confronts many of the hardships of adolescenceall centering on the increasing complexity of the world she has always knownbut through everything, there’s an underpinning of true hope, even in the darkest times. The hope in Cardcaptor Sakura never feels false, because the conflicts themselves never feel false. Yes, the series is filled with magic and fantasy, but that serves mainly as initial driving force and metaphor. The human heart is the foundation of all conflict in Cardcaptor Sakura. That is what makes it so great.

One of Cardcaptor Sakura‘s main strengths is that it lacks a traditional villain for the most part. The Clow Cards escape from the Book of Clow by accident, and Sakura gathers them mainly to make right by her accident rather than because some dark figure wants to use them for world domination or another similar motivation. There is another group seeking the Clow Cards; however, after initial hostilities, Sakura becomes friends with these new people and teams up with them often. Even at the end of the show’s first half, when two well-known characters appear villainous, their motivations end up being slightly more complex. There is no easy figure to hate in this series.

Where does all the conflict come from, then? Although Cardcaptor Sakura has an ongoing story, most of its episodes are also self-contained, revolving around the capture of a Clow Card that relates metaphorically to a problem pertaining to Sakura or another character in the series. For instance, in one episode Sakura ventures into the woods and sees a mysterious light that initially appears to be the ghost of her mother. When she follows this apparition, however, Sakura falls off a cliff; it turns out that the “ghost” is actually one of the Clow Cards, The Illusion, taking the form of Sakura’s dead mother. In another episode, Sakura visits a friend who has a special box she cannot open — it turns out that a Clow Card, The Shield, is blocking the key from being used. Inside the box are items that hold special memories for Sakura and her friend. Not all the episodes are so serious, but the ones that are strike at the heart of human emotions. The problems in Cardcaptor Sakura are exacerbated by magical devices, but their roots stretch down to our soul. This works because the episodes are smartly written and conceived.

It is because the series so often focuses on the complexities of emotion and adolescence that the second half of the series is initially disappointing. This part of the story introduces a person who seems to challenge Sakura’s right to the Clow Cards. He hides in the shadows and introduces conflicts that Sakura must solve. Like most everything in Cardcaptor Sakura, this person’s role is revealed to be something more complex and interesting than it at first appears to be; in fact, the final four or five episodes of the series turned my opinion of the entire arc around entirely. Still, the initial portion of that arc is bumpy because it lends a sense of artificiality to the conflicts that the first part of the series lacks. Though the ship is eventually righted, it feels as if the show continued into a second arc merely for the sake of doing so even though there is a proper climax that makes sense as a conclusion.

That said, even at its lowest point, Cardcaptor Sakura is never actually bad. The writing is too strong and the characters too likable and interesting for that to happen. Sakura is the star of the show; her growth in the face of the evolution of her world and experience is beautiful to behold. Her support, however, is just as good. Sakura’s best friend, Tomoyo, is always a welcome light, someone who brightens up the series with her good humor and friendliness. Sakura’s partner, Keroberos, earns his place as one of the great magical girl mascots — he’s silly and sarcastic, but also grows to respect Sakura’s strength and does his best to help her. Sakura’s brother, Touya, comes off as the annoying big brother, but he shows again and again that he truly cares about Sakura’s well-being. There are many more wonderful characters who also share a meaningful place in the narrative and grow in interesting ways. Even the one-off characters are usually enjoyable.

I would be loathe to skip mentioning Cardcaptor‘s excellent visuals. It’s not simply the fluidity of the animation that impresses; it’s also that there’s a strong craft to the production that makes everything pop. The battles in particular, though they rarely last very long, are incredibly entertaining to watch. The use of space within the battle settings, the cinematography and framing of the battles, and the imaginative way the powers of each Clow Card make themselves known in the battles are all top notch. This is one of Madhouse‘s most visually impressive series.

There is a reason Cardcaptor Sakura is remembered so fondly 15 years after its debut: There’s a level of craft and emotion at work that is rare in any medium.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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