(Ed. Note: I’ll try to avoid spoilers as I think every anime fan owes it to themselves to check out Cardcaptor Sakura)
I’m a 80s/90s baby, so I’ve watched a lot of the classic anime. From Yu Yu Hakusho to Akira to the Dragon Ball franchise, I’ve watched most of the seminal series and movies that get brought up in anime discussions from that era. I’ve watched some, thanks to Bennett the Sage of Anime Abandon, that I wish I didn’t. But all in all, I’ve become a Stand user of culture as well. One anime I didn’t see, at least not completely, was Cardcaptor Sakura. A CLAMP-created series, CCS was known far and wide for reinventing the magical girl genre, character building and its queer representation.
Since I’m an 80s/90s baby, I got treated to the Nelvana dub, simply titled Cardcaptors. Bastardized like many dubs from this era, Cardcaptors‘ U.S. run omitted a lot of the meat, focused more on the rivalry between Cardcaptor Sakura (renamed Sakura Avalon because, apparently, my generation wouldn’t have been able to pronounce “Kinomoto”) and Xialang Li/Li Syaoran, and removed every bit of queer subtext to make it palatable for 2000s kids. While the theme was a bop, the show itself left a lot to be desired. In short, Cardcaptors isn’t a childhood anime I’d revisit. It’s like watching the sub of Ghost Stories except kind of more memorable.
In June 2020, Netflix and Funimation released the series proper on their streaming platforms. Curious to see why people held this series in such high regard, I checked it out. I didn’t know what to expect besides cute children fighting mythical beasts–like Pokemon if Pokemon had magical undertones besides just “the power of friendship.” What I’ve gotten so far (I’m 2/3s of the way done with the series) is a show that starts cute AF, but is mature beyond its wide-eyed view on the world. No, no one is violently killed or assaulted. Thank God for that. But underneath its cute “doe-eyed tween collects magic Clow Cards” premise, there’s a beautiful series that delves into what makes its characters tick–without going all Evangelion with it.
While the Animax Asia dub isn’t the best, the story and the characterization makes up for what the dub lacks in subtlety or emotion. You see that Sakura wears her heart on her sleeve, but she’s no dummy. She’ll fight with everything she has when she needs to. She’s strong and powerful, even without utilizing every Clow Card she has. On the flip side, Li starts out as a Gary Oak sort of rival (snarky and ready to cut down Sakura when she slips up). As the story progresses, there develops an admiration and even love for Sakura from Li. It’s cute, but also a more developed tween romance than some anime with older characters. Sakura’s friend Tomoyo isn’t just some creepy tween who is infatuted with Sakura (or videotaping things). She loves because she cares deeply for Sakura’s well-being. We see time and time again that Tomoyo wants the best for her magical friend, even at the expense of Tomoyo’s own love. We deal with growth, loss, death, what it means to be alive and live, love and everything in between through the series. As I mentioned, I’m only 2/3 of the way through and I hear it gets even deeper for the development. So I’m ready to see the conclusion, as no character–even joke-centric characters–are left overly underdeveloped.
On top of the characterization of its characters, the action sequences rival some shonen series. I mean, it was animated by Madhouse. I’m not surprised that the action scenes are so lush and popping with color. I was surprised to see a magical girl anime throw Sakura to the wolves and have her use her wit and her powers to save the day. Sakura often has an iron will compared to a JoJo character, even though she’s just a gradeschooler. Her battle with one of the Judges of the Cards is as cerebral as it is action-packed (if you’ve seen the series, you know who/what I’m talking about) and is just as much about love and wanting to do the right thing as it is about kicking said judge’s ass up and down the Tokyo Tower.
All in all, if you’re looking for a throwback series, you can do a helluva lot worse than CCS. I’ve binged the series to the point that I’ve neglected many of the more-recent titles I “should” be watching (hi My Hero Academia). It’s that good and that creative.