The first time I watched Cardcaptor Sakura (CCS) was during my childhood years, around 12 years ago, when I was still a kid. While I never marathoned the anime per se, I remember eagerly looking forward to it every time I had time and I remembered the schedules of our cartoon channel. I didn’t recall exactly what I loved so much about it though, for many years, and I’ve always ignored it in favor of other anime ever since I started ‘marathoning’ anime back in 2012. For the longest time, I was afraid it was gonna turn out to be another Doraemon, which I loved watching back when I was a child, but nowadays I couldn’t sit through a whole episode of that. Fortunately, Cardcaptor Sakura ended up being a very different and pleasant experience, in many ways.
Starting off with my reasoning towards picking it up after so many years, it was random, like pretty much everything I do. One day, which was the 13th of April, I just randomly decided to watch the first episode, and so I opened my usual streaming website and… went for it. What I didn’t expect was falling in love with the anime as soon as I finished episode one. There were many factors why the first episode appealed to me so much, the first being obviously nostalgia, which is a powerful emotion. The second was the mood, the atmosphere of the anime. This one is hard to explain, but I loved how carefree, cheerful and innocent it was. And that’s the first strength I found in this series: it manages to keep a consistent mood throughout its 70 episode duration, where it’s never too serious to the point you become bored, nor too comedic to the point where you can’t take anything seriously. This balanced mix between comedy and seriousness is something that a lot of anime, specifically more modern anime, struggle to achieve, and it’s one of Cardcaptor’s biggest assets. I found myself changing my emotions depending on what the story was showing, from feeling lonely whenever Sakura’s mother was brought up, to feeling happy whenever Sakura was having fun.
Still, it struggles with the fact that the first couple of episodes are slower and less eventful than the later ones. The reason for this is because they are the introduction episodes, and with such a large main character cast, plus explaining how the mechanics of magic work, it’s to be expected that the first 10 episodes would be slower. If you can “survive” these episodes though, you’re good to go, and I am of the opinion that one should NOT skip these episodes because Cardcaptor relies on character attachment a lot, which these episodes help a lot with, and it truly shines in this regard (I will come back to this later). One thing I did not recall was that Cardcaptor is indeed episodic, for the most part. I tend to dislike episodic shows in any medium because they usually get repetitive really easily, and it’s hard to come up with stuff to fill 70 episodes of content in an episodic-style anime. While there were many moments when Cardcaptor might feel repetitive, specifically with the whole “Daily life first half, card appears and ruins the day second half”, the creativity employed to make each episode was astonished to me. They managed to cover many different themes and explore all the different characters that make up the main character cast thanks to this episodic system, which is the best I can honestly ask for.
The core theme of Cardcaptor Sakura is ‘emotions’, specifically love. While this, combined with the fact that it IS a show that targets children, might seem like nothing will come of this theme, and that it won’t be explored to its full potential, it’s exactly the opposite: it does explore romance from many different perspectives, and in many different ways. It’s also extremely liberal when it does this, which honestly surprised me, considering it was 1998. For instance, there are homosexual feelings between two male main characters, Sakura’s best friend is in love with her (it was strongly hinted but never said), one of Sakura’s classmates is in love with her teacher who is much older than her, among some other ‘taboo’ situations. What impressed me about the exploration of romance in this anime is that it wasn’t taken to the extreme. Someone who is educated will know that most homosexual people don’t act as girlish as some of the stereotypes make it seem, and that is indeed the case with the homosexual characters in Cardcaptor: they act like regular people. It’s not used to shock the audience by shouting “LOOK THESE GUYS ARE GAY AND THEY WILL ACT AS GAY AS POSSIBLE TO PROVE IT!!!”, instead presenting many subtle hints about it in several episodes, being easy to deduce by episode 30. The feeling of being in love is treated in an innocent way, because after all, most of the characters are 10 year olds. It makes sense for them to blush when they see their love interests, or for them to look at love in a rather innocent way. Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend, is indeed in love with her, but she has some dialogues with other characters where she says that loving someone is not only about wanting to be in an official relationship with them, but it’s about making sure they are happy with whoever they are with, even if that person is not themselves. Tomoyo goes as far as helping Shaoran, who loves Sakura as well, to confess to her his feelings, making his life quite easier. Not only does this display incredible selflessness by Tomoyo’s part, but it makes sense considering how she views love. There is also not a single time where Cardcaptor tries to make a moral judgment of the characters’ love interests or sexual orientation, instead choosing to keep itself neutral, which is something I appreciated a lot, because it lets the audience think for themselves, something a lot of fiction works fail to do. To complete this small reflection on how Cardcaptor deals with love, there’s the way it explains how there are many different kinds of love. While Sakura loves Shaoran without a doubt, she also loves Yukito, and she also loves her father, but all of them are in different manners. In Shaoran she sees her “number one”, as she describes him, the one person she develops true feelings of love towards, whereas with Yukito, while there is some of that love in the way she feels about him, it’s also partly due to her seeing him as a kind guy who she considers to be almost family, though it was strongly implied there was at least some true love in the way Sakura felt about him. At the end of the day, Cardcaptor moves to show that emotions are a very powerful force, which can make people do stuff they usually wouldn’t. In that sense, it feels like an extremely humane work, one that takes itself seriously in this regard, even if it does so in an innocent way, which might not be entirely relatable, and can come off as cheesy depending on the individual watching it.
But what about the relationship everyone is wondering about, the main one: Sakura x Shaoran? This relationship takes its time to develop, as Shaoran first appears as an antagonist to Sakura, despising her for thinking she does not deserve to be the successor of Clow, instead thinking he himself should hold the cards, as he had training in magic and is a descendant of Clow. Eventually, and after many experiences together, they become close friends, to the point where Sakura actively asks for his help during many situations, the same way as Shaoran trusts Sakura in a lot of rough situations. And then there’s a time where Shaoran starts looking at Sakura with different eyes, as more than a friend: as someone he truly cares about. And it’s when this happens that he starts blushing pretty much every time he sees her, but rejecting the fact that he loves her for a good portion of the show, until he ultimately is forced to accept it. But even when he does accept it, only at the very end of the series does he say the ‘magical words’ to Sakura, and only in the sequel movie does the romance plot get resolved, which is by no means bad because it means the characters had time to develop their feelings for each other. There are many people that help Shaoran and Sakura be together, like Tomoyo as I mentioned previously, and even Eriol, the final season’s antagonist, who creates a certain situation that changes the way they address each other, bringing them even closer. It’s a very cute and innocent romance, as it should be, and it feels extremely rewarding when they do get together, leaving an open ending with endless possibilities for the future with both of them, which only contributes to the ‘void’ the series left me with.
This is a character-driven show, and as such the character cast is where it truly shines, and the characters are, of course, what allows the themes I covered above to be explored. The first thing to get out of the way is that no character that appears in this anime is evil in any way. While they might sometimes go overboard with what they do, their intentions are never to necessarily hurt anyone, but to help Sakura grow as an individual, as well as to help her magic powers develop. So you won’t have to worry about an antagonist being the “I WILL RULE THE WORLD!!!!” type, which is already a great start. The character dynamics in Cardcaptor are among the best I’ve ever seen, both in how realistic they feel, and in how naturally they are shown. From simple “let me cover the daily duties for you” to “I will stay by your side no matter what”, it always feels like the characters are always willing to help each other with all kinds of things. Even the characters that have no magical powers can prove to be resourceful in the right situations, like Meilin’s martial arts or Tomoyo’s singing voice. One thing I appreciated a lot in this show was how even characters that seem to be background characters for most of the time end up getting more exposition than you would expect them to. One example of this is Sakura’s father, who in most situations seems like a character that’s there for background purposes, but then you get entire episodes exploring his motivation to be an archaeologist or focusing on his relationship with his now deceased wife and on how he promised never to cry again while talking about her because she would be sad if he did. Through him, Sakura learns a lot about her late mother, which in turn helps her grow having a “role model” even if she has already passed on. This is true for Sakura’s father, as it is for her brother, for Yukito, and for most characters that appear in almost every single episode, no main character feels bland or left behind because of how well Cardcaptor paced itself, creating several opportunities for you to get attached to the characters, which is a requirement in this anime because in the later episodes, specifically the last ten of them, when the revelations are made, it will help you feel empathy for them, as well as understanding their thought process. I could go on and on about each individual case, because there’s a lot to talk about, but there’s no realistic need to do so, as I feel I got the point across with a single example.
The characters that have the most screen time, besides obviously Sakura, would be Keroberos, Shaoran and Tomoyo, as they are the ones that are almost always with Sakura, whether it’s at school, home or in dangerous situtions. Not only will you feel they grew with the passage of time, you will also notice how much you learn about them. Whether it’s about their quirks, their emotions, their past, their thought process or even small things as the food they like to eat, the smallest details can improve the way you look at them. Many people will look at Shaoran with judging eyes because of the way his character is introduced, where the only things he has to say is how bad Sakura is at doing her job and how he is more deserving of being the cardcaptor. However as you see Shaoran’s opinion change about many things, so will your own opinion on him. His exposition will help you care for him a lot, and that’s true for the rest of the cast as well. Cardcaptor shows its character progress in a slow yet effective manner, in which you cannot exactly point to an X moment in time where the change actually happened, but instead feeling natural, like they grew up because of the time they spent together. There’s also the need to talk about Clow and his relationship with Yue and Keroberos, his two creations. At first it seems like Clow just created them to protect the cards, but as you learn more about their stories, you will see that Clow truly did love them as if they were his family. And you can see how much emotion Yue and Keroberos use when they describe him, whenever Sakura asks what kind of person Clow was. Yue has a more conservative approach, as he could never really get over Clow’s death, believing no one other than him could be his master, eventually growing to accept Sakura, while Keroberos thinks Clow is the past, and therefore it’s best to look towards the future, which is Sakura, though there are many instances where he does show that Clow was someone who meant a lot to him. Clow being the way he is gives birth to one of Sakura’s main struggles: she does not believe she is worthy of being the new master of his creations because, as she says, “as much as she tries, she can never become Clow himself”. Eventually she experiences several dialogues and events that lead to her accepting that Sakura is Sakura, Clow is Clow, and that they are two different people. These kinds of struggles are what make Cardcaptor such an endearing show, because you will see the insecurities of the characters when dealing with something new, and then you will see them overcoming said shortcomings through character interaction. It’s beautiful in how natural and smooth it feels.
I did have some problems with Cardcaptor Sakura, and most of them are related to the climax scenes. In specific, the action feels lackluster, which is fine because after all, as mentioned previously, it’s more about the characters than it is about flashy visuals or epic battles, but one of the ‘battles’ in specific was foreshadowed since episode 1 and had quite the anticlimactic end, not to the point where it broke my immersion of the series, which never happened fortunately, but to the point where I reflected a bit about it afterwards. When it comes to these last battles, it seems Cardcaptor succeeds in presenting amazing foreshadowing and the character growth that leads to them, but they always feel like they could have been better in some way. The best way to watch this anime is to expect unimpressive battles, in terms of action anyway. What I do like about these battle scenes though, is how Sakura never bruteforces her way through them. Instead of using ‘OP’ cards to destroy everything that stands in her path, she thinks about what card can counter the card she is trying to get, and then uses it in creative ways to capture said card. This way, most of the cards get to shine, and it doesn’t feel like Sakura is abusing the magic system, making it feel much more balanced. Sakura’s way of fighting is childish, in the sense that her ideals do not let her injure anyone she fights, whether it’s a card or an individual, however not only does this make sense, it’s also consistent throughout the show. Never in the entire show will you see Sakura forsaking this style of battle, and it’s understandable that she doesn’t want to injure the cards, as she sees them as friends, even the ones who caused trouble in her life, plus being the kind of person she is (cheerful and harmless), it’s easy to see why she’s so passive when it comes to battling cards. As such, she almost always prefers using utility cards instead of aggressive ones precisely because of that.
As a whole, Cardcaptor Sakura left behind a huge void. It’s an anime I loved back when I was a kid, and it’s an anime I still love today as a 21 year old grown-ass adult. While it did have very noticeable problems, especially when it came to the rough start and to the climax scenes, it’s one of those cases where the characters and themes, as well as their exploration, easily overshadows its shortcomings by a mile. It progresses with a slow pacing, having several episodes that might feel pointless at first, but end up helping tremendously in the long run when it comes to making you attached to the characters, and this partly happens because Sakura does not actively seek the cards, instead choosing to capture them as she finds them during her daily life. Cardcaptor WILL make you attached to the characters; it WILL make you feel for them when it wants to; it WILL prove to be a most rewarding experience if you give it time. It’s also a great anime to watch in family or to show your kids (or future kids) because it teaches you a lot of good moral values like tolerance and any age group can genuinely enjoy it. Using the last dialogue from the anime as reference, where Sakura says to the audience she won’t forget about us, I can most certainly say I won’t forget about Cardcaptor Sakura and its characters either. It was a most surprising experience and proved that I had been looking for good shows in the wrong places, instead of going back to my roots out of fear that it wouldn’t pay off and would ruin my memories of them, like it did happen in the past with so many shows from my childhood.