Friday, November 3, 2017

REVIEW: Cardcaptor Sakura, Standard Edition, Vol. 1 (anime TV series)

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl TV series that originally aired in Japan in the late ‘90s and, in heavily edited form, in the US from 2000 to 2001 (according to Wikipedia - I could have sworn I was younger when I watched it, but apparently my memories are faulty). I caught a tiny bit of it back when it was on TV, but for some reason it never captured my interest.

I was excited to learn that this series was finally being released in the US in unedited form, but I was a little wary. I had fallen in love with it via the manga but wasn’t sure the anime would be to my tastes since, like I said, what little I’d seen of it on TV hadn’t gotten me hooked. Buying the full thing (because I almost always buy the full thing) would be a serious monetary commitment. But then Right Stuf had their anniversary sale and I finally caved.

Cardcaptor Sakura stars Sakura, a 10-year-old girl. She lives with her father, who’s a professor (of ancient history? Egyptian history? not sure), and her older brother, Toya. Her mother died when she was very young. One day, Sakura finds a book in her home’s basement. It contains Clow Cards, almost all of which escape. With the help of the cards’ guardian, Kero, Sakura is able to capture one of the cards. Kero tells her that she is now a Cardcaptor and must collect all the rest of the cards before they do any harm - all the cards have some sort of magical ability and some of them can be very mischievous and/or actively harmful. Each card she collects gives Sakura new abilities that can help her capture more cards.

Along the way, viewers are introduced to other characters: Yukito, Toya’s best friend and Sakura’s not-so-secret crush; Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend; and Xiaolang (I prefer Syaoran, but I’ll go with the romanization these DVDs used here), Sakura’s rival for both Yukito’s affection and card capturing. Most of the episodes are very “Card of the Week,” but some of them focus more on Sakura’s relationships and family history.

I loved this first boxed set and pretty much raced through it. I’m a little bummed that I won’t be able to continue on with the next boxed set for at least a few weeks. This series is fluffy sweetness and light so far.

I liked Sakura. She was super athletic, and yet she still needed to build up her confidence and knowledge as a Cardcaptor. Also, she was still a kid: she had to worry about homework, her older brother annoyed her sometimes, and ghosts scared her. It’s been a while since I read Cardcaptor Sakura, and my more recent memories of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle messed with my head a bit. It was a little odd seeing Sakura as a kid, but it was even weirder seeing Xiaolang as a kid. He spent most of his appearances scowling, but I couldn’t dislike him. He was separated from his family and trying so hard to do his duty and capture cards. And there were moments when, like Sakura, he was just a cute little kid. He’d get excited over zoo animals, or blush over Yukito and hand him the first thing he could think of that he might like.

By the way, I had completely forgotten about his crush on Yukito. I remembered that Sakura had a crush on him and that Tomoyo’s affection for Sakura was intense enough to also be interpreted as a crush. I had thought that the few mentions I’d seen of Xiaolang’s crush on Yukito were wishful thinking on fans’ part, since I couldn’t recall it at all, but nope - he definitely had a crush on Yukito and viewed Sakura as his romantic rival. Tomoyo even called the two of them romantic rivals. I do wish the anime hadn’t introduced Meiling (who was never in the manga). In this boxed set, at least, she was more of an annoyance than anything. Her jealousy of Sakura was an attempt to underscore a romantic pairing that didn’t even exist in the series yet.

This first boxed set is almost entirely sweetness and light: Sakura and Kero being cute, Sakura capturing cards, Sakura and her family member doing chores and having dinner together, Tomoyo happily thinking up new cute costumes for Sakura to wear. I could see kids watching it, although some adults might be uncomfortable with the series’ large number of children with crushes on older characters: Sakura and Yukito, Xiaolang and Yukito, and one of Sakura’s classmates and their teacher.

Knowing what I know about how things eventually work out (assuming the TV series follows the same overall storyline as the manga), I’m perfectly fine with Sakura and Xiaolang’s crushes. Lots of kids and teens have crushes on people older than them, and it’s harmless as long as the people they have crushes on don’t do anything. Pretty much every scene with Yukito in it was fun, considering what I know about who he gets paired up with later. The thing that might really turn viewers off is the storyline involving one of Sakura’s classmates and the teacher. There are hints of it in this boxed set, but I don’t know yet if it all works out in the anime the way it did in the manga. I’ll talk about that when I get to those episodes.

One thing that annoyed me about these early episodes was the way Toya was handled. I recall two episodes that were particularly devoted to Sakura’s family history. Both episodes showed her meeting people from her mother's side of the family, and both focused entirely on Sakura and her mother’s connection to those people. I kept wondering if anyone would remember that Sakura wasn’t her mother’s only child, but it was like Toya’s existence had been forgotten. Maybe Toya wanted to meet those relatives and maybe he didn’t, but he was never even given the chance to decide. If he’d already met them in the past, I’d have felt better about it, but that information wasn't wasn’t mentioned.

As far as the artwork went, the backgrounds and most of the characters looked great. There were times when characters were a bit oddly drawn, though. The animators seemed to have the most problems with Toya - they just could not figure out his eyes (and sometimes his whole face).

All in all, this is a “warm fuzzies” sort of series that works great for both binge-watching and occasional watching with breaks in between. I’m looking forward to the next boxed set.


Two clean opening versions and one clean closing. The boxed set also includes an English dub. I watched part of one episode with the English dub turned on, and I was not impressed. Most of the voices annoyed me, and I disliked the way Meiling pronounced Xiaolang. I swear, it sounded like she was calling him Sharon.

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