CardCaptor Sakura: Clear Card
Sakura, now 12 years old and starting middle school, has finished converting all the Clow Cards to Sakura Cards, finally mastering all of the cards. In addition, she has finally confessed her feelings to her once rival Syaoran Li, who has returned to Tomoeda after a brief return to his home country Hong Kong. She even makes a new friend, in her class, a friendly girl named Akiho Shinomoto, who lives in a big mansion with her caretaker Yuna D. Kaito. But just as when it looks like everything is back to normal once again, Sakura starts having weird new dreams involving clocks and a clothed figure. In addition, mysterious new beings have been running amuck around Tomoeda.
It looks like Sakura’s days as a CardCaptor aren’t quite over yet...
Tim: CardCaptor Sakura - mainly its first 35 episodes - remains to this day one of my favorite magical girl anime. It has lovable characters, perfect voice casting, a lovely musical score, a near-perfect balance of action, comedy, and drama, and some of the best character costume designs of any anime series I’ve ever seen. While Astro Boy was my gateway anime and Sailor Moon was the first anime that got me into the Internet community, CardCaptor Sakura was the first anime I supported with my money and kept up with the home release of (well, at least its first half).
Stig: In my case, my anime choices were mostly limited to what Manga Video had to offer, which was usually fairly (at the time) controversial fare, where if a show wasn't controversial enough...well, let's just say those were what gave birth to the term "fifteening". It took them getting some competitors to soften things up a bit, like for instance AnimEigo, which was the company that gave Europeans the chance to watch the Ah! My Goddess OAV, or Pioneer, who served me fun fare like the original Tenchi Muyo OAV.
Tim: Though as much praise as we give the original CardCaptor Sakura anime, we did have a bit of hesitation to jump into CardCaptor Sakura Clear Card, not gonna lie. Mainly for two reasons:
1.) There was a 18 year gap between the original 1998 series’ final episodes and this new series. This is a long time to wait for a new installment for a series you love, regardless of what media you follow.
2.) This was just three years coming off the absolutely terrible Sailor Moon Crystal, which we barely stomached half of the original season of before jumping out. To no surprise, many fans of the series worried CardCaptor Sakura Clear Card would jettison the original staff and voice actors for new ones.
Stig: I wasn't quite as worried myself, since Cardcaptor Sakura wasn't based on as many dated designs as Sailor Moon was. Amusingly enough, this new series seem more on top of modern technology. Tomoyo is the clearest indication of this, as she's still very interested in cataloguing nearly everything Sakura does, and now she has modern technology to aid her -- smartphones, digital media in general, drones...
Bottom line: I adored the original show, but I only watched it for the first time a few years ago, so there is no nostalgia involved when it comes to my feelings about it. But even then, I could tell that Clear Card was all about the nostalgia.
Fortunately for us, neither scenario is true here. Clear Card’s staff is largely made up of the original 1998 anime, and the voice cast, despite mostly being in their 40s and 50s now, do a near perfect job continuing where they lead off (with the sad exception of Rika’s voice actress Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011). Even original music composer Takayuki Negishi came back for the show, with new musical cues and themes intermixed with the original 90’s ones. There are even new theme songs, one sung by none other than Maaya Sakamoto, who did the original series’ best theme song (in our opinion), Plantinum. It's a big ol' class reunion.
The cast is just as how you remember them, too. Sakura is adorably sweet and dense, Kero loves video games and sweets, Tomoyo continues being a great best friend with a penchant of making colorful (and sometimes frilly) costumes for Sakura, Syaoran continues to be blunt but deep down very nice, Touya is still a teasing but well-meaning older brother, and Yukito is still a nice guy. Even Sakura’s classmates return this season, with their usual quirks and personalities brought along with them. And yes, that even includes liar extraordinaire Yamazaki, still up to his hilarious trolling ways with Sakura and Syaoran. It’s like a fun family reunion there, too.
Clear Card’s new plot is also your typical CardCaptor Sakura arc plot; Sakura is having premonitions once more of a future event happening in her life, and there’s new characters there in them as well. There is one new main cast member, though. Her name is Akiho Shinomoto, who continues the tradition, like most of the cast in the series not named Kero/Touya/Yue, of being just sugary sweet. She lives in a big mansion with her caretaker Yuna D. Kaito, and has a cute little rabbit mascot named Kero, not unlike Sakura with Kero. Of course, the series plays up the “more than she appears” angle with her, much like they did with Eriol in the Sakura Card arc of the original series, and that is what leans into what might be considered Clear Card's bigger potential failing, which we briefly get into.
For the most part, Clear Card is pure feel-good fun. We’ve always appreciated how CardCaptor Sakura puts its characters over its overarching story, allowing them to have actual lives on top of the things they are destined to do, and that remains true here for the most part, too. But we’d be lying if we didn’t say we had a few minor complaints that hampered our fun overall.
The single most frustrating thing about watching CardCaptor Sakura Clear Card is that at the end of the day, little gets resolved in 22 episodes. Just when the series does almost attempt to move on with something, a last-minute obstacle comes up for what feels like little more than a reason to extend the show out another season. The show lingers on its own delight at being all mysterious and secretive, and there seems to be no end on scenes that imply there's more going on between Akiho and her self-appointed butler Yuna. It takes near an entire season for us to gain any information on what has happened at all with the two. Even then, the only thing we really learn is something Yuna did, but not why, outside of it being for Akiho's benefit. Somehow.
And yeah, we realize that the original TV series was two long story arcs - one 46 episodes long, and another 24 - but Clear Card needs another season. Cardcaptor Sakura is not a franchise where an anime should be used to promote its manga, even if the manga is still running at this time. That's just bad form. The original 90’s series took small pauses for the animators to make more of the show, but the original series still had a plan from the beginning. In this day and age, another season of an anime can take anywhere from a year to as long as a decade to get made, which is what Madhouse seems to be doing for Clear Card. Disappointing.
And nowhere is this “we need another season” frustration more noticeable than when it comes to Sakura and Syaoran’s relationship, which is just one troll tease after another. If you may recall from the end of the second CardCaptor Sakura movie, CardCaptor Sakura: The Sealed Card, Sakura told Syaoran she loved him. I bet you’re wondering if they expand on this in Clear Card? The answer, sadly, is no. In fact, Syaoran is absent for a grand chunk of the series so that Sakura can bond with her new BFF Akiho (in-between card shenanigans that is). Who has time for character development when there are new cards to capture?
In fact, the only returning character with any character growth is of all people Meiling, Syaoran’s cousin. She comes over somewhere in the middle episodes and stays at Sakura’s house for a few episodes. What floored both of us is just how much she had grown as a character; from a bratty, clingy pain in the ass, to probably the series’ most straightforward, sensible character outside of maybe Touya. The show actually does a really good job in filling us in on what she had been up to during those years, and how she herself had changed. It almost felt at times her character was written so concisely and efficiently, she was meant to chastise CLAMP for dawdling so much with everyone else.
And then there’s the way the card storylines are handled in Clear Card. They do try to explain that it has to do with Sakura's power reaching a level where she might be considered one of the strongest magicians in the world, but having to have them reset for her to capture more cards just feels like a retread for nostalgia’s sake. The original TV series was already two-thirds Sakura recapturing the cards she accidentally released, and then one-third her making the cards her own. In Clear Card? With all the cards going blank, that means they will now turn into new types of cards. This sounds neat, and it does allow for some new problems for Sakura to overcome, but some of the new cards have effects that are...odd, to say the least.
Tim: One of the reasons I prefer the first 35 episodes of the original CardCaptor Sakura over its second half was how the cards and their antics were handled, and the variety of locals it took Sakura to: the clock tower, the aquarium, the playground, and even to a local shrine. It made her hometown of Tomoeda feel so big and alive, and the cards even had a bit of a mystery angle as to what was going on all throughout town until their reveal. In a couple of episodes, it even got secondary and minor characters involved, like the one where Naoko, one of Sakura’s classmates, wrote a story, or a girl in Sakura’s school who was a runner encountering a rabbit who turned out to be a disguised Clow Card. Here, everything’s now just revolved around Sakura and her friends, and the card antics are treated as just there in-between the scenes of Sakura’s life as Monster of the Day antics. They used to be so much more.
Stig: As you might have read in my own Cardcaptor Sakura review, I rather liked that the original show had a lot of slice-of-life aspects to it, which was one of the reasons why I appreciated it a lot more than its contemporaries like Sailor Moon, which seemed a lot more single-minded than CCS was. And don't get me wrong; Clear Card does have a lot of really nice background art, but this recent addition also does play down its slice-of-life aspects compared to the original, and even what's there seems more like various "hey, remember this" notes meant to remind you all about when you watched the original.
Another problem we had is that CardCaptor Sakura Clear Card doesn’t even attempt to try to keep you on its characters or story, as it automatically assumes you’ve seen the original 70 episodes and second movie beforehand. Even a couple of minutes of Kero speed reading through the story in the first episode would’ve been nice.
There’s also the new look of the show, with everyone having noticeable taller bodies and proportions, more akin to CLAMP’s 2000s-onward art style. Far more noticeable, though, is the show switching from gorgeous hand-colored cells to plainer, typical digital coloring. It looks fine, but it lacks the lush gorgeous colors and style the 90’s show had in spades. That said, it bears mentioning that Clear Card's animation is still a step up compared to most other shows we've watched over the years; this is still Madhouse quality most of the time after all. And while we do love the soundtrack of the 1998 CardCaptor Sakura series, having it spliced together with the new music just shows how different they are versus each other. It’s never not jarring.
Tim: I know we sounded a little ranty here, but Stig and I did come in with low expectations, and those rose over time as we watched Clear Card, only to be slightly disappointed as time went on. It’s fine for what it is, and still has some of the charm the 90’s series had, but it’s no classic like it was. Perhaps the next arc will expand more and enthrall me again, but the first 22 episodes of Clear Card feel more like a trip down memory lane than a brand-new series. An at times really fun trip down memory lane, but one nonetheless.
Stig: My main annoyance with this new season is that its future is still up in the air. Cardcaptor Sakura is simply too big and well-known a franchise to leave its audience hanging with incomplete stories, and Clear Card is a little bit too happy about being secretive in ways that felt more like stalling rather than, well, being mysterious. The really aggravating part when it comes to writing about this and how to rate it is going to be highly dependent on whether we will ever get to see it come to an end. Only time will tell, but I will say this. I'm still delighted to see that, despite all this seriousness, the Cardcaptor Sakura franchise still hasn't lost its ability to put a smile on my face every now and then, whether it'd be Sakura's big heart, Kero's return in the "Leave it to Kero" segments, or even the downright nostalgic yet new opening and ending songs, the latter with some endearing animation pieces to go with it.
Recommended Audience: Like the original series, Clear Card is perfectly fine for the most part for little kids. Nothing super objectionable.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (22/22)
CardCaptor Sakura: Clear Card © 2018 CLAMP / ST / Kodansha / NEP / NHK
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