Sakura Kinomoto is an ordinary ten year old girl who finds a mysterious book in her father’s basement one day after school. Upon opening the book, she finds a deck of cards that she unleashes into the world after she reads ther name. The book once belonged to a powerful magician known as Clow Reed who created magical cards that take on the form of powerful spirits known as the Clow Cards. The winged guardian beast of the seal, Kerberos, forms a contract with Sakura to recapture the Clow Cards using her own newly discovered magical powers. And thus begins the adventures of the Cardcaptor. Along with mainstream 90s classics like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z, Cardcaptor Sakura was a huge gateway show for many anime fans who grew up watching Kid’s WB Saturday morning animation. The series was initially released in North America in a heavily localized adaptation as “Cardcaptors,” but due to later uncut home video releases and the release of the original manga written and drawn by the all female manga team, CLAMP, fans were able to experience the original uncut Japanese version and the show became a huge hit. Part of the show’s appeal was it combined traditional magical girl elements that fans already became accustomed to through Sailor Moon with the “gotta catch ’em all” formula of Pokemon and other similar monster battling shows that were popular on Saturday mornings at the time which gave the series a very broad appeal outside of hardcore anime fans.
Although cut out of the North American TV broadcast, the series was also significant as the original uncut version featured a lot of positive LGBTQ+ representation at the time that you didn’t normally see in mainstream children’s animation at the time. Sakura’s best friend, Tomoyo Daidouji, who always tags along on her adventures to film with her capturing the Clow Cards with her video camera, is always portrayed as unapologetically lesbian. The show is never without a doubt she has a crush on Sakura. Though Sakura is oblivious to Tomoyo’s feelings, she never pushes her away and she always treats Tomoyo as an equal friend, and Tomoyo is a fully fleshed out and developed character and she’s never subjected to any mean spirited homophobic jobes and the show is always very respectful with her character. The series is also explicit that Sakura’s big brother, Touya, is bisexual and that his best friend, Yukito, is gay and the two are clearly shown to have feelings for each other. Sakura herself is also shown to be bisexual as she has feelings for both Yukito, and her teacher, Kaho Mizuki, who appears later in the first season. Early on, we’re introduced to Sakura’s rival in capturing the Clow Cards, Syaoran Li, who comes from Hong Kong to capture the cards for himself. Initially Syaoran is shown to also have a crush on Yukito. But we eventually see he’s also in a relationship with another of Sakura’s rivals, the anime original character, Syaoran’s cousin and fiancee, Meiling Li. Characters in later season are also portrayed as gender fluid although I can’t go into much more detail about them in this review wihtout giving away major spoilers for later episodes. Even with how much freer anime is about media censorship than North American animation, many anime still unfortunately engage in a lot of problematic and out-dated stereotypes and jokes about LGBTQIA characters. Cardcaptor Sakura was inspirational for many young LGBTQIA anime fans at the time because of how unapologetic about it’s characters sexualities and gender identity, and was always very positive and reassuring about it.
The series has a large cast of characters that fleshes everyone out and gives even a lot of minor characters, like Sakura’s classmates and the various townfolk of Tomoeda, plenty of developement across the series. My all time personal favorite character has to be Meiling. She was a character CLAMP created as an anime original who wasn’t in the manga. I love Meiling because she starts off with a fiery rivalry with Sakura but as the series progress, they both start to get know each other better and become closer to each other, and how even when Meiling ends up being hurt through certain events in the series, she still has a deep friendship with Sakura. I also love how Meiling added more variety to the Clow Card actions scenes outside of Sakura and Syaoran’s magic powers. Although Meiling is part of the Li family, she has no magic of her own, but is able to hold her own ground through her martial arts skills she’s trained in since she was a young girl and she gets some pretty cool scenes, like when she fights against the Twin and Fight Cards. The series has a good balance of slice of life, fantasy adventures, and romance and comedy that can appeal to any type of fan. Some of my favorite episodes are when there isn’t much magical situations occuring but it’s just focusing on Sakura and her friends having fun for the day and you get to really know everyone better. Towards the end of the first season, they introduce a mystery plot where there’s’ a new character who is something of a threat to Sakura that she keeps havng dreams about, and everyone tries to figure out who the identity of this person in her dreams is tha adds a lot of supsense to the story.
Despite the anime being made by Madhouse in 1998, the animation still really holds up and it always looks beautiful, fluid, and detailed, and in many ways, it looks a lot better than a lot of modern anime. The soundtrack has a good mixture of both light hearted and bouncy music and more exciting dramatic tracks. The theme songs are also all fun and energetic and it’s easy to get the first opening theme song, Catch You Catch Me stuck in your head. I also appreciate how in spite of being a show aimed at young kids, the character designs never use any kid’s anime cliches like characters with ridicilous hairstyles and colors. With the expection of some of the more magical characters, everyone looks pretty believable but all the characters still have unique and distinct designs. One aspect about Cardcaptor Sakura that really stands out is Sakura doesn’t transform into one costume for the entire story like a lot of magical girl do. Instead, Sakura’s best frend, Tomoyo, designs all her costumes for her. So in just about every episode, Sakura will have a new magical girl costume to wear, which always gives the show a lot of variety over most magical girl anime and always keeps the show fresh. If you grew up watching Cardcaptor Sakura, I think it really holds up as one of the best magical girl anime shows, especially if you’ve never seeen the original uncut version of the series. If you’ve never seen the series andd you love magical girl anime like Sailor Moon, I also highly recommend it and it’s a series that I think still has a lot of fresh appeal to anime fans, even though the anime is 20 years old now.
Even if you don’t normally watch magical girl anime, if you want to see an example of one of the best shows in the genre, you can’t go wrong with a classic like this. The series launched the mainstream popularity of CLAMP in North American anime fandom who for years were some of the biggest manga artists aroun. CLAMP as a group are especially unique as they have a huge library of manga titles they’v’e brought to life over the years. They were really huge in North American anime fandom in the late 90s and they’re still well regarded by a lot of fans today. Cardcapor Sakura is a good introduction to their work and I give it a five star rating and I highly recommend to all anime fans. Cardcaptor Sakura is licensed by NIS America and is available on DVD and Blu Ray and is available for streaming on Crunchyroll and VRV. You can also purchase it digitally on iTunes and Amazon Prime.