The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card
What's It About?It's been seventeen years since the original Cardcaptor Sakura ended for readers, but only months have passed for the residents of Tomoeda. Just as Sakura prepares to enter middle-school alongside cousin Tomoyo and unexpectedly returned boyfriend Syaoran, she's haunted by strange dreams of a masked figure who shatters the Sakura Cards she worked so hard to claim as her own. What she wakes to find is even stranger: the Cards have been scrubbed entirely clean, reduced to transparent forms that prove puzzling even to guardians Cerberus and Yue. And so once again Sakura finds herself at the middle of another struggle against rambunctious magical constructs with only her companions and a new, improved wand to see her through this final quest to tame the Clow Cards.
Available November 14th for $10.99 from Kodansha, the follow up to CLAMP's classic series returns to English-reading audiences just in time to for the January premiere of Madhouse's anime adaptation of the same.
Is It Worth Reading?
Fans worried that Clamp might have forgotten exactly what made Cardcaptor Sakura such a formative reading experience for so many in the seventeen years since they last penned it can rest easy: Clear Card isn't some Tsubasa-flavored revamping. Nor is merely Cardcaptor as it was; it's Cardcaptor as you remember it. The art is as willowy and wispy as it ever, bursting with every romantic flourish and frilly embellishment that once lent the series its distinct storybook appeal. The cast has aged only weeks and still exude the same quirky, familial friendliness that made them so pleasant to follow. Even the plot remains the same: again a warp in the weave of the cards' magic turns them loose and again it falls to Sakura to round up the rebellious deck to keep order.
There's something comforting about seeing one of the most popular of manga of all time return so easily to form, even more knowing that with all Clamp has done since how easily it might have gone wrong. Yet it doesn't feel right to praise it when what it offers is also so safe. There are no surprises here, nor any sense that this was a story that needed to be told, as if even one member of Clamp felt it to be some kind of missing puzzle piece. It's certainly lovely to have the proverbial band back together, but after the ending of the original series it feels anticlimactic to have Syaoran move back to Tomoeda unannounced. And it's silly to burden Sakura with the exact same task once more. Even the cards seem so far like nothing more than upgraded versions of the older Clow and Sakura sets.
There's no call to make this continuation some dark and gritty reboot, not at all, but the team at Clamp had left themselves a perfect opportunity to expand on everything they'd built up to in the original Cardcaptor. So then why rush Sayoran back into the conflict other than to meet fan's expectations when they could have played up his absence and explored Sakura's reaction to the same? And why reduce Sakura to nothing but her wand when her arsenal might have lent itself to battles as beautifully constructed as they are illustrated? Because this is a gorgeous looking series, as pretty as anything Clamp has ever done: it's a shame that these sumptuous two-page spreads are wasted on battles so effortless they're solved by a simple incantation. A shame, too, that art this vital is paired with writing this cozy, this complacent. Nice as it's been getting reacquainted with Tomoeda something unexpected needs to happen soon, or else this series ends up proving as unessential as the cynics thought it was.
I can't say as I was desperate for a new Card Captor Sakura manga after the debacle that was Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. But Clear Card is here, and it's just as if the original CCS never left. Picking up almost exactly where the previous series left off, Sakura is now thirteen and starting middle school. Syaoran has just returned to Japan for good, her brother and Yuki are still best buds and in college, and Tomoyo is still totally creepy in her obsession with filming everything that Sakura does. (I imagine that the creep factor will be a rude shock to fans who were little when they first experienced the story.) Fortunately the student-teacher stuff does not appear to have transferred over from the first series, but it's early days yet.
This volume is very much set up for the story to come, and it does a pretty good job of it. We're reintroduced to all of the major players and reassured that time has not changed their personalities – they're older and more mature (in most cases), but still the same crew we knew before. Most significant is the upping of the romance between Sakura and Syaoran, who are very clearly in the middle school version of love. It's frankly adorable, and if Tomoyo would stop filming them being cute and happy together, it could become a very nice subplot.
The main plot is that Sakura, after an extended period of not having dreams, suddenly begins manifesting her powers again. There's obviously a new bad guy in town, and whether or not he turned all of her existing cards clear or whether it was a new defense mechanism built into the cards by Clow or some as-yet-unknown magician isn't yet known, but both are intriguing possibilities. Sakura, for her part, is more alarmed by the changes than anything – she's willing to go back into card captor mode, but you get the feeling she'd be just as happy if it turned out to be nothing and she could just be happy with her friends. Tomoyo, of course, is ready with a new closet full of costumes, but Syaoran seems more perturbed by the new development. It isn't yet clear if he knows something more (although Eriol almost certainly does), but he appears to be taking this a little more seriously than Sakura is. Of course, that could just be his personality, but it's still something to keep an eye on.
With CLAMP's usual gorgeous artwork that plays with page layout and panel shape and form, this is just as visually appealing as the original, with the added bonus that time has refined their style. If you're a CCS fan, this should be right up your alley, though if you've never read it, you should be aware that Clear Card is very much a sequel, so I wouldn't jump into the franchise here.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card volume 1 picks up after the previous series' bittersweet happily-ever-after ending and opens the characters up to more action, more danger, and more heartbreak. Nonetheless, this volume is slow to build up to the new magical mission Sakura finds herself on. Initially, it seems like all is well, as the characters have grown up (slightly) and moved on with their lives—even with Kero the magical guardian just hanging out with the Kinomotos, as well as other reminders of their magical existence. Every major and important secondary character has at least a moment or two to show off how little they've changed in the years since the original. Of course, only months have passed in-universe, and the transition is seamless. The original audience has certainly changed, though, and while this sequel series is aimed at a new generation of manga readers, it presumes a level of familiarity that may be beyond their capabilities unless they started by picking up older volumes. (The recap that opens the volume dumps an awful lot of complex details at once and may prove overwhelming.) Readers of the original have long since outgrown the characters, but there's a certain sense of nostalgia that permeates the new series. So while there's something there for both old and new readers, the series struggles somewhat to entirely aim itself at one audience or the other.
Clamp's artwork is always top-knotch, and this volume is no exception. From their trademark character designs to highly detailed and lush backgrounds, every panel is practically a work of art. The magical action, though brief in this volume, is dynamite, and is often spread over several pages. While some mangakas' art styles evolve over decades to the point of being almost unrecognizable, Clamp, being a group of artists, seems able to recreate their late 1990s style (itself different from their earliest style) with ease. It truly seems as if the series never ended.
Cardcaptor Sakura certainly didn't need more manga, but Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card volume 1 offers plenty of whimsy for nostalgic fans. Readers who are new to the series will find themselves lost, although it's not completely inaccessible to people unfamiliar with the decades-old original. The first volume of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card offers gorgeous visuals, heartwarming character interactions, and an intriguing new mystery, but its slow pacing makes it less enjoyable so far than the first series.
Cardcaptor Sakura debuted during the height of CLAMP fandom in the U.S. The series highlighted the factors that made the manga creators beloved by young female fans, including myself. The highly detailed character designs, a nuanced eye for feminine fashion designs, and a romantic story that resonated with my 13-year-old self. The only comics I'd been exposed to up to that point were Marvel and DC superhero stories, newspaper funnies, and Archie. Imagine my excitement at buying (flipped) floppies that looked girly. It's with that same excitement that I cracked open Clear Card Arc, a 20-year follow-up to the original.
Only it wasn't really the same.
It's strange, because all the parts are there. Sakura's frilly costumes, Tomoyo's playful voyeurism, Kero eating all the sweets, and plenty of sweeping, dramatic artwork. I can't quite put my finger on where the magic was lost but if I had to take a guess, it's somewhere between aging out of the target demographic and how clinically clean all the artwork looks. Midway through the volume, it became apparent that this is a color by numbers Cardcaptor Sakura story except the characters are a smidge older. The old cards transforming into new cards after a mysterious dream is still the same old song and dance. Meanwhile, all the more questionable aspects of the characters have been sterilized. Maybe CLAMP doesn't want to indulge in the hints that fed shipping fans of the series anymore, but I got none of the same readings from Tomoyo, Yukito, or Touya that were present in the original.
Sakura seems different, too. While I fully welcome a less desperately demure heroine, having watched her come to terms with her feelings in the OAV and launch fully into public displays of affection was a head scratcher. New Sakura is head over heels for Li and has no issue making that known to him or around her friends. It's hard to imagine she's the same kid who would get nervous knocking on a door to bring her bro and his friend pancakes.
This volume has everything to entice older fans' nostalgia and is an easy enough starting point for anyone who hasn't read or watched the original. It wasn't the same magical experience I had reading my floppies 15 years ago, but it may be best to acknowledge that you can never really recapture that same point in time.
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