The Spring 2019 Manga Guide
Card Captor Sakura: Collector's Edition
What's It About?Sakura Kinomoto is your typical ten year old. She loves her family (even her brother who really likes to tease her), she loves her friends, and she even really enjoys P.E. class. The only thing that might make her slightly abnormal is that she has been contracted to become a magical girl by a mystical entity in order to recover lost cards that contain monsters inside them. And even if this robs her of sleep, occasionally puts her in danger, and causes her best friend to make all kinds of silly and fun outfits for her, somehow her days stay just as normal and lovely as they were before.
Sakura eats, crushes on her brother's best friend, and generally finds all kinds of way to have fun while still doing her duty as a Cardcaptor. After all, childhood is fleeting. If one can't find moments of bliss amidst all the hardships (for Sakura did lose her mother when she was young), then time is being wasted. And if you're going to waste time, then you might as well do it in the most pleasant, fun way possible.
Cardcaptor Sakura is by the manga collective CLAMP. This collector's edition retails in hardcover-bound form for $29.99 and is published by Kodansha. Cardcaptor Sakura has also spawned a sequel manga called Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card and several anime adaptations, all of which are streaming on Crunchyroll and Hulu.
Is It Worth Reading?
It has been a long time since I read the original Cardcaptor Sakura manga, and I have to say, this is the format to do it in. Kodansha's collector's edition is a beautiful book – hardcover, oversized, glossy pages, and a translation that, but for mentions of things like pagers, feels nicely contemporary. For a $30 price tag I could wish that there were more color pages, because there's only the frontispiece, and that the included special card looked more, well, special, because not only is it just the size of a regular playing card (as opposed to, for example, a tarot card), but it's also just a plain old color image of Sakura with no foil, border, or anything. (Plus mine was slightly bent.) It's a gorgeous edition, but still a little disappointing on the “special” front.
As for the story, it holds up decently well. It's very much a product of the post-Sailor Moon magical girl boom, which included titles like Wedding Peach (1994), Phantom Thief Jeanne (1998), and Saint Tail (1997), meaning that it assumes familiarity with the genre and is mostly formatted to be a monster-of-the-chapter style story. What's really different about CCS, though, is that technically Sakura's not fighting monsters – she's collecting magical cards that, while they can do bad things, aren't actually evil. Essentially this means that the story is still getting its feet under it, and by the final chapter in this volume, the plot does feel a little thin. It is enjoyable, but there's a definite sense that CLAMP is still working out where they want to take the series overall. This is perhaps best seen in Tomoyo and Sakura's relationship – many people remember it as being defined by Tomoyo's crush on Sakura, but that doesn't come into play at all until the final chapter of this volume, with Tomoyo mostly appearing to have a crush on Toya, Sakura's older brother. This is retrofitted to be a facet of Tomoyo liking Sakura, but it feels hastily done.
At this point, the story doesn't really need the romance factor, and given what we learn about Sakura's mom – who married her dad while she was his student, at age sixteen – it almost feels like CLAMP is trying to be circa 1996 edgy with the romance in general. (Readers who remember will recall that there's a much more problematic romance on the horizon.) Cardcaptor Sakura is at its best in this book when it's about Sakura's ingenuity in capturing the Clow Cards while living her regular life. It's simple, but sometimes that really does work best.
I realized reading Cardcaptor Sakura that magical girl stuff is one of my biggest blindspots. I didn't grow up with it, didn't make a conscious decision to consume it when I started getting into anime and manga. And maybe it shouldn't be because, for what it was, I actually really enjoyed CCS.
Having only read the first volume of XXXholic before this, I didn't quite realize the spectacle that Clamp's artwork could be. It's striking, it's iconic, and it's beautiful. Though it starts out seeming a little uneven (lots of light line work that can leave character designs feeling a little unfinished, some panels are given more attention than others) it quickly comes apparent that CCS is making deliberate stylistic choices, choosing its moments of exquisite detail carefully and defaulting to cute, simplistic abstraction in the more simple, benign moments. It's not only the artistry itself, but the control they have over the expression of their manga that has always made Clamp a force to be reckoned with in the manga industry.
Though the narrative itself seems like it could get a little repetitive (helped by some surprising moments of tenderness towards the end of the volume), the imagination on display in the design and nature of CCS's various monsters and the inherent charm of its cast are what keep it afloat. Sakura is a fun protagonist, and her friends (her brother who has a relationship with her that does resonate as how siblings really act, her rich best friend who insists on getting recordings of monster encounters, the mascot character who actually has some pretty funny running jokes) make equally endearing impressions. And they have moments of grounded emotion and underlying motivations that are surprising, and work to make the main cast more than just sitcom archetypes.
Though of I have heard tell of some uncomfortable relationship dynamics that muddy the cute appeal (it's made clear in the first volume that Sakura's dead mother and her father started dating while she was still in high school and he was her teacher, for instance), it's hard to not let the charm and idyllic sweetness of CCS win you over. Though it is unquestionably simple, its heart is large, and its smile is, too. And at the end of the volume, there is even some interesting narrative foreshadowing that implies something deeper behind the fairly rote routine of walking around tone and finding another monster card. Either way, I'm happy and interested to read more, which I wasn't expecting at all.
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