The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card
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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ?
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I was never a huge fan of the original Card Captor Sakura anime, and then Tsubasa truly soured me on it. That's why this new show is such a nice surprise – it brings back the feel of CLAMP's magic-using girl (she doesn't transform, so she's technically not a magical girl) while getting rid of some of the more unpleasant aspects and the taint of Tsubasa. Largely it pulls this off by immediately bringing back Syaoran, whose tortured romance with Sakura became part of the issues of the previous series to use the characters. With Sakura and Syaoran quickly brought together and very firmly a couple, the story can leave out any will-they-won't-they romance aspects and get down to the business of focusing on the new and troubling cards that have emerged.
As the title suggests, those cards are clear, which at first also means blank. This works very nicely with the idea of the main cast being in middle school now, as it can serve as a metaphor for the growing up they'll have to do. While a blank card could simply be something waiting to be drawn on, a clear card implies that there's a transparency to the future ahead of the cast, and also that the powers the cards hold may be more straight-forward than their predecessors. Sakura's new key and phrase add to the notion that these new cards are something more than the ones she captured previously, as is the fact that neither Kero nor Yue seem at all informed about what's going on. It really is a brand new start for the characters and for viewers who are likely returning to old friends.
That said, you do need to have read the entirety of the original Cardcaptor Sakura manga to be fully ready for this series. It picks up pretty much right where the final volume leaves off, and this episode follows the new Clear Card manga very closely. That's a good sign that this is going to be a truer adaptation than the original show was. It also looks really good – the character designs capture more of CLAMP's aesthetic than almost any other adaptation of their work does, the animation is fluid, and the color scheme shifts with the mood seamlessly. This is a gorgeous episode, and one that helps to renew my enthusiasm for the characters and their story, a cool breath mint to take the taste of Tsubasa out of your mouth.
A few months ago, I gave the Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card manga a test run for our Fall Manga Preview Guide. You can head over there to get my full thoughts, but I wasn't particularly impressed with the first volume. It felt very much like a rehash of the original Cardcaptor Sakura plot beats: a dream of a dangerous enemy, new wand, and new cards to collect, which is about what the original did at its midway point when it switched from Clow Cards to Sakura Cards. A slightly more mature Sakura was a bonus even if the story didn't feel very fresh.
The anime's first episode is almost a frame-by-frame adaptation of the first volume, so logic says the two medium's scores should mirror one another. But they don't, and that's because there's something about the translation of CLAMP's gorgeous still frames into movement that makes it immediately more captivating. Everything is more lush, more gorgeous, softer, and reminiscent of the original anime's charm. I really could have cried during the opening sequence. The costume design is friggin' gorgeous, and I hope I see it cosplayed everywhere. Sakura's in-series costumes, supplied by her doting best friend Tomoyo, were one of the big appeals of the main series and early CLAMP works in general.
I'm not entirely convinced that the episode's somewhat hurried pacing is quite right. I think the directorial choice to get right to the action instead of leaving off on a cliffhanger isn't giving the individual moments enough room to breathe. The episode also isn't as accessible to newcomers as it could be, even with the short recap at the beginning. If it's been awhile since you watched the show, you might want a quick wiki refresh on Eriol and Yue, but their roles in the episode are minor so it's easy to glaze over that. The main thread of the story is otherwise easy to follow.
Madhouse proves once again that even after 20 years, they're still comfortable filling these magical shoes and bringing this story to life. The plot is still lacking in some originality, and I'm hoping there'll be more surprises up this show's sleeves than we see initially. Strap in folks, because this is a nostalgia ride you don't want to miss.
You know, some sequel series can't recapture the look, feel, and je ne sais quois of their predecessor after two years have passed between productions, to say nothing of the twenty-year gap that Clear Card is trying to close. But shockingly enough, Studio Madhouse has absolutely recaptured that CCS magic. Even if the soft texture of those 4:3 cels is missing and the music is just a little less soft-percussion-and-flute than the peak '90s childrens' anime soundtrack I remember, having nearly the entire staff from performance to production work back to continue Sakura's story has resulted in an episode that will deliver an uncanny sense memory for fans to recall exactly where they were when Cardcaptor Sakura first oozed its way into their hearts. (I was in high school, watching the subtitled DVDs of the series that the seller threw in for free when I bought the entirety of Fullmetal Alchemist on 13 singles off eBay.)
Apart from that powerful and impressively fulfilled nostalgia jolt, there's not much surprise going down in Sakura's world yet. Now that Syaoran is back from his trip to Hong Kong, like he'd never been gone (and he hadn't if you were only experiencing CCS through the anime, whose recent Clear Card Prologue OVA depicted Syaoran's departure just in time for him to fly right back for this premiere), Sakura's middle school days appear to be kicking off with a soft reboot of sorts, resetting all the cards she's collected back to zero and opening a brand-new chapter of destiny and intrigue. But despite the lightness on continuity and pursuit of a whole new story (that's suspiciously similar to the first one), this sequel still won't be friendly to newcomers. Even if it's starting at zero plot-wise, Clear Card still assumes familiarity with all the major characters, their secrets, and their relationships. For example, I've only seen about 30 episodes of the original series (some out of order), so I didn't know who Kero-chan's blue British doppelganger was, and Yukito's angelic alter ego was also a surprise to me. But I can easily google that stuff later (or watch the corresponding episodes on my Blu-ray set); not having this knowledge didn't affect my enjoyment of the episode or my understanding of its simple story.
Honestly, the low-ambition lead-in to the new plot is not the star attraction here. If Cardcaptor Sakura holds a special place in your heart, just seeing how perfectly this episode captures the extremely specific charm of that classic series, from the gentle pacing to specific '90s-style shot compositions to the familiar voice performances, all of it feels just like coming home again. Even the theme songs, despite having more modern pop production, do a great job of rejuvenating that classic feeling of the old OPs and EDs. This truly is the the triumphant return of Cardcaptor Sakura!
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