Book Report: Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Volume 1

Published January 19, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

And it’s another fast one!  Because this time I’ll be reporting on challenge #8, “A comic written or illustrated by a person of color.”  And my comic of choice was written and illustrated by not one but four Japanese women, the manga master-team known as CLAMP.  (This would also work for challenges #15, 18, and 19.)

Of course, in a way this is me cheating, because it was a no-brainer that I would be reading this.  A) I read almost every CLAMP manga translated into English and B) I follow Cardcaptor Sakura with an almost religious zeal.  (Though I admit I haven’t started watching the new series (based on this new manga) yet.  Largely because that will involve signing up for Crunchyroll, and I’m notoriously slow about signing up for new things, particularly if I have to pay for them.)  Actually, the only surprise about me reading this now is the fact that it was published almost a month ago, and I only found out a few days ago.  (Amazon failed me yet again!  They’re supposed to notify me every time a new CLAMP book is listed!  And yet I still only find them by browsing the manga shelves.  I think they’ve only actually notified me once since I signed up for those notifications like two years ago…)

The original Cardcaptor Sakura manga (and the television show and movies based on it) was back in the late ’90s, so this is a twentieth anniversary sequel, but it takes place soon after the original.  (Sort of.  I was really thrown off by the sight of Eriol-kun talking on a freakin’ smart phone.  Those hadn’t even been invented yet when the original series ended!  So it’s like…the entire world of the manga jumped over nearly twenty years and no one noticed…or something.)  CLAMP has been doing some direct sequels to finished manga lately (Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles (which starred alternate versions of Sakura and her love interest) and xxxholic both got them, and Wish sort of got a stealth sequel) so the appearance of a new Cardcaptor Sakura manga isn’t as surprising as it might be.  From watching the trailer for the anime, I thought it was just going to be a series-length adaptation of the second movie, but that certainly isn’t the case with the manga, though it does seem to be borrowing at least one theme from that movie.

All that aside, my basic reaction to this volume of manga can be summed up in one word:  sqeee!

*ahem*

Like I said, I am a zealous Cardcaptor Sakura fan.  What other reaction did you expect?

Anyway, for those familiar with the original manga, I’m glad to report that aside from the technological leap in personal communications, this flows nicely from the original.  There are a few details that felt a little off and I want to check on next time I have a chance (I’m pretty sure both members of Sakura’s family pretty much know everything, but they’re still hiding all the details, and Kero-chan goes into plushie mode whenever anyone walks into the room) but the characters are all behaving in just the same ways, and the art is still adorably perfect.  The manga is following the ending of the manga, rather than the anime, and I’m sure the anime is following its own ending, rather than that of the manga.  (Most of the ending is the same, but there are some crucial details that are very, very different, stemming from a difference in Eriol-kun’s motivation.  As is often the case in the anime adaptations of a CLAMP manga, the animated version was softened up a bit to make things a bit more palatable…though that actually made it worse for one character in the animated version…)

One moment that just about made me drop the book was a casual comment from Sakura’s father:  Yukito bought Sakura a little present and sent it home with Toya, and their father commented “oh, then he’s not staying over tonight?”  And all I could think, suddenly, was “Just how open are they?!”  And yet ol’ Fujitaka didn’t seem to understand what he was actually saying.  Blissfully ignorant and trusting, as always.  (For those unfamiliar with the franchise, let me explain.  Sakura’s older brother, Toya, and his best friend, Yukito, are officially more than just friends.  (And they’re both in college now, so for one of them to stay the night is not really normal for ordinary friends.)  Not that we ever see them doing anything (though I’m hopeful we’ll get a chaste kiss, or at least some romantic hugging) but both of them confirmed that the other was his “number one” in the same context that Sakura’s “number one” is her love interest, Syaoran.)

Now, for those unfamiliar with the original, let me tell you a bit about Cardcaptor Sakura.  In the first chapter/episode, the heroine, Kinomoto Sakura, discovers a mysterious book in her father’s library.  When she opens it, either the cards inside go flying out and disappear, or are already gone (depending on whether you’re watching or reading).  Then the guardian of the seal, Cerberus, emerges from the book, in the form of what looks like a plush lion cub with little white wings.  Sakura immediately decides to call him Kero-chan (which sticks, despite his initial complaints), and he explains that the book was supposed to contain the Clow Cards, magic artifacts of great power left behind by his creator and former master, Clow Reed, the most powerful sorcerer ever to have lived.  Reed, half-English and half-Chinese, created a new form of magic that blended European and Chinese magics, and traveled the world before eventually dying in Tomoeda (the region of Tokyo where Sakura and friends live) about a hundred years earlier.  Kero-chan has been waiting in the book ever since, but now that the cards have escaped, it becomes Sakura’s task to recapture them, because they can cause mischief (and in some cases serious harm) if they’re left alone.  The first arc of the manga/show is about her recapturing the cards, and the second arc is…um…I don’t think I can actually say much without spoiling things.  But it’s all really wonderful, and the manga was recently re-translated and re-released in massive volumes by Dark Horse, so if you like sweet, fluffy manga with beautiful art, definitely check it out.  (I can’t say whether the manga or the anime is better; I love them both.  The manga represents a considerably smaller investment of time, though.)

As this is the first I’ve in any way re-visted Cardcaptor Sakura since finally watching Sailor Moon, I want to now switch topics a bit to compare these two iconic magical girl shows.  Sailor Moon is probably the most iconic magical girl anime — and even if not, it’s certainly the one best known outside Japan — but Cardcaptor Sakura is definitely also iconic, possibly even on a comparable level, since they’re actually different sub-genres of the magical girl genre, as Sailor Moon literally created the magical girl team sub-genre, and Cardcaptor Sakura is a solo magical girl show.  So, obviously, the character dynamic is wildly different:  in Cardcaptor Sakura, there are fewer characters, so no one ends up getting short shrift, aside from secondary characters like the other students at Sakura’s school.  (Admittedly, some seasons of Sailor Moon were much better at sharing the limelight than others.  In part because the cast kept getting bigger and bigger, making it that much more difficult to give everyone her fair due of screen time.)  Setting aside that matter, there’s also a very big difference in scale:  in Sailor Moon, the stakes are high and the entire world could end up being destroyed if the Sailor Senshi fail, whereas in Cardcaptor Sakura the stakes are usually low, with very few incidents that could cause any serious harm to even the local area, let alone the world.  The corollary to that fact, of course, is that the brutal slaughter of the central cast that happened at the end of pretty much every season of Sailor Moon was thankfully not even an option in Cardcaptor Sakura.  (Seriously, the second-to-last episode of the first season literally killed everyone except Sailor Moon herself…and maybe Tuxedo Mask?  I can’t remember if he died in the second-to-last or the last.  Even Sailor Moon died in the final episode, only for the whole cast to be revived again afterwards.  I figure I can safely spoil that since they obviously all got revived since the show ran for five freakin’ seasons.  But when that first season initially aired, there must have been a lot of traumatized little girls after that second-to-last episode!  And yet they must not have gotten too many complaints, considering how often they returned to the formula of slaughtering the core cast and reviving them again.)

However, what I really want to talk about is the differences between the two heroines.  Tsukino Usagi, aka Sailor Moon, is definition of the ditzy schoolgirl trope:  she hates going to school, is terrible at all her subjects, no good at sports, is actually dangerous in the kitchen in the nonsensical way that you only see in anime, boy-crazy, whines a lot, and initially resists her new role as Sailor Moon, especially when things get dangerous.  Honestly, if it wasn’t for the innate charm of Mitsuishi Kotono’s performance (and the fact that she used basically the same voice as Excel in Excel Saga, which I absolutely loved), I’d probably hate Usagi.  Sakura, on the other hand, feels much more like a real person:  though she doesn’t always want to get up on time in the morning she likes going to school, she works hard in all her subjects (even the ones she doesn’t like) and gets decent-to-good grades, is a competent cook (but rarely does cook as her father does all the cooking in their house), has an innocent schoolgirl crush on her brother’s best friend (which eventually gets replaced by puppy love with Syaoran, of course), mostly only complains when her brother picks on her, and I don’t recall her ever particularly trying to get out of capturing the Clow Cards, although since it never got really dangerous, that’s not an even comparison.  Ultimately, Sakura is a much more mature character than Usagi, despite that she’s still in grade school when the story initially started, and as of the start of this third arc, she’s still a year younger than Usagi was at the start of Sailor Moon.  (And before you say anything, let me assure you that I totally fell in love with Sailor Moon, and have since spent an ungodly amount of money on merchandise.  So I’m not trashing the show here, or even trashing Usagi, as such.  Just noting that she’s actually a pretty bad role model in terms of character traits.)

In some ways, I feel like Sakura was designed as a counterpoint to Usagi (and any other magical girls like her).  Actually, scratch that.  I’m quite positive she was.  CLAMP often does their own spin on a genre, correcting many of its flaws in the process.  (For example, Chobits was their take on the “harem” genre, but in Chobits most of the girls surrounding Hideki were never interested in him in the slightest, and most of them are happily and naturally paired off with someone they really love by the time the story ends.  And while Hideki is attracted to the girls physically, his actual feelings are never purely physical.)  The anime rather supports my point, as there are a lot of cast members who were also cast members in Sailor Moon.  Admittedly, a show that ran for five years and had a lot of monster-of-the-week (to say nothing of victim-of-the-week) had a huge number of people providing voice work, but I’m talking about principle cast here:  Usagi herself has a small-but-recurring role as a shopkeeper (in whose shop several Clow Cards decided to hide), Sailor Mercury voiced Kero-chan, Sailor Uranus voiced Yukito, Sailor Chibimoon voiced someone named Akane (according to Wikipedia, but I have no memory of who that is off-hand; probably a classmate or other incidental character), Sailor Saturn voiced Sakura’s deceased mother (who appeared in flashbacks and as a (friendly) ghost), Jadeite (the first of many henchmen to set monsters-of-the-week against the Sailor Senshi) played Kero-chan’s true form, Ann voiced Supi-chan, Sailor Aluminum Seiren played Syaoran-kun’s mother (which sounds more impressive when you know that the seiyuu, Inoue Kikuko, has been in seemingly half the anime ever, and voiced roles like Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! (meaning that all three goddesses are in both Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, btw)), and I guess that doesn’t sound like all that many, considering the size of the casts involved, but it feels like a lot.  To me, anyway.  (Though Mitsuishi Kotono’s presence in Cardcaptor Sakura had always felt like a Maze:  The Mega-Burst Space thing previously, given that she and Tange Sakura (Sakura) and Seki Tomokazu (Toya) were the three primary leads of Maze.  And, of course, to be honest, I have absolutely no idea how much previous co-stars and previous roles have an impact on casting in new anime.  (With a few exceptions in parody-heavy anime like Excel Saga, which sometimes literally had special dialog based on a seiyuu’s previous work, like when Excel launched into Sailor Moon’s spiel, and then, when mocked for it, pointed out that she used to make a really good living from it.  And towards the end there was a Gundam bit that may have been influenced by the fact that Il Palazzo played Zechs in Gundam Wing and maybe even by the fact that two of Mitsuishi’s Sailor Moon co-stars played Amuro Ray (Tuxedo Mask) and Lalah (Luna and Queen Beryl).  (Yes, I’m weirdly obsessive about this stuff sometimes.  What’s your point?))

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Well, I’ve gone off on a bizarre tangent not actually related to the book, and it’s now past midnight (because yes, I did have to consult Wikipedia for that seiyuu tangent, though mostly checking for others; most of the actual cross-casting I remembered already) so I should probably just hit “publish” and go to bed.

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