As you can probably tell by now, Cardcaptors is one of my top favorite animes of all time. I can honestly say that’s probably one of, if not the, best magical girl anime out there. It was one of my first animes as a child and one of the first mangas I picked up, so I’m sure you can understand how intensely excited I was for the new Clear Card arc. After almost 20 years, Sakura Kinomoto and all her friends and magic cards were going to come back for a new, modern story made for both nostalgic fans and a new generation of young girls. I’ve tried to keep my hype in check because I know how things things go most of the time. You get super hyped over something and then it just kind of lets you down, that’s just how new anime/media releases are. I knew already from the manga that it probably wouldn’t meet my nostalgia expectations, but when the anime started I was surprisingly confused on whether or not I liked where CLAMP was going with the series.
If you don’t know already, the Clear Card arc follows Sakura Kinomoto as she transitions into middle school. It picks up where the last movie left off, with Li returning from Hong Kong to join everyone for a new school year. All of our favorite characters are back with minimal changes. In the beginning, the magic front has been pretty quiet to the point where Sakura is considering putting away her key. But things quickly change when she begins to have weird dreams about a hooded figure trying to steal her magical key. Her Sakura Cards then become unusable, her key changes into something new, and new cards begin appearing around town. Sakura, Tomoyo, and Li must once again collect all the new Clear Cards.
One of the aspects I was most excited for with this series was the return of many of the voice actors from the previous series and a return of much of the same music. I am glad that they went this route. I feel like for fans of the series, it can be hard to hear a different voice than you’re use to play an iconic character from your past. It’s one of the reasons I can’t watch classic Toonami shows in anything but their English dubs. I love the Japanese voice actors in this show, and I’m glad they were able to return for the new series. They definitely do a great job of bringing out the personalities and mannerisms of the characters. From Sakura’s cute noises to Tomoyo’s calming atmosphere to Kero-chan’s Osaka accent, it really adds to the detail of the show while making sure old-time fans stick around. With the addition of the original opening and ending artists returning, it really brings back the feel of a classic Cardcaptor show.
The big improvement to the show is the quality of animation. I still love the style of the original series, with its very dated but classic face designs and expressions. However, the new animation does add a lot to the show especially when it comes to the addition of 3D. The 3D animation works well with the appearance of the Clear Cards, the dream world, and Sakura’s staff twirl animation. The character designs are polished and the backgrounds are pretty solid. The one problem I have is the hazy film over most scenes, giving it a very shoujo-esque feel to the show. It mutes a lot of the colors and makes it seem like everything is happening in a nostalgic dream world. I see this all the time in shoujo animes, especially romances, and I think they are primarily used to create a softer/nostalgic tone for the story. The problem is that anything used in excess can become a downside.
However—the big however—Clear Card has some major problems that make it impossible for the show to ever surpass the original. For one, CLAMP winds up relying way too much on nostalgia to the detriment of their new story. Clear Card is packed with references to the old series, from pictures of Sakura’s costumes in the original series to a whole episode dedicated to the previous aquarium episode. It was at this point that it became clear that while the series is supposed to be a new and modern take on the old series, it wasn’t going to present its fans with anything all that new. I admit that I was drawn into the nostalgia for a while, but in the wider scope of the series it really wasn’t that good of a choice for CLAMP to include so many references, let alone copy a whole episode. It prevents this theory that the series could not stand on its own for new viewers and won’t be offering anything new to its older fans. The aquarium episode almost scene-for-scene copied the previous series, switching out Yukito for Li. Touya still works at the aquarium–a point Sakura brings up in a pretty tongue-and-cheek moment–and the action of the story plays out about the same. Kero, Sakura, and Li all reference the previous episode in order to beat the new card regardless of the fact that it is a different card and may react differently. It would have honestly been more interesting if they tried the old methods and none of them worked, making them come up with new ways to fight the card.
But it’s not only the nostalgia factor that hinders the show, it’s the fact that the story itself is constructed to down-play the suspense and action of Sakura’s magical girl scenes. I went back and watched a few episodes of the original again and was struck by just how much trouble Sakura had in collecting the cards previously, while in Clear Card it feels like each battle is over in a matter of minutes. With the Clow Cards, we had the overarching narrative that something terrible was going to happen if she didn’t collect the cards. We have interesting interplay between card abilities (Light and Dark, Wood and Rain, Big and Little) that create scenarios in would challenge Sakura to find new and innovative ways of capturing the cards. We also had cards that needed Tomoyo or Meiling’s help to beat, something that we hardly see anymore. It became a battle of both strategy and athleticism that really showed off Sakura’s abilities. With Clear Card, we get no large issue with the cards except for the mystery of the dream-person. Each battle is relegated to a few minutes out of a wider episode, and the interplay of the cards is minimal. In the Labyrinth/Snooze episode, I honestly couldn’t figure out a reason why those two cards would appear together other than the plot reasoning that Akiho needed to not be awake for this.
In that absence of a wider purpose behind her collection of the cards other than they’re there and it may lead to some discovery of who the mysterious person is, the sense of suspense and danger for Sakura and her friends is limited. In one scene we get a shot of Eriol and Ruby where Ruby is trying to convince her to go to Japan because she’s worried for Sakura’s safety. But for the majority of the episode–the majority of the series at this point–we have not had a moment where I’ve felt that Sakura was in any amount of immediate danger or even a moment where she was significantly challenged with the capture of a card or whatever other magic stuff may happen. We get random shots of Li looking worried and talking about something that may happen and the “right time” for something to be revealed but we never really get a hint of what that may actually be. My huge theory, based off the patterns I saw in the previous series is that Akiho is another reincarnation of someone in Clow Reed’s life who is either testing Sakura or wants the power of her staff for herself. I really hope I’m wrong, because it really shouldn’t be this easy to predict a plot.
The anime begins to read as less of a magical girl show and more of a romance/slice-of-life at this point. The action scenes are really short, there’s no significant struggle, and more and more of the plot is focused on Sakura and her relationship to her friends. I love this aspect of the series, I always have. Sakura and her relationship to her classmates and the other girls has always been a positive and supportive experience. No fights rooted in jealousy, no bullying, and even Meiling’s character arc ends with her becoming one of Sakura’s best friends. I love how this is carried over into this series, but I hate how they seem to be favoring this narrative over the magical girl elements that make the series so good. The draw of Cardcaptors is seeing what card would appear that episode, seeing how Sakura figured out how to capture that card, and seeing how she learned more and more how to wield her magic and figure out the unique uses of each card. Combined with the great character interactions and Sakura’s genuine care for her friends, it created a balanced series that any girl or boy could love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to watch the series, but I may have to go back and watch the original from time to time to really get back that feeling of excitement that is absent from this show. Please let me know what you think in the comments below. Are you enjoying the new series? If not, what annoys you about it?
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