My entry into the gorgeous, charming, feel-good world of Cardcaptor Sakura was the Clear Card arc of Winter 2018, twenty years before the original. Now that Netflix has notified me that the original is mine to watch in all its 4:3 late-nineties glory, I simply couldn’t resist.
That’s not to underestimate the scale of such an undertaking: the original series runs a cool 70 episodes split unevenly across two major arcs (compared to just 22 for Clear Card), but you’ll note that I didn’t say when I’d complete this task; just that I’d plan to. It will certainly take a while.
In a show hailed as quintessential Maho Shoujo anime for everyone, Kinomoto Sakura holds the same position among mahou shoujo heroines. If you don’t know her, know that what she lacks in academic ability she makes up for with athleticism, cheerfulness, and just generally being one of the most goshdarn adorable characters in all of anime, both in design and Tange Sakura’s fabulous voice.
It’s honestly pretty thrilling to watch Sakura’s origin story unfold in this first episode. It’s a tale simply and confidently told, and there’s a refreshing quality to the late-90s animation style—not to mention Sakura’s totally bodacious habit of rollerblading to school (something she’d sadly given up by high school). CCS’s production quality in its day was a large part of its wide appeal, and it holds up extremely well.
Sakura’s mom died when she was three, but she has a kind, loving archaeologist father and a big brother who, while a little antagonistic at times, clearly cares for her as well (he also has a best friend in Yukito, on whom Sakura has an innocent crush). She also has a best friend in the super-rich but kind videophile, Daidouji Tomoyo, who will get a more detailed intro next week.
What Sakura categorically wasn’t prior to this episode was involved in anything remotely magical. That changes in a hurry when she hears strange animal noises coming from her dad’s basement study, and encounters a glowing book full of cards. One of them is called “Windy”, and when she says the name, a gust of wind blows all of the other cards out of the house and into the vast outdoors.
While I’d hardly label Sakura an überklutz, it’s somehow appropriate that the genesis of her magical girl status was an innocent moment of clumsiness. When the magical creature who was making the noises presents himself to her as the tiny yellow creature Kerberus, we learn that he too was asleep at the switch, making this card-losing screw-up both their faults.
Kero-chan’s Osaka accent and general cozy casualness about this whole situation makes him as instantly endearing as Sakura herself. But now that Sakura has woken Kero up, her duty is clear: take up the mantle of Cardcaptor and, well, capture the Clow Cards.
It’s a wonderfully elegant premise that promises a vast and deep collection of clever monster-of-the-week stories that all coalesce around that central goal to re-complete the collection. The first card Sakura captures is “Fly”, which takes the form of an ornery bird she must both flee from and chase on her rollerblades…in her pajamas. That’s right, no fancy magical girl battle costumes as yet!
This process, like the next few capture missions surely will be, involves quite a bit of trial-and-error, which is to be expected, but Sakura’s pluck, determination, and heart means once she sets herself to the task, she doesn’t stop until she’s unleashed Windy, restrained and sealed Fly back into the card.
She then learns she can use Fly to…fly, which she does in a beautiful closing sequence that Kero-chan suggests is the beginning of a beautiful working relationship. Sakura on the other hand insists she hasn’t told Kero she’s not necessarily her girl for card-capturing going forward…bless her heart!
After a super-upbeat ED with what sounds like music from a Genesis-era Sonic game (not a bad thing!) we get Kero’s post-credit omake segment, in which he makes keen observations about Sakura’s wardrobe in the episode, among other things. I may have watched Bleach and met its small yellow mascot Kon first, but Kero-chan beats him in the head-to-head matchup every time.
The more cards Sakura collects, the more abilities she’ll have in her repertoire to capture still more cards. The dynamic of Sakura figuring out the best way to utilize those abilities with Kero’s help, as well as the inevitable Daidouji wardrobe supervision and clashes with the villain seeking the same cards, all figure to make this a yachtload of fun to watch.