More than anything, Cardcaptor Sakura was my personal childhood-defining Magical Girl franchise. Utilizing the theme of love and kindness as the driving point behind main character Sakura’s quest, Cardcaptor Sakura was a good-natured show notable for its open-minded idealism. It supported people with different viewpoints and social status as individuals equally worthy of love and friendship. It showed us even the most hardheaded folks were capable of kindness. Importantly, it told us befriending people is far better than carrying resentment and bitterness. Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t just approachable, it was cathartic. Twenty years later, it’s back with a full-fledged sequel titled Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and if the first episode is any indicator, it has all the bells and whistles we’ve come to love even if it mimics its predecessor beat-for-beat.
Years ago, 4th grader Sakura Kinomoto found a magical item called the Clow Book. Inside, it contained the elusive Clow Cards, each of which represent a specific element, item, or concept (i.e. Windy, Watery, Shield, Illusion, Flower, etc.) that can be activate a specific power upon command. Sakura accidentally unleashed the cards when she opened the book, spreading them throughout her sleepy hometown of Tomoeda. The book’s guardian, Kerberos (nicknamed Kero), chose her to collect all the cards before they could wreak havoc. Over the course of her mission, Sakura met new friends and challenges that strengthened her magic and her resolve. Eventually, she sealed all the cards, becoming their new master in the process. At the start of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, Sakura is now a 6th grader just starting out in middle school. Everything is normal until she receives a prophetic dream that alters the cards, transforming them into clear blanks. Sakura must now secure the new Clear Cards as well as solve the mystery behind this new phenomenon.
Watching the first episode of Clear Card, I was instantly struck with overwhelming nostalgia. Never has a show mirrored its predecessor so closely in terms of production and narrative value. It’s a miracle the original staff reunited twenty years later and downright amazing that they haven’t lost their touch since. Madhouse returns to animate the show, coating Clear Card with familiar soft tones and gorgeously drawn costume pieces. While it’s obvious the show is the product of two decades worth of improved animation, it’s uncanny how closely they match the original anime’s visuals. The voice actors return to reprise their roles, the music uses the same whimsical synth piano-and-flute set, and there’s even a new Kero-Chan’s Corner (now labeled Kero-Chan’s Eat Till You Drop.) The whole thing looks, feels, and breathes like the original and fans will find plenty to love right off the bat.
Clear Card‘s unwillingness to change means it lacks ambition though. Sakura and company may have the benefit of character growth and experience, but the series is quite comfortable with the nest it built for itself. It’s too early to say if Clear Card will stray off the straight and narrow path, but those who wanted a different flavor of Cardcaptor Sakura won’t find it here. It’s also a series that won’t make any sense for newcomers. They’ll be able to piece out the premise based on its archetypal storytelling, but the heavy continuity and references might confuse beginners unless they breeze through a Wikipedia summary. Twenty years is a long enough gap that revisiting familiar grounds for fans may ease any shortcomings – I sure don’t mind seeing more of the same – but if Clear Card ever tries to spice up the show sometime in the future, then it’ll be all the better for it.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card may be a retread at the moment, but it’s obviously filled with love. It captures everything that was charming and hopeful about the original and for now, that may be more than enough. We’ll see if the show is willing to leap off the kiddie pool and into unknown territories overtime.