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The Average Episode of Cardcaptor Sakura is Better Than 99% of Anime

(This post is part of a series of posts covering Christmas-themed anime episodes. For more posts like these, check out the 12 Days of Anime tag.)

Now, let’s get this straight. I love anime but Cardcaptor Sakura is in a whole league of its own.

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Cardcaptor Sakura is my favourite iyashikei anime. Watching any given episode from the series is guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Even if most episodes contain some element of action or drama, there’s something so fundamentally warm and cuddly about each and every character that it’s impossible not to see it as a healing anime.

The Christmas episode (episode 35) caps off the first season of Cardcaptor Sakura with a nice emotional highlight and some breathtaking scenery. The actual plot of the episode is as vintage Cardcaptor Sakura as you could get. There’s some cute slice of life stuff, which is interrupted by the appearance of a Clow card that Sakura and Syaoran must work together to capture. Then things settle down with some appropriately heartwarming moments.

It’s hard to put into words the way I feel when I watch a CCS episode. I’m sure on paper it must seem like the dullest thing on the planet. Aside from a few particular standouts, most of the episodes feel very routine. But as any fan of iyashikei will tell you, that’s the entire point. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

I rewatched the entirety of Cardcaptor Sakura earlier this year, so the whole experience is still fairly fresh in my memory. This time, though, I found myself paying more attention to the visuals, which CCS excels at (particularly for its time). Just observe some of these lovely key images:

vlcsnap-2014-12-15-10h27m33s65vlcsnap-2014-12-15-10h28m54s119With just a few key shots, CCS evokes the magic of Christmas, even if the characters and dialogue don’t really make a big deal of the event. For Sakura, it’s a special day, not because it’s Christmas, but because she spends it with Yukito. There’s a sense of understatement and quiet satisfaction to the ending of this episode, and I personally think it’s appropriate. It hints at there being a lot more to come.

This all makes sense when you place the episode in the larger context of what is happening in the story. Sakura is still having recurring dreams about her trial and is only just starting to recognise her teacher in the dream. That entire plot thread is still unresolved at the end of the first season.

Then there’s the beginnings of a love triangle between Sakura, Syaoran and Yukito – or rather, the dynamics of their pre-existing love triangle is starting to shift. Sakura and Syaoran have crushes on Yukito and they both make their affections pretty clear to the audience in this episode. But since they both seem to know deep down that neither of them have a chance with Yukito, they don’t fight each other over it at all. They express their puppy dog love by simply being happy that Yukito humours them by spending time with them on Christmas.

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But while Sakura and Yukito have remained more or less the same up until now, Syaoran is starting to charge. In this episode, he and Sakura coordinate their fighting tactics better than ever before, and plus we catch him blushing at Sakura a couple of times this episode. At this stage, he either doesn’t realise what he’s doing or just equates it with his attraction towards Yukito. Either way, it’s an unresolved thread that isn’t even discussed in this episode.

Above all, CCS (and CLAMP’s work in general, may I add) delights in celebrating the ambiguities in relationships. But regardless of ambiguities, of having feelings that can’t be easily described, the love and fondness these characters have for each other ring genuine and true. Perhaps that’s precisely what makes their relationships feel honest. And because of that, episodes like this one work. Here, we simply see yet another day in the lives of these characters and you get the sense that you know them better than they know themselves.

So in the end, this was a Christmas episode, but not a particularly outstanding one. And yet it’s still ten times better than most anime out there because the core writing in this series is just so strong and fantastic. If Christmas is supposed to be a day of emotional warmth and togetherness, then every day feels like Christmas day in the world of Cardcaptor Sakura.

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Posted on December 15, 2014, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. All my feels for Cardcaptor Sakura can’t properly be put into words. (But if they could, they’d probably come out something like the title of this post.)

  2. Dunno Froggy, I’m a fan of both iyashikei and the magical girl genre and I remember only being able to get through maybe a third of this show. I think I might grab the manga sometime for my next attempt.

    • That’s kind of interesting. I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of iyashikei or magical girls, but I do love Cardcaptor Sakura. One could quibble about it being iyashikei, but it’s definitely a magical girl series through and through. Maybe it’s one of those shows with a broader appeal that doesn’t necessarily satisfy hardcore fans of the genre? idk

      I hope the manga gels with you more, but it’s okay if you don’t like it :)

      • Well, when I call myself a fan of the magical girl genre, I mostly mean the post-Nanoha stuff that uses the genre as a canvas for more adventurous plots and settings with some cool action to boot (Madoka, Prisma Illya, this season’s YuYuYu and the like). I find it hard to maintain interest through generic monster-of-the-week shows, and Sakura seems to be mostly that at least throughout its first half.

        It is one of those stories that I’d like to get through at least for reference purposes, though.

  3. Considering this is probably the only anime I watched its 70 episodes multiple times (bordering on 4, I think), I’m mostly inclined to agree with this. Heck, I never fully rewatched an anime series, let alone 4 times….

  4. Usually, its hard to pinpoint the exact factor that makes a series of this kind better that the most resent ones. Especially in the storytelling of an event like Xmas. Its easier to just say “well, series from back in the day where better; had better writers; or just have this magic…”. I personally feel that, although all these points are valid, the clearest difference is the times.

    The changes in the culture from 10 or 20 years ago are changing what we write, what the audience care about, and what the publishers and animation companies are focusing on. The concept of what kids and young adults as audience may like had changed a lot. Now a days its just a lot of loud and super colorful stuff, or unnecessary flashy and sexual content calling for your attention with desperation. But maybe is just me getting old :(

    Well, at least we will always have great quality stories like these stored in our hearts.

    • You know, even though I prefer Cardcaptor Sakura over any of the children’s anime I’ve watched since, I never seriously considered the idea that children’s stories these days are fundamentally different from how they used to be. I’m sure there’s a bunch of kids these days who grow up watching stuff like Aikatsu, which is a plenty wholesome show.

      Still, Cardcaptor Sakura is a timeless classic for a reason! I hope kids in the future will still find stuff to like about it, just like I found plenty of classic children’s literature appealing as I was growing up.

  5. THE SECRETS OF THE CLOW

    WERE ALL A MYSTERY

    I’ve watched CSS twice. Once when I was young, and again when I first got into anime and found out the dubbed version was completely wrong and terrible! Though that theme song was pretty great. Those early days were good. Great show, makes me nostalgic. I can easily see why it’d be a favourite of yours. I never would have thought ‘healing anime’ but I suppose that actually fits well. In the same way I’d consider Kyousougiga or AnoNatsu healing anime just because watching them makes me happy. Iyashikei is good for the soul.

  6. I’ve been holding this off so long! Perhaps I should get started next month…

    I have seen the first movie many, many years ago, but that’s it. I remember enjoying it.

    • I hope you’ll like it! CCS is more focused around romance and relationships than your typical slice of life show about cute girls, but it still has the warm, fuzzy atmosphere that you seem to enjoy in anime.

    • The first movie is kind of generic anime to be honest, it’s not BAD but isn’t really a CCS movie as such. I definitely recommend the entire TV series followed by the 2nd movie though. :)

  7. Awww, a Cardcaptor Sakura post. Just looking at the screencaps warms my heart. It’s definitely a very honest series, as you put it. I think my favourite part of the show (aside from Syaoran of course) was just how it wholeheartedly encourages the idea of an all-encompassing love and care for others.

    Ugh, I’m so happy I marathon-ed the shit out of this a couple of months back. So much nostalgia, so many good feelings. Thanks again for the post, Froggy!

  8. Ah, good memories! CCS remains my top shoujo pick (not that I watch too many of these) but I return to this series time and time again for the very reasons you’ve mentioned here. It’s got a lot of heart, good characterization and some very good writing.

    • Yay! I’m glad to hear you like the series too. It’s such a timeless classic – you definitely don’t need to be into shojo or magical girls to like it. (I’m not really into either genre myself, tbh!)

  9. The German Maverick

    CCS was one of the few anime shows that were aired in the western hemisphere, I have to say that as most of people CSS is part of my childhood (Just Like Digimon, Pokemon before the seasons became infinite, Yu yu Hakusho, etc…)

    I guess this anime is as you described; “An anime full of heartwarming moments” I really liked it when they aired it on TV, unfortunately, i never watched the entire series. But now that i’m older I still have some memories about CSS and I have to say I don’t have desires of re-watching the series.

    I do like romance-shoujo manga and anime but I think that now I’ll feel the series a little too cheesy. Still, great anime that brings me back childhood memories.

  10. Other than the 2nd movie I will never review CCS in detail. It is a show where I do not want to peer behind the curtain to find out what makes it work. I am simply happy that it does.

    • There’s a magic to CCS that just makes you want to sit back and admire it and enjoy the ride, yep.

      What makes the 2nd movie different to you, though?

      • The 2nd movie is a relatively rare beast: a movie of a TV series that doesnt even TRY to accommodate new viewers.

        The Sealed Card is utterly dependent on TV series continuity and if you haven’t seen the TV series you’ll be completely lost.

        If you have seen the series, you get the perfect capstone for the entire franchise, and that piqued my writing interest.

        (For a counter example look at the wonderful Oh My Goddess movie which IS accessible to new users but acknowledges canon in a clever way that appeals to knowledgable viewers).

  11. Cardcaptor Sakura is simply fantastic. Watched it twice and it’s likely that I will rewatch it several more times. Though, It’s really hard to get others to get interested in Cardcaptor Sakura.
    Something that is really admirable of this series is the same-sex relationships. That is an incredibly bold move especially during the time it was produced in and the genre of the anime. Hell not even Neon Genesis Evangelion could have presented same-sex relationships so freely and that anime was designed to be different and strange.
    I find it hard not to question 10 year old’s falling in love with 16 year old’s. Why is it that Japanese anime treat romantic relationships as such a commonplace thing at such young ages? Here in the UK most people don’t get into more serious romantic relationships until they are in college…

    • The thing is with the CCS anime is that Sakura and Syaoran’s crush on Yukito is just presented as puppy love, so it’s not as questionable. But some of the other relationships in the series are just plain bizarre, especially in the manga. Rika’s love for her teacher actually seems reciprocated in the manga. Part of it’s a cultural thing, but it’s also definitely a CLAMP thing. They really have a fondness for unconventional romances. (Chobits is probably their most bizarre work in that regard.)

      Anyway, thanks for the comment! Always great to come across another CCS fan!

  12. I’m glad I watched Card Captor Sakura when I’m a little older because now I could appreciate the nuances and the subtle things more. There’s a lot of good things to say about Card Captor Sakura but I’ll do that when the appropriate time comes.

    And the Christmas special is just a little extra special. :3

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