(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.
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:
With 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.
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.