Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Is Not for New Fans

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Despite nearly twenty years of being off the air, Cardcaptor Sakura returned with its sequel series, Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card. While fans of the original series can reflect on and enjoy the aspects of familiarity found in Clear Card, new fans might struggle to catch on.

The original Cardcaptor Sakura series—based on the shōjo manga by the esteemed manga group CLAMP—aired from 1998 to 2000 and followed the story of Sakura Kinomoto, an elementary school student who discovers that she has magical powers after unintentionally freeing a set of magical cards that had been sealed away for years. One of the guardians of the Clow Cards, Keroberos, tasks Sakura with retrieving the cards to prevent the onslaught of calamity upon the world.

Nearly twenty years after the first series ended, Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card picks up some time after with Sakura in middle school. Similar to the start of the original Cardcaptor Sakura, Clear Card begins with Sakura having a prophetic dream about the Clow cards. In her dream, the cards she collected suddenly become blank. When she wakes up the next morning, the cards appear as they did in her dream. Sakura is once again forced to recapture the cards, only now, the cards themselves have changed with The Windy becoming The Gale. 

During the first few episodes, it's difficult for fans of the franchise not to be moved by nostalgia. Madhouse, the studio who animated the original series, returns to give fans an identical style of animation with nearly two decades of improvement to the familiar tones and Sakura’s intricate costume designs. The original cast reprise their roles, and the music maintains the same magical-girl charm through recognizable piano melodies. 

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card sticks to its routes in regards to having a simple narrative arc for each episode. Like it’s predecessor, each episode focuses on Sakura capturing the Clow Cards and harnessing their power. The new series does not take any early risks by straying from what fans loved about the original style, but since so much has changed for the characters of the series, it doesn't have to. 

By the end of the first episode, Syaoran Li—who had left for Hong Kong at the end of the original series—has returned, and while there is certainly a familiarity that appeals to viewer’s nostalgia, it's more complex than that. The new season is intentional with how it uses aspects of the past to show the audience that things are different now, no matter how comparable they may seem. For example, when Syaoran Li and Sakura are reunited, the musical score is “Platinum” by Maaya Sakamoto, which was the final opening theme to the previous series. The callback is recognizable to older fans who now have the chance to revisit the series, but it also shows how things have changed. The dynamic between Syaoran Li and Sakura is more complex now that they are older. With their feelings for one another no longer a secret, it could potentially complicate matters going forward. 

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That said, the nuance of Sakura’s relationship with Syaoran Li may not work with fans unfamiliar with the first Cardcaptor Sakura series. Even with a basic understanding of the plot, the complex relationships between not only Sakura and Syaoran Li, but all the other characters who still hold a strong presence in Sakura’s life are not presented with any explanations for new viewers. Without seeing them in their formative phases, it might be difficult for a new audience to appreciate the dynamics. Even Keroberos struggles to summarize the events of the first series at the start of the first episode, and without any prior knowledge, understanding the new series on its own may prove to be off-putting to unfamiliar viewers.

Even fans of the original series may have to go back and refresh their memories before taking in Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card because so much happened in the original arc. The plot of the original show was so intricate, with such a variety of characters, that some confusion on the viewer’s part is understandable. That said, it would slow down the show’s pacing if the new series spent too much time trying to establish what took the original 70 episodes and two movies to create. While new viewers can catch on quickly to the monster-of-the-day format and the basic plot of the show, the nuances and complexities of character relationships will be hard to follow without understanding how those characters got to where they are now.

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While Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card has a lot to offer viewers familiar with the original series in both its callbacks to what they already know and love, and its new, more complex dynamics between characters, it may have a hard time capturing viewers new to the anime. However, with its stunning style and engaging characters, it would be hard for newcomers not to look back at where the series started, and go from there.