CLAMP was inescapable in the ’90s and ’00s. The manga supergroup created series targeting every demographic: Angelic Layer for the shonen battle crowd, Chobits for older men, OG isekai Magic Knight Rayearth for adventuring girls, and X/1999 for all us goth kids. Among their huge resume is Cardcaptor Sakura, a magical girl series featuring extravagant battle costumes and a “gotta catch ’em all” gimmick. It was incredibly successful, running for 12 manga volumes and spawning, 70 anime episodes, and two movies. The story was resolved with a bittersweet conclusion in March 2000, and I never really expected CLAMP to return to the series proper (putting the xxxHOLiC and Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE craziness aside). Clear Card is a direct sequel to the events of the original anime series, but I remain undecided whether its existence adds anything worthwhile to characters’ stories.
I read the comic when it was released as floppies by MiXX (now Tokyopop) and was immediately enamored with the art and frilly dresses. Clear Card delivers on that in spades. Sakura’s battle costumes are more extravagant than ever but all the petticoats can’t hide what’s missing. The plot is very simple and small developments are doled out sparingly over the course of 22 episodes. Perhaps even more disappointing is how similar the clues to the overarching story are a facsimile of the previous series. Sakura has captured two decks of cards by the time she’s entered middle school, maybe it’s about time a plot was introduced that didn’t involve her getting into monster-of-the-day scenarios to capture cards again?
The series centers on Sakura’s cards suddenly appearing blank only for magic to run amok in Tomoeda again. In each episode Sakura figures out a way to capture the offending card, which all happen to be slight variations on her previous deck. For instance, Watery becomes Aqua, Fiery becomes Blaze, etc. Sakura also returns to familiar locales, including the Aquarium and Penguin Park on her new quest. Tapping into viewers’ nostalgia for the older anime is expected, this is an “anniversary series” after all, but the references are rarely fresh or clever. This is more akin to “remember this thing, here it is again” and that statement can be applied to almost every aspect of the show itself. Where it deviates and excels is Sakura and Syaoran’s relationship.
Relationships are a hairy topic in Cardcaptor Sakura. The original series played fast and loose with what constituted a healthy romance. Audiences were greeted with love of every kind but in CLAMP‘s attempt to be inclusive they also threw in a teacher in his 20s’ engagement to a “mature” 10-year-old Rika and similarly a former female teacher Kaho Mizuki dating a middle school-aged Touya. Both Rika and the teacher are, perhaps intentionally, absent from Clear Card. Rika is attending a different middle school than the main cast while Mr. Terada is no longer the kids’ teacher. Kaho is also sidelined to Europe but she still plays a minor advisory role to the cast. The problematic relationships aside, Sakura and Syaoran’s young romance takes the center stage. The original series ended with Sakura realizing her feelings for Syaoran, only for him to hop on a plane back to Hong Kong. In the new series he’s returned and the two begin feeling out what it really means to be a “couple.” Sakura has grown from the timid girl that holds back her feelings to more self-assured. She and Syaoran go on a real DATE even. The whole thing is still very chaste. The couple’s central conflict is, like all new couples, centered on communication. Syaoran is actively hiding information from Sakura about the latest threat and appears to be taking on an overwhelming amount of stress behind the scenes; stress he won’t share with Sakura.
Another wrinkle is the introduction of transfer student Akiho and her “guardian” and butler Yuna D. Kaito. There’s a connection between her, Kaito, a talking stuffed rabbit and the craziness happening around Tomoeda. As an addition to the cast, Akiho doesn’t bring much to the table. She’s the quintessential “princess” type strained through Cardcaptor Sakura‘s particular brand of sweetness. The series has never had any villains in the traditional sense; there’s conflict but nothing is ever presented as evil. Likewise Yuna D. Kaito seems nefarious but his, Syaoran, and Eriol’s motives remain a mystery by the end of the series.
Oh, that’s right. While we know Akiho and Yuna D. are instrumental in what is happening with the plot, the manga isn’t completed yet so the anime ends on a complete cliff hanger. It seems inevitable that a second season will be announced eventually, but for now audience is left with an incomplete version of the whole story and an unsatisfying capping point as well.
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card brought back some of the magic I loved from the original. The art is beautiful throughout, the costume designs are amazing, and I was able to revisit characters I adore. Unfortunately the story as a whole seems little more than a retread for nostalgia’s sake. It recycles the previous formula with little flair or creativity only to end in the middle of its major plot arc. With no ending in sight, it’s difficult to recommend a series in such an incomplete state.