The Cardcaptor Sakura anime premiered greater than 25 years in the past this month, and my insides are turning to mud simply eager about it. Primarily based on the beloved manga by artist collective CLAMP and animated by the well-known studio Madhouse (Loss of life Be aware, Monster), the TV adaptation debuted in Japan on April 7, 1998. It will go on to be dubbed into English, then renamed Cardcaptors within the West.
Cardcaptors turned integral to my after-school routine within the early 2000s. Racing dwelling, I’d dump myself in entrance of the TV to observe every new episode. Then, as soon as completed, I’d rewind the VHS on which I’d harangued my mom to tape each episode and watch it once more (this time to catch the ten minutes I’d missed whereas strolling dwelling). That tape is lengthy gone, however a quarter-century after its launch, Cardcaptor Sakura stays beloved—by me and by different followers; not a lot by my mom—for its enduring portrayal of youth and, extra pointedly, its revelatory queerness in contrast to something on TV on the time, all wrapped in a kid-friendly monster of the week package deal.
The sequence follows Sakura, a fourth-grader who lives along with her widowed father and teenage brother, Tōya. One night after college, Sakura by chance releases the seal on a ebook containing the magical Clow Playing cards, which home fantastical spirits that out of the blue disperse throughout the town. With the assistance of the ebook’s pudding-loving guardian, Keroberos, and her finest “good friend” Tomoyo (extra on that later), Sakura units out to catch and return the Clow Playing cards to the ebook, in an arc spanning 70 episodes and two characteristic movies.
Solely 70 episodes and two quick films isn’t a long term by Nineties mainstream anime requirements. But Cardcaptor Sakura grew with its pre-teen viewers in small, relatable increments. Within the face of the perpetual agelessness of Ash Ketchum, Cardcaptor Sakura provided a way of momentum throughout its series-long narrative. Most meaningfully, its story provided a extra grown-up different to anime out there to Western children on the time.
Although it tapped into pointedly ’90s tendencies, together with copious rollerblades—which 10-year-old me thought had been wicked-cool, although by no means cool sufficient to truly attempt—Cardcaptor Sakura by no means felt cynical. Its earnest tone was helped by Sakura not fulfilling the standard “Magical Lady” function, generally held by characters like Sailor Moon. She doesn’t struggle evil. Moderately, she eases stressed spirits in a method that mirrors her personal emotions of being a preteen: that of being out of the blue too younger and too previous.
“I didn’t need Sakura to be a Tremendous Elementary-College Lady,” Nanase Ohkawa, a member of CLAMP, stated in an interview revealed in CLAMP No Kiseki in 2004. “She will’t do every part; she struggles with math, and she or he does properly with bodily workouts. The whole lot she cooks is pretty easy, like okonomiyaki and pancakes, which may be essentially the most a standard fourth-grader is able to.”
This sense of genuine storytelling is aided by Madhouse’s monitor file of realistically proportioned paintings, which positioned Cardcaptor Sakura at odds with different modern anime. Faraway from the hyper aesthetic of similar-genre exhibits like Sailor Moon, the anime turned remarkably acquainted to fashionable viewers. Sakura could have battled magical beings at evening, however in the course of the day, life revolved round homework, baking muffins, doing chores, hanging out with buddies, and navigating first loves.
These relationships kind the core of Cardcaptor Sakura’s lasting attraction, whether or not it’s Sakura’s obsession with Yukito, her brother’s finest good friend and later boyfriend, or how sensitively the present handles Tomoyo’s unrequited romantic curiosity in Sakura. The present’s practical grounding helps drive dwelling its classes on the openness of affection in all its types—classes that stick with you even twenty years after first seeing them.
LGBTQ+ themes had been in no way uncommon in anime on the time, however Cardcaptor Sakura infused its entire being with the concept that love is love. Importantly, it did so whereas additionally making the transition to a much less permissive Western media.
In a Comedian Guide Assets piece from 2020, Anthony Gramuglia asserts how pivotal a non-heteronormative method to like was to the present’s central message. “That love exists no matter all different components,” he writes. “The sequence teaches its target market of younger ladies that love is aware of no bounds.”
By its narratives of fluid sexuality, exploration of gender, and the make use of of transgender, bisexual, and agender characters, Cardcaptor Sakura was doubtless the primary introduction many people younger viewers needed to non-stereotypical, sympathetic LGBTQ+ characters. For me, the present’s open queerness feels particularly necessary looking back; I grew up in a bigoted family, and embracing Cardcaptor Sakura was my first step towards shedding every part I ever subconsciously discovered from my household.
In an interview within the 2001 Card Captor Sakura Memorial Guide, Ohkawa spoke of the sequence’ various, accepting method to sexuality. “I needed a narrative with a protagonist who had an open thoughts in the direction of totally different household buildings, totally different varieties of affection, and totally different views from society,” she stated.
That’s not precisely emblematic of ’90s Western TV—which might be why that open-minded model of Sakura was solely seen in Japan. When adapting the present for Western audiences, networks tried to water down its portrayal of the complexity of affection. Episodes had been edited, reordered, and a few weren’t even proven outdoors of Japan—all to take away allusions to LGBTQ+ themes and align it with different sanitized imports, like Pokémon and Digimon.
“So ingrained had been themes of queer love that they managed to interrupt by the a number of layers of censorship.”
The networks couldn’t get all of these references out, although. So ingrained had been themes of queer love that they managed to interrupt by the a number of layers of censorship within the English-language dub, to keep up the Western Cardcaptors as one of many queerest exhibits on TV on the time. In any case, you may change the script, however the animation stays the identical.
Tōya giving Yukito his magic stays a remarkably tender second between two male-coded characters within the dub, even in 2023. Syaoran—Sakura’s classmate and crush—could not have been brazenly interested in Yukito as he’s within the Japanese unique, however he nonetheless blushed each time Yukito was close to him. And as a lot because the dub tried to color Tomoyo and Sakura as Very Good Associates™, it was clear, even in English, that Tomoyo harbored sturdy romantic emotions for Sakura.
“I nonetheless picked up on the queerness,” writes Shamus Kelly in Den of Geek, reflecting upon the sequence in 2020. “Indirectly, thoughts you. I used to be 9 years previous and nonetheless hadn’t had my first crush but. [But] due to Tōya and Yukito, I used to be ready to determine my sexuality in a protected method. I wasn’t afraid of the gradual realization that I favored men and women; I knew it was okay as a result of Cardcaptor Sakura confirmed it was okay.”
Cardcaptor Sakura was simply that: a welcoming, protected place. And whereas Sakura and Syaoran finally ending up collectively might sound to undermine the influence of the present’s queerness, Ohkawa was eager on followers not seeing it that method.
“I’m glad that the readers are completely satisfied that Sakura and Syaoran obtained collectively, however that anybody would suppose it’s as a result of they make [an obvious] couple… it’s slightly disconcerting,” she stated within the Card Captor Sakura Memorial Guide. “Sakura didn’t select Syaoran as a result of he’s a boy near her in age. If Syaoran had been a woman, if that they had been far aside in age, so long as he was nonetheless Syaoran, I believe Sakura would have fallen in love with him. It’d sadden me should you thought they’re a very good couple as a result of they’re [heterosexual].”
This declare isn’t made in performative hindsight, like, say, making Dumbledore homosexual years after the very fact with no textual reference. That Sakura might have ended up with Syaoran no matter who he was, and that any character might do a lot the identical in their very own relationships, was elementary to the present and to Sakura’s character—one thing even censorship couldn’t masks.
Nonetheless, Cardcaptor Sakura remained a threat, even within the extra permissive panorama of ’90s Japanese anime.
“I puzzled how the sequence could be obtained, because it ran in Nakayoshi [a long-running manga magazine aimed at young girls], nevertheless it was obtained higher than I anticipated,” Ohkawa stated in 2001, earlier than later including, “There could also be individuals who suppose that elementary college youngsters are incapable of that a lot maturity, however there are various youngsters who’re that clever, and endure for it.”
For all its recognition, Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t a seminal present within the grand scheme of the medium; it didn’t reignite curiosity within the waning Magical Lady style, nor did it shake up anime. However it was totally different. It by no means assumed incompetence on the a part of its younger viewers. It by no means claimed that we weren’t prepared for its classes. It instructed us issues had been altering, and that’s okay—it’s all okay. The whole lot can be okay.
Now, with the 25-year-old present streaming on Netflix (within the US, not less than) with a extra trustworthy (and gayer) dub, Cardcaptor Sakura can provide a more moderen technology the sense that sure, every part will be okay.