CLAMP is a very well known and respected manga group with many adored titles under their belts ever since their debut in 1987. Dating from 1996, Cardcaptor Sakura is arguably one of their most loved works that sadly didn’t get the affection it deserved in the Western market. Not only did Tokyopop’s first translation of the manga meet with a mixed reception (flipping the pages to the Western left-to-right) but the anime was unsympathetically dubbed and severely edited to the point where no anime fan wanted to be associated with it, and neither did religious parents want their children watching the show, saying that the Clow Cards represented tarot cards. Although the manga was re-released in its original right-to-left format and the uncut anime hit shelves in American stores, both went out of print by 2006. Thankfully, following from the success of their omnibus edition of CLAMP’s other work ‘Clover’, Dark Horse has picked up other out-of-print CLAMP manga classics and published them in brand new super special omnibus editions, including this magical girl series, Cardcaptor Sakura.
The first omnibus collects the first three volumes of the twelve book series and covers half of the opening arc. When 10 year old Sakura Kinomoto discovers a mysterious book in her father’s basement one day, she awakens a magical beast named Cerberus (Kero-chan) who finds that the magical, yet destructive Clow Cards have escaped from the book. Using the key of the seal, Sakura becomes a Cardcaptor with the task of recapturing all the Clow Cards before a disaster is unleashed upon the world.
Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl story at heart; there’s no hiding the fact that the book is very girly, the routine of capturing Clow Cards can get a tad repetitive over time and the theme of ‘love’ common in these types of stories is prominent here. But this is not just any magical girl series, this is CLAMP’s magical girl series, as in the cream of the magical girl crop. While Cardcaptor Sakura does contain some clichés from the genre, there’s plenty that it does off its own back to create an original adventure; there are no transformation sequences, battles with the Clow Cards don’t happen in the middle of a crowd only for the onlookers then to conveniently forget what happened for plot convenience, and there are no side characters created for the sake of a one-shot story to capture a card only to be tossed aside later on. Everything about the plot benefits the whole story throughout and there’s no minor detail that hasn’t been thought about thoroughly. It’s cute and sugar-coated but the characters are so likeable that it doesn’t matter. The atmosphere of the manga is upbeat but doesn’t suddenly change to angst when Sakura struggles to catch a particular card.
Outside of the Clow Cards, the series has a strong focus on human relationships and various aspects of love. There are several relationships within this series that, if handled by a different mangaka or presented in another genre, could be considered controversial.These include the early developments of the same-sex relationship between Sakura’s older brother Toya and his classmate Yukito, and an engagement between a teacher and his young student. As the story is told from Sakura’s point of view, as well as through the eyes of her friends of similar age, there is a constant sense of innocence behind it all. As the whole series is sweet and pleasant, you’ll find it hard not to think ‘aww how cute.’
As I do not own the original Tokyopop manga, I cannot say how much Dark Horse’s translation goes as far as improvement is concerned. However from various sources on the net it seems that they use Tokyopop’s more recent translation (the superior version) re-edited to make the conversations flow more naturally. All characters keep the prefixes after their names and all sound effects are kept in Japanese with the English translations next to them. Overall, it’s an easy and delightful read.
As Dark Horse proudly announce on the back cover that “all the pages have been remastered directly from the original artwork”, it has a lot of weight to carry to impress the audience, which thankfully it does, as not only is the paper quality thick and fine but the art is nothing short of gorgeous. You feel as if you’re looking at CLAMP’s original drawings, as the detail in every panel is breathtaking. You could argue that CLAMP’s art has always been pretty and since this is a manga primarily aimed at girls, having beautiful pictures in the book shouldn’t be surprising. First of all, there’s the clothes. Sakura has an elaborate new outfit for every Clow Card she catches, designed by her friend Tomoyo. Every costume has specific details that are carried over from one panel to the next, from the length of the boots to the attachments on the head gear; everything is calculated and not going out of its way to show off the heroine in provocative way. This also carries over to the Clow Cards themselves; both the card designs and the symbols that appear beneath Sakura’s feet when they’re summoned are highly detailed, displaying elements from Western and Eastern mythology. Most of the Clow Cards are designed as women with long flowing hair and powerful attacks to match their beauty. The colour pages are also beautiful; in between each volume as well as at the beginning and end of the omnibus there are plenty of coloured plates on glossy paper. For every black and white image introducing chapter, you’ll find a colour alternative within the book, as well as new art to admire.
However, because of these extras, it’s heavy. This isn’t the kind of book you can slide into your bookcase or handbag easily, or read in long durations, as the weight can be a tad too much at times. Also, without care, you can get creases in the spine, which is not exactly attractive.
Cardcaptor Sakura may not seem like a book that will appeal to all audiences but its presentation and the high quality storytelling that sets the bar high for all magical girl stories makes it a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a CLAMP or even a manga fan. This is a must-buy on many levels; don’t hesitate to pick up your copy.