Cardcaptor Sakura is one of CLAMP’s most famous manga; originally published back in 1996. It was not CLAMP’s first attempt at a magical girl story (Magic Knight Rayearth has that honour) or one of their earliest works (it’s actually it’s 13th if you include both seasons of Rayearth and their romance compilation The One I Love). However, it still remains one of CLAMP’s most beloved titles and a staple of the genre. Due to its lovable characters, gorgeous art and the pure, innocent and magical atmosphere of the series, it remains one of the best the mangaka powerhouse has ever done. It’s no wonder that the main characters were eventually recreated as the protagonists of their mega-crossover series Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and now, 20 years after the original manga’s debut, a new arc has been released from the creators themselves, with an anime adaptation due in early 2018. However CLAMP, as imaginative and beloved as they are, are also known for being very unreliable due to their horrible habit of stopping series midway through and, more recently, starting new stories relating to previous work that have already had satisfying conclusions. Cardcaptor Sakura’s return, on the other hand, has been met with lots of applause from long-time fans who loved the original series and are more than happy to see what happens next for the lovable heroine.
So, what exactly HAS Sakura Kinomoto been up to? The Clear Card Arc actually picks up right after the final panels of the original series; Sakura is about to start her first year at middle school, when her one true love, Syaoran Li, makes a surprise return from Hong Kong. He’s back in Japan permanently and going to the same school as her, so now they can be together forever. However, not far behind him is a new threat: Sakura has started to have weird dreams again of a mysterious hooded magician and she wakes up to find all her Sakura cards are now transparent and have no magic. With guardians, Kero and Yue, being unable to find out what’s wrong, and the threat completely faceless, what is our young Cardcaptor to do?
If you’ve recently read the original Cardcaptor Sakura, then the latter half of the synopsis will seem very familiar to what you’ve seen before: Sakura has a dream that predicts the new ‘big bad’, she gets an upgrade of the wand and the cards are changing in a new way so our heroine has to figure out how to get them all back to normal. Whilst a lot of the story-beats on paper feel like a re-tread, the manga feels different due to Sakura’s growing maturity, experience of magic and confidence in her powers. Even though she’s facing similar challenges, she tackles them in a new, assured way. She recognises the meaning of the dream and goes straight to her guardians for advice. She confides in her circle of friends because they are now all aware of who she is and together they can overcome anything. Also, not only do we have a new mysterious power in town, there are also all-new cards that Sakura has to capture, and they come packaged with different puzzles from before. In the past arcs, even though Sakura has had to figure them out on her own, there’s almost always been an adult in the picture in some form or another, an older figure who seems to know more than they are letting on. However this time Sakura is relying a lot more on herself and her knowledge of what’s gone before, which is fantastic to see in a character that we have watched grow up in previous arcs. If she didn’t take more of a leadership role in these opening chapters it would feel like a step backwards, but the fact that CLAMP have picked up where the character left off makes the new story all the more satisfying. Especially when the magic involved is familiar enough to feel like a continuation, yet still different. The way the new cards manifest is clever and the magic staff design feels like an upgrade complete with an all-new magical chant that Sakura creates to summon it.
In the first volume, although most of it is setting up the new arc, we do get to see most of our favourite characters return and remind the audience exactly why we love them in the first place. Toya’s and Sakura’s sibling rivalry still gets lot of belly laughs, Tomoyo’s love for all things cute (especially when it comes to Sakura) is back, complete with new wonderful outfits, and Takashi Yamazaki’s elaborate stories that sit on the line between believable and ridiculous never get old – and the fact that Syaoran STILL falls for them provokes a huge smile. It all feels very seamless, like we’ve just picked up where we left off, instead of several decades later.
So, is everything in the Clear Card Arc perfect, a positive sign CLAMP is on the right track? For the most part, yes, however there’s a few nit-picky things that I want to flag up now but hope they’ll get fixed in the future books. Starting off small, it’s noticeable that the technology has jumped between arcs; the original story is, admittedly, not given any particular time-frame but as it was released in the 90s you assumed the story was set in the same time period. However, in the Clear Card Arc they all have iPhones and this could risk taking the reader out of the moment. The bigger problem however is the focus on relationships; in the original story and especially in the last arc this was a constant theme and conversations about love: platonic, romantic, unrequited, how forgiving, patient and deep it can be, made up the heart of the story and led to a beautiful conclusion between Sakura and Syaoran. However, in the Clear Card Arc, there’s very little focus on the couples that got together since the last arc. The first chapter has a lot of beautiful moments between the main couple but afterwards Syaoran is pushed into the background, Yukito and Toya are merely guest stars in this book, we barely get any panels of Sakura’s other classmates, and Rika Sasaki has been written out completely (presumably to avoid her controversial relationship with Yoshiyuki Terada, who is also not seen this book). Granted, the theme of love from the original story has reached its natural conclusion as Sakura now knows what it truly means to love, however half of the appeal of this new arc is to see the new couples in their day-to-day life, to see them happy together, so I’m hoping CLAMP will bring back more fluffy moments, especially when it comes to Syaoran, as the story continues.
Despite the cover looking very similar to the omnibus editions of the original series, the Clear Card Arc manga is actually NOT licensed by Dark Horse. Kodansha is the publisher of Clear Card Arc, and have thankfully carried over the visual look and provided the first 4 chapters in one lovely volume. Translation quality is mostly very good and, again, flows nicely from where Dark Horse left off with translated sound effects and name prefixes kept as they were, aside from one random new addition – ‘Yukibunny’ is now Yukito Tsukishiro’s nickname in this book. Admittedly, in the original translation Kerberus calls him ‘Yuki-usagi’, however they kept it in romaji in the Dark Horse English translation, so having Kodansha literally translating that as well to ‘Yukibunny’ is, correct for sure, but also very weird to see when it has not been seen or heard in English previously. All it does is (for me) provide flashbacks to the early Sailor Moon English translation from Tokyopop when they name her ‘Bunny’ instead of Usagi…sometimes not translating names literally or how a person chooses to address them (e.g. senpai) works best and makes the dialogue flow better, so Kodansha made one bad call here, but the rest is perfectly fine.
The return of Cardcaptor Sakura is a wonderful surprise and the first volume is a delightful success; from the lovely art and the characters to the new story’s beginnings – all of it feels like a genuine continuation that CLAMP wanted and felt creatively compelled to do, rather than a series to bring back due to its popularity. If you’re a CLAMP fan, and especially if you love Cardcaptor Sakura, do not hesitate to pick up this volume.
Now please, CLAMP, keep it up and don’t stop until its proper conclusion!
‘When all the cards are gathered… It is not the end, but rather the beginning. The beginning of the end…’
Young schoolgirl Sakura worked hard to collect all the Clow Cards and, after many magical adventures, converted them to her own Sakura Cards. As she starts middle school, she begins to have disturbing dreams in which all her cards become transparent. Seeking help from guardians Yue and faithful Kero-chan/Cerberus (usually at her side in stuffed toy form), she fears that she’s losing her powers. Why is this happening? And what does Eriol, Clow Reed’s reincarnation, know…yet is not ready to share?
This is a return by CLAMP to the less complicated present-day world of Sakura after the over-complicated – and still not entirely satisfactorily resolved – adventures of the other dimension (and older) Sakura and Syaoran Li told in the many volumes of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and Tsubasa: World Chronicle (not to mention crossover xxxHOLIC as well). Like many fans, I encountered Sakura before going on to discover other CLAMP titles, so she holds a special place in my affections. And I think I can safely say that the four-mangaka team have pulled off a delightful return to the style and atmosphere of their early work. Thus far. That’s not to say that they won’t be tempted to stray! Their trademark ellipses, leaving important sentences unfinished, words unsaid, have already crept in. Is this to instil a greater sense of mystery… or to avoid committing to a definitive plotline? And not a great deal happens, to be honest, although Sakura and Tomoyo make a delicious cheesecake.
All the favourite characters from the first twelve volumes are here: Eriol, now in England with Kaho Mizuki, Ruby Moon and Spinel – and of course, bossy older brother Toya and best friend, Yukito, now at college. Best of all, Sakura is starting Tomoeda Middle School with faithful Tomoyo and Syaoran Li, returned from Hong Kong. But even though the main characters are middle schoolers (twelve) they still look much younger. If the point of the new adventure is that they’re older, they should look older too. The suggested reading age given by Kodansha is T (13 +) which is interesting in that the first two series were originally released by Tokyopop as ‘A’ (All Ages) – although the recent Dark Horse editions opted for ‘12’. CLAMP are known for their slyly subversive subtexts and, given that there is an (implied) same-sex relationship between Toya and Yukito, Tomoyo has a crush on Sakura, and as for the relationship between one of their classmates (now departed to another school) and the male class teacher, well… age-inappropriate doesn’t begin to address the issue in some readers’ eyes. However, the charmingly fresh tone of the interactions between the children in the original series is recaptured here and it is just as engaging as it was before.
The art delivers some striking panels when Sakura is in full magical girl mode and the chibi versions of the characters are as adorable as ever.
Kodansha Comics (who still publish Tsubasa and xxxHOLIC) deliver a fluently translated version (props to translator Devon Corwin for preserving the honorifics) – but, sadly, there are no colour illustrations or helpful translator’s notes. You can read an extract from the first volume here.
Never read the original Sakura Cardcaptor manga – or forgotten what happened? Never fear: CLAMP have very thoughtfully provided a 2-page illustrated summary to get you right up to speed. And there’s the anime TV series on its way, starting soon.