Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, Vol. 1

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Devon Corwin.

I won’t lie, it can be a bit disappointing to see CLAMP return to the well of old hits. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle was a menage of most of their series with a few new characters, xxxHOLIC ended only to return as an ongoing sequel, and now we have that old standby, Cardcaptor Sakura, getting a sequel with the characters in middle school. Now admittedly writing brand new material is not a guarantee of success – Gate 7 is an excellent example of that, and is still on hiatus. As a result, I can’t blame the creators for returning to a guaranteed draw. That said, there’s not really much here that’s new or innovative – instead, it’s the same old favorites back again. Sakura’s here, her family, Tomoyo, and yes, Syaoran has returned as well, and can now go to school with his “we’re too young to be dating” girlfriend once more. Except… the cards are changed.

Sakura’s having prophetic dreams of mysterious hooded enemies, and they’ve essentially blanked all her cards. But she gets a powerup as well, so now (you knew this was coming, admit it) she will have to go around collecting cards again, though they seem to be the Cool Millennial version – they’re transparent and fancy, and the sweet, mild ‘Windy’ has now apparently become ‘Gale’, and there’s a ‘trapped in a room’ card that becomes ‘Siege’. The cards sound more mature. Tomoyo is mostly delighted, as this means she gets to film Sakura in new costumes – though she misses her catching the first card, which seemingly devastates her. (As with the first series, Tomoyo’s motivations tend to be deeper than they outwardly seem. Also as with the first series, Tomoyo is the main reason I’m reading this.) As for Eriol, he still seems to be keeping things from Sakura, no doubt “for her own good”, but sigh. Didn’t we learn this lesson before?

I mentioned the gang’s all here, but that’s not entirely accurate – while most of Sakura’s muggle friends have returned to her school, Rika has gone to a different school and will presumably not be appearing. Given that her relationship with her adult teacher, complete with a pseudo wedding ring, was easily the creepiest aspect of the original series, it’s no surprise that CLAMP decided to quietly push her out the door rather than give it more attention. (Kaho is still with Eriol, but that’s far vaguer, and in any case Eriol is one of those “I’m really decades older than I look” sorts.) Everyone else gets a “greatest hits” appearance – Sakura’s father is still kind and widower-ey, and mentions he hasn’t seen Nadeshiko’s spirit lately. Touya and Yukito are still very vaguely gay, and while Yukito seems a bit more savvy as to his true nature, it’s still Yue in the driver’s seat when that nature is needed. And Yamazaki is still making up amusing and obvious lies for Syaoran to fall for.

If you enjoyed Cardcaptor Sakura, there’s no reason not to read this – it’s cute and fun. I do hope that it at least tries to go to some new places, however.

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus, Vol. 2

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

The second omnibus of Cardcaptor Sakura gives us Vol. 4-6 of the original series, which was effectively the end of ‘Season One’ of the manga. As such, Sakura continues to find and capture Clow Cards one by one, gaining strength and confidence, until the climax where she is forced against the most powerful card – and a powerful enemy. Or is he?

I always have to remember to downshift my brain a bit when I read the early 90s shoujo stylings of Cardcaptor Sakura. In a modern, 21st century world where most manga, shonen and shoujo, are targeted to the largest possible market, it’s refreshing to see something that is clearly meant to primarily entertain 6 to 8-year-old girls. That said, the downside to this – although perhaps not a downside so much as simply a different way of seeing things – is that there really doesn’t seem to be much happening for the first two thirds of this book.

There’s certainly lots of entertaining things going on. Kaho Mizuki, the new teacher of Sakura’s that showed up at the end of the last book, continues to hang around, trying to guide Sakura by means of subtle hints and gentle boosts to her confidence. The relationship between Sakura’s brother Toya and his friend Yukito is subtle (well, really, everything about Toya is subtle – he’s not a man of many words or emotions), but also nice to see defined as much as it’s going to be in this sort of manga. And the chapter where Sakura and Syaoran have to put on a play is the funnest of the lot, with some classic gender reversal going on, and Yamazaki at his funniest.

That said, it does seem to meander a bit, so I was quite happy when things started to heat up towards the end. CLAMP have a lot of plot gun surprises going on, most of which they did a good job of building up to or giving hints for, and they pop out one by one – Cerebus’ true form, the final Clow Card, the Card’s other guardian, and finally Sakura, having proven that she can capture the cards, has to be judged worthy of being the cards’ leader. Of course, the outcome is not really in doubt – Sakura has spent the previous five books being awesome, after all, it’s not going to reject her right at the end – but the way that the cards end up judging her, rather than Yue, the aforementioned guardian, is excellent. As for Yue’s identity, it gives him a certain gravitas that I don’t think he’d have had as ‘just a random, last-minute character’, and adds some depth to his alter ego as well.

I missed Tomoyo, who was all over the first volume of these but appeared far less in this one. Syaoran is clearly the co-star of the series with Sakura now, and though we have not yet approached the romance stage – Sakura’s still far too young and naive – it’ clear that’s where we’re headed. I also note that people who like shaded characters and some flaws in their heroes are going to have issues with this manga – Sakura may worry and lack confidence at times, but she’s also a kickass magical girl good at sports and beloved by all her friends. As for Kaho, I like her, but I wish she was less nice and sweet. Everyone’s kind and considerate and seems to have all their ducks in a row, so to speak.

So it’s not exactly great angsty drama, but the second CCS omnibus is fun, fluffy magical girl shoujo that is perfect for a young girl wanting to read some manga. And Dark Horse’s presentation matches the first volume – crisp, sharp images, nice thick paper, oversize, and with lots of color pages. Also, despite being CLAMP, fear not – this series has an ending. Though not quite yet. Volume 3 will arrive soon, and bring with it one of the most controversial characters in the series, Eriol.

In the meantime, we have this book. Guaranteed to make you feel all floaty.

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Volume 1

By CLAMP. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Dark Horse.

First, a brief note on the presentation. Dark Horse’s Chobits omnibus was good, and improved on Tokyopop’s, but was not, in the end, worthy of buying the same manga a second time. Cardcaptor Sakura had an even higher bar, as Tokyopop released it twice, once early in their history and again in a spiffy, more faithful box set. So Dark Horse needed to go that extra mile to justify buying everything a third time.

They’ve done so. This manga looks fantastic, one of the best I’ve seen this entire year. The volume is bigger in size, which shows off CLAMP’s gorgeous art style. The paper stock is heavy and fine, and the art reproduced on it shows that Dark Horse weren’t kidding when they said it was remastered from CLAMP’s originals. The translation seems to involve taking Tokyopop’s 2nd edition one and spiffing it up a bit, but then, there wasn’t really anything terrible about that version’s in the first place. (And yes, Kaho still makes Sakura feel all floaty inside.)

So that’s for the people who already know the story. What about those who, for some reason, have never read Cardcaptor Sakura before? Well, you’re in for a treat. This is CLAMP firing on all cylinders, giving us cute shoujo with a fantastically likeable strong heroine, great supporting cast, and a clear, magical-girl issue plot that lacks the excessive machinations of later works such as Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. This is just the story of Sakura Kinomoto, a 10-year-old girl who opens a magical book and now finds she has to retrieve a series of magical cards with only the help of her best friend and a magical talking animal.

CLAMP are clearly having fun with the magical girl archetypes, and just jump right into rescuing the cards. The premise is actually quickly given as an afterthought in a Chapter 1 flashback, basically telling the reader ‘this is why Sakura can do magic and what she’s after, now back to our cute girl’. It works well, and allows CLAMP to take the high fantasy art they had done in Magic Knight Rayearth and X and apply it to a real-world setting. Sakura is a typical 10-year-old girl, especially for shoujo heroines. Athletic yet bad at academics, generally perky, and with a huge crush on her brother’s best friend.

Speaking of crushes, one thing that does stick out here is all of the romantic and quasi-romantic pairings. In fact, the one couple that will end up together at the end are the only ones NOT interested in each other here. Sakura and Syaoran are still mostly faced off as rivals here, and Syaoran seems to have far more of an interest in Yukito, the boy Sakura also loves. Which is a shame for both of them, as Yukito is shown to be fairly devoted to Toya, Sakura’s brother.

And then there’s Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend. She’s my favorite character in the manga, getting to be both the sensible advice-giving best friend AND the weird cosplay-loving Sakura-obsessed freak. She definitely gives CLAMP some great costumes to work with, with Sakura appearing in a variety of stunning outfits (most of which make their appearance on the added color pages throughout). She also loves Sakura – and makes it very clear in this volume how she means that, even if they’re only 10 years old. “I think we’re talking about different kinds of love, Sakura,” she says when Sakura cheerfully announces she loves her back. Tomoyo knows that Sakura’s unaware of her interest, but to her credit doesn’t back off – she knows Sakura’s crush on Yukito isn’t going to happen, so presses her love whenever she can. Of course, we also meet her mother, who seems to have paralleled this in her devotion to Sakura’s mother, so we can likely see where this is going to end.

That said, there’s also the odd couple of Rika and Terada-sensei, which mostly just makes me sigh. Like Tomoyo’s love for Sakura, this was toned down a bit for the anime, which skipped the part where Terada-sensei actually gives the 10-year-old girl an engagement ring. I suppose this falls under the heading of ‘I am not the audience for this sort of thing’, and certainly for the 6-8 year old girls that read Nakayoshi, the hot teacher you have a crush on returning your love must be a great fantasy. But it still sort of creeps me out.

Cardcaptor Sakura is one of CLAMP’s masterpieces, an exciting, cute, and direct shoujo story that uses all the old magical girl cliches but never feels tired or repetitive. If you were to ask me which CLAMP series I’d take to a desert island, this would probably be the one. And this volume is an excellent starter, with Dark Horse providing a fantastic re-introduction for those who may have first met these characters in Tsubasa. Anyone who likes shoujo should read this.