Cardcaptor Sakura (カードキャプターさくら Kādokyaputā Sakura?), abbreviated as CCS and also known as Cardcaptors, is a Japanese shōjo manga series written and illustrated by the manga artist group Clamp. The manga was originally serialized monthly in Nakayoshi from the May 1996 until the June 2000 issue, and later published in 12 tankōbon volumes by Kodansha from November 1996 to July 2000. The story focuses on Sakura Kinomoto, an elementary school student who discovers that she possesses magical powers after accidentally freeing a set of magical cards from the book in which they had been sealed for years. She is then tasked with retrieving those cards in order to avoid an unknown catastrophe from befalling the world.
The series was adapted into a 70-episode anime TV series by Madhouse that aired in Japan on NHK between April 1998 and March 2000. Two anime films were produced by Madhouse in August 1999 and July 2000. Ten video games were produced based on the series. Kodansha published art books, picture books and film comics for the manga and anime series. Tokyopop released the manga in English in North America from March 2000 to August 2003. After Tokyopop's license for Cardcaptor Sakura expired, Dark Horse Manga acquired the license and began releasing the series in omnibus editions starting in October 2010. Nelvana licensed the anime TV series and first film for North American broadcast and distribution. Heavily edited and dubbed into 39 episodes, the series was renamed Cardcaptors and aired on Kids' WB, Cartoon Network and Teletoon. The TV series and films were re-licensed by Geneon, which released them unedited with English subtitles.
Critics praised the manga for its creativity and described it as a quintessential shōjo manga, as well as a critical work for manga in general. The manga series was awarded the Seiun Award for Best Manga in 2001. The TV anime adaptation was praised for its ability to transcend its target audience of young children and be enjoyable to older viewers too. The artwork in the anime was also a focus of attention, described as above average for a late-1990s TV series, and Sakura's magic-casting scenes were complimented for being nearly unique, because of the regular costume changes. The TV anime won the Animage Grand Prix award for Best Anime in 1999. The Cardcaptors version was heavily panned by critics, who called the editing ridiculous and cutting out vital character backgrounds essential to understand the plot.
Cardcaptor Sakura begins when ten-year-old fourth grader Sakura Kinomoto accidentally releases a set of magical cards called Clow Cards from the Clow Book, created and named after half-English, half-Chinese sorcerer Clow Reed. Each card has its own personality and characteristics and can assume alternate forms when activated. The guardian Beast of the Seal Cerberus emerges from the book and tells her it is now her responsibility to retrieve the missing cards. As she finds each card, she battles its magical personification and defeats it to seal it away. Cerberus acts as her guide, while her best friend and cousin Tomoyo Daidouji films her exploits and provides her with battle costumes. Sakura's older brother Toya Kinomoto watches over her, while pretending that he is unaware of what is going on.
A boy Sakura's age and descendant of Clow Reed, Syaoran Li, arrives from Hong Kong to recapture the cards himself, but finds his goal complicated as he comes to respect Sakura and begins aiding her instead. Once Sakura captures all the cards, she undergoes the Final Judgment, presided over by Yue, the cards' second guardian, who tests Sakura to determine if she is worthy of becoming the cards' true master. Yue is the true form of Yukito Tsukishiro, Sakura's crush and her brother's best friend. Sakura is aided by her teacher Kaho Mizuki, who was sent by Clow to ensure Sakura is able to pass the test, because he chose Sakura to be the cards' new master when he knew he was going to die. Sakura passes the test and becomes the new master of the Clow Cards.
Life for Sakura is initially peaceful until a boy Sakura's age, Eriol Hiiragizawa, transfers from England, which coincides with new disturbances occurring in Tomoeda. Suddenly unable to use the Clow Cards, Sakura transforms her wand and creates a new activation spell, which can transform a Clow Card into a Sakura Card. As strange events continue, Sakura gradually transforms each card into a Sakura Card, unaware the events are being caused by Eriol and two guardian-like creatures, Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon. Yue begins to grow weaker, because he requires magical support from Sakura, but her magic is not yet strong enough to sustain him. Toya gives all of his magical abilities to Yue in order to ensure Yukito does not die. Sakura eventually deals with the pain of Yukito's gentle rejection of her feelings, as he instead loves Toya. Syaoran consoles Sakura, while finding himself falling in love with her, but is unsure of how to tell her.
When only the Light and Dark Cards remain to be converted, which must be done together, Eriol reveals to Sakura he was behind all the strange events. After the cards are transformed, Eriol explains that he is half of the reincarnation of Clow Reed, with Sakura's father being the other half. Eriol, who has Clow's memories and magical abilities, aided Sakura in converting the cards so they would not lose their powers. Before returning to England, Eriol asks Sakura to split his magic between himself and her father, so that he will no longer be the most powerful magician in the world. Afterwards, Syaoran confesses his love to Sakura, but she is unsure how to respond. Sakura is hurt and upset when he tells her he is returning to Hong Kong, and comes to realize she loves him too after talking with her friends. She rushes to the airport to tell him and he promises to return when he has taken care of some things. One year later, Syaoran moves back to Tomoeda permanently.
The plot of the anime series is extended, featuring 52 Clow Cards from the manga's original 19, and certain scenes are stretched and delayed, such as Cerberus' true form not being revealed until just before Yue's appearance. Sakura creates a 53rd card, Hope, a talent she is not shown to have in the manga. Some of the circumstances around the capturing of the cards is changed, such as Syaoran capturing several cards himself and being tested by Yue in the Final Judgment. Syaoran's cousin and fiancee Meiling Li is introduced in the anime, who positions herself as a romantic rival for Sakura later in the series. The role of Sakura's father as the second half of Clow's reincarnation and the splitting of Eriol's magic is removed from the ending. The TV series leaves the relationship between Sakura and Syaoran unresolved, but Sakura confesses her love to Syaoran at the end of the second anime film.
Cardcaptor Sakura was first conceived shortly before the conclusion of Clamp's Magic Knight Rayearth, which was serialized in Nakayoshi. Clamp's head editor Yamonouchi asked them to do another series in Nakayoshi, and Clamp decided to make a "Nakayoshi-esque" series, as opposed to Rayearth, which Clamp described as unlike anything they had done before. Head Clamp writer Nanase Ohkawa's first impulse was to create a magical girl series, despite not being well-versed in the genre. Ohkawa wanted the heroine Sakura to be in the same age group as the majority of Nakayoshi's readers so that fans could relate to her. Since this was different from how Clamp normally conceived characters, Ohkawa designed the other characters to be more like Clamp's previous creations; Tomoyo and Cerberus are such characters. Once Ohkawa had enough information on the characters, she had the three artists in Clamp—Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi—design them based on her descriptions. In the case of Cerberus, Ohkawa wanted a mascot-type companion for Sakura, but Nekoi tried various forms, including dogs and squirrels, before designing the final version. Syaoran and Toya were conceived to be a common type of character featured in Clamp's works.
Various other titles were suggested for the series such as Cardcaster Sakura and Card Character Sakura before Nekoi suggested Cardcaptor Sakura. While Ohkawa planned out Cardcaptor Sakura from beginning to end, she never talked about the plot with the other members, instead giving them the script one chapter at a time. Mokona initially drew Tomoyo so it would look like she was in love with Toya, which lead to her surprise when she received the script for the chapter which reveals Tomoyo loves Sakura. The story was planned to be a "if you try your best, it'll work out" kind of story, but Ohkawa did not start out with Sakura's "It'll definitely be okay" mindset. Ohkawa wanted to write a story that "minorities would feel comfortable with," referring to the same-sex and taboo relationships featured in the manga. The series' main theme is expressed through Sakura, a main character designed to be open minded about different family structures and kinds of love. Ohkawa addressed the relationships by explaining the reason Tomoyo and Sakura did not end up together was not because Tomoyo is a girl, but rather because Sakura did not love Tomoyo in a romantic way.
The central theme of Cardcaptor Sakura is love and human relationships. Throughout the series, many forms of love are showcased, including "sibling love, childhood crushes, unrequited love, [and] true love." At times, Clamp even ignores the Clow Cards for several chapters to focus more on the relationships of Sakura and those around her. Each of these relationships are presented as is, with Clamp carefully avoiding passing judgment on the correctness of the relationships. In particular, the romantic relationship between elementary student Rika Sasaki and her teacher Yoshiyuki Terada is presented in such a way that it can be seen as a sweet and innocent tale of "wish fulfillment", or if examined more seriously, as a mildly disturbing story of pedophilic love.
The artists, especially Mokona, were told by Ohkawa to use thin lines and to try to express things through curved lines as opposed to straight lines. The style of artwork was decided at the beginning to unify the world view of Cardcaptor Sakura. Ohkawa wanted the series to have a "soft, cute-like" feel, so she asked the artists to not use a lot of ink and to make the pages light. For the multitude of flower imagery used in the manga, Nekoi looked through various books to find appropriate flowers, and tried to avoid using the same flower more than once in one chapter. Igarashi remarked that they "never had to draw so many flowers for one series," but they made a point to not use roses. Clamp wanted to incorporate transformation scenes into Cardcaptor Sakura, but because many magical girl manga have the girls wearing the same outfit, Clamp wanted Sakura to wear different costumes. Clamp felt that "it's pretty sad for a girl to wear the same outfit all the time."
Cardcaptor Sakura began as a manga series written and illustrated by the manga artist group Clamp. It was serialized in the monthly shōjo (aimed at young girls) manga magazine Nakayoshi from the May 1996 to June 2000 issue. The individual chapters were collected and published in 12 tankōbon volumes by Kodansha from November 1996 to July 2000. Kodansha released the first six volumes in bilingual editions that included both Japanese and English from May 2000 to July 2001. The bilingual volumes were part of an experimental line for helping Japanese children learn English. Kodansha stopped releasing the bilingual editions after the series was licensed in English for distribution in North America by Tokyopop.
Tokyopop released the volumes of Cardcaptor Sakura from March 2000 to August 2003. Tokyopop initially released the first six volumes with the book "flipped" from the original Japanese orientation, in which the book is read from right-to-left, to the Western format with text oriented from left-to-right. These volumes were later re-released with the original orientation in two box sets, each containing three volumes. Volumes seven through twelve were released in the original orientation with the subtitle Master of the Clow. Madman Entertainment used Tokyopop's English translation to release the series in Australia and New Zealand. Dark Horse Manga is publishing an English edition of the series in four omnibus volumes containing three of the original volumes each. The first omnibus volume was released in October 2010. The manga series is licensed for additional regional language releases by Pika Édition in France, Star Comics in Italy, Egmont Manga & Anime in Germany, Editora JBC in Brazil, Ever Glory Publishing in Taiwan, Glènat España in Spain, Editorial Ivrea in Argentina, and Editorial Toukan in Mexico.
A 70-episode anime TV series adaptation produced by the animation studio Madhouse aired in Japan on the NHK television network spread over three seasons. The first season, consisting of 35 episodes, aired between April 7 and December 29, 1998. The second season, with 11 episodes, aired between April 6 and June 22, 1999. The third season, containing 24 episodes, aired between September 7, 1999 and March 21, 2000. Directed by Morio Asaka, Clamp was fully involved in the project, with head writer Nanase Ohkawa writing and composing the screenplay and Mokona overseeing the costumes and card designs. The series also aired across Japan by the anime satellite television network Animax, which later broadcast the series across its respective networks worldwide. The series was later released by Bandai Visual to 18 VHS, LD and DVD compilation volumes from September 1998 to May 2000.
Nelvana licensed Cardcaptor Sakura in North America, which dubbed the series into English and released it under the name Cardcaptors. The heavily edited episodes were reordered, with some episodes left out completely. Potentially controversial material was removed, and the series was refocused to be more action oriented for the appeal of male viewers, as they were seen as the largest audience of animation at the time. Cardcaptors first aired in the United States on Kids' WB between June 17, 2000 and December 14, 2001. In the Kids' WB broadcast, the first episode aired was "Sakura's Rival", the eighth episode of the series, having removed episodes focusing on Sakura and to have the show start with Syaoran's arrival. The series ran for 39 episodes, changing the original episode order but finishing with the show's actual final episode. In Nelvana's airing of the series in the United Kingdom in 2001 on Nickelodeon and CITV, the skipped episodes were restored, but other edits remained. The Cardcaptors dub also aired in Australia on Cartoon Network, in Ireland on RTÉ Network 2, and in Canada on Teletoon (which also aired the episodes with a French dub). Animax created an English dub of the series as well, which it broadcast on its English-language networks in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Pioneer Entertainment released the dubbed Cardcaptors episodes to nine VHS and DVD compilation volumes from November 2000 to July 2002. It also released the unedited Cardcaptor Sakura series with the original Japanese audio tracks and English subtitles, to 18 DVDs from November 2000 to November 2003; the first 11 volumes were also released in VHS. Pioneer also contracted with Nelvana to release the dubbed episodes. The Cardcaptor Sakura TV series DVDs went out-of-print at the end of 2006 when the license expired.
Madhouse produced two, 80-minute anime films as an extension to the TV anime series. The first, Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie, was released on August 21, 1999. Set between the first and second seasons of the TV series, the film shows Sakura and her friends going to Hong Kong where they encounter a vengeful spirit who was hurt by Clow Reed in the past. It was released to VHS, LD and DVD in Japan by Bandai Visual in February 2000. Nelvana released an English dubbed version of the film, retaining the same name and story changes as its main Cardcaptors dub. As with the TV series, Pioneer Entertainment released the film without editing, including the original Japanese audio and English subtitles. Both the edited and unedited versions were released on VHS and DVD in March 2002.
The second film, Cardcaptor Sakura Movie 2: The Sealed Card, was released in Japan on July 15, 2000. It provided a conclusion to the TV series, in which Syaoran returns to Tokyo in hopes of getting Sakura's answer to his love confession, but her own confession is interrupted by the appearance of a 53rd Clow Card. It was released to LD (as a limited edition) and DVD in January 2001, and to VHS in July 2001. It was released in North America to DVD by Pioneer in November 2003 and featured a new English dub by Bang Zoom! Entertainment. The Cardcaptor Sakura films remained in print in North America until Pioneer, now called Geneon Universal Entertainment, stopped direct distribution in fall 2007.
As a preview to the anime series, Kodansha released a tankōbon-sized CD volume titled CD Comic Cardcaptor Sakura in August 1997 containing two character songs sung by the voice actors of Sakura and Tomoyo and drama tracks. Two drama CDs were released for the series. The first, Sakura to Okaa-san no Organ, was released in July 1998 featuring a script written by Clamp author Nanase Ohkawa. It depicts Sakura having a dream about her mother playing an organ and choosing to write about her the following day for a school project. The second CD, Sweet Valentine Stories, was released in February 1999 and depicts a single day in the life of the girls in Sakura's class, including Sakura herself. Four original soundtrack CD albums were released for the anime TV series from July 1998 to March 2000. The soundtracks included instrumental background music and the vocal theme songs. Two soundtracks were produced for the films: the first film's soundtrack was released in August 1999, followed by the second film's soundtrack in August 2000.
Nine theme song singles were released: six for the TV series and three for the films. The three opening theme song singles for the TV series are: "Catch You Catch Me" by Gumi released in April 1998, "Tobira o Akete" by Anza released in April 1999, and "Platinum" by Maaya Sakamoto released in October 1999. The three ending theme song singles for the TV series are: "Groovy!" by Kohmi Hirose released in September 1998, "Honey" by Chihiro released in May 1999, and "Fruits Candy" by Megumi Kojima released in November 1999. The two ending theme song singles for the films are: "Tōi Kono Machi de" by Naomi Kaitani released in August 1999 for the first film, and "Ashita e no Melody" by Chaka released in July 2000 for the second film. The theme song single for the anime short Leave It To Kero! shown with the second film, "Okashi no Uta", was released in July 2000.
Six character song singles sung by the voice actors of Sakura, Toya, Cerberus, Tomoyo, Yukito and Syaoran released in June 1998; each single also contained a short drama track. A character song album titled Cardcaptor Sakura Character Songbook was released in January 1999 containing tracks from the previously released character song singles as well as new tracks sung by the various voice actors. A album titled Tomoeda Elementary Choir Club Christmas Concert, released in December 1999, contains seven tracks by a children's choir, including five where they are joined by Junko Iwao, the voice actress for Tomoyo. A four-CD compilation set, Complete Vocal Collection, was released in February 2001 compiling the series' theme songs, tracks from the character song singles, remixes of previously released songs, and new music. An album containing the theme songs from the TV series and films titled Cardcaptor Sakura Theme Song Collection was released in December 2001. Victor Entertainment released the albums and singles for Cardcaptor Sakura. An original soundtrack for Cardcaptors titled Cardcaptors: Songs from the Hit TV Series was released in September 2001 by Rhino Entertainment.
Ten video games have been produced based on the series. The series debuted in Japan on May 15, 1999 with Cardcaptor Sakura: Itsumo Sakura-chan to Issho! published by MTO for the Game Boy Color, and concluded with Cardcaptor Sakura: Sakura-chan to Asobo! published by NHK Software on December 2, 2004 for the PlayStation 2.
Kodansha published six art books for the manga series and ones featuring art from the anime TV series by character designer Kumiko Takahashi. These included three books for the manga titled Cardcaptor Sakura Illustration Collection released from August 1998 to December 2000, and three for the TV series titled Cheerio! released from April 1999 to September 2000. A set of the 52 Clow Cards featured in the TV series was released in August 1999 and a Clow Card Fortune Book, which contains information on how to use the Clow Card replica set as tarot cards, was released in March 2000. A fan book for the manga titled Cardcaptor Sakura Memorial Book was published in February 2001 containing various illustrations from the series, as well as information on branded merchandise based on the series and interviews. Four similar books, referred to as Complete Books, were released for the TV series from July 1999 to June 2000 and the films from October 1999 to October 2000.
Ten volumes of a film comic series were published from August 1998 to November 2000 covering the first two anime seasons, though some episodes were skipped. Three more were published from March 2001 to February 2002 covering up to episode 59, though again some episodes were skipped. Four picture books were released for the TV series from September 1998 to November 2000. Four sticker books were released for the TV series from August 1999 to March 2004.
The Cardcaptor Sakura manga series was popular with Japanese readers, ranking among the top five sellers during its release. The manga series was awarded the Seiun Award for Best Manga in 2001. Shaenon Garrity of The Comics Journal described the series as a quintessential shōjo manga, which is praised for its mature direction in the second half. Cardcaptor Sakura has been described as a "critical work" of manga by Christopher Butcher of Comics212. In a review by Lisa Anderson of Manga Life, the subplots in the series related to the interactions between characters were noted to be of special interest. Anderson praised how the manga, while at the onset begins with a costumed Sakura chasing after a Clow Card, takes a "rather big leap in another direction" when focusing on the characters. The manga is further lauded for its depth. Anime News Network (ANN) reviewer Robert Nguyen felt Cardcaptor Sakura is an "atypical shoujo" manga, which puts an "emphasis on the emotions of the character."
In Manga: The Complete Guide, Mason Templar states that the series is not "just one of the best kids' manga in translation, it's one of the very best manga available in English, period." He praises Clamp for their creativity and shrewd business sense, in being able to create a series that "clearly has merchandising in line" and an "utterly forgettable premise" into a story that is "brimming with warmth and joy and wonder" and is "much more than the sum of its parts." The manga is cited as being cute by critics, and in some cases too cute; however, Anderson stated that "much like Magic Knight Rayearth, even a cute story will have its depth and drama. The artwork of the manga is praised for being detailed and having "beautifully drawn pictures of the Clow Cards themselves." The cards are described as having "an artful blend of magical fantasy and reality."
The anime adaptation was popular with viewers in Japan, despite having a timeslot that normally has low viewership. The Cardcaptor Sakura anime adaptation won the Animage Grand Prix award for best anime in 1999. In May 2000, volumes 8 and 17 of the anime LD release were among the top selling titles, with volume 17 being in first place. The 18th DVD volume was the eighth best selling anime DVD in Japan in June 2000. Animerica contributor Kevin Lew felt the series had a "sophisticated design sense" that allowed the series to transcend its target audience of young children and be enjoyable to older viewers as well. Fellow contributor Takashi Oshiguichi found the character Sakura to be appealing and praised the series art work. He felt that while it was "very calculated" to attract male readers, the series was attractive to fans due to Clamp's "unique entertainment style" that incorporates "perfectly time[d] appearances of "fascinating villains" and the unusual element of having the main character change costume for every capture. The magazine's Winnie Chow felt the series' animation was "far above average for a TV series", and compliments Sakura's magic-casting scenes for being nearly unique due to the regular costume changes.
Zac Bertschy of ANN praised Cardcaptor Sakura for taking an "incredibly stale and repetitive" magical girl genre and "providing something fun, clever, beautifully animated, touching and exciting all at once;" Bertschy goes on to call the series "the best magical girl show ever produced." The animation was described as being "incredibly fluid" with the character designs "maintain[ing] a consistent and impressive level of detail, even during action scenes." The series has been described as formulaic, but this is not said to detract from the show's enjoyment. While Cardcaptor Sakura is normally intended for an audience of young girls, the anime is lauded for containing "elements that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age or gender, providing they are open-minded enough."
The Cardcaptors version of the anime was panned by critics, it being called "the worst thing that has ever happened to anime that had a good Japanese name," and "nothing more than an attempt to dilute a fan favorite anime." The dub was noted as being "one of the worst if not the worst dubbing done for a program," with the dubbed voices described as "not up-to-par with the originals." However, the reviewer stated that Carly McKillip as Sakura and Alyn Faber as Syaoran are the "only voices that really shine above the rest." The editing done by Nelvana has been criticized as "ridiculous" and cutting out vital character backgrounds in order to understand the plot. In January 2002, the restaurant chain Taco Bell began a month long promotion in which four Cardcaptors toys were available in their kids meals and the company expected to distribute up to 7 million of the toys during the month. The "conservative Christian political orientation" American Family Association complained about the promotion as the organization felt the Clow Cards in the series were too similar to tarot cards and Eastern mythology. However, the organization's complaints did not begin until the promotion was already scheduled to end, so it is unsure whether the complaints had any actual effect.
- Considine, J. D. (January 20, 2002). "Television/Radio: Making Anime A Little Safer For Americans". The New York Times.
- Script error
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- Cardcaptor Sakura at NHK (Japanese)
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- Cardcaptor Sakura (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
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