Written/drawn by Clamp
Published by Tokyopop.
Volumes 1 -3 Review.
Genre:Shôjo, Magical Girl, Fantasy, Adventure and a little bit of Romance.
What’s in it?Magical Girl, Buckets full of Cuteness, Real-life Cards (really), Magic, a Talking Stuffed Toy (well, he’s really supposed to be a guardian…)
One day, ten-year-old Sakura Kinomoto opens a strange book she finds in her father’s library. In doing so, she accidentally releases all of the magical Clow Cards. She also awakens Kero, the Creature of the Seal — who, due to his dwindling magic, looks a lot like a cute little stuffed animal. Kero tells Sakura that the escaped Clow Cards each come to life and create mischief in the world, so he gives Sakura the special powers of a Cardcaptor. Now, with the help of Kero and her very enthusiastic best friend Tomoyo, this otherwise normal fourth-grader must recapture the Clow Cards before disaster befalls the Earth.
In some ways, Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the blandest manga series around. Its heroine is adorably cute, polite, and good at school and at sports, and always behaves appropriately in any situation (unless the situation is her older brother Toya teasing her). Everybody’s happy, everybody loves each other, and a lot of panels are taken up with the immaculate social niceties of these well-adjusted, perfectly behaved characters. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? It’s not. Somehow, Cardcaptor Sakura manages to be a thoroughly enjoyable, addictively quick read. For sure, one of the reasons is the art, which is as lush and beautiful as I’ve come to expect from CLAMP. The character designs are unbelievably attractive — Sakura and Tomoyo and their friends are so cute you just want to eat them up, and Toya and Yukito are bishônen of the dreamiest variety. When Sakura uses her Cardcaptor magic, a highly ornate circle appears, full of intricate symbolism both Western and Eastern. That’s about par for the course, though, because while some panels are merely characters over a white background, when CLAMP chooses to render actual backgrounds they’re as eye-catching and gorgeous as the rest of the artwork. The layouts manage to be dynamic and cinematic without sacrificing clarity. This is CLAMP at the very top of their visual storytelling abilities.
Actual conflict is, for the most part, confined to the climactic sequences when Sakura does the actual card capturing. The rest of the time is character development (exposition regarding Sakura’s past, the establishment of relationships, a great many details about Sakura’s normal everyday life as a young Japanese schoolgirl) and a slowly building overall plotline. That overall plotline kind of sneaks up on you — one minute it’s concentrated schoolgirl cuteness, then all of a sudden there’s rivals and mysterious characters and secrets to unravel. That’s really nifty, and although young readers won’t be overwhelmed, there’s plenty to keep older readers interested.
The characters are also very nicely done. Sakura herself is such a cheerful little angel that you can’t help but fall instantly in love with her. Her sidekick Tomoyo is mildly insane, but beautiful and just as sweet as Sakura. Toya seems at first to be your typical nasty big brother, but he reveals layers as the story progresses. Even the obligatory magical girl’s mascot, Kero, nicely balances the cute mentor role with an outrageous egotistical streak that makes for some very funny moments. A vast cast of supporting characters — family, friends, rivals and others — are introduced with regularity and developed enough to make each an interesting character worthy of inclusion.
Be warned, though: CLAMP’s tendency to play around with sexual orientations (or, as someone put it, their “guess which character is the straight one” game) is in effect here, although it’s pretty toned down from their other series. There are several homosexual relationships (in both genders) either hinted at or depicted outright, but it’s all rather subtly done and is unlikely to offend most readers.
TOKYOPOP’s translated Cardcaptor Sakura is not spectacular, but does a mostly adequate job of bringing this insanely popular manga to the rest of the world. As with many of their Mixx translations, the image quality suffers quite a bit: increased contrast in the TOKYOPOP editions destroy some of the effect of CLAMP’s gorgeous artwork, especially in the beautiful and elaborate chapter title pages. The verbal translation is very literal most of the time, which means that none of the intent of the original is lost, but in a number of places it doesn’t read terribly naturally. I’ve seen worse translations, but this isn’t a great one by any stretch.
However, even the subpar importation can’t ruin source material this strong. Don’t let it put you off of one of the most charming and compulsively readable manga series to be brought out yet. Cardcaptor Sakura has cute in spades, and a pretty strong story to go with it. It’s a complete package, a recommended good read.