With the re-watch I did not too long ago, the original Cardcaptor Sakura (and my love for it) are still pretty fresh in my mind. Its amazing characters and magical, welcoming world stole my heart to the point that I would watch anything just to get more of it. Well, its long-awaited sequel Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card just finished airing, and it feels like that’s exactly what this series was counting on: nostalgia, undying love for the original to keep watching it… while rarely offering you more.
Acknowledging love for the original it’s not a bad thing by itself, after all, Cardcaptor Sakura is an important childhood favorite for many, and it’s still remembered very fondly. Heck, I would argue that it’s still a very important show nowadays, and it has plenty of reasons to be especially meaningful for girls and queer folks.
Clear Card‘s new episodes were the thing I looked forward to the most these past few months, and it often succeeded in bringing me a lot of joy, so I was fine with overlooking its faults. But after Clear Card‘s underwhelming finale, I can no longer say “maybe they will finally figure out what’s missing next week…” to myself.
It’s not like the original is flawless, far from it. Even without getting into the more questionable content, Cardcaptor Sakura‘s arcs are terribly repetitive and it often prolongs the obvious, but I never cared. Now that Clear Card finished airing, I wish I could say the same about it. But the truth is that this time, I do care about its flaws, because they hold back a revival that could have been so much better.
Cards with no personality
One of the things that make the original so charming is that the cards themselves feel like characters. They are introduced within the first few scenes of the episodes and often serve to develop the cast, explore interesting stories or just have lots of fun.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the stakes are particularly high. The cards vary from dangerous, disruptive or mildly inconvenient, but they always have enough effect to make Sakura’s intervention feel justified. Some of them even interact with the cast: The Mirror spends time with Toya, which shows us another facet of his powers and personality. Along with Dash, it’s an example of cards developing characters or driving individual stories by having interactions with people besides Sakura.
No, not all the cards interacted with the characters, but we do have situations like Sakura having to earn Dash’s trust, Light and Dark’s reassuring words having an important, positive effect on her confidence, and so on. Sakura works hard to capture her cards and treats them like friends, and it often feels like they are.
Clear Card starts by erasing all of this, which perhaps wouldn’t have been a problem if there was any intention of leveling up and going somewhere, anywhere. However, after Sakura vows to bring her friends back, there’s practically no mention of them for the rest of the show, almost as if they didn’t matter to her anymore. Throughout the new series, Sakura captures bland (but prettily designed, I’ll give them that) copies of her Sakura Cards without ever having a notable emotional connection with them, with little to no exceptions.
The closest we ever get to the cards having some sort of impact is Sakura talking with Flight and joining forces with Meilin to fight Struggle. When you think about how Meilin used to be jealous of Sakura when she fought The Fight in the original, it’s nice to see their friendship (and how much Meilin matured) reaffirmed again.
No sense or clear direction
The new cards’ lack of personality is highlighted by messy pacing in the episodes and the overall directionless feel of the show. In the original, by having cards (or something out of the ordinary) being introduced very early on, and then giving them something, anything to do throughout the episode, the capture truly feel like an integral part of the show. Meanwhile, Clear Card’s pretty happy with focusing most of the episode on pretty unsubstantial, everyday situations like picnics and the like. I have to admit that spending several minutes on things like recipes and an entire episode reading kids a story when we were nearing the ending of the show really tested my patience.
Clear Card also loves to spend time remembering things that happened in the original, sometimes with quick throwbacks, sometimes with practically entire episodes that pretty much feel like lesser remakes of old ones. The card (or cards) of the week are only introduced when they’re about to be captured, which happens easily and ridiculously fast more often than not. It takes way too long for the show to acknowledge that the new cards are copies and even longer to reveal that there’s actually a reason behind that. The obvious things are too repetitive, and unlike the original, the show never bothers to leave enough hints to make the mystery compelling without making the wait exhausting.
Beloved characters that seem not to matter
The capture itself losing much of its charm it’s already bad enough, but Sakura having it too easy means that most of the time, she did everything by herself. While that might sound like a good thing for the growth of her powers, the truth is that it mostly just took screentime and purpose away from other characters.
One would think that being Sakura’s guardians would have some relevance, but besides some jokes (which I’ll admit I loved) Kero and Yue didn’t really have anything to do. Making characters you’re already familiar with not have a way to deal with new threats it’s a common and effective way to invoke danger. But they’re supposed to at least try to overcome that. They do too little too late and considering that Sakura rarely really struggles, this just makes them feel useless. A damn shame, because they’re some of my favorite characters. (There wasn’t enough Yukito either. A federal crime as far as I’m concerned.)
In the original, Syaoran’s by Sakura’s side in the action a lot, either by being a rival or an ally, which is one of the things that allows him to truly get to know her. In Clear Card, whatever’s going on with the boy happens behind the scenes. There aren’t many scenes where he gets to do something that we actually see, and they mostly just serve to remind us that he’s hiding something that worries him incessantly.
Even Tomoyo used to help in the original. Clear Card, however, only jokes and lets her sing once in a while, often going out of its way to make sure she’s not around the action.
My love for the character I’m already familiar with it’s practically the entire reason I happily came back to this show every week. So it was baffling, to say the least, to have it insist on spending time with new characters like Akiho and Kaito, even more considering how much it loves to remember the original. The worst part is that they’re even blander than the new cards; 22 episodes with them and I can’t remember a single time when I didn’t think that time spent on them could have been better used elsewhere. (The bunny has potential but she doesn’t have much screentime.)
Significantly less queer
It troubles me to say this, but the 90s show is significantly more progressive than the new one… and I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Both Syaoran and Sakura used to crush on characters of the opposite gender, which was most notably shown with Syaoran’s feelings for Yukito. In Clear Card, they only have eyes for each other, which I found devastatingly adorable, and it’s important to understand that bisexuals being in what’s perceived as a straight relationship are still bisexuals.
Still, it’s disappointing that Clear Card doesn’t offer anything to make up for the fact that we’re no longer seeing a boy crushing on another boy being treated with complete naturality. Sakura’s cuteness having the same effect on Akiho that it has on her love interest or girls that happen to get flustered in each other’s company are scraps of what we used to have.
Toya and Yukito’s romance is one of the most memorable subplots in Cardcaptor Sakura, but they barely even appear together in this show.
Tomoyo is still stuck in Eternally Pining Lesbian mode, which is mostly acknowledged for comedic effect. Under this circumstances, of course it’s never even suggested that there may be plans to make her move on at some point (and give her the girlfriend she deserves, c’mon, it’s been 20 years already).
The romance in Clear Card seems to have Sakura and Syaoran’s fans in mind, which is admittedly nice after the way the original series ends. It saddens me, however, to see the queerness in Sakura’s welcoming world being downplayed like this. Even more considering this show didn’t have a problem with finding time to hint at a questionable romance between Akiho and her caretaker, Kaito, who’s a questionable character himself.
Well, at least they got rid of the absolute nightmare that was little Rika’s illicit relationship with her teacher… but not without giving us a little scene just to remind us how mature she is for her age.
At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that Clear Card wants to recapture the magic by invoking the original without fully understanding what makes Cardcaptor Sakura so great.
Nods and throwbacks would have been a lot nicer if Clear Card actually had an identity and some purpose, some sense of direction. While I don’t think it’s fair to compare everything a new adaption does, this show seems to exist just to remind you some things you loved about the original, like Sakura’s kindness, the fashion, the existence of the original cast plus some events.
Nostalgia alone can only get you so far. I’ll always be happy to get more Cardcaptor Sakura in my life, but if we do get more… it can do better, and I really hope it does.
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