Image source: カードキャプターさくら(公式) on Twitter

It’s been over ten years since I’ve seen Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie. Back when I was a child, a fan of the anime’s English-dubbed rendition Cardcaptors, I begged my mother for a copy of the movie and I watched the English dub of that thing so many times I still remember most every line.

Imagine my joy when I heard my beloved Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie was coming back to theaters in Japan to celebrate the franchise’s twentieth anniversary. Shamefully, though, I never watched the original Japanese dub, which gave me the perfect excuse to sneak out and go watch the film in a movie theater. Surprisingly, the Japanese version wasn’t that different from the English one, aside from changed character names and a different soundtrack filled with cheesy pop numbers. (Though I still really like the film’s dub theme song, “Tell Me” by Queen of Hearts.)

It was only when we got to the part about the villain’s backstory that my eyes popped wide open.

Image source: カードキャプターさくら(公式) on Twitter

The film revolves around our heroine Sakura, a girl who is given the power to use various magical powers by summoning spirits sealed within cards created by deceased sorcerer Clow Reed. She wins a trip to China with her best friend Tomoyo, her brother Tōya, and her brother’s friend Yukito (who also just happens to be her crush). Oh, and her fluffy companion Kero who is the guardian of the cards Sakura wields.

Although she’s having fun on her trip to Hong Kong and even encounters her classmates Shaoran and Meiling, Sakura is plagued by dreams in which a mysterious woman floating in the water reaches out to her with the ribbons around her gown. This woman is the villain of the film, and is given no name except “Sorceress.”

And this is where the plot completely splits.

[This part of the article contains some spoilers for the film]

In the Japanese version of the film, the Sorceress was a fortune-teller who used water to make her predictions from Hong Kong hundreds of years ago. Eventually, she became business rivals with Clow Reed due to his accurate foresight. Despite this, he was kind to her, and even gave her the hair ornament she wears on her head throughout the film as a birthday present.

In order to see him again and confess the feelings of love that she never got to say, she sealed herself away in a realm hidden away in a book. For hundreds of years, she calls out for Clow Reed to come and see her again, but he never does because he’s, well, dead. The only reason she attacks Sakura and her friends when they enter her realm is because she’s confused why they’re even there–after all, she had called for Clow Reed, not some kids and a stuffed bear.

Well, the English version throws this all out the window and turns her into a madwoman obsessed with revenge and taking over the world! In this version of the past, the Sorceress–now named Su Yung–and Clow Reed were still both fortune-tellers, but fell in love with each other on first sight. As they grew closer, Clow Reed started teaching her magic. This made her become power-hungry, and she tried to convince him to come with her to conquer the world with their combined magical powers. In fact, the scene in which Clow Reed gives the Sorceress her birthday present is over-dubbed with dialogue about her plans for world domination and him breaking up with her in response. Ouch.

And, instead of sealing herself within the book so she could see him again, she was sealed in the book by her lover so she wouldn’t cause crazy destruction in the world. Now, she’s a mad woman on a rampage, seeking revenge on the man who betrayed her.

Image source: カードキャプターさくら(公式) on Twitter

The interesting thing about the Japanese version is that due to Kero’s explanation that the Sorceress most likely is taking her anger out on Sakura because they were rivals for business, you don’t know until the very end that she ever had feelings for Clow Reed at all. Her lines of dialogue (voiced by the legendary Megumi Hayashibara of Slayers and Cowboy Bebop fame) are fairly ambiguous.

The English dub, on the other hand, loses the quiet yearning of the lonely maiden, having her talk about revenge, about her wanting him to break the seal and set her free, and even laugh maniacally like an evil mastermind.

It seems that the dub of this movie had a bit of an identity crisis: while the original Cardcaptor Sakura film’s theme is love–whether that be the Sorceress’ love for Clow Reed or Sakura’s love for Yukito–the Cardcaptors‘ movie’s goal appears to be to make an action movie with a villain who has a simple motive. While Cardcaptor Sakura has multiple mentions and nods toward her crush on Yukito and subtly shows the Sorceress’ pain of waiting for her love for so many years alone, Cardcaptors erases any traces of these completely, preferring simplicity as opposed to subtlety.

Image source: カードキャプターさくら(公式) on Twitter

As I left the theater, I found myself having a different feeling about the ending of the Japanese version compared to the English dub version. While the latter ends on a happy note, with the Sorceress losing all hatred and peacefully fading away, the former ends on a bittersweet one. The Sorceress never met the man she waited for for so long, and disintegrates into teardrop-like particles, heartbroken that her love is no more. It’s no exaggeration to say that I came to appreciate the character a lot more, now that she wasn’t a cookie-cutter villain any longer.

Here’s What the Upcoming Cardcaptor Sakura Anime Is All about

If you want to watch the film yourself, Discotek has re-released the film on DVD and Blu-ray in North America. Crunchyroll is streaming the original TV series with subtitles, and a new television anime taking place after the first anime series will premiere in January 2018.

Comments (6)
  1. Most CCS fans love the Sealed Card movie best but I always loved this movie for how dark and complex it is. Though like the author, I have a nostalgic appreciation for the Nelvana dub and I still have my dub VHS copy of it. I used to watch that and my Pioneer dub VHS tapes of the Sailor Moon movies to death as a kid. Did Animax Asia ever make an uncut English dub of this movie like they did for the TV series or is the Nelvana dub the only English version available?

    • Yeah, the silent subtlety of this movie is really good. I only saw the Animax Asia dub for the TV show when I was abroad once, but never again. I honestly don’t know if they ever produced a dub for the film, though I would guess not.

  2. You really need to watch the Japanese version of the anime, then. If you enjoyed the depth of the Japanese version of the movie, you’ll see some of that in the anime. The English dub of the series was heavily edited with a lot of the subtext removed. It will be like watching a whole new anime, and you’ll love it all the more.

    • Funny story, but I have seen the entire anime in Japanese already (at least 10 years ago). I just never went back to watch the movie in Japanese.

  3. Honestly I have never seen the Eng dub of the first movie, always watched it subbed. The second movie had a decent Eng dub. I am still wondering when/if they will ever re-release the second movie on BD…. it’s almost like it doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Actually, because I was so used to the dub of the first movie and TV show, I felt really unsatisfied when watching the dub of the second movie. Childhood nostalgia at its best. But I still love the Japanese dub, no doubt.

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