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

Like most American anime fans of a certain generational range, beggars couldn’t be choosers in the United States—and the addition of Card Captor Sakura to the titles we had available to us was worthy of major celebration. Despite being a bit older than the intended Japanese demographic, I consumed the original series with relish. Unlike many of the series from the 1990s, however, CCS is one of the few I shelled out for multiple times, including the blu-ray remasters. So it’s quite unsurprising that I am looking forward to the continued adventures of Sakura, Tomoyo, and Syaoran. 

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

In case there are those who need a refresher for this anime or never saw it (after all, this series is older than many young anime fans), Card Captor Sakura is a magical girl anime from the late 1990s. The series centers around elementary school student Sakura and her destiny as a “card captor” when she accidentally releases magic tarot cards (called Clow Cards) and must track them down with her magical key and costumes created by her best friend Tomoyo. 

Although the cards were supposed to be protected by the legendary three headed dog Cerberus (Keroberosu in Japanese), one could say he was asleep at the wheel. Not only is he often reduced to a cute tiny version (thus fulfilling the magical girl requirement of a cute mascot character who grants the magical girl her powers), but he seems rather lazy, and after the card containing book spent a bit too much time in Osaka, he picked up a distinctly funny accent for a mascot character.

Image source: カードキャプターさくら(公式)

Like many series which are ostensibly for a younger female demographic in Japan, there are many nods to what would be considered more adult material, behavior, or topics in Card Captor Sakura. It is outside of the scope of this article to go into detail about why there is such a stark distinction but it’s important to know that there is. This is actually fairly typical of works by CLAMP, the artist group which created the series. These elements, so different from western and specifically North American approaches to animation, are what created an anime fanbase in general. We knew we were watching something completely different than that to which we generally had access. In regards to what was of particular interest to me in the series was how the series touched upon queer issues.

While one hopes, twenty years later, this is not so much of a spoiler, in case anyone is considering going back the original series and watching it for the first time, consider this a warning. Although there are hints that there may exist several examples of queer feelings in the series, the most obvious and obviously canonical are Tomoyo’s. Although Tomoyo is rather open with her feelings for Sakura, Sakura is too immature and too naive to recognize them. At one point in the first series, Tomoyo essentially confesses that she loves Sakura. Sakura returns the words, but it is clear she doesn’t understand Tomoyo’s meaning. Breaking something of a fourth wall, Tomoyo remarks to seemingly no one in particular that Sakura must mean something different, but chooses not to explain further. 

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

This kind of glancing, tangential acknowledgement of the different rates at which romantic feelings develop depending on an individual’s unique maturity always allowed a sort of knowing wink to older viewers of the series. Despite the obvious clarity of Tomoyo’s feelings, Sakura’s obliviousness means it doesn’t become any kind of conflict within the series. Much to my chagrin, this has led to many assuming that Sakura and Syaoran ending up together, and doing so with minimal conflict, is a forgone conclusion. With the characters entrance into junior high school, an age and setting I know particularly well, I can feel the possibility of vindication after two decades.

Sakura may be oblivious in the first series, but she will not remain so. Sakura is not stupid. Indeed, by magical girl protagonist standards, she’s incredibly capable, competent, intelligent, quick-witted, and observant. Her failure to understand Tomoyo’s meaning is a matter of them being elementary school students, and Tomoyo clearly developing romantic and potentially even sexual interest much earlier than Sakura. The purpose of drawing attention to this fact is not to be puerile, but to acknowledge the truth that adolescents develop only in a general range, and when it comes to queer children and adolescents, an understanding of identity may occur quite early. At some point Sakura will grasp Tomoyo’s meaning.

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

The world has also progressed a lot on LGBT issues in the past twenty years, which gives the new series the potential to move further than they even could have in a continuation of the series at an earlier time. Tomoyo’s character in the original series was always selfless without exception, and perhaps as an elementary school student, it is somewhat believable. With the new series there is a potential to explore an inner conflict as Tomoyo struggles with whether to share her feelings or hide them, and an outer conflict with Syaoran, Sakura, and perhaps wider society should she choose the former. 

For reasons of the age of the characters, the distance in time between the new series and the old, and the age of the generation who grew up with the characters, there is real potential for a much darker, much more soul-wrenching series that places Tomoyo’s feelings as equal to Syaoran’s and forces Sakura to choose.

Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card will be simulcast on Crunchyroll with English subtitles and simuldubbed by Funimation.

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