There are times when I think it might be more fun to see adaptations and revivals of stuff you’re only mildly a fan of, as opposed to really passionate about. That way you can enjoy them on their own merits without getting bent out of shape about every change or cut – something either works or it doesn’t, but there’s never a sense of betrayal.
So it it is with me and Cardcaptor Sakura. Mind you, it does have a rather strong sentimental hold on me, being one of the very first anime I ever saw (though even earlier was stuff like Star Blazers and Speed Racer, to use their English titles), on a bad Saturday morning dub going under the name “Cardcaptors”. I enjoyed it – it intrigued me, and even in heavily edited (though I didn’t know that at the time) form, I sensed it was way better than most American cartoons. It didn’t change my life or anything, and I didn’t spend the intervening two decades dreaming of a return – but it was always a part of my anime consciousness at the molecular level.
When I saw the “Sakura to Futatsu no Kuma” prologue (a full series is coming in January 2018) at Anime Expo, I figured it was going to go over pretty well with more emotionally-connected diehard fans than I – indeed, it was sometimes hard to hear the dialogue over the screams. That hasn’t necessarily been the case, though. The reception has been pretty good but I’ve seen a fair bit of complaining out there.
Madhouse (who apparently still exist) has reunited the original cast and crew to an astounding degree, including director Asaka Morio (Chihayafuru), which should in theory be a good thing. But not everyone is pleased with the choices Asaka-sensei has made, starting with taking what was a very bright and vibrant visual palette and given us something soft and pastel-shaded. But you know, the series (based on a continuation of the original in manga form by CLAMP) is going to take place in middle school – and with Sakura and Syaoran Li being a few years older, I think updating the look to something a little less like a child’s perspective makes a certain sense. Yes, it’s rather a “shoujo look” – but so what? Asaka is good at that, and I think “Clear Card-hen” pretty much qualifies as a shoujo anyway.
In terms of content, while I’d be lying if I said I remembered many details about the original series, I felt like Sakura to Futatsu no Kuma jumped back into the swing of things pretty quickly. It’s always interesting when somebody like Asaka-san returns to a series after such a long absence – he was a newbie director then, and now he’s an industry veteran and the top dog at Madhouse. Surely he’s bringing a different sensibility to Cardcaptor Sakura now, and the show certainly feels different even though the bulk of the prologue OAV takes place while the main characters are still grade schoolers. Yet it feels oddly similar to the original, too – all the more in that I’d totally forgotten what it felt like watching Cardcaptor Sakura after a decade-and-a-half of not doing so. To say it was an odd experience would not be an exaggeration.
I’m going to assume you’ve seen the OAV if you’re reading this (if not – stop) but the headline is, of course, that Li confesses to Sakura. This comes on the cusp of his leaving to go back to Hong Kong of course (cruel boy), and just after the departure of Eriol back to Blighty. It’s pretty fanservicey to lead with that, I admit, but it’s necessary to set up the story in the TV series, when the leads will be in junior high. Everyone we know and love gets a scene or two and the overall vibe is familiar yet different in an effective way, but there’s never a question that this story is really about Sakura and Li. And as a setup for a full series built around them, I think Sakura to Futatsu no Kuma works very well. It’s a (mind) trip down memory lane, but one I’m happy to take.