Cardcaptor Sakura: Girls Like Magic, Right?

When I was in elementary/middle school, there was a show on Kids WB called Cardcaptors. This was sometime before I got into anime, but right around the time that shows about collecting things – Pokemon and YuGiOh – were insanely popular with my age group.

Everything has wings! And lace! And petticoats!

Everything has wings! And lace! And petticoats!

The original Japanese show is a 90s classic – it is the quintessential shoujou anime (a show targeted mainly at girls) almost as much as Sailor Moon. Sakura is an often shy but brave 10 year old who discovers a book filled with magical cards that escape when she inadvertently opens it, and the guardian of the cards – now trapped in the body of a sassy plush toy – entrusts her with the task of recapturing them.

What I remember most about Cardcaptors was how intensely it captured my imagination. When I was twelve, I had a slew of imaginary friends, many of whom were inspired by the CLAMP aesthetic, with soft pastel colors, flowing hair, and magical powers. I became obsessed with the idea of summoning elemental spirits from cards and flying around on a winged baton. While I can’t quite trace my affinity for DIY, I remember drawing my own Clow Cards on pieces of paper, gluing them to cardboard, and decorating the backs with sloppy three-dimensional compasses that I shaded with blue colored pencil.

Now that I’m reaching a point in my life where reliving my childhood is becoming more and more the easiest way to deal with stress, I decided it would be a good idea to rewatch the show that was so formative in my early years.

As with many Japanese shows that come to the US to air on network television, the English dub of “Cardcaptor Sakura” was heavily edited to make the show more palatable to a (male) American audience. Watching all 70 episodes of the original, I understood why, and part of me wondered why they even bothered.

They even changed the name of the show to downplay the role of the female protagonist.

They even changed the name of the show to downplay the role of the female protagonist.

The show was altered on several levels, including but not limited to the opening theme song (and all the music throughout the series), episode order, romantic subplots, cultural references, and character names/personalities.

Very briefly, let’s compare the theme songs.

And the English:

The contrast is pretty stunning – if not for the character designs, you wouldn’t know you were about to watch the same show. The first tells the story of an adorable schoolgirl with magical powers and her equally adorable friends. The second is – well, not only is it just a summary of the show put to terrible music, but uses fast cuts and shots of monsters to really try and convince you that this is a Boys’ Action Show.

To make the show more appealing to a young male American audience, episodes were also shown out of order, with the first episode aired being the one introducing Li Shaoran to emphasize his role in the show and highlight his rivalry with Sakura. (In the original series, this was episode 8.) Episodes that were more focused on Sakura, romance, or featured less action, were dropped.

Li Shaoran - aka the target demographic

Li Shaoran – aka the target demographic

Additionally, the names of characters and settings were Anglicized (Sakura Kinomoto = Sakura Avalon, Tomoeda = Reedington, Tokyo Tower = the radio tower). For a childrens’ dub, these are changes I can live with, even if it frustrates me that they were made because it was assumed that an American audience could not follow a story set in Japan, or would have difficulty pronouncing Japanese names. (These folks have a great research paper that talks about the business motivations for all of these changes in much more detail than I will in this post.)

Probably most controversial aspects of CCS for American audiences were the romantic subplots. Not only were heterosexual relationships edited out of the show (part of making it appealing to a male demographic) but relationships with homosexual undertones were completely omitted or rewritten as close friendships.

Though it's hard to read Tomoyo's obsession with videotaping Sakura as anything but romantic...

Though it’s hard to read Tomoyo’s obsession with dressing Sakura in frilly costumes and videotaping her as anything but a little kinky…

There are also many implicit and explicit relationships between adults and minors throughout the series that were censored for the American version, such as Sakura’s crush on her brother’s high-school friend Yukito, and the backstory of Sakura’s parents (her father was a teacher at her mother’s high school, and they married while she was still a high school student.)

I’m tempted to say that in the end it’s better to have a subpar dub of a TV show like this to introduce kids to anime, the way it did for me, but it makes me frustrated about the reputation of animation in the United States. In Western society, cartoons, animation, comic books, etc. are still viewed as something meant strictly for children, whereas in Japan, anime is just another genre. The story does not need to suffer simply because of the medium.

I talked in an earlier post about how Avatar: The Last Airbender crosses demographic boundaries and has received critical acclaim for its excellent writing and complex themes, and I see this as a trend of our generation of nerds taking over as the new filmmakers and Hollywood executives. Even over the past ten years, comic books have been destigmatized as summer after summer is marked by comic book movie blockbusters. Though animation has a ways to go, the progress we’re seeing is good, and I can only hope it continues.

Rewatchability: Low

Marathonability: The story gets repetitive after a while, but it’s cheerful to have on in the background, if you don’t mind looking up to read the subtitles every now and then.

You’ll like it if you like: Sailor Moon, shows about kids collecting magical things, anything else by CLAMP, Hostel (…no, no, not really)

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