Fourth-grader Sakura Kinomoto found a strange book in her father's library - a book made by the wizard Clow to store dangerous spirits sealed within a set of magical cards. But when Sakura opened it up, there was nothing left inside but Kero-chan, the book's cute little guardian beast, who informs Sakura that since the Clow cards seem to have escaped while he was asleep, it's now her job to capture them!
Sakura Kinomoto is a typical fourth grader who has become burdened with a heavy task. Due to her curiosity, she bit off more than she could chew by opening the book of the Clow, a collection cards each with their own unique spirits endowed with special powers. As the cards fly away, the guardian critter of the Clow cards, Kero-Chan wakes up from his long slumber. Much to his dismay, he informs Sakura that she is now the owner of the book of the Clow and that it is now her duty to collect the rogue cards before they tear everything asunder.
Cardcaptor Sakura is my favorite of all of CLAMP's works, it is also my favorite work of the magical girl genre. Visually it works on so many levels with its art style that embodies both notional fantasy brimming with wispy spirits, and the typical beautiful character designs that are associated with CLAMP and as a work all its own Cardcaptor Sakura is, artistically, the best of CLAMP'S works. CLAMP really has outdone themselves with the art, by focusing on the overall ambience of the setting. The whole set-up fits the subject matter of the manga perfectly, giving the entire work as sense of whimsy and wonder that are just a joy to read.
The cast in Cardcaptor Sakura play off of each other very well. I never felt like any of the characters were slapped on or added for filler. Tomoyo the best friend of Sakura, is a great supporting character. The relationship between the two girls is heart warming and charming as well as humorous. One of the amusing traits that Tomoyo displays is her obsession with Sakura becoming the perfect magical girl by designing Sakura's costumes herself. Tomoyo also plays a role in chronicling the adventures of Sakura (much to her dismay) by filming her in action as she captures all of the Clow cards.
As a main character, Sakura is a positive role model for young girls. Unlike other female characters of the magical girl genre which come off as whiny, annoying and boy-obsessive, Sakura shows great strength in what she has to do as a heroine while being able to maintain her charming femininity. Kero, the protector of the book of Clow is my favorite character of the series, he not only provides the much needed support for our heroine, but also much of the comedic timing of the story as well as providing the exposition of the cards, Kero is a perfect mascot character.
In Cardcaptor Sakura there are no pointless transformation scenes that seem to drag on. These are common staples in other magical girl manga and anime and it is refreshing to see a magical girl series that does not capitalize on this. There is the usual fluff of cute outfits and magical powers that is ubiquitous to the genre but it is never heavy handed. Cardcaptor Sakura breaks the mold by taking all that fans love about the magical girl genre, without the drudgery that goes along with it.
Story wise the series is simple but shines. The main part of the story that deals with Sakura having to essentially fix the mess she has brought upon herself (and others) in terms of the Clow Cards, could be taken as a coming of age lesson concerning responsibility. Love is also one of the main focus points of the series, not only the typical love of the boy meets girl fashion but other varieties as well. Although the series does sometimes touch on the delicate topic of same-sex love it never feels like it is being gratuitous, or unnecessary and handles it with a sense of innocence which never offends.
The occasional themes of growing up, making friends and dealing with everyday life as a child is explored with equal parts alongside the fantasy of the series. To add on to the aspects of fantasy, the trials and tribulations of young Sakura and each of the Clow cards are as wonderfully portrayed and detailed as are the everyday occurrences of our young heroine.
The downside is while each card does have its own creative ability and power, their appearances are all shown in a very formulaic manner giving the series a monster-of-the-week syndrome. While this does make it repetitive at times, it is cool to see Sakura use the powers of each card in her efforts to capture more cards since each card does grant her a different ability. In a sense it all balances out by using good magic based battles.
All in all Cardcaptor Sakura is a charming and surprisingly unique magical girl manga which breaks a few conventions of the genre while retaining the best of the style. It gives me no choice but to kowtow to Dark Horse and their prowess on deciding to re-release this classic. Dark Horse has also sweetened the deal by giving us this wonderful omnibus chocked full of twenty-five pages of additional full color art for only $19.99! With good news like that, there is no reason for fans not to purchase this classic right now.