A staple of the “magical girl” anime genre, Cardcaptors centres on Sakura, a bubbly ten year old girl whose life is turned upside down when she accidentally releases the magical Clow Cards. Also released is a small winged bear called Kerobaros who tells her, much to her chagrin, that it is now her task to recapture each card, using her wits, his guidance and a magical key which transforms into a staff.
Cardcaptors works off a formulaic structure. In each episode, a released card begins causing trouble through strange, unexplainable events. Sakura has to track down the card and capture it. So far, so straightforward.
Whilst each episode uses this simple premise, Cardcaptors throws in enough elements to keep things from becoming stale. For starters, Sakura has no idea what she’s doing, which makes for a great character development arc as she must learn to understand and master each card she captures, and know which to use for future captures.
Sakura must also keep her card capturing life hidden from her family and friends, with the exception of Madison who loves to make elaborate outfits for Sakura to capture the cards in, and film her capturing them.
Li Syaoran also later comes onto the scene, a budding magician from a magical family who begins as Sakura’s rival for capturing the cards and later becomes her friend and ally, and even falls for her.
Whilst some of the goofy, over the top antics and humour might be too much for some, Cardcaptors did not shy away from more adult topics, particularly tackling how Sakura and her older brother Tori dealt with their mother’s death. The original manga by all female team CLAMP also included same sex romance (Julian’s feelings for Tori, Madison’s for Sakura and Li’s crush on Julian), cross-dressing and suggested one of Sakura’s friends was in a relationship with a teacher – most of this was left out of the English dubbed version. You can read more on the changes made from the original here – http://ccs.wikia.com/wiki/Cardcaptors
Everything that was included however, was dealt with in a sensible and mature way, especially by Sakura herself who often displays a maturity beyond her years, despite her tendencies to sleep through her alarm clock and put off her summer homework til the very last minute.
If you’re looking for a light hearted magical girl anime, that ticks all the boxes (cute outfits, cute mascot, pretty staff), then Cardcaptors is definitely worth a shot. The series ran for 70 episodes, with two sequel movies, the second using a different English cast. If you haven’t grown up with the English dub you might find some of the voices a little grating, so it’s always worth checking out the original Japanese.
The English dub also had a few original songs created for it, I’ve included one below: