I’ve had mixed thoughts about Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card all season, but my problems with it really came to a head in its last two episodes. The show overall had a slow pace, a kind of slice of life feel, with some obligatory card captures thrown in throughout. And this was fine for a while, but eventually, the pace and the lack of significant character development (I’m still a bit bitter about how continually fixated on Sakura Tomoyo is: I adore their friendship, but give Tomoyo her own love interest, dang it) made it seem like the show was relying more on our nostalgia about it and these characters rather than creating an engaging sequel. And while this nostalgic approach could have worked better had they focused more on making a slice of life anime, with the overarching plot they chose…Not so much.
What also helps illuminate where Clear Card went wrong was where it went right: the Meiling episodes. I never actually watched Cardcaptors, just read the Cardcaptor Sakura and Cardcaptor Sakura: Master of Clow manga, and so I didn’t have any attachment or more than basic information about her character. And yet, her episodes were my favorites. They balanced the obligatory card-catching (I’m a sucker for synchronized fighting scenes) and emotional weight, as Meiling pushes both Sakura and Syaoran to be the best versions of themselves. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence it’s when an anime-only character shows up that the anime was the most successful. Her appearance allowed showrunners to create their own material, focusing less on the whole-Kaito-Akiho-Alice-in-Clock-Land mess and more on the heart of the show: Sakura and her relationships.
But that’s not to say Akiho and her character were not an intriguing part of the show, as one of the few new characters introduced. Akiho quite literally offers a mirror into Sakura’s psyche, and if the show had actually explicitly focuses on this, offers a way for Sakura to see herself through her friend, and better see how those around her care about her. Everyone in the show constantly compares Akiho to Sakura, to the point where Akiho feels bad mentioning it in episode 22, but Tomoyo (in a very sweet scene) assures her that those parallels are by no means bad and lets her talk through her fears of bothering and/or hurting Sakura.
And while the Akiho parallels have been by no means subtle in this show, Sakura herself explicitly wishes for a mirror, in a scene from episode 21, rightly quoted by my friend Shamus:
I’m the one who understands myself least. Maybe that’s why I make everyone worry. I wish I had a mirror… One that would show the real me. Then, maybe I would know how to avoid making everyone worry.
The parallels between the two girls are right there down to it being revealed (finally) that the masked figure in robes from Sakura’s dreams is in fact – wait for it – Akiho! But instead of allowing for Sakura and Akiho (who, granted is in a sort of trance and not aware of what she is doing YIKES) to talk through their very-similar and oh-so-relatable fears, Kaito, who I have disliked from his first appearance and was right to distrust, literally turns back time to ensure that Sakura is never made aware of the masked figure’s true identity. And then we end our show, with Kero proclaiming how he knew Sakura would be a good Cardcaptor.
Yikes doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt at the this “conclusion.”
First of all, even if I’ll admit I’m not quite sure what the heck Kaito’s MO is, his goal seems to be to use his super powerful D level magic to get increasingly-powerful Sakura to turn her old Sakura Cards into Clear Cards for his use. So, in a show called Cardcaptor Sakura, our protagonist is being manipulated behind the scenes, all while becoming increasingly powerful (including her own ability to use time magic) and having none of the other magical characters communicate with her about it. Eriol, while unable to contact anyone at the end of the season because of Kaito, has been as cryptic and out of touch as ever all season, and even Yue, Kero, and Syaoran keep Sakura out of the loop. They don’t want her to worry! They don’t want her to doubt her friendship with Akiho! And notably, all these characters are male. They all decide not to talk to Sakura or give her the chance to talk to Akiho herself about any of this, all to “protect” her, which in turn, if not directly causes, certainly helps enable Kaito, a creepy, predictor male character if I ever saw one, to have such control over Sakura, all while he already has control over her “mirror,” Akiho.
Even the tale of Alice in Clock Land, an obvious allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice, who Akiho sees as Sakura, doesn’t have control over her story. The book is a conduit for Kaito to control Akiho, and by extension Sakura, twisting this classic character in an unsettling way. In a show about a magical girl, Clear Card ends up being a lot less empowering than it is chilling. Kero’s optimistic reminder of Sakura’s ideal Cardcaptor status is a tonal whiplash, taking us back to earlier days as Sakura obliviously continues on in her life, unaware of Kaito’s manipulation. I can see how this tonal shift could be setting up for a sequel/continuation of this series, but in terms of what we got of the show so far tone-wise, it is more disturbing than anything else.
At the end of the day, Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card does some things really well. When it really focuses on characters and relationships, with card-catching on the back burner like in the Meiling episodes, characters start to develop, and their interactions are meaningful. But the plot/plotting of Kaito this season as the driving force behind the Clear Card creation needed a heck of a lot more explanation beyond the last two episodes to work at all. In these last few episodes especially, instead of framing these Clear Cards, literally transparent, as a way of how Sakura doesn’t see herself, these episodes emphasize how little Sakura sees in terms of how she and her friends are being manipulated. That’s not to say I think it’s Sakura’s fault she doesn’t see this, she’s a middle schooler for goodness sake, but the people/friends/allies in her life want to protect her so much they don’t see her for who’ve come to see her over the course of the series: young, yes, but someone who would do anything for her friends, and with the help of those around her, is sure she’ll be alright.
What did you think of Clear Card’s ending? Did you read the manga and/or have a different take on this ending? Comment below or talk to me on Twitter about it!