Of the many world premieres at this years Anime Expo, Card Captor Sakura may have been the most surreal. As the announcer was sure to stress, it has been almost 20 years since the original anime series aired in in Japan and now a packed theater in Los Angeles would be the first in the world to see its revival.
Revival is the only way to describe what we were witnessing. The new anime, Card Captor Sakura: Clear Card will be based on the new story arc of the manga written and illustrated by CLAMP which began publication July of last year. The original Studio Madhouse is producing the anime along with the original director, scriptwriter, and composer, Morio Asaka, Nanase Ohkawa, and Takayuki Negisha respectively, returning for the new series. Even the entire primary voice cast are reprising their roles for the new adaptation. It’s almost as if the intervening years never happened and the anime is marching along into its next arc.
We were treated to an OVA, titled Card Captor Sakura: Sakura and the Two Bears, transitioning between where the original anime and manga left off into the new Clear Card Arc. Syaoran confesses his love for Sakura (to what may have been the loudest roar of approval I’ve ever heard in a theater) before surprising her by claiming he must return to Hong Kong. With all the cards captured, he has pressing business back in his home that demands his attention.
Confused about her own feelings and distraught over the prospect of losing her friend, Sakura stays up all night making a teddy bear for Syaoran, catching him just before his bus leaves to express her own feelings give him a gift to match the bear he had previously given her. After an indeterminate amount of time, Sakura is on her way to school and sees Syaoran waiting on the sidewalk for her, bear in hand.
The episode finishes up the very tail end of the original manga where the anime cut off at Syaoran’s confession, leaving us fresh and ready to immediately launch into the new content in 2018. As a result, the OVA was slow and character-focused, navigating Sakura’s tumultuous days after Syaoran’s declaration. Because of this we didn’t get any transformation or battle scenes, but the episode found other ways to show us its strength.
Where they couldn’t dazzle us with dynamic animation, the beautiful staging is what carried this episode. The color design was fantastic, with a few sunset scenes showing off the anime’s palette. More detailed aspects of various scenes were obviously lovingly crafted. During Sakura’s walk to school we see beautiful illustrations of branches passing overhead through her perspective set out in several layers that move in an impressively organic way. There are also several impressive layout shots that either have an impressionistic feel highlighting Sakura’s emotional state or specifically reference manga paneling.
The one extremely notable exception in regards to the animation itself was some remarkable character animation of Sakura walking, which unsurprising occurred multiple times during the episode from a number of angles. It seems strange to highlight this specifically but you’ll definitely understand when you see it. The delicacy and detail of the movement was instantly eye catching each and every time.
At the end of the day, the OVA was mostly just a taste of things to come which poised the story to launch directly into the Clear Card Arc for the new season, but anyone with a pair of ears could tell that something truly special was happening in the hall. Of all the premieres I attended, none had as many emotional responses from the audience as Card Captor Sakura. Each time a returning character spoke, the first scene featuring Sakura on her roller skates, iconic shots from the original anime like the vertical pan up Sakura, all were met with applause or cheers from different areas of the crowd.
Really none of this should come as a surprise. Both Madhouse and Card Captor Sakura are iconic in the anime industry. Painstakingly rebuilding the original cast and staff is a feat unto itself which shows the studios investment in making this anime a success. Based on source material by the original authors, you could say the deck was stacked (I’m sorry). A well-composed episode that found space to be creative with slower scenes confirmed what seemed like a foregone conclusion.