Written by the creator of Cooking with Anime, Emily Bushman
Cardcaptor Sakura, created by the acclaimed CLAMP, is a story about a girl named Sakura and her quest to become the Master of the Clow Cards, magical cards whose power she can call on to do amazing feats of magic. If you aren't familiar with the series, read this article about the story up until the Clear Card Arc before you go any further! The series is famous for its relationships, focusing especially on friendships and how they can support you through various trials in life. Honestly, it's not a theme that's unique to anime in general, but Cardcaptor Sakura really takes it to the next level, creating complex relationships between characters that are crucial to Sakura's ability to catch the Clow Cards and, later on, transform them into Sakura Cards.
Without her friends, Sakura wouldn't ever be dressed to the nines, she would probably be lost AND confused more than she already is, and wouldn't have any healthy competition to fuel her drive to become a great magician. Ultimately, though, her friends push her through emotional growth as a person, and support her physical growth as she becomes a stronger user of magic. Without them, we wouldn't have the series we know and love and Sakura would never have been able to accomplish all that she did in the first two arcs that follow her journey to become the Master of the Clow Cards.
SPOILER WARNING: All that follows contains spoilers for the Cardcaptor Sakura manga and anime. If you don't want to spoil yourself this way, go read the manga or watch the anime (which you can see right here on Crunchyroll)!
The following information will primarily cover the events of the manga, with small asides to remark on differences in the anime. The two are different, though not overwhelmingly so. If you're interested in reading or seeing the source material before the new series begins, the manga is light, easy reading, and the anime has more of everything – more filler, more cards, and some off-script additions.
Tomoyo Daidouji is Sakura's best friend and also second cousin on Sakura's mother's side. They met for the first time in third grade, when Sakura gave her an eraser to use in class. Since then, the two became fast friends. Tomoyo is sweet, kind, caring, and mature for her age (remember, this story begins when they are both in fourth grade). Her mother is the head of a toy company and Tomoyo is frequently accompanied by a team of female bodyguards to protect her wellbeing. Her hobbies include music and fashion- she is a talented musician and singer (which sometimes puts her in peril), as well as a great seamstress. The latter skill comes in great use, as she singlehandedly provides Sakura with her battle costumes (all of which tend to be absolutely adorable AND sometimes themed to the battle at hand. I mean, come on, Tomoyo developed a rubber outfit for Sakura when Sakura was battling the Thunder card so that she wouldn't get electrocuted).
Because her mom has access to new technologies, Tomoyo has lots of opportunity to try out new and developing tech, which comes in handy when she helps Sakura out with her adventures to capture the Clow Cards. She often acts in the supporting role during Sakura's battles with the Cards, providing her with communication technology, like headsets, so that they can talk to one another during the fights, as well as recording Sakura's battles on a camcorder. A few times this has put her in peril- she was targeted by rogue Clow Cards, which inspired Sakura to work even harder to protect her.
But her role is often more than just sidekick. Despite her own and very real love for Sakura, she encourages Sakura's own crush on Yukito, and later Syaoran. She is remarkably selfless and seems to genuinely care about Sakura's health and happiness, often putting Sakura's feelings before her own. However, she is never depicted as being upset about the fact that Sakura doesn't show any regard for her in a way that isn't just as a friend. As long as Sakura is happy, Tomoyo is happy, and that's enough for Tomoyo.
In a lot of ways, Tomoyo is the perfect sidekick, but also the very best friend- selflessly loving Sakura without feelings of resentment. Sakura depends on her for emotional as well as physical support. Tomoyo helps her to stay safe during battles, but also lends a non-judgemental ear to Sakura when Sakura needs to talk about her feelings. It is unquestionable that without Tomoyo, Sakura would not have been able to accomplish all she was able to do.
Syaoran Li is Sakura's Cardcaptor rival-turned-romantic interest. He comes from the Li Clan in China, and is a distant descendent of Clow Reed, the originator of the Clow Cards and the greatest magician of his time. As such, when he and Sakura first meet, they are fierce rivals. He is portrayed as being very independent (I mean, he moved to Japan to live BY HIMSELF in the FOURTH GRADE) and aloof, looking down on Sakura and her attempts to catch the Clow Cards. When he first meets Sakura, he is socially awkward, cold, and mean. At this point in their relationship, he serves as the antagonist, causing Sakura to doubt herself and, by extension, dig more deeply into her own powers, leading to her eventual success in capturing the Cards.
It isn't until she is declared the Master of the Clow Cards that Syaoran lightens up and begins to befriend her. He is a talented magician himself and was trained to be a comptenent user of magic in China. So, when Sakura is tasked with changing the Clow Cards to the Sakura Cards, he serves to help her in battle by using his own magic to help her overcome challenges and tests of her power. As he works more closely with her and Tomoyo, he begins to develop feelings for her, which only serve to develop his devotion to helping Sakura further her own magical abilities and grow as a character. Several times, especially in the second arc, Syaoran puts his life at risk for Sakura, and gets hurt in some of the battles while trying to help her. His willingness to help, even at the risk to himself, motivated Sakura a great deal and pushed her into seeking victory so that his sacrifice for her wouldn't be for nothing.
Towards the end of the second arc, he has completely warmed up to Sakura to the point that he confesses his feelings to Tomoyo and seeks her advice in sharing his feelings with Sakura. He tries multiple times to confess his feelings for her and doesn't succeed until after she has completed her task of transforming the Clow Cards to the Sakura Cards, again, with his help in the final battle. His confession and admission that he will be moving back to China confuses and frustrates Sakura, as she can't understand why she's so upset about his leaving. After a short period, his own confession forces her to realize her own feelings for him, in many ways paralleling her final battle against Eriol. Just as she as able to come into her own as a magician, Syaoran's confession pushes her into realizing her real feelings, and she is able to grow as a character and confess her own feelings for him right before he departs.
Their relationship, first as rivals, then as friends, then finally as romantic partners was one of the longer developing relationships, but all the much more important for the time it took. These two fought together, worked together, and won together, uniting them in many ways and teaching them both the values of loving and caring for another.
The Guardians of the Clow - Cerberus and Yue
Clow Reed, creator of the Book of Clow and the Clow Cards, also created two magical beings whose duty it is to protect and look after the Book of Clow and the Master who controls them. Cerberus, or Kero-chan, is aligned with the Sun, and is tasked with choosing the new Clow Master. Yue, aligned with the Moon, is tasked with judging Kero-chan's candidate to determine if they're worthy to take on the position. Kero-chan, whose full form is a massive winged lion, is funny, outgoing, and adores sweets and video games. During most of the series, he looks like a little lion stuffed animal with wings. Yue is much more reserved in character, and much more loyal to his previous master- he is overall very unwilling to accept a new Master of the Clow Cards. Similar to Kero-chan, Yue has two forms- his full magic form, in which he looks like an angelic man, complete with wings and long flowing silver hair. His temporary, or secondary form, is that of a boy named Yukito, who also happens to be Sakura's brother's best friend (more on that later).
Kero-chan is very eager to elect a new Clow Card Master, and therefore is very accepting of Sakura. After all, he is the one who chooses her to recapture the Cards and starts her off on this journey. To Sakura, he takes on the role of mentor and friend. He teaches her how to use the magic of the Cards and gives her advice on capturing them, but at the same time supports her in her decisions and lets her take the lead on sealing the cards. He, Tomoyo, and Sakura all work together to get the cards back under control, and his support really helps Sakura to use her best judgement and try new ideas when it comes to capturing the cards and later unravelling the mysteries of the town's troubles in the second arc.
Yue, on the other hand, is not accepting of Sakura, even after she becomes the Master of the Clow. It is his job to judge the candidate of their worthiness to essentially become his and Kero-chan's new master and he takes the job seriously. He doesn't reveal himself to Sakura until the end of the first arc and it becomes clear very quickly that he holds Clow Reed in very high esteem. He both doesn't want a new master and doesn't think Sakura is capable of taking on the responsibility. Winning him over becomes Sakura's first big emotional challenge as a character. Up until meeting Yue, she worked on her magical ability and developed her skill, but to win him over she had to demonstrate all she'd learned emotionally from her friends and the other Cards to convince him she'd be a good Master. She is eventually able to placate him by confessing she'd rather be his friend than his master, allowing him to accept her as someone similar to, but not a replacement for, Clow Reed.
Without these two as Sakura's guiding points, she would not have been able to capture the Clow Cards or, later, transform them to Sakura Cards. They bring essential wisdom about the nature of Clow Reed's magic and his magical creations, and help her understand her own powers. In them she finds friends, mentors, and teachers. Through them she also learns how to get along with others, and how to learn from mistakes and try again.
Tōya and Yukito
Tōya, Sakura's brother, and Yukito, Tōya's best friend, play minor roles in Sakura's many friendships, but important ones. Tōya, of course, is a bit self-explanatory. He's in high school at the start of the story, works many different jobs, and picks on his little sister mercilessly. His main relationship with his sister is a supportive one- he looks out for her, and is initially suspicious of Syaoran and Syaoran's developing feelings for Sakura. He has some idea she's involved in events a bit out of the norm for an elementry school kid and has some very slight magical ability as well, which allows him to see ghosts (or so he says).
Yukito, Tōya's best friend, is also the temporary form of Yue, Sakura's guardian. Weird, huh? Though Yukito is Yue's alternate form, Yukito is very much his own person (funny, charming, outgoing) with his own feelings. He is also Sakura's biggest crush throughout the series. At the start of the story, she is head-over-heels for him and spends a lot of her time trying to bump into him and chat with him. Syaoran also incidentally develops a crush on Yukito, but his crush is explained as his subconscious attraction to Yue's magic.
Some of Sakura's crush starts to wane when she realizes Yukito is Yue's alternate form, but due to her lingering feelings, she initially misses a lot of clues about Syaoran's own feelings for her as they begin to change throughout the Sakura Card arc. Thus, without Yukito around, we can feasibly say that Syaoran and Sakura would have confessed a lot earlier and we could have avoided the drama altogether. But, hey, that's the fun stuff, right?
Her crush on Yukito was important in Sakura's later realization of her own love for Syaoran. Her crush on Yukito taught her what it was to have feelings for another and this, coupled with time spent with Syaoran, was what ultimately brought them together. Furthermore, her crush on Yukito is what allowed her to win Yue over with love and companionship instead of with force. Initially, when Yue challened her to the Final Judgement, she refused to fight because she didn't want to hurt Yue and, by extension Yukito, with her magic. This forced her to find a non-violent resolution to the Judgement, which ultimately worked in winning Yue over and in reinforcing her own sweet and pure-hearted morals.
Relationships in the Clear Card Arc...
While we can't say for sure what exactly will happen in this arc, what will be really interesting to pay attention to are the new characters and relationships that have been introduced, as well as how old ones continue to develop. Many fans are eagerly awaiting canon Sakura and Syaoran relationship development, for obvious reasons, so it will be intereting to see how they are able to balance their love for one another with Sakura's developing magical ability. Will Syaoran still be able to support her without jealousy as she further transform's Clow's magic to something totally unique to Sakura?
Tomoyo will be another character to watch as well. She has selflessly loved Sakura and pushed Sakura towards her own love interests rather than trying to force her feelings on her best friend. Given Sakura's past reliance on Tomoyo's unflagging support, her relationship with Tomoyo will be crucial in the face of whatever new challenges await!
Finally, the new relationships will be pivotal. Relationships with other characters, and how Sakura chooses to treat those people have defined the plot of each arc in many very influential ways. The new characters we meet in this new arc will undoubtadly be important, and the conflicts they bring with them will no doubt define the character development Sakura will go through.
Look forward to the new seaon of Cardcaptor Sakura to watch for these relationships, and please comment below with your own interpretation of how you think each relationship might change as the characters go through new experiences in middle school!