I filed the advice away, and there it was. Years passed, until, while writing my review of xxxHolic, checking some romaji spellings of character names, I discovered that xxxHolic, which I loved, was set in the same 'mythos' as Cardcaptor Sakura.
Well, my student was right, though I want to make a caveat to a general "You've got to see CCS" recommendation: Obviously if you like the magical girl genre, you have to see it (actually you probably have and are just reading this review to see what the middle-aged guy who reviews anime thought). For the rest of us, yes, it's a must see, but only after you've developed a Japanese patience for slowly developing plots. I think most otaku in the West eventually get there. If you haven't yet and are older than about 12, wait to see CCS until you have the necessary patience to enjoy a long-term plot that scarcely advances in most episodes.
Like all television series (whether anime or American fare like House) that are neither strictly episodic nor soap-operatic, CCS overlays an long-term plot on episodic plots. What is remarkably clever about the series is that it succeeds in combining an overall plot which is satisfying for anime fans of any age (if they are patient enough) with episodic plots that are, with a few exceptions, completely formulaic and trivial enough for a target audience of eight year-olds.
As one would expect from CLAMP and Madhouse Studios, the animation is beautiful. The voice acting is great. The incidental music is delightfully stereotypic. Opening and closing themes? Well, the openings are okay; I didn't like "Groovy", the closing theme for the first season; but the third season ending, the infectiously perky J-pop "Fruits Candy", with its Anglo-Japanese macaronic lyrics has already found its way into my iTunes playlist.
Kinomoto Sakura, a cheerful, popular, athletic fourth-grader, living what, but for the untimely death of her mother years earlier, would seem the ideal Japanese childhood, is drawn to a clasp-fastened book in her archeologist father's large basement library. Opening it, she finds that it is hollowed to hold a deck of strange cards. She lifts the top card and sounds out the English name written at the bottom "Windy", where upon a whirlwind fills the basement, and all of the cards, except the one she is holding, are scattered, unaccountably flying through the ceiling and walls of the house.
The cards are magical, as she soon learns from their guardian, Kerebros, the Beast of the Seal, who thanks to the absence of two of more powerful cards, is obliged to subsist in a form rather like a winged plush-toy lion-cub, and were the crowning creation of the Anglo-Chinese sorceror Clow Reed, who succeeded in synthesizing the European and Asian schools of magic. Each card is, at once a magical spell, and, if not controlled by a sorceror, a free-willed, and usually mischievous being. Kerebros, soon nicknamed Kero-chan, tells Sakura it is her duty to become the Cardcaptor, because if the cards are allowed to remain uncollected a calamity will befall the world.
Understandably reluctant, Sakura, nonetheless rises to the task, and slowly becomes committed to the quest to capture all of the errant cards, as their activities disturb or threaten family and friends alike. Her task is at once complicated and helped by her first cousin Tomoyo, whose infatuation with Sakura renders her inseparable from the heroine, whom she films in both ordinary and heroic circumstances, much to Sakura's embarrassment, and supplies with costumes and the latest cell-phones produced by her mother's company, and by a relative of Clow Reed from the Li clan of Hong Kong, Li Shaoran, who soon arrives tasked by his family with collecting the cards.
But collecting the cards is not the end of her adventures. . .
Of course, like any shoujo anime, the plot turns largely on the affections, and especially romantic attractions of the characters--particularly, Sakura's major crush on her older brother Toya's friend Yukito, Tomoyo's infatuation with Sakura, and the complicated relationship between Sakura and Shaoran.
One parent warning--among the affections on which the plot turns are four same-sex attractions between major characters, some of which other characters openly identify as romantic, and two romances, both in the past, between students and teachers.
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