As those who follow my tumblr know, I’ve embarked on a quest to watch every noteworthy mahou shoujo anime. (Shoot me some recs in the comments if you know any. Here’s MAL.) The natural starting point is Cardcaptor Sakura, which I’ve seen 5 eps of several times in the past three years, always loving it but never progressing (just because I’m me). I’ve been meaning to make a post about the directing in the first episode, but today I’ll be taking a more general approach and looking at how this series is the perfect showcase of why I care so much about creators.
Cardcaptor Sakura is without a doubt one of the best and most popular mahou shoujo anime there is, considered a classic by many. It’s a show that has appeal outside its target demographic and is loved by plenty of people who haven’t and probably wouldn’t watch another mahou shoujo anime. I don’t want to make any statements about whether CCS is “better” than other mahou shoujo anime, nor try to determine how influential it is (hell if I know—I don’t pretend to understand the historical course of mahou shoujo anime). What I know is that I like CCS more than any other mahou shoujo anime (yes, even though I’m only seven episodes in—the series has always held a reserved spot on my favorites list) and I’m going to talk about why.
It certainly isn’t because of the plot. Whether because of CCS’s influence or not, it’s pretty much the same as any other action mahou shoujo anime—a girl gains mysterious powers which she must use to capture a bunch of magical objects that were scattered conveniently across her city in the first episode. (There are variants on this setup, but the results are basically the same.) The series is rife with shoujo tropes that I’m too lazy to list, based on a manga that has flowers fucking everywhere, just like any other shuojo manga (that I’ve read). Point being, the core of the series is something I’ve seen plenty of times, so for it to come out above all the others, it must stand out in some particular ways.
A shortlist of the reasons I appreciate CCS so much would be: spectacular art and animation, perfect directing, lovely character designs (with tons of outfit changes!!!), and top-notch voice acting. The series contains these attributes due to the people who worked on it.
Starting with the character design, which is a product of the series being an adaption of a CLAMP manga. CLAMP are spectacular designers, and the only reason I don’t bring them up when I talk about anime character design is that most series which use them completely fuck them up. xXxHolic, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, and Code Geass are all infamous for their hilariously inconsistent character models. The only animation studio that’s consistently handled CLAMP designs well is Madhouse (CCS, Chobits, Kobato, Mouryou no Hako, X), whom I’ll get to in a moment. CLAMP are to thank for the tons of adorable outfits that the characters wear throughout the series (though they’re also to blame for the ridiculous height and wingspan of every dude).
Next, Madhouse, whom, as I said, are the only studio that does CLAMP designs right. And besides that, they’re an amazing studio who’ve produced more of my favorite anime than I care to list here. So far, every episode of CCS has looked damn good, and assuming that such remains consistent, then it’s incredible to accomplish that across a 72-episode series. (They certainly didn’t accomplish that in Hajime no Ippo, though for what it’s worth, the designs were more complex in that series.) I’ve particularly enjoyed all of the action scenes, which look better than almost anything on TV today.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty bits with directing, which I’ve had years now to research (lol). I find the direction in CCS to be perfect. Every image is framed just right, every episode and scene are paced perfectly, and everything generally feels right. Director Asaka Morio (Aoi Bungaku part 1, Galaxy Angel, Gunslinger Girl, NANA) is a master of understated brilliance, never showy nor stylish, but instead taking “normal” to the height of what it can be. He’s the kind of director who’d win at the Academy Awards if he were doing movies. Besides him, there are a lot of great episode directors who worked on the show, many of whom went on to direct other good shows. (Examples: Matsui Hitoyuki—Dokkoida?!, 2×2=Shinobuden, and Penguin Musume; Kanbe Mamoru—Dempa Teki na Kanojo, Letter Bee OVA, Sora no Woto; Takayanagi Shigehito—Kanamemo, Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai; Saeki Shouji—All of the worst GAINAX anime, but also the two best eps of FLCL (3 and 5); Katabuchi Sunao—Black Lagoon).
Lastly, voice acting, which is kind of a big deal for me when it comes to mahou shoujo anime. The genre is home to lots of high-pitched, ultra-cutesy, energetic performances which are occasionally headache-inducing, as well as a number of first-time seiyuu and child actors. It’s not that I totally dislike these kinds of performances, but in the event that a mahou shoujo anime has truly stand-out performances, it makes the entire watching experience more pleasant—a big point in the show’s favor.
Sakura is voiced by Tange Sakura in the least-forced-sounding cute performance I can think of, and seems to have a whole lot of fun with the role (as can be said about the others, too). Iwao Junko is adorable and smart as Daidouji Tomoyo, who is semi-instantly one of my favorite anime characters. My favorite voice in the show is Hisakawa Aya as Kerberos, whose Osaka-ben is cute as fuck. And his big form (which I haven’t seen) has the same voice as Isaac from Baccano. Seki Tomokazu and that chick who played Shinji are also there. I haven’t gotten to Syaoran’s proper introduction yet, but he sounded fine in the one line he’s had. (Update: He’s also cute.)
Anyway, I’ve rambled on a lot more than I expected to, but you get the point. All of this is why the daunting task of watching 72 episodes of CCS still doesn’t sound half as difficult as finishing any other series in my queue (pretty much all of which are 50 episodes long).
Every noteworthy mahou shoujo, eh? Wow! I should really do that someday myself ;) Good luck!
You may want to try some really old school stuff like Majokko Meg-chan. I would also rec Hime-chan no Ribbon.
Gonna check out Hime-chan no Ribbon for sure, it looks really cute~! As for Majokko Meg it sounds interesting but I’m only finding one ep with subs (and it just came out a couple weeks ago apparently). If the group is actually going to work on it actively, it might be interesting to watch as it comes out, but otherwise I’d rather put that one off until someone finishes subbing it.
By the way, I keep trying to look at your website, but it crashes every time right around when the music kicks in.
I just watched the first ep of Hime-chan no Ribbon. LOVE IT!!! It’s freakin adorable!!! And there’s so much potential for things to go absolutely nuts with this plot XD
CCS and Hime-chan no Ribbon are my two favourite mahou shoujo anime. I’ll be looking forward to hearing what you think as you progress further :)
Only the first episode of Meg? Hm, I thought there was more subbed than that. Ah well, I guess you could put that in the “for later” or “maybe someday” pile :)
My site crashed? That’s really strange, I tested in on several computers and never had any issues :/ I’m really sorry about that.
It could be because I’m using the google chrome browser. Have you tested it in that?
I agree with you that in most anime adaptions from Clamp the designs look kinda funny. However, I think the designs in Code Geass (Takahiro Kimura) and the X-movie (Nobuteru Yuki) were kickass !
I don’t dislike the Code Geass designs, they’re just horribly inconsistent. to see what I mean, watch the first episodes of season 1 and season 2 next to each-other and it looks entirely different.
Mhhh, I have rewatched CodeGeass 4 times and just love it. Don’t get me wrong, I really like your blog, but you are too picky about the artwork ^_- Just appreciate anime for what it is.
That being said, I hope you enjoy Cardcaptor Sakura.
“Appreciate anime for what it is” means appreciating art, god damn it.
Look, I’m not trying to say Code Geass isn’t good. I love Code Geass, even though I never finished the second season. I also love the character designs, as Kallen is one of the only big-breasted characters I actually find attractive and Nunally is in my top 10 or so for hottest anime character ever. Plus Lelouche is a fabulous badass.
But I’m talking about an objective fact, here. Code Geass has inconsistent art. That means exactly what it says and isn’t meant to be implicit of any personal opinions. It’s just the truth.
But art is about expression, not perfection, hehe ^_- Aside that, so long the anime is entertaining, I will watch it.
art is such a clumsy word. I just say “anime X has inconsistent illustrations”
@gl: That can work. I use the terms “art” and “animation” because they match up with “art director” and “key animator.”
Tange Sakura is also Rinko in Love Plus.
Egads, I hadn’t imagined she sounded that high pitched, but now I can’t unhear it. This will make the Rinko doujins interesting…
I plan to watch the CCS anime sometime this year. I read (and loved the hell out of) the manga several years ago–Sakura and Syaoran will always be one of my absolute favorite couples. So I can’t wait to see the anime.
I warn you that this is one of those cases where the anime changes a lot of things from the manga, so go into it with that in mind (it might be best to read this beforehand: http://ccs.sky-bound.org/index.php?id=mvsa )
(Ack, can’t believe I didn’t see this post until now!)
But yeah, CCS has been a favorite of mine since I bought the VHS of the first four episodes sometime in 2000 (it was also the first anime I watched in Japanese). I started off watching the dub, but after I later found out how butchered it was, I switched to subs XD
I’ve read most of the CCS manga too, and many will agree that the anime is better mostly because it expands the story more, fleshes out the subplots and characters, and shows how Sakura catches way more cards than the manga does.
I agree that the seiyuu are great! I especially love Aya Hisakawa as Kero-chan ^^
I’m shocked. I’ve almost never heard of a community generally agreeing that an anime is better than the original manga, especially if it changes anything whatsoever. That’s great news too because I could tell the manga was going to be a pain in the ass to track down, and while I am interested in the development of the teacher-student relationship, I don’t particularly want to subject myself to shoujo pacing and all those fucking flowers.
Actually, the manga won’t be too difficult to track down. Dark Horse is re-releasing it in omnibus format. The first volume (covering three of the original volumes) is already out, with the second out in a couple months.
Awesome, thanks for the tip!
That’s gonna be a long quest, considering how a lot of magical girl anime are 50+ episodes. I’ve also been slowly working on it and there’s no end in sight.
I’ve been meaning to rewatch CCS now that there’s BD rips of it. I started rewatching it when better DVD rips began getting released a couple years ago, then restarted when BD rips began getting released, and now it’s been long enough that I’ll probably restart yet again. Despite this, I’ve been perfectly happy to watch the first few episodes over again each time because it’s just such a great show.
A few more recommendations: Ojamajo Doremi, Petite Princess Yucie, Nanatsuiro Drops
I’ve had the BD rips from the beginning~
Thanks for the recs, all three of those are shows I’m interested in, so I’ll gladly watch them (esp Yucie since it’s also on my “watch all GAINAX anime” goal list.)
The fact that they’re all long is indeed gonna make it difficult but well http://scarletmonochrome.tumblr.com/post/3477609314/why-im-glad-to-be-watching-longer-shows
I think part of Cardcaptor Sakura’s success – and the suprisingly broad appeal of many other major mahou shoujo titles – Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure, Shugo Chara, possibly the My-Hime/Otome franchise (if you’d consider them young enough), potentially Madoka – is that they use the magical girl powers not as a mere escape but rather a vehicle to grapple metaphorically with regular life problems – relationships, first loves, sacrifices, etc. etc. The great technical aspects of CCS really make it stand out too, but the genre’s broad appeal isn’t surprising; the fantasy elements in great mahou shoujo aren’t there for their own sake, but to make depicting difficult circumstances accessible to audiences who may otherwise have trouble articulating their own opinions on a thorny subject.
It’s a shame that I have to be in a certain mood to watch Sailor Moon. Usually that mood happens when a lot of discussion about it happens on #/jp/ over on Rizon.