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).