Hands up if you watched Cardcaptor Sakura (or more accurately, Cardcaptors, if we’re talking the English version) on CITV back in the early 00s?
From the super-cheesy but oh so catchy opening song to the show’s rollerskating, card-collecting, wand-waving hero, I’ll never forget the excitement I felt for this show – arriving as it did, when I has just started secondary school. Just as I, myself, went through a world of newness, the show itself seemed to offer a window into something quite unlike anything else on TV – even the anime predecessors that were obviously instrumental in it being ported onto English-language TV: Pokemon and Digimon.
And the thing is, while Pokemon and Digimon felt consciously commercial and part of the wider Japan hype of the time, Cardcaptors, even in its arguably bastardised English form, felt like it always placed the focus far more on its narrative and characters. Even at the time, young as I was, I felt its palpable sense of emotion – and the simple daring-ness of it being a show in which the lead character was a girl. Yes, Syaoran Li with his little sword and robes felt like something out of a Zelda videogame, but he was merely part of a wider universe of wonder.
In my ‘collector’ mindset of the time – driven by Pokemon databases, strategy guides and instruction manuals, I remember the very precise act of ‘watching’ and interacting with Cardcaptors as a piece of media. I’d rush home from school to watch it, then post-show, write down whatever the ‘featured’ card of the week was in a notebook I kept religiously under my bed. In the show’s episodic, formulaic monster of the week format – there was regularity and safeness – each week’s card might be unfamiliar, but you always knew Sakura would triumph.
Time would pass, and I’d forget all about anime for a long time. Digimon switched from CITV to cable channels I didn’t have access to. The initial Pokemon boom died down, and I only really stayed in contact with the franchise through the games. The last anime of that early 00s period I watched on regular TV was Monster Rancher, and that felt like the last gasp or tail end of an era that was already dying away.
Many years later, I found the notebook under my bed containing my scrawled weekly writings of all the cards from Cardcaptors. That was nostalgia.
More recently – many more years later – I finally understood the full concept of Cardcaptors within its original Japanese context and desperately searched for the long Out of Print UK releases of the show, which amounted to fewer than 10 of the first few episodes. Eventually I’d come to buy the original manga. That, too, was nostalgia.
Thinking back now – with a new Cardcaptor Sakura manga being serialised, and an anime to follow – it feels like we’ve come full circle. For me, an understanding of Cardcaptor Sakura will remain, always, inseparable from the notion of nostalgia. And I think, in a way, that has always been the point of the series – cherry coloured, semi faded memories of a half forgotten youth. Captured in time, a fragment of a turn-of-the-millennium age that continues to exist, regardless. That’s its magic. That’s its nostalgia.