Cardcaptor Sakura Blu-ray Complete Series Premium Edition Blu-ray Anime Review
One of the most magical shows of all.
What They Say:
Ten-year-old Sakura lives a pretty normal life with her older brother Toya, and widowed father Fujitaka. Or she did… until the day she returned home from school to discover a glowing book in her father’s study. After opening the book and releasing the cards within, Sakura is tasked with collecting each of these magical cards, while trying to live the life of a normal fourth grader. In the monumental task of collecting all the cards, Sakura must rely on her friends and family, and decide what she finds most important in life.
The audio presentation for this release is definitely interesting but overall well done as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo using the uncompressed PCM codec as well as the Hong Kong Animax dub, which is mono, in PCM as well. Animax dubs are incredibly rare to find available outside of their broadcast market so getting this is a real treat, even if it’s one hell of a dub to listen to because it uses so many different inflections and tones that it doesn’t sound natural or the right age for a lot of it. The Japanese track is where things really are though and that comes across well, presenting the show in the right light with good use of the forward soundstage where needed and largely coming across in a very clean and clear way. There’s a good deal of action in the show, pretty much every episode, but it’s a limited kind of action that utilizes the music more sometimes and the sound effects well enough. It’s something that definitely works well here though and serves the show right while also being a noticeable upgrade over the previous DVD releases.
Originally airing from 1998 to 2000, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The set runs for 70 episodes and it’s spread across nine discs in varying numbers, but usually around eight episodes per disc. Animated by Madhouse, the transfer here works off of the same source materials as the relatively recent Japanese release and it essentially has mostly the same issues, albeit minor ones depending on your point of view. The show has a lot more pop and color here, with some really great vibrancy throughout and particularly in the second half, and everything feels a lot more alive with what it’s doing. There’s a bit of noise to be had with the backgrounds at times, which is like they were trying to deal with the grain, but that motion generally isn’t distracting or problematic and comes across as a piece of the source material. The DVD editions we had seen years ago involved a bit of aliasing and cross coloration, especially in the earlier installments, but for the most part this is a significant improvement over what we had before. Sakura’s costumes really come to life in a great way here and that’s half the appeal, as well as all the transformation and magic scenes.
While I’ve been a huge advocate of what NIS America does for packaging, I’ve been a bit less enamored with their release of Toradora and this as it goes for a more standard sized box, just a bit bigger, rather than the longer heavy chipboard boxes they’ve been doing. The box for this is a standard chipboard box where the front is bright and colorful with Sakura in her school uniform waving her wand while Kero is alongside her. The background is nicely done as well with a star filled background with lots of night sky blue that has the power of magic coming through it with a lot of pink that fits nicely. The back side of the box does Sakura up in one of her more iconic cute pink and frilly costumes and that goes with the same background but shifts the pink to yellow and has it going in a different direction. Both work well and are pretty cute. I don’t know what they had for available artwork, but the focus on Sakura works for me even though a larger group image might have worked better.
Within the box we get the plastic case that feels like a VHS clamshell that holds all nine discs across it in the hinges it has. None of my discs were out of place when I got it (nor was the box damaged), so I had no issues there with that. The disc box may not feel like what a set of this price should have and I’d rather have several thin cases with more artwork than this. THe artwork is nice as it uses the costume from the back of the box in a different form with pink and blue sky background to give it some pop. The back of the case has the premise done up simply with a cute image of Kero sitting on top of a selection of screenshots from the show.
The really welcome extra here though is the hardcover book that’s included. With a very cute image of Sakura on it against a green background, we get a look at each of the episodes broken down with their own summary and images for it. This episode guide takes up the bulk of the book and there are a few images at the end that show off Sakura in different costumes. I would have preferred that they had more artwork from the various releases, especially the eighteen covers we had from the old Pioneer release so that I didn’t lose those in the upgrade to this set. While the package has its flaws, it does the job overall and it houses a fantastic set of discs that’s what I’m really after here.
The menu design for this release keeps things simple but effect across all the volumes with the same general layout but with some minor color changes for the background along the way. The layout gives us the magic symbol in the background in white, the first volume using a very pink background behind it, while off to the left of it we get one of the Clow Cards that has the basic navigation. It’s easy to use and changes as needed by volume when there are trailers and extras involved. When you do sublevel navigation, it pops up a new card on the right that breaks down the audio options or explores the episodes by number and title. It all loads quickly and works smoothly, making for a decent experience that gets you where you’re going.
The extras for this release are simple in that it includes the clean opening and closings for the show, which are welcome. They do list the dub as an extra and it really is best to view it that way. This was produced for the Hong Kong market ages ago and even that had its own bit of editing at the time, so there are a few minor periods in the later part of the series where if you listen to it in English, there’s no dialogue but there are subtitles for the actual dialogue. Since these “edits” in the dub were never dubbed, there’s little way to do it otherwise. The dub is a fascinating piece overall, but it’s also a reminder why we usually don’t see Animax dubs come over here as it just doesn’t work for the most part. But it does leave me wanting to hear more just to get a taste of what that market has been getting, especially for shows that never got a dub here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twelve volume manga series by CLAMP that ran from 1996 to 2000, Cardcaptor Sakura is a seventy episode series animated by Madhouse. The show has an interesting history in North America as Nelvana picked it up to make a big mainstream push with it and they worked with Pioneer to release it on DVD in both a subtitled-only version and an edited dubbed version of what was being broadcast on TV. The potential for a good show aimed at girls, accessible to boys, that could be the next generation’s Sailor Moon was certainly there. But Nelvana instead made the male characters the lead, edited things in awkward ways and largely lost the faithful fans from promoting it because of that. Luckily, while the edited dub died an early death, Pioneer released the show entirely on DVD, though they had their own issues because of licensor concerns over some of the content. That had them releasing two volumes out of order and that hugely killed enthusiasm and momentum for the show.
With a lot of fond memories of the show, especially with my kids watching it when they were young and learning to read faster because of it, I spent a good part of earlier this year revisiting those old DVDs. A couple of months after I finished writing about them, NIS America announced the pickup of the show for a massive Blu-ray box set that works off of the recent Japanese release as well as three sets of DVDs to get it all out there. What made this set interesting, beyond finally getting it all in one collection and in high definition, we were going to get a look at the Hong Kong Animax dub. Those tend to be rare outside of their territory so it’s a real treat to have that, even if there are issues with it (and its own edits). Having spent the last week watching the show and sampling that dub, it makes me glad once again that I cut my teeth on the Japanese side and continue to find that to be a strong and solid work. But I’m also hugely glad to get a chance to have access to this dub. NIS America has put together a pretty good release here that even with a second watching within a year reminds me of how strong the content itself is.
I won’t go into the full breakdown of the show and what it is, as there are links just a bit further below that provides for discussion on the individual episodes and arcs themselves. Cardcaptor Sakura is a show that is important, but has missed out on its chance to be truly important for North American fans because of the kind of releases it had previously. In revisiting this show again, it reinforces that CLAMP did things right and Madhouse adapted it perfectly. We see a lot of magical girl shows every year of different stripes. We get the more mature ones like Madoka Magica, which is a deconstruction of the genre, and we get the cute kiddie types that just bounce and be silly. And we get the fanservice oriented pieces as well. Cardcaptor Sakura is a series that plays well to a serious storyline that’s massaged through numerous standalone episodes, it doesn’t talk down to its audience and it doesn’t put Sakura into a slew of fanservice poses and positions with bad catchphrases and awkward near misses with the main male characters for semi-romance pieces.
If you took the magic part out of it, you’d have a pretty real world kind of elementary school slice of life series and all that entails. And that foundation is what helps the show to become something more when it delves into the magic. Because that foundation makes it human and accessible in a great way. It’s easy to relate to Sakura and the way she interacts with her good friends, her casual friends and those she’s uncertain about like Xialong (I still can’t get used to that localization) and Meilin. You get to see her uncertainty with magic, those that are part of it and the mission she’s given, but you also see that it’s handled in fairly similar ways to how she handles problems at school with her cooking classes for example, the relationship with her older brother and the awkwardness with his best friend that she has a childhood crush on that won’t go anywhere because it does handle it realistically rather than how a more pervy and fanservice oriented show would handle it.
And that doesn’t make you like Sakura. It makes you love her as she handles this big world that she’s thrust into as a ten year old being told she has to collect magic cards that are causing trouble in her town. She struggles with it through almost the entire run of that arc since there’s danger, but a testing kind of danger that she can’t understand. She has to deal with Kero’s habits and quirks, the friction with Xialong that the two have and the jealousies of Meilin as she views Sakura as a big threat. These are fairly natural reactions and grasps of the world for ten year olds that have a little more going on than usual. Sakura gets a little exasperated at times with her best friend Tomoyo and her need to film her in action and to make costumes, but she loves Tomoyo so much that she agrees to pretty much everything. She has a lot of forces in her life prodding for attention and we see the strain of that, but the joys of it as well as she has a great group of friends and family that are constantly – constantly – there for her. Her foundations are rock solid and seeing her climb to new heights and challenge herself is beautiful to watch.
This series brings all of that to life across the two main arcs, the first of which deals largely with the whole card capturing and understanding the rules of the magic and the people involved. The second half brings in a couple of more adults to the mix and that helps to challenge her as she grows up a bit and moves to the next grade, but it also comes as she starts to see new ways of understanding interpersonal relationships, both ones that she has directly and observing others. The bond of friendship her brother has with Yukito is great, and her brother himself is a perfect case of how older brothers should be in how he torments her but is also hyperaware of her and what kind of trouble she might get into. But he also, like her father, knows that she has to make some mistakes in order to grow. The friendship bonds and family bonds are strong and those grow in both sets with the challenges they face.
We’ve written extensively on the individual arcs and stories previously, which you can read here:
Vol. #01 | Vol. #02 | Vol. #03 | Vol. #04 | Vol. #05 | Vol. #06 | Vol. #07 | Vol. #08 | Vol. #09 | Vol. #10 | Vol. #11 | Vol. #12 | Vol. #13 | Vol. #14 | Vol. #15 | Vol. #16 | Vol. #17 | Vol. #18
On the short list of anime properties that I would replace if I lost my collection, Cardcaptor Sakura is in the top five of them. This is a series that has a lot of meaning to me and is a series that handles the genre in such a great way that you notice so many things with each viewing in the connections. And it served as the launching characters for the Tsubasa series that in turn connected so many CLAMP titles together in a way that tickles my inner fanboy like no other as it was reminiscent of both Asimov and Heinlein’s writings that ended up the same way. NIS America has put together a release that while it has some issues here and there, none are anywhere near dealbreakers and it provides the core material – the show itself – in a great way. While I could complaining more about packaging or what’s in the book, what will have me back every couple of years is the show itself. And in that regard, they did great with the Japanese source materials to give this show the kind of presentation that makes me grin from ear to ear. Very recommended.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 1.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Running Time: 1750 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
#gallery-0-2-slideshow .slideshow-slide img
/* Emulate max-height in IE 6 */
_height: expression(this.scrollHeight >= 410 ? ‘410px’ : ‘auto’);
Check out the full article by Chris Beveridge at