Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the most successful shojo anime (and manga) series ever created. Based upon the popular serialized manga created by the popular all-girl manga group Clamp, Cardcaptor Sakura became a huge success that spawned the creation of this equally beloved series, two feature films connected to the series, books and video games. Following the fun adventures of Sakura Kinomoto, the series is a fantasy magical-girl show that is smart and adventurous in equal measure.
The story begins with introducing the lead character, Sakura. One day while searching for a strange nose emitting from her basement, 10 year old Sakura Kinomoto discovers a hidden magical book on the shelf. She open's it and accidentally unleashes the book's Clow Cards, magical cards which contained spirits that leave the book and spread out across her city of Tomoeda. Sakura soon meets the Guardian of the Cards, Cerberus, who arrives in the odd appearance of a yellow cat-like creature (with wings). Apparently, Cerberus took a nap for several centuries while protecting the cards and now it's up to Sakura to become a hero and Cardcaptor to retrieve all of the cards and put them back in the magical Clow Book. Over the course of a day, Sakura Kinomoto goes from average kid to a protector of magic, and her new adventures with Cerberus (quickly nicknamed on the show as Kero-chan) begin (though she is someone who still finds time for her older brother Toya and her father). Sakura's mother passed away at an early age when Sakura was just three years old. Despite this, Sakura has a strong and brave spirit and manages to find joy in her life while going on her magical journey.
Sakura is also often accompanied on her missions by her best friend Tomoyo, who is always finding ways to appear on the scene of her cardcaptor quests, filming her best moments and creating a myriad of costumes for Sakura to wear while on her action-packed adventures. As things progress in the series, a new cardcaptor character named Syaoran Li is introduced. Li directly descends from the Clow family and is initially opposed to Sakura as a cardcaptor, although over the course of the series the initially negative Li becomes more fond of Sakura, becoming her classmate, and eventually joining Sakura on her quests. Opposition turns to friendship and the relationship between Sakura and Li develops over the storyline.
The series is famous for being one of the more unique and surprising shojo anime and manga creations. The plot-line initially seems simplistic but has a lighthearted and joyful tone which makes it so enjoyable to behold. As the storyline progresses, Cardcaptor Sakura became a story with a bunch of surprises in store for fans. This series is actually known for its plot revelations and twists and turns so one can enjoy it on a number of levels storytelling wise. The story was also highlighted by greater emphasis on the characters and their friendships, which makes it a much more enjoyable series. Rather than some productions (which only focus on the quest or journey like aspect), Cardcaptor Sakura is far from being just about capturing magical cards. Rather, Cardcaptor Sakura is a series which dramatically emphasizes journeys and character development. Though often quite fun and filled with action-adventure, the series never does simply forget to focus on the emotional moments.
One of the things that truly sets the series apart from many other productions is the wonderful animation created for the series. Produced by animation powerhouse Madhouse, a studio that involves a lot of great creative talent in the anime world, the series started under the direction from acclaimed director Morio Asaka (who helmed the pilot episode). Some of the best anime has come from Madhouse. The animation team responsible for creating Cardcaptor Sakura was hugely talented and the hand-drawn cell based animation has stood the test of time with delicate, richly woven tapestries of artwork that make the show more imaginative, creative, and exciting. Modern computer-based productions just aren't the same as cell-based anime and this classic is certainly a good example of how wonderful animation can be when it is done traditionally. It's classic in every sense of the word. From the ingeniously designed clow cards to the details in background art, everything comes together for a seamlessly creative presentation.
The overall production of Cardcaptor Sakura had a lot of impressive elements. For one, the fine directing was consistent and helped to keep the series entertaining with each episode. The core group of directors involved did a solid job bringing these stories to animated life. Then there's the fact that Clamp head-writer Nanase Okawa actually scripted or co-scripted a huge percent: participating in the creation and storytelling of the anime adaptation every step of the way. It's rare to see this happen with anime adaptation's and I strongly feel this was a huge factor in the success and legacy of the Cardcaptor Sakura anime. With scripts that maintain the storytelling authenticity of the manga while exploring that universe in some new ways at the same time, this is a highly notable aspect of the production. Ultimately, it's the combination of great storytelling from the page, the excellent direction, and the enormously talented animation staff that made this series succeed so very well. Cardcaptor Sakura is often heralded as a masterpiece of anime and it is something that comes with good reason. This is one of the most inventive and well made series around, and it is one that all anime fans owe it to themselves to check out. Classics of Japanese anime don't get much better than this.
Cardcaptor Sakura arrives on Blu-ray in North America from NIS America. The first thing that should be stated is that this Blu-ray edition is one that closely mirrors the Japanese releases, so viewers should feel confident that this is the best edition one will ever see stateside that is also English friendly. While I have not owned the JP editions (the cost and lack of English subtitles was of course in the way), I am glad to report that the series averages bit-rates around a decent 25mbps mark which is most likely only a few mbps lower than the original editions put out in Japan (as there was a slightly higher disc count).
The transfers that were used for these encodes are identical source-wise, and as the JP releases had some issues it hardly seems to feel like a major deal if the encodes are slightly different. I was impressed by NIS America issuing the series across 9 Blu-ray discs and putting together what is a generally high quality release. It is one that will satisfy most fans of the series.
The series has never looked better before for fans outside of Japan. The Blu-ray quality isn't technically without some flaws, but it's easily the best the show has ever looked to date. The earlier DVD editions released by Geneon/Pioneer in the US are not a match for the level of clarity and beauty to these high definition presentations of the episodes. Colors are strong: artwork retains a generally clean and impressive texture and the traditional cell-animated production work shines triumphantly.
The drawbacks to the video are mostly source related, as the JP Blu-ray's also contained the series with some DNR (digital noise reduction) applied, which affected line detail and some grain structure in scenes. There is still a trace of film grain to be found and the degree of the digital noise reduction applied is less severe compared to some other anime releases, but it's nonetheless a video deficiency. It is worth pointing out, however, that NIS America presents these transfers as they were in Japan and none of these issues are due to a poor job by NIS in authoring or releasing the show on Blu-ray stateside. I am pleased with the quality of the port completed for the series to be released on Blu-ray in HD.
Cardcaptor Sakura has two audio options on this Blu-ray set: Japanese 2.0 Uncompressed PCM and English Mono Uncompressed PCM. In my opinion, the original Japanese language version clearly bests the poor quality of the English dubbing presented here. The original audio is quite successful in virtually all regards: solid voice-acting, great music clarity, and decent 2.0 stereo surround effects. The English dub is not the version previously released in North America as aired on KidsWB (in a highly edited version). It's a more complete experience and it's a dub which was done for television broadcast in foreign English-speaking territories (and it was generally broadcast in parts of Asia).
Viewers should be aware that while this is the most complete English dub version produced, there are a handful of episodes in which it wasn't entirely completed. In these few spots, NIS America presents un-dubbed portions with Japanese audio and English subtitles. The level of clarity and immersion on the mono dub presentation is also noticeably inferior to the Japanese audio and those looking for the most impressive sonic qualities will be more pleased with the original audio out of the two options.
Some fans have already noticed that the US release does not contain the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround sound presentations contained on the JP releases. This is a bit surprising news at first, but in considering the fact that NIS America has included a lossless English dub option and it's fewer discs on the US release, the lack of the 5.1 audio seems understandable. It's also not even clear if the 5.1 mix presented on the JP editions is a simple upmix (a common trend with a number of older television productions). There is no doubt that the 2.0 audio presented on this release is the original sound design given to the series and that this presentation sounds solid throughout this release.
While I would have preferred NIS drop the English dub in favor of including the 5.1 Japanese audio (especially if there is even a slight possibility of it being a native 5.1 sound mix), the 2.0 audio is certainly a good option and with the use of a Dolby Pro Logic encoder system found in many receivers, listeners can do a comparable upmix to 5.1 if they want to listen to it that way. I understand the decision to include the English dub audio and for those interested in that aspect of the release NIS America has included something certain listeners will enjoy getting to have as an option.
The subtitles are mostly good quality and are closely following the Japanese version. However, these subtitles are not as perfect as some may want, and these subtitles do have some issues. In Japan, it is sometimes common to be called by one's last name. In many scenes, one character is commonly referred to in the subtitles by their given name and not by the name spoken on-screen. This is a common translation decision to make the translation feel more Western-friendly, but is certainly not as accurate. It also causes an error in how a few scenes play out because of one of the names in these subtitles. It might sound like a minor issue to some viewers, but it's worth pointing out.
The subtitles also occasionally use common Western slang terminology to replace common Japanese sayings in the translation. This isn't so much incorrect as it is a specific translation decision. It's not the same as it was on the previous DVD editions, and while I found it to be occasionally distracting having viewed episodes with minor translation differences before, I don't think these issues will bother most viewers. Overall, I found the subtitles to be pretty strong (if a wee bit imperfect) and think that most audiences will find them to be satisfactory.
The only on-disc extras are clean opening and
animation for all three seasons of the series. While the lack of any
substantial extras is disappointing it's certainly not really that
the set still closely mirrors the JP Blu-ray release in this regard.
NIS America has created another excellent Premium Edition Blu-ray set, which is housed in an interesting 9 disc DVD case with a rounded design, a beautiful art-box housing the set and a 76 page long hardcover Episode Guide and Artbook for the series. While the amount of art that is included is limited, what is included is quite nice. I appreciated the episode guide and like that each episode listing includes pictures from the episode, including info about which spirit of the Clow Cards was featured in the episode highlighted. I also liked the inclusion of information on who wrote and directed each episode of the series.
Cardcaptor Sakura has been one of the most discussed titles regarding the question of whether or not the series would ever get to receive a domestic Blu-ray release. NIS America has done fans of this classic series a solid with the license rescue and release of the entire show in high definition in one swoop with this deluxe premium edition set. I once dreamed that a complete Blu-ray set of Cardcaptor Sakura would be released -- and that it would be released stateside from NIS America, as one of the best anime companies around -- and I am thrilled that this dream came true.
While it's not a set that's absolutely perfect in every regard, this is still undeniably one of the best releases of the entire year. Even having this beloved classic anime series license rescued is great news and a huge deal. It's wonderful that NIS America has made such a strong effort to bring to North America the Japanese Blu-ray presentation of Cardcaptor Sakura. With all 70 episodes of the series (with its three season run), the best presentation of Cardcaptor Sakura to date, a solid lossless Japanese audio presentation, the most complete English dub made, and a gorgeously designed art-box and artbook containing a complete episode guide to the entire series, NIS America's Cardcaptor Sakura - Complete Series (Premium Edition) set is a must own for dedicated anime collector's and fans of the show.