Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Series Review: Characters We Love, Magic That Thrills, And A Plot Totally Unfinished

As a child and teen of the 90’s I grew up with Cardcaptor in my life, and even with the terrible English dub and the butchered theme song this anime was close to my heart. How does the reboot/sequel of 2018 match up to nostalgia’s fierce hold?

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Review:

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing sometimes. As much as I believe Cardcaptor Sakura is a must watch magical girl series, even I have to admit that when I look at it episode by episode, the original is no longer really to my taste as an anime watcher these days. For every truly brilliant moment in the series, it offers a lot of banal day to day activities of cute girls and their friends just going about their lives. And how many times did we watch Sakura prepare her roller blades for school?

What that means is, a lot of the criticisms I have of the new Clear Card series, aren’t really all that valid. Because Clear Card is a genuine successor to the original. The technology is updated with the kids now having smart phones and the equivalent of a go-pro, but this really is a direct follow up of that original series. And in that sense, it could be counted as a success, though I have to wonder if a few opportunities weren’t missed here.

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In 22 episodes, we see Sakura capture a fair number of cards. However, most of these captures take less than a quarter of the episode they appear in. Some of them lasting mere moments before we’re back to cooking, or eating lunch, or flower viewing, or talking, or brushing hair, or any of the hundreds of ‘filler’ activities Cardcaptor finds for the heroine to do. And I get that for those who love the slice of life feel of Sakura living her daily life that there is a real appeal here because the group of friends are always charming and at least it is clear what Sakura is seeking to protect. And yet, for me, these are the moments that are tolerated as a setting, a background and a motive, while waiting for the actual ‘meat’ of the series. And the meat here is very lean.

Part of the problem comes from an as yet unresolved story. We still have so many questions about what is going on and what significance certain things have (such as a gift Sakura receives in the second last episode), and that means that what little there is of the story about magic is completely unfinished. It makes it hard to evaluate the story on its merits when it is served out in tiny increments inbetween activities that don’t really appeal and then the final act is completely absent. The only thing I can really say is that the plot was probably the most disappointing aspect of this anime.

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Even if it had finished, essentially this feels like a third iteration of a story we’ve seen and enjoyed more when those of us who are fans of the original were actually the target audience and when anime options were a little harder to come by. Oh no, the cards have all turned clear and now Sakura has to capture weird powers again to make Clear Cards. How odd. How bizarre. How identical to the capturing of the Clow Cards and then the transition into Sakura Cards.

Speaking of, doesn’t it feel like a step back for her to not have Sakura Cards now?

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However, with so much down time in the plot, it did give the audience ample opportunity to appreciate how much prettier the visuals were this time around. So much attention given to falling flower petals, gusts of wind, and girls’ hair. Don’t get me wrong, it is gorgeous, particularly the magical aspects of the show, but really some of the attention to the aesthetics could have been given to the pacing and story-line and I’d have been doubly impressed.

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The other part of the anime that does shine quite brightly are the characters. Admittedly, they work better when you have nostalgia working in their favour. During Clear Card they do not develop or have any kind of noticeable growth. But if you enjoyed where they ended up at the end of previous seasons, spending some time with Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Toya, and the short cameo by anime original Meilin is actually pretty fun. And probably the stand out moments of Clear Card are getting to see Sakura and Syaoran in a relationship. Not learning who they are or finding out about the other, but just in an actual relationship. Now if they could just learn to communicate and not keep secrets from one another we’d make anime history.

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New comers to the cast are adequate though their roles become obvious fairly quickly and like the plot in general, not quite enough time is given to developing these. The end result is that you feel like these are great characters who’ve been more or less abandoned by the script and left to their own devices and you feel just a little bit sorry for them. They had so much potential to be memorable and interesting characters but never quite get beyond their introductions. At least Kaito looks fantastic.

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But what it comes down to is that Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card tries to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to appeal to the nostalgia factor and the fans of old. The call backs to the original series and the parallels in many of the stories certainly scream that they want us to recapture the magic of our youth. Whether it is the upside down penguin or the date at the aquarium, the memories are there but the problem is it just makes me want to go and watch the original rather than continue along with this.

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At the same time, the anime seems to have wanted to reach out to new viewers but it doesn’t offer them anything really to go on. Sakura is who she is because of everything we’ve seen her go through. And as mentioned before, none of the characters really learn anything or grow during this season. So for new viewers you are seeing an already fully developed character go through the motions of her daily life and for the most part it isn’t very compelling. If there was a decent enough threat or villain, you can get away with it. Not ever story needs to be an origin or coming into power story. But if you have an already developed hero you have to give the audience something to anticipate and in this case the only thing that could be is Sakura learning something as she would strive to overcome this latest challenge, and yet there’s nothing. She simply goes about her business and collects the cards when she needs to.

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It makes it difficult to recommend this series. While I didn’t dislike it, looking back I wonder if my time would have been better spent on a retro viewing of the original series as I still haven’t actually reviewed it and I’d probably have enjoyed that more. As cool as Syaoran is in his handful of scenes that he gets, I don’t know that it provides enough mileage to make up for everything else this series seems to lack.

But I’ll turn it over to the readers and ask you how you felt about Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 22: It’s a Final Episode, Let’s Spend Half Of It At School

Quite literally there is nothing final about this final episode. Other than the reveal that the cloaked figure is in fact, well the person we all knew it was, nothing is revealed and nothing is actually finalised. And yet, that is the end of this season with no announcement for when a follow up might occur.

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Anime that don’t end are a dime a dozen, but Cardcaptor had previously given us some fairly epic endings even when the story was ongoing. Clear Card throws that trend to the wayside leaving us completely without satisfaction. Unless you are satisfied by watching yet another lunch with friends, some pensive musing, and then a fight sequence that gets time reversed out of existence.

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Of all the things that could have happened in this final episode, leaving me feeling like we were totally cheated out of an ending wasn’t one of them. I hadn’t expected everything to be tied up neatly knowing there was no chance of that after last week, but I expected something more than this. Instead Eriol is still out of contact, Syaoran still hasn’t actually had a conversation with Sakura or substance, Kuro and Yue are keeping secrets from Sakura, we still don’t know what Toya is up to, and other than the villain wanting to activate some taboo magic (something we already knew) nothing is confirmed in this episode at all.

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Considering they froze time on this image, I’m thinking they could have made it a little bit prettier. 

I guess we get a pretty light show at least.

Anyway, series review will be up next week and maybe we’ll find out if there’s more of this to come.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 21: Only One Episode Left

With a 22 episode count (according to MAL), this is the second last episode. And while it certainly seems things have gotten climactic, there seems to be far too much left for this to all fit into one more episode.

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The villain has been established, and help from Eriol firmly cut off. We’ve done the standard steps leading up to a final confrontation with the protagonist holding something the villain wants. And while we still don’t know exactly why he wants the cards or why he wants to use the thing he stole from the magicians, we all know it is clearly tied to Akiho and that it is likely he’ll turn out to not be that bad a guy after all. Besides, it has been a firmly established truth that villains don’t make good tea (there’s a compelling argument for you).

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Meanwhile, this episode finally answers the question of whether Sakura’s father has a clue what his children get up to and it does it in a slightly adorable way. In fact, its so cute the conversation between the father and Toya, that you almost forget that Sakura’s father decided his daughter could handle whatever it was when she was in grade four and left her to her own devices. There’s parenting with style for you. While it might have worked out due to the magic of sweet protagonist plot armour, there are so many ways this approach could have backfired.

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We also get a super adorable moment with Sakura and Syaoran. And that by itself could make this whole season worth watching because who hasn’t wanted to see Syaoran with butterfly wings?

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Friday’s Feature: Why Syaoran Beats Tuxedo Mask As A Male Character in A Magical Girl Anime

As a female teenager of the 90’s I was well indoctrinated in the notion of girl power and looking for strong female role models in media. This isn’t a bad thing as even now there’s a definite imbalance in the various types of roles and the frequency of them available for males and females in stories. But one thing I found to be a problem then and now is how male characters are treated so often in these kinds of shows.

Though, the standout performer from the nineties was definitely Buffy. Great show with great characters, both male and female. Everyone had their strengths and weaknesses and the plot exploited and promoted these as required. Sure, the show ultimately revolved around the female heroine, but the overall balance between the characters and genders was actually relatively well maintained.

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Yesteday, I posted a review of the original Sailor Moon anime and while reviewing it, I realised I kind of brushed straight past Tuxedo Mask and Darien. At the same time as I was drafting that post I watched an episode of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card and part of me realised that of the two shows that both hit the screen during the 90’s, Syaoran really did beat Tuxedo Mask in terms of being a character rather than a plot device.

Now, it might be unfair to look at a magical girl anime and judge it based on its construction and treatment of male characters, particularly as the attention and focus is undoubtedly on the magical girls themselves. And in that regards, Cardcaptor Sakura is an anomaly in the first place, given it doesn’t have a group of magical girls but rather has one cardcapturing heroine who doesn’t even get a transformation sequence because her costumes are sewn by her best friend. But still, I really do want to look at some of my issues with Tuxedo Mask and some of the reasons why Syaoran is a much better character.

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Let’s start with Tuxedo Mask. He comes off as this cool mysterious guy at first who shows up to save our heroine when she’s inexperienced and afraid. The metaphorical knight in shining armour, although lacking the armour because who doesn’t want to fight in a tuxedo. His weapon of choice is a rose though if we actually look at the first season there are perhaps four times in the entire season run when those roses hit anything (Zoisite’s face, a couple of ice crystals, Beryl’s chest). Mostly they hit the ground between Sailor Moon and whoever she’s currently fighting. He then gives a pep-talk. Not joking. He’s usually standing up high (a window ledge, a lamp-post, whatever) and literally talks down to Sailor Moon and the villain and gives a speech about how she can do it and then he either stands and watches or just kind of whisks himself away.

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If only cape swirling was all it took to be a decent character.

And then he repeats this. Over and over again. While one could argue that his interference in the fight is what gives Sailor Moon her opening to attack, one could also argue that if she’s capable of turning the enemy into moon-dust after his pep-talk, she probably was before hand. And if the heroine still needs a speech to get going sixteen episodes in there’s probably an issue with the heroine of the story.

This is kind of damning in itself in terms of his character because it really does paint him as a plot device. A standard act to be deployed during each and every battle. His only motive given early on is to find the Moon Princess but what is he planning to do after that? He wants his memories back but that’s about all he’s after. His story has no real bite or purpose outside of himself. But it gets worse.

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Tuxedo Mask is ultimately captured by the enemy, becoming the damsel in distress to be rescued. Then he’s brain washed and becomes the enemy that has to be saved. However, even as an enemy, he kind of sucks. There’s a strong argument that deep down he still loved Sailor Moon which is why he could never let Malachite’s plans succeed, but ultimately he spends more time saving Sailor Moon and threatening to fight her in the next episode then actually fighting her. It is all a bit pathetic.

So season one Tuxedo Mask is a bust. Then we progress through the seasons. Pretty much in each and every season there’s some reason why Tuxedo Mask can’t be present or useful during the final battle before season 5 literally just disappears him during the first episode only to be rescued right at the end of the season. His character is so incredibly disposable and actually becomes a hindrance to the writers as they need to think of reasons why he wouldn’t be fighting side by side with Sailor Moon. They painted him as this amazing guy who could fight shoulder to shoulder with the Moon Princess but then they wanted an anime about an amazing female soldier who defeats her enemies without the guy involved. It’s a little contrary.

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Even if we look at Darien, Tuxedo Mask’s alter-ego, we see a character who has connections only with Rei and Serena. Serena he teases until their identities are revealed and Rei just kind of hangs around him. In later seasons, Darien interacts with almost no-one outside of Serena or Rini (Chibi-Usa). He’s kept to the side of the plot, has limited development, and has very little impact on the rest of the cast.

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Syaoran, on the other hand, isn’t held back by any of these issues (of course he has a few of his own). To start with, he is introduced into Cardcaptor as a rival rather than a mysterious guy who might support the heroine. This gives him his own goals and motives from the beginning and also a reason to interact with the heroine. Sometimes the two clash, okay, they clash a lot, but given they are both inherently good people even when bickering they aren’t actually out for blood.

From a power point of view, Syaoran was always incredibly useful. Whether it was tracking down cards or using elemental magic, he was in the fights from the moment he appeared. And while Sakura ultimately gets an edge over him to become the one who gets to keep the Clow Cards, Syaoran is in it to win and works incredibly hard. He has an existence outside of Sakura making him a much stronger and more interesting character than Tuxedo Mask could ever hope to be.

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Furthermore, where Sakura is learning about magic and the cards from the ground up in a crash course that has been forced upon her, Syaoran has been studying and preparing for this most of his life. While there are certainly things he doesn’t know, he is still a kid, he brings a wealth of knowledge and know-how to the story that is desperately needed.

He also integrates with the entire cast and is the linking character for others. Mei-rin’s existence makes no sense in the anime outside of her connection to Syaoran. And yet, even though she was an anime original character, she brought so much into the story. Sakura’s school friends get on with Syaoran, her brother teases him, and he and Kero have a fairly rocky relationship. He stands as a character in his own right outside of his connection to the heroine.

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Having a male character who is competent and strong doesn’t take away from Sakura. She’s still able to become the heroine of the story. She’s determined, hard-working, a little naive, and ultimately she is the one the cards end up with. But the writers knew they didn’t have to compromise on the male character to make the female shine.

Because that is a worrying trend. For some reason stories where the female is the strong lead seem to attract weak and cowardly male characters who seem just a little bit pathetic (that’s a broad generalisation and I know we can find examples of decent male characters in some of these stories, but there is a trend). What is concerning about this is it insults both the male and female characters and the viewers. It implies that the female can’t be strong in a world where males are competent. And it also just make the male characters look kind of sad.

While Sailor Moon Crystal breathed a little more character into Tuxedo Mask, it can’t paint over the glaring flaws in his narrative. Meanwhile, Syaoran just goes from strength to strength in Clear Card, his only real flaw being that he keeps trying to act alone rather than talking to Sakura – which is kind of a standard flaw for anime characters in general.

Cardcaptor Sakura didn’t take the path of sacrificing a male character for the sake of making a female lead look stronger. It gave us a world way back in the 90’s where the girl could win the day, and the guy, and the guy didn’t actually have to be anything less than what he was.

I’d love to know your thoughts on these two characters, or any other male characters in magical girl anime, so please leave me a comment.


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Karandi James

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 20: Getting Closer

While Sakura goes to meet someone from the past, the rest of the gang get together to figure out what is going on in the present. Things are looking grim (or exciting depending on your perspective).

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This week Sakura is about to go on a date with Syaoran when a phone call gives her an unexpected interruption in the form of her great-grand-father wanting a meeting to give her something (which the giving her something doesn’t actually happen this episode unless the tea was the prize). However, while visiting Sakura wanders into her mother’s old room and uses Record to look back at the room’s past. What I don’t get is why every image had her mother in it given the room would have been empty more often than having her in it (maybe the card was editing out the boring bits).

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Meanwhile, the guardians are getting together because there are plots afoot and it is almost time for the reveal of the season so everyone needs to be super ambiguous with their words. It is pretty standard Cardcaptor without a capture this week, and yet it is fairly solid set-up for a final hurrah.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 19: Down Time With Story Time

After things really heated up last week, this week brings us a more relaxed episode of our favourite card-capturing heroine as she goes to read to children. You could almost forget about the magic in this episode except for one discussion right at the end.

Cardcaptor19c.JPGWhile this episode brings some cute moments between Sakura and her friends and Sakura and Syaoran, let’s call it what it is; this is a lull. The quiet space before things get really climatic. The down time for the characters. And honestly it isn’t thrilling unless you were desperate to hear a story about a fox buying mittens.

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I’d almost say this was an entirely skippable episode except for one minor use of a card right at the end of the episode where Sakura inadvertently reveals something about her magic to Kero. She doesn’t notice a thing but it sends him flying to Yue and it seems like a fair set-up for the end of the season. However, twenty minutes for that reveal is probably a little much.

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The other highlight of course is Syaoran’s phone conversation where his sister’s are listening in. We don’t get much of Syaoran interacting with his family so it was a nice interlude. Not to mention, Syaoran and Sakura early in this episode are at their adorable best as she emotionally manipulates him into assisting with the reading. Still, not a lot going on this episode.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 18: Things Are Getting Hot

Things are heating up in the Cardcaptor anime and not just because Sakura is fighting a fire based card in this episode. So many plot points seem on the edge of being revealed and everything seems read to come together.

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I wonder how he managed to make this line seem so ominous?

Sakura’s school friends are starting to question the disappearing cake decorations, Kaito is being even more mysterious and yet seemingly slightly sinister, Toya is confronting Yue, and Syaoran is definitely hiding something not so great from Sakura; yep it looks like we’re getting close to a season ending for Cardcaptor Sakura. And if previous seasons are anything to go by I doubt we’ll be disappointed by the end result.

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If anything, the biggest negative of this new series has been that it hasn’t really done anything new. A lot of the events have parallels in the previous stories and while visually this has had a fantastic upgrade fro 1990’s Sakura, from a plot point of view it hasn’t done much and the main cast (Sakura, Syaoran, etc) have already done their growing up and overcome a lot of their issues. What that means is there’s been limited character development as they haven’t had the steep learning curves they faced early on.

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Still, it is very hard to watch Syaoran and Sakura team up to take down a giant fire bird and not be impressed. And any scene with Toya and Yuki/Yue is pretty awesome. As such, episode 18 was great to watch even if I’m still wondering if this returning series was actually necessary.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 17: The Convenience of the Sleep Card

While Sakura always had a few favourite cards that she relied upon, this second part of Clear Card seems to be fairly heavy handed with the sleep card. How many times can classmates doze off before they start asking questions even in anime land?

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While the sleep card is probably a better option than pretending to have a sick stomach every time Sakura needs to get out of class, I have to wonder why people aren’t starting to wonder what is up given they are losing time and roll cakes in the interim. Still, Sakura isn’t the first school aged hero who has faced the challenge of not getting busted by her friends and the narrative needing to make said friends really dumb to keep them from finding out the heroine’s secret.

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By the way, if you think I’m using a lot of screen-caps of Kaito, you would be right. Given most of the other characters are returning characters and other than Sakura and Syaoran I’m not all that interested in them, Kaito is kind of the one new character to Clear Card who I am finding pretty fascinating even as it seems his plot line is going to be pretty predictable. We’ll see given we’re starting to close in on the end of this season as to whether they do something interesting with him or not.

Still, another fun episode of friendship, cooking and card-capturing.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 16: Farewell Meilin

We knew we’d be saying goodbye to her given she isn’t in the source material for this anime but I’m going to miss Meilin? How about you?

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The cliffhanger from last week ended up being resolved pretty quickly and mostly unspectacularly (though I have to wonder how that card represents ‘swing’) and then the girls all go home. This leads to two interesting developments. The first I’ll get back to, but the second, and what we spend the bulk of the rest of the episode on, is Meilin nostalgia. Of course she doesn’t leave without getting a moment to shine and so Cardcaptor rolls out the nostalgia with an enemy that looks very familiar and just in case we missed the reference be prepared for a classic Sakura flashback mid-episode. The upshot is that Meilin and Sakura officially cross the line and Meilin leaves for the airport after asking if she can refer to Sakura by her first name. She also takes some time out to call Syaoran and issue a warning about upsetting her friend by doing something stupid like getting hurt.

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However, the other part of the story that seems somewhat more important going forward is the interaction between Akiho and Kaito. Now we knew Kaito was up to something, but I didn’t expect him to reverse time whenever he said something that made Akiho suspicious. This sequence was pretty impressively done and gets me excited for what is coming in a way this anime hasn’t much managed. While the show is always pleasant and the nostalgia is great, this is an actual plot development that makes me want to see what is coming next.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Episode 15: Memories – Definitely A Lethal Blow

The girls reminisce about old times before the anime ends on a cliff-hanger. How cute were Syaoran and Sakura in the film?

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What happens when you get the girls together on their day off? Well, if you leave Tomoyo in charge of the entertainment, you get to watch Sakura perform in the play and learn to dance with Syaoran. This was much to the delight of Akiho and Meilin and nearly a deadly blow to Sakura’s self-esteem as she seemed at one point like she was trying to literally crawl into her chair and disappear.

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There isn’t much more to say as there’s a lot of down time with the girls before we finally get to a card related threat. While this looks potentially interesting, things have barely started moving on that front when the episode ends leaving us with a shaking house and Sakura showing us how pretty she looks with butterfly wings (she should seriously have these all the time).

For those enjoying the friendship/slice of life aspects of Clear Card, this will work wonders. For those who love the nostalgia of the moment, you’ll have a great time. In terms of an actual plot and characterisation in this episode, that’s possibly questionable.

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