Saturday, January 8, 2011

Manga Review: Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus 1

This is the best story CLAMP has ever made and a gem that every manga fan should try.

Kinomoto Sakura is a bright, athletic fourth grader who lives with her dad Fujitaka and her older brother Toya. One day in her dad's study, she finds an old book with a strange cover and opens it, releasing the magic Clow cards within it as well as Cerberus (nicknamed "Kero-chan" by Sakura), the guardian of the cards who looks like a small plush toy instead of his supposedly impressive "true form" because he's low on magic. (The cards got away because he fell asleep.)

He tells Sakura that the Clow cards were created long ago by a powerful magician named Clow, and Sakura was able to break the seal on them because she has magic ability. Sakura agrees to help him capture the Clow cards to prevent them from causing harm and being used for evil by whoever else might get a hold of them.

The only other person who knows about the Clow cards and Kero is Sakura's best friend Tomoyo, who creates a bevy of magical girl outfits for Sakura to wear and tapes her exploits at every opportunity. While Tomoyo is in love with Sakura, Sakura is in love with her older brother's best friend Yukito ("Yuki"). Eventually, another cardcaptor named Li Syaoran transfers into Sakura and Tomoyo's class and demands that Sakura stop collecting Clow cards and hand over the ones that she already has. Syaoran almost instantly gets a huge crush on Yuki, making him Sakura's rival in a much more amusing way.

A beautiful new teacher who seems to know more than she should arrives at Sakura's school, and the volume ends with Sakura, Tomoyo, and Syaoran trapped in a maze by a Clow card.

Cardcaptor Sakura is warm, sweet, and charming. It's funny and (normally) lighthearted without being insubstantial, with great characters, a whimsical sense of humor, and enough knowing tweaks of the conventions of the magical girl genre (the series starting after Sakura has become a magical girl and told Tomoyo about it, with her "discovery" framed in a short flashback; her battle costumes being designed by Tomoyo instead of popping out of thin air during a transformation) to keep the folks who are familiar with them happy.

As well-written as the story is, the art can't be under-credited. Art usually doesn't make or break a series for me. If I'm reading a good story, equally nice art is welcome but not a requisite. (Unless it's an action series. If the fight scenes look like they were made by a chicken trained to dip its talons in ink and scratch humanoid figures onto the paper, what's the point?) Great art won't win any points for a story I don't like either. But oh my god, the art in this series is gorgeous. Dark Horse even includes a bonus gallery of glossy color images in the back for those of us who want to stare at the pretty pictures in all of their full-color glory a little more. (There are some in the main part of the book.)

As for the yuri, along with Tomoyo we get the two chapters that introduce her yuri-riffic mom Sonomi. In the school athletics festival chapter, we learn that Sonomi has been in love with Sakura's dead mom Nadeshiko since they were little kids (they were cousins), and she has hated Fujitaka ever since he married Nadeshiko when she was sixteen and he was a new teacher at Sonomi and Nadeshiko's school. The chapter ends with a bittersweet moment in which Sonomi and Fujitaka unwittingly bond over being in love with the same dead person, with a little help from Sakura and a pair of nadeshiko blossoms. Right after this Tomoyo, who has long known about her mom being in love with Nadeshiko, tells Sakura that she loves her and when Sakura says, "Me too, Tomoyo-chan!" Tomoyo quietly says, "I think...we're talking about...different kinds of love, Sakura-chan." Sakura says "Did you say something?" and Tomoyo replies with, "Sakura-chan...I'll tell you when you're older." Later in the omnibus, Sakura visits Tomoyo's mansion and we see that Sonomi and Tomoyo both keep cherished mementos of Nadeshiko and Sakura in a box that has been possessed by a Clow card. The yuri's all one-sided, but it's more funny and charming than it probably has any right to be. (Just hope 10 year-old Tomoyo doesn't follow her mom's example and realizes that there are other fish in the sea.)

The translation is excellent. It keeps all of the honorifics (including "onii-chan"), along with cultural references (most of them are food-related, like "takoyaki" and "bento"). Each character's "voice" comes through, with Kero's Osakan accent and penchant for manzai-style humor being especially well-handled. (Given that Kansai accents have often been conveyed in English by giving the character a Southern U.S. accent to show that they speak "differently" from the others and calling it a day.) There aren't any translation notes which, combined with the deluxe packaging of this series and the very nature of Dark Horse (which is releasing all of CCS in four omnibi) as a publisher, speaks volumes about who CCS is being marketed to this time around.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

I have a lopsidded past familiarity with this series. I was familiar with it when it was originally released in left-to-right format by Tokyopop, but only read whichever random volumes were available in the library and saw a handful of subbed VHS anime episodes. (Also from the library.) Before reading this omnibus I definitely remembered Tomoyo, the gorgeous artwork, and for some reason, my friends and I being convinced that Yuki and Toya were in love, but not much beyond that. lol I never saw or read the ending, so I'm looking forward to seeing how everything pans out. I've heard that the ending is comparatively weaker than the rest of the series, but for now I'm really enjoying the ride.


cardcaptor sakura fan said...

Let me quote you "This is the best story CLAMP has ever made and a gem that every manga fan should try."

-->> definitely worth checking. The CCS manga is way better than the anime adapatation, still the anime is very favorable and one of those unforgettable series I've come across with.

Katherine Hanson said...

I like the manga better also so far, for the tighter pacing and the gorgeous art. (Although yes, from what I've seen, the anime is very good.)

soaring_wings said...

Thanks for posting this review. I was on the fence as to whether to pick up this omnibus edition or try to track down the remaining tokyopop volumes. Most reviews I read on this edition failed to provide me with one crucial bit of information: honorifics. I usually don't care about honorifics, but I think CCS is one of the few manga that really benefit from its inclusion (Tsubasa is another). So thank you for writing this review. =)

Katherine Hanson said...

@soaring_wings- I'm glad you found this review helpful! :-) I'm a geek for honorifics, so I always mention that aspect of the translation when I'm reviewing something published in English.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about CCS. Like you said, it's very charming and deals well with some of the conventions of the genre, but certain parts leave a bad taste in the mouth. The lesbians end up alone when almost everyone else gets a lover, no one seems to mind what the villain does to them, and the positive portrayal of pedophilia is a subversion I'd rather not have seen, especially not in a children's manga. In general, CLAMP seems to do lots of things with an eye for the shock value and very little thought. Chobits is probably the only thing they did that I unambiguously liked, because the horribly-dark-if-you-think-about-it ending didn't feel just thrown in.