This post goes all over the place, and is in part me putting some of my history into words. It also served to help me clarify some of my own views, thoughts, and positions. Written for me, by me, and put online for the bored reader looking to consume words.
I’ve put more money into Cardcaptor Sakura than I have into anything other hobby-related item in my life. You’d think with all this money spent, Cardcaptor Sakura must be my all-time favorite series. It isn’t. You might think I must be the biggest fan of the magical girl series genre. Not really (I can go for anything cute and adorable). You could quote how “a fool and his money are soon parted”, and this time you may be on to something.
Growing a Background in Anime
My first time with Sakura, I still remember it. I was probably 15 years old at the time, maybe 16. I was a fan of Sailormoon. I enjoyed watching the dub, and when that ran out of episodes, I aquired fansubs of the movies and some R and S series episodes on VHS. Yes, this was back in the days of VHS fanubs, but that has nothing to do with this tale.
One day I was going through channels on television, looking for something to watch. Let’s not dwell on the horrible days of time wasted looking for something to watch and watching whatever I come across, playing couch potato. I came across Cardcaptor Sakura (dubbed as Cardcaptors). It was clearly anime.
I had first seen anime in the form of an episode of Ranma 1/2, followed later by Nausicaa, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Grave of the Fireflies, the movies through school teachers who’d immigrated from Japan. I had seen episodes of Dragon Ball dubbed into English, as well as Dragon Ball Z in English and also in Japanese via the International Channel sunday nights. And, I was enjoying Sailormoon. There was something to these Japanese animations which American animation lacked. The stories, the presentations, the characters. I had never really thought about it or analyzed it, but there was something there.
With all that background of anime, and with Sailormoon being my favorite at the time, there’s no reason Cardcaptor Sakura wouldn’t fit right in with everything else. Right? So, why did I switch channels again after about five seconds?
The Five-Second First Encounter
Switching channels, Cardcaptors came up, showing a scene with Sakura rollerblading, perhaps to school. “Oh, it’s that anime about the rollerblading girl. Boooooring,” I thought, and I moved on.
How’s that for an episode commentary? “The girl was rollerblading, and rollerblading doesn’t interest me, so I stopped watching after five seconds. Here’s a screenshot of her rollerblading.”
I don’t think it was more than two years later when, on a Saturday morning, I came across an episode of Cardcaptors. I didn’t see the beginning. I didn’t see the middle, either. I came in where “some guy was following a girl until he fell off a cliff.” From there, “the guy realized the girl was a ghost, not really his younger sister.” A cartoon about rollerblading and ghosts? Okay, I did watch through to the end of the episode, but it still didn’t capture my interest. Why do I want to watch a series about a lone main character when Sailormoon has a team of five main characters? Doesn’t it get boring with only one main character? Hey, I never said I was very bright as an 18 year old.
Fast-forward to about age 23 or 24, and I’m sitting in front of a fansubbed episode of Cardcaptor Sakura. Other than the Japanese Studio Ghibli movies (with fansubs) and the Japanese episodes of Dragon Ball Z (no subtitles), and some Japanese Sailormoon (with fansubs), my experiences with Japanese-language watching had expanded to fansubs of Love Hina and Angelic Layer (which have both been licensed subbed and dubbed into English since then, and I’ve collected both on DVD). This would also be after I’d acquired the first four or so episodes of Saint Tail fansubbed on VHS (another I’ve since bought all the DVDs and manga for). Watching in Japanese certainly wasn’t new to me by this time, and I’d had two years of taking a Japanese language course in high school which made things easier to watch.
Which episode was it? Let’s see, it had a female teacher, and Sakura was hanya~~ing over her. And there was snow. This wasn’t Miss Mizuki’s first episode, but it might have been the first one with her as Sakura’s teacher. It might have been the one where Sakura loses the watch Yukito gave her, and Syaoran helps her look for it (he’s good about looking for things). I’d know it if I rewatched the winter episodes.
This time, I didn’t say, “eh, boring.” There was something about that voice. Sakura’s voice. That “hanya~~” just makes you want to melt along with her. She was the most adorable thing, ever. This may very well have been the official start of my love for “all things cute”.
It wouldn’t be until a couple years later, 2006, when I’d buy the first nine DVD collection, with plans on buying the second if I liked it. I watched through the first half of the series, enjoyed it, and started saving up for the second half. Unknown to me, manufacturing of the DVDs had ceased, so when I had the money to buy the second half of the series, it was impossible to find. Instead, in 2007, I bought a pack of the 18 individual DVDs, at a large price, but I don’t think it reached $200. If you add together the nine DVD collection and the 18 individual DVDs sold toghether, then it surpasses $200.
Move on to 2007, and I’d been buying region one anime DVDs for over a year. After seeing the treasure that is Princess Tutu, and finding relatively little conversation about it via Google, I was sparked to write an anime reivews site. Something different from the other ones out there, although I had no clear objective. I decided to see what people were saying about other series I had recently enjoyed, and considered being able to write up nice reviews for all of them, including Cardcaptor Sakura. That was a moment to pause over, as the series had recently had its availability plummet.
I could at least see what others were saying about the series. A Google search for Cardcaptor Sakura brought me to Moe Check!, which introduced me to words such as “moe”, “loli”, and “yuri”. Not knowing these words, I looked them up, and while I couldn’t find anything about “moe”, the other two convinced me that “moe” was a smutty word, and Moe Check! had to be a verbally smut-filled site about Sakura and Tomoyo. I promptly left, all but vowing to never return. And for the duration of 2007, I avoided the many anime blogs going on about “moe this” and “loli that”. All this anime blogging about “moe”, whatever awful thing that was. Smut to my left, smut to my right! Keep your dirty “moe” away from me! No, no, no, I will not follow these blogs about this “moe Lucky Star“. I had plenty of safe, cute anime to watch, and didn’t need to read such things. Keep your “moe” away from my “cute and adorable”.
After a start like that, you have to wonder how Moe Check! ended up on my sidebar’s “blogs I read” area. I had come across a blog post with screenshots from Lucky Star, and it didn’t look like a bad show (although not necessarily something I’d be interested in). There were comments on the “moe” things in the episode, and I thought, “Wait, that’s not a bad thing.” (I’ve since also learned the meaning of “loli” used in general context on anime blogs, but you won’t see me using it anywhere outside of this post.) I had Moe Check! out of my mind by this time, but came across a post on it, an editorial-like piece. I believe it was the one about why the site’s owner, Damien Kellis, liked the character of Tomoyo so much. A good read!
Anime From the Day Before Yesterday
With so many anime bloggers following the latest Japanese series, especially those picked up by fansubbers, I wondered how many missed out on great series released previously. A good series isn’t a good series for everyone, and there’s simply too much out there to take it all in, but when I see a series like Princess Tutu, I can look back a year later and say, “I’m glad I didn’t miss that series completely.” Most series register as “I could have skipped this series,” even if it’s one I liked.
A 13 or 26 episode series is fairly easy to pick up and watch. 70 episodes (and two movies), on the other hand, is something of an investment. Both in time and cost (unless you’re the type to download everything). It’s easy for me to say, “Princess Tutu is a wonderful series, so go out and buy it today” because it’s available with subtitles and dubbing in English, available for purchase in region one and region two (Australia’s region two, right?) It can be imported, it can be played on a regionless player, or on a computer, if need be. The price for the thinpack is more than fair. Cardcaptor Sakura on the other hand…
With Cardcaptor Sakura, the situation is much worse. It re-ran on television in Japan not too long ago, and Japanese DVDs are available. Unfortunately, because the focus of Japanese anime DVD releases seems to be for rich collectors (corporate business owners, emperors, politicians, gang lords, you know, the usual suspects seen watching anime), they aren’t accessible for someone who simply wants to “see that genre-defining magical girl series,” then move on. On top of this, these releases don’t contain English subtitles.
The region one box sets would be the way to go if they were still being manufactured. With the Japanese DVDs being targetted at the collector, the region one DVDs no longer produced due to an expired license, and Cardcaptor Sakura likely not showing on television in English-speaking countries (let’s ignore potential showings of Cardcaptors), where does someone who wants to simply watch the series once through turn?
I may not condone downloading a series or knowingly buying a bootleg when there’s a legal route, but I can understand the desire to see a series with English subtitles. This is a service fansubs and Chinese-made bootlegs provide. When I watch my Korean DVDs of Janggeum’s Dream, Yobi, the five-tailed fox, or Oseam, I do so using the English subtitles found on the DVDs. Janggeum’s Dream even comes with Japanese subtitles, and I believe they all have Korean subtitles. If it was economically feasible and if there was certain to be a big enough market for it, I have no doubt Janggeum’s Dream would have included Spanish, French, and German subtitles.
The Japanese release of Cardcaptor Sakura, on the other hand, has no subtitles. Not even Japanese subtitles. Many Japanese anime DVDs, I imagine most of them, do not have English subtitles. It’s understandable. Disney’s DuckTales DVDs lack German, Japanese, and Korean subtitles. With a lack of any way to download updates to a DVD, these cannot be added at a future date without releasing new copies of a DVD.
So long as there is a desire to see a Japanese anime series by English-speaking viewers, and so long as the Japanese companies do not provide this, fansubs and bootlegs will fill the void. And if a licensed English subtitle release comes out to fill the void, but vanishes due to an expired license, the void returns.
“Alternative” Buying Options
I decided I’d buy some of the Cardcaptor Sakura bootlegs and review them. Anyone looking to buy Cardcaptor Sakura to watch in English (subtitled) will find it impossible due to the expired license issue. If someone is going to buy a bootleg release, then, which one do they buy? There are at least two major players in the Cardcaptor Sakura bootleg scene, and there are many quality issues to learn about. Only an informed buyer can make the right choice for theirself.
Writing out the reviews proved to be more work than expected. There are generally two bootlegs: a bootleg of the licensed region one release (a cheap way for a bootlegger to cash in) and a bootleg of the Japanese release (with Chinese and English subtitles). All other bootlegs stem from the latter, and I soon found I was mixing up which review words went with which screenshots went with which DVDs which went with which review words. I was repeating a lot of the same review text due to two separate bootleg releases using the exact same material. Not only this, but I was straight comparing bootlegs of the Japanese release with the licensed region one release, when they’re not a one to one comparison. Overall, disorganization slowed down the process immensely. There’s no problem in saying, “For a video and audio review of this bootleg, check this other bootleg’s video and audio review, because it’s the same thing.”
Come 2008, I invested in the Japanese Cardcaptor Sakura DVDs. One reason is because the bootlegs of the Japanese release had a better quality video source compared with the licensed region one release. Another reason is because I was curious as to the quality of the remastered release (which is—and I say without having seen the original Japanese DVDs to compare—the absolute highest quality you’ll ever see from the 70 episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura). Seeing the quality of these DVDs made me rethink how I was comparing the video quality of Japanese-release bootlegs with the licensed region one release.
Sakura Time and Again
With all the DVD watching for quality reviewing, I’ve seen and re-seen much of the early episodes. I’ve watched the scene where Tomoyo shows Sakura the night flight video more times than I can count. That scene never gets old for me. Admittedly, there are episodes which I find dull, boring, lacking, but that’s to be expected with 70 episodes. The number of good episodes, and good scenes within the lesser episodes, keeps this show re-watchable for me.
I think that’s why I can spend so much on this series. There’s a lot of history in it for me, there’s a lot of re-watchability, and I’m glad to have such a high quality release in my collection. I don’t plan on spending this kind of money on any other DVD collections (although I wouldn’t mind the whole Ojamajo Doremi series at top quality).
There’s no real ending to this post. It went in many different directions, with no goal in mind to tie everything together to finish with.
I actually had a Cardcaptor Sakura DVD release review scheduled for today, but I’ve bumped it back a week to make room for this post.