You say Tomoeda. I say Tomada. Let’s call the whole thing off.
We come now to the final day, the final hate, the final boss, of Ten Things I Hate about Cardcaptor Sakura. Fiery rage has consumed my soul and burned all to ash; in the end, nothing remains … except my hate.
Just look at that picture up at the top there. Look at the way she’s threatening us with that giant, winged claw hammer. What is she planning to do with that thing? It’s all gonna end in tears when she puts an eye out.
That’s how it goes. Magical girl battles are all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Then they’re awesome.
… Okay, where was I? Ah, yes: hate, burning hate. Here is the final thing I hate about Cardcaptor Sakura:
Number 1: Everything.
Cardcaptor Sakura was the first magical girl story, and may even have been the first manga, I ever read. I didn’t know Clamp’s reputation and didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it looked cute. It proved to be rather saccharine even for my tastes, and I never found the story or the characters especially engaging.
I might, admittedly, appreciate it more if I had been more familiar with its genre before I read it, but when I watched the anime years later, my reaction was basically the same: though I acknowledged its high production values, I didn’t think the story was especially good. Both the manga and anime continuously shatter my suspension of disbelief with their depictions of grade-school children who lethargically discuss abstract concepts over tea. In both versions, the heroine is uninteresting. Her creators and fans both treat Sakura Kinomoto more like a fashion doll than like a human being, so I suspect I’m not the only one who doesn’t find her personality particularly captivating.
This series of posts, especially the last one, have highlighted some of the creepy relationships in the series, but this brief laundry list of objections can’t capture the overall effect. The comic starts out looking sugary sweet, but then gradually escalates the weirdness, all while maintaining the sweet veneer. First, Sakura has a crush on her older brother’s best friend, which is no big deal because kids get crushes. Then we learn her dad married her mom while she was still in high school, which is a little weird but not completely weird. Then Sakura’s rival Syaoran gets a crush on the same boy as Sakura, which is also not a big deal because, hey, they’re kids, and then Tomoyo reveals that she secretly lusts after Sakura and then Rika is secretly dating the teacher and her older brother used to date his teacher and …
When I got to the end of the sixth volume, which concludes the first arc, I lowered it to the coffee table and muttered to myself, “Wow … this thing is sick.” It has the effect, I believe intentionally, of gradually acclimating the reader to increasingly outré relationships until, by the end, the yaoi boys are out of the closet and a number of children have been paired off with adult lovers. Meanwhile, the syrupy presentation never wavers—which is in itself, admittedly, a significant artistic achievement. Clamp studiously avoids even a hint of the sly or the risqué, which would point to the lurid nature of these relationships and thereby break the spell.
The very fact that the plot and protagonist are generic causes me to think that this is Cardcaptor Sakura’s real purpose. It is not there, primarily, to entertain, but to convince us that homosexuality and paedophilia are cute. It is first and foremost a work of propaganda, and its popularity and pride of place in the genre indicate it is a wildly successful one.
This is also, I think, why the children don’t behave like children. Clamp is clearly not lacking for artistic talent, either in the drawing or the writing department. They could create halfway convincing children if they wanted to, so I conclude that they don’t want to. If the children in Cardcaptor Sakura behaved like children, it would provoke the natural feelings of disgust in the audience when those children get into romantic situations with grownups. The combination of anime-moe character designs and unrealistically adult characterizations serves to deaden the normal response. And, of course, everybody is picture-perfect pretty. There are no awkward kids or ugly adults in Clamp.
Clamp is so successful at pervading their comic book with an air of innocence that it’s easy to imagine saying to them, “You know, some of this is kind of perverted,” and hearing the wide-eyed response, “Well, I had no idea!” But in fact they know exactly what they’re doing, and they give the game away when they so carefully protect their heroine from much of what is going on in the series. For a protagonist, Sakura is decidedly oblivious. She has a vague idea that Rika has an “older boyfriend,” but doesn’t know who—or how old—he really is. She’s unaware of Tomoyo’s obsession with her. She’s not present when Eriol and child molestor Kaho announce their love for each other. She doesn’t know about Toya’s history with Kaho.
And at the end of the story, Sakura herself escapes the mire of perversion. In the end, she’s in a canonical relationship with her erstwhile rival Syaoran, just about the only other character in the story who isn’t a creep. He’s actually a male, unrelated to her, and her own age—making this a very unusual relationship for Clamp.
In this, Clamp treats Sakura better than a lot of the fans do. Sakura has the dishonor of being the most sexually abused fictional child on the Internet. Thank Madoka that Google has improved the filters on its image search.
I think all of this is intentional not only because of the internal evidence of Cardcaptor Sakura itself, but also because this is what Clamp is known for. According to their page on TVTropes, “A theme that runs through CLAMP’s works is that love transcends everything, particularly that pesky little thing called gender.” The tropers are too polite to note that it also, in their view, transcends those pesky little things called age and consanguinity.
Possibly Clamp’s clearest presentation of their worldview is in Chobits. I thought originally I might discuss Chobits in depth here, but that work probably deserves its own post. My set of Chobits is in storage at the moment anyway, but I remember that it states plainly the opinion that since everybody is different, everyone’s romantic inclinations are different, and each person has to find his happiness individually. Romantic love, according to Clamp, has no fixed purpose or object.
It would take another entire post, or series thereof, to unpack this. Clamp’s conception of love is metaphysically rooted in Postmodern philosophy: specifically, Jean-Paul Sartre proposed the idea that, for human beings, existence precedes essence, meaning that there is no fixed human nature. The ultimate implication of this idea is that there is no final cause—that is, no purpose—to human existence apart from individual will.
Sartre’s idea is, I suggest, ultimately incoherent. Merely to say “human being” is already to imply the existence of a shared human essence; if it were otherwise, the word “human being” could have no referent. A metaphysical system older and more rigorous than Sartre’s held it as a principle that nothing can exist without existing as some thing, meaning that identity, essence, necessarily accompanies existence in all cases. It is also a principle of this older system that formal cause implies final cause, so once we admit that the term human is a universal referring to a discrete and identifiable group of objects, we must also admit that there is a purpose to human existence. There is also necessarily a purpose, and therefore a proper object, for each of a human being’s desires, affections, and appetites.
In following the Zeitgeist that there are no final causes and that “love is wonderful and beautiful in all its forms,” the ladies of Clamp, and similar thinkers, conflate all types of love with romantic love. If anyone makes the argument that certain sexual relationships are contrary to human dignity, the counterargument inevitably comes back that it’s about love, and surely you’re not opposed to love, are you? This counterargument is only intelligible because Postmodern man has lost the ability to distinguish different types of love, or, indeed, to distinguish love from lust.
Examples are easy to find. Here, take a look:
See? “Love, not sex,” the anonymous meme-maker says. Never mind that Terada gives Rika an engagement ring, the purpose of which is known to all. And never mind that the manga series ends with her going off to a secret rendezvous with him. The meme-maker is confused, because she doesn’t distinguish types of love, nor admit that affections can be disordered and take the wrong object. If Terada genuinely loved Rika, truly and properly, he’d keep his dirty hands off her.
If we make proper distinctions between different types of love according to their final causes, it becomes clear why some of the relationships in Cardcaptor Sakura are objectionable. Romantic love ultimately leads to sexual union because that’s its purpose, and that’s why it’s not appropriate between, for example, adults and children. That is not an objection to love per se; it is only an objection to disordered affections that have taken the wrong object.
This brings me around at last to a question I posed at the beginning: why exactly is Cardcaptor Sakura, a saccharine franchise with no cheesecake or sexual content, so insanely popular with the so-called lolicons? I think the answer is because the story takes place in a sort of paedophile fantasy world, an alternate universe where children are just miniature adults and where nobody ever breaches any sexual boundaries because there don’t appear to have ever been any in the first place.
And that’s why I hate Cardcaptor Sakura.