Why I Hate ‘Cardcaptor Sakura’ (and you can, ten!)

The Final Hate: This Time It’s Personal!

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.

“Some magical girl idol or other can … ah, forget it …”

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.

Her ribbons, however …

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 …

NOOOOO!!!

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.

Awkward.

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.

But they still dress him like a nancy boy.

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:

I’m really not sure how a reaction of disgust to paedophilia indicates someone is “jaded.”

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.

  • Roffles Lowell

    Bravo on a great series of essays. This last one in particular got me thinking.

    When you sign on for a serial work of genre fiction you’re investing a much larger time commitment than you do with a movie or a single volume of “literary” fiction. You have less of an idea of what you’re ultimately signing on for, too, especially if it’s new and only a few installments deep. Still, you bring higher expectations when you give away a large chunk of your time. You won’t want to be bored during this time spent, nor do you want to feel like it was just a cheap thrill when it’s over.
    What then do you do, when you make the long journey with a series, and it didn’t do what you wanted it to do? An unwelcome plot twist or an underwhelming ending is one thing. But when the themes themselves are objectionable, it gets stickier. If it’s genre fiction and it delivers the expected goods, many people are happy to leave it at that and leave quibbles to the haters. Good luck hunting down a tough, objective review source.

    It kind of makes serialized fiction a risky prospect, in general. It’s probably for this reason I myself tend to avoid it unless I’ve got some kind of reassurance that I’m not going to wind up as dissatisfied as…say…. you, reading Card Captor Sakura.
    For example, lets say someone is starting a magical girl serial with darkish undertones. Hmm, OK. Is this going to go somewhere that will land me on an FBI watch list? Well, they run a blog about Catholic themes in science fiction, so, probably not! For example.

    • I don’t think Jake and the Dynamo should land anyone on an FBI watch list.

      I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you. I’ve been swamped with work and school, and then I decided to complete these essays, which left no time for anything else. I’ll respond shortly.

      • Roffles Lowell

        Understood! Do what you have to do. I just upgraded my tech setup, so I’m taking the time to learn the ins and outs of Adobe CS. It’s tough, but rewarding.

        “I don’t think Jake and the Dynamo should land anyone on an FBI watch list,” – D.G.D. Davidson

        I think you just wrote yourself a tag line!

  • Bill

    You might appreciate the changes the anime series made to its source material; the teacher/student thing only goes as far as the girl giving the teacher a little present and him telling her something along the lines of “I’m glad you like me; I like you, too” which seems a pretty innocent reaction. The gay thing amounts only to increasingly bothersome teasing.

    • Yes, I discuss some of the alterations over the course of this series of essays. The anime greatly reduces the Clampiness of the story.

  • Allison Paulé

    I just finished watching the whole series today. I only sat through it because I wanted to know why I really liked it in my childhood. Of course, when I was younger, I had only seen a few magical episodes here and there, and out of order, so I never really got it. Thus, re-watching the whole series from beginning to end was a “favor” to my childhood self. WHAT A FRUSTRATING WASTE OF TIME!! As soon as I finished watching that hot mess of an anime, I immediately perused the internet to see if anyone else felt the same way as me, and THANK GOD I’M NOT ALONE!

    I 100% agree with your list of hate. Every episode had the same annoying and disturbing tune to: “Ditzy, useless, over-emotional Sakura has all these magical powers, but doesn’t know what to do or how to use them and cries about it until someone else helps her out. She can’t even understand things when plainly explained to her. Also, problem-solving and critical thinking are not a thing. Oh, and by the way, she’s surrounded by perverts who have normalized paedophilia and call it ‘love’.” Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the CLAMP ladies made the manga to justify their own paedophilic tendencies.

    I just wish I could take back the 1,750 minutes I spent sitting in agony, waiting for the series to get better, only to realize what a let-down it turned out to be.

  • Haha, nice post. I ended up here on part 10 thanks to google image search. I hadn’t taken the time to read parts 2-9, but I did go back to read part 1.
    Anyways, I’m a fan of the series and it’s ridiculous fictional love stories, and saccharine-sweet slow pace. You’re right that it really is a fantasy. I enjoy it, but it certainly isn’t for everyone. ^^