Inside Pulse 12

Anime Review: Cardcaptor Sakura Blu-Ray Premium Edition

Cardcaptor Sakura Complete Series: Premium Blu-Ray Edition
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Cost: $199 (133.97 or Standard Edition)
Runtime: 1,750 minutes
Release Date: 08/05/2014
Get it Here: Nippon Ichi’s Website.

Right after I had graduated college in 2000, Kids’ WB began showing an anime called Cardcaptors The voice cast was pretty decent, but you could tell that this series was really edited up the yin yang and that much of the story, and its quality, were lost. Now sometimes an edited or extreme localization turns out pretty good. Look at Robotech, Saber Rider and Voltron. Cardcaptors was not one of those situations. Later on I would learn that it was not the company behind the dub’s fault (Nelvana) but Kids’ WB themselves. Nelvana actually dubbed all seventy episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura pretty well. It was more or less a straightforward translation. This far superior version would not air in the States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and other English speaking countries – although it would eventually surface in South East Asia of all places. In the US however, the seventy episodes were cut down to thirty-nine and were also heavily edited to appeal more towards boys…or what Kids’ WB thought boys would like anyway. As you can imagine this version did not work out well and although some of the voice cast was pretty top notch, Cardcaptors is still a sore spot with most CLAMP fans. If you can track down the original dub Nelvana created though, you should definitely do so, if only for curiosity’s sake so that you can see how different their original vision was from what Kids’ WB actually aired. Our publisher, Jon Widro, worked for Kids’ WB at the time and I’m sure he can share many a story about what was going on with this anime if we all nag him enough to do so. :-)

Anyway, this little prologue brings me to the recent release of Cardcaptor Sakura by Nippon Ichi. I know when I first got the press release, I was excited to see there would be an English dub with this version. I was hoping it would be the unedited Nelvana version because it would have been great for US audiences to finally see that instead of the Kids’ WB version. Alas, I was informed it would be a previously released dub by Animax. While disappointing, it was still great that American anime fans would finally get a mainstream release of Cardcaptor Sakura with an English dub. Better yet, the anime was remastered and would be released in Blu-Ray for the first time. That was terrific news as I do prefer to purchase my anime in high definition. Of course, since this was Nippon Ichi, it also meant that we would be getting a snazzy slipcover and artbook, since that’s how they do things. Now, with Cardcaptor Sakura here in my hands, I have to say that this thing is definitely worth the $200 price tag it currently has on NIS America and RightStuf.com’s websites.

If you are a longtime fan of Nippon Ichi’s anime releases, you’re quite used to the top notch packaging they do. Usually the DVDs come in an oversized slipcase and a coffee table style artbook. Of course, those previous releases have all been one to four discs. Cardcaptor Sakura however is comprised of NINE Blu-Ray discs (the DVD version is obviously far more) so the usual packaging wouldn’t really work here. Instead, Nippon Ichi has gone the same route they used for the Toradora! Complete Series re-release. All nine discs are in a very hard plastic clam shell case more in line with regular DVD releases. The front of the case is a picture of Sakura and Kero and the back is a synopsis of the anime. The case is exceptionally sturdy and well made. Inside the case you will see two discs to a prong, which makes pulling out and putting back in the Blu-Ray discs a bit of a pain. I was disappointed by the doubling up as that can eventually lead to scratched discs, but what can you do? It’s also weird that the two middle inserts are used oddly. One has two discs on one side and one on the other, while the second has two discs on one side but NONE on the other. The interior of the case could have been handled a lot better. Still it’s a LOT better than some complete collections I’ve seen that use paper slots to house the discs, so this is a minor quibble at best. Ick.

The art book too follows the much smaller format of the Toradora! re-release. This is not a bad thing as it does make the collection far easier to store, but for diehard fans of the old way of doing the artbooks, I’m sure there will be some complaints. I’m okay with it though as it fits the overall format of the collection and that’s what I care about most.

The artbook is actually an episode guide. You get a synopsis of all seventy episodes along with four full page pictures of Sakura in her various costumes. The guide is done in a scrapbook/diary style where each entry is written from the perspective of Sakura’s friend Tomoyo (who makes her costumes and films her adventures). It’s very well done, with an excellent hardcover, full colour glossy interior pages and stills from the anime itself. Of course as it is an episode guide, expect LOTS of spoilers. You should probably save this until you’ve watched the whole series.

All of this is encased in a hard reinforced cardboard slipcover, similar to previous NIS America anime releases, but with the scaled down side. The case is exceptionally thick and durable. On each side is a piece of artwork showing Sakura and Kero. It’s very nicely done and as usual, Nippon Ichi does a top notch job production value wise. They tend to put out the highest quality material product of any anime company out there, so you will be very happy with the product, at least ascetically.

Now let’s talk the anime itself. Since there are seventy episode with a runtime of 1,750 minutes, it’s going to taking you a little over TWENTY-NINE HOURS to watch this whole series. As such a marathon is probably not advised unless you are okay with sleep deprivation. The series follows the usual Magical Girl format where a young girl (in this case a fourth grader) gets magical powers and a destiny of the upmost importance. Unlike a lot of Magical Girl anime like Pretty Sammy or Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura is one more similar to The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo in that Sakura unwittingly let a whole bunch of fiendish thingies out and now is tasked with the responsibility of subduing and capturing these creatures. Along the way she makes friends and rivals until eventually she gets all the creatures and lives happily ever after. The core storyline is a pretty simplistic one and in many ways is cookie cutter/paint by numbers. However it is the WAY the story is told that has made Cardcaptor Sakura so memorable over the years. You have some incredibly detailed characters with strong, ever-evolving relationships and the occasional unexpected twist that pads out the story for another few adventures. As well, the creatures Sakura captures, known as the Clow, or the Clow Cards due to being trapped in tarot card like pieces, are treated as far more than just the “Robeast of the episode” like a lot of antagonists. They’re given personalities and in some cases, like the Dash card, are not evil or malicious at all. They simply are. The relationship Sakura has with the Clow changes greatly as the series goes on, from conquest and capture, to allies a la Pokémon to transforming the cards into a new state of being. It’s all very well done with a lot of plot swerves (although good ones, not Vince Russo style ones) making you want to keep watching the series until you’ve finally finished it. Even when you do, there are a few specials and movies not in this collection and you always have other Clamp series where the characters make appearances. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but suffice to say, it’s a lot of fun. It’s not one of my favorites of all time, but it is one I was happy to sit through one more time and can easily recommend to anyone unless they only like Fist of the North Star style violence and gore anime series. (I personally like both!)

Visually and aurally, Cardcaptor Sakura is pretty great. As the first high-definition release of the series, it has never looked better. The voice acting of the Japanese version still holds up and in in full stereo. This is definitely the best way to experience Cardcaptor Sakura and if you’ve never seen it, the Blu-Ray version will be the definitive experience. The English dub however…not so good. It’s only in a monaural track which will disappoint some and the quality isn’t all there. Although far more faithful than the Kids’ WB version, there are some notable translation and English pronunciation errors which surprised me. The quality of the acting is actually worse than the Kids’ WB one (and doubly so the unedited Nelvana version). Tomoyo for example sounds way too close to Ralph Wiggum for my liking and Yukito is not only obviously voiced by a girl, but he ends up sounds exactly like Barney the Dinosaur…or at least the fake one in episodes of the old Jon Lovitz cartoon, The Critic. The English dub really does take a bit away from the series due to its lack of quality and it’s a shame that Nippon Ichi couldn’t get the original Nelvana track that wasn’t butchered by Kids’ WB as I think it would have gone over a lot better. Plus Carly McKillip, Matt Hill and Rhys Harber did a far better job than their Animax contemporaries. The translation of the English dub is great. It’s just the quality of the voice acting combined with the odd voices used by the actors made it hard for me to fully immerse myself in this version. I would regularly switch back to the Japanese cast. This is definitely one of those anime where the English dub is not as good as the Japanese with subtitles. There are some that are better in English, like Vampire Hunter D or Slayers, but this was definitely not one of them. Still, it’s great to have an accurate English dub available to the general public and who knows, you might like the English VA cast better than I did!

English VA aside, I’m tremendously happy with Nippon Ichi’s handling of Cardcaptor Sakura. Although the MSRP of $250 may scare away some potential purchasers, you have to remember that a) NIS America is selling this for $199 on their website, which works out to approximately $2.84 per high definition episode. That is a very reasonable price and in-line with what you would pay for digital downloads on Amazon or iTunes. Plus you’re getting the slipcover and the artbook. When you break things down it’s very reasonably priced. As well if it’s still too much for you, you always have b) which is to buy the standard version of the discs and should cut off about sixty bucks from the price tag. If you’re a fan of Cardcaptor Sakura in any form or just CLAMP in general, you should definitely pick this up ASAP while the premium edition is still in stock. If you’re only mildly curious or are totally new to CLAMP, you might want to wait and watch an episode or two to make sure it is the type of anime you like before picking this up.

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  • SnowWolf

    First of all, thank you for acknowledging that there was a Nelvana cut before KidsWB chopped it up further. Many reviews I read think the Cardcaptor’s dub was only ever 39 episodes with Syaoron as the lead, which really frustrates me.

    However…

    The original Nelvana dub was not uncut. It still cut out scenes for commercials and removed all the different relationships and merged the final 2 episodes. In truth there is no uncut Nelvana dub though I really wish there was. This less butchered version did however air in the UK, Australia and Canada. South East Asia had the Animax dub as that was where it was recorded.

    I hope we get a release of the Nelvana dub one day as I really prefer the voices. The Animax dub is painful to my ears and I don’t think it being uncut is a good enough reason to call it better, despite what I hear other people say.

  • NTB

    Yes I completely agree, I really enjoy the Nelvana cut but I wish there was an uncut version heck I just wish any version of Nelvana would be released it’s a part of my childhood no matter how bad people say it is.

  • Nama-chan

    Great review, but I love the Animax dub. Honestly anything is better than the absolutely horrendous Nelvana dub. Sakura’s voice is to deep for how young she is, Tomoyo’s just makes her sound like an absolutely rude girl and really the only good voices were Yukito/Yue and Keros true form.The changing of names just to Americanize the series was terrible. The Animax dub was pretty darn good,but the overall best dub was done by Pioneer Entertainment USA for the second movie; that would be the needed cast.