The recent release of the anime Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, the sequel to the beloved Cardcaptor Sakura series, has been a delight to watch from episode to episode. Clear Card has so far managed to effortlessly build upon what’s already established about the world and its characters, while giving fans a whole new story about gathering a new set of cards without it feeling contrived. The strength of the sequel lies mostly with its charming characters, both new and old, and continuing their development from where we last left them. One of the best ongoing character developments since Clear Card’s debut is Syaoran Li.
A one time rival of Sakura Kinomoto for the magical Clow Cards, Syaoran is first introduced in Cardcaptor Sakura as a kid from Hong Kong who is combative, bratty, and a bit cocky. Syaoran is the exact opposite of Sakura who is sweet, affable, and modest. Sakura is often surrounded by a large group of friends, while Syaoran mostly goes it alone. It may be difficult to find much to like about Syaoran, as he often acts rude and abrasive towards Sakura, even going as far as criticizing her capabilities to capture the cards and wield the powerful magic that lies within them. But behind his haughty demeanor is someone who truly has a soft center in the middle.
There have been plenty of times he helps Sakura with capturing the Clow Cards throughout the first half of the series. One particular episode that already proves Syaoran isn’t as much of a brat as he appears to be is Episode 13, “Sakura and a Mammoth Test of Strength.” In this episode, Sakura has to capture and seal away the Power card. The only way to seal Power is by having a test of strength against her. Sakura chooses a tug-of-war match, which she struggles in winning against Power, even with the help of her new elephant friend at the zoo. With the aid of the Time card, Syaoran stealthily hovers over them on a tree branch and stops time momentarily, freezing everyone in place (including Sakura), and pulls the rope out of the grasp of Power. Once time resumes as normal, Power falls to the ground and Sakura realizes she’s the winner. Sakura seals away Power without any further incident, and presumes she has won because of the help she received from the elephant.
Oftentimes, Syaoran hardly acts like the relentless rival he’s supposed to be. He goes out of his way to help Sakura capture the cards and sometimes walks away without procuring the card for himself. Syaoran could have easily let Sakura fail against Power in that scene in Episode 13 and then step in to take the card for himself. Instead, he assists Sakura without her ever knowing he did. This certainly doesn’t sound like a kid who’s completely out for himself and no one else. And Syaoran’s development as a character only continues to flourish and blossom into something beautiful when we go into the Sakura Cards arc in the second half of the series.
Over the course of the anime, you see Syaoran’s aloofness toward Sakura gradually melt away. The two become genuine friends and Syaoran sticks around Japan a little longer to help Sakura convert the Clow Cards into Sakura Cards. However, Syaoran’s reasons for staying has more to do with being highly suspicious of the enigmatic new transfer student Eriol Hiiragizawa, who comes from England. It’s in the Sakura Cards arc that you see more of Syaoran’s kindheartedness and gentleness emerge, especially as he finds himself falling in love with Sakura and wanting to look out for her.
The Sakura Cards arc is my favorite half of the original series. The friendship between Syaoran and Sakura gets deeper, which means lots of adorable Syaoran and Sakura moments, and you watch how Syaoran completely changes as a person. He’s pleasant, engages more with the kids in his class than he has before, and he puts someone’s needs ahead of his own. In Episode 66, “The Person Sakura Likes the Most,” Syaoran is there to comfort Sakura after being gently turned down by Yukito when she tells him her feelings. At this point in the series, Syaoran has come to accept the love he feels for Sakura but has yet to tell her. Rather than use this moment to nab the girl for himself, Syaoran wisely remains the dear friend who Sakura can lean on. It shows what kind of boy Syaoran has grown to be and will continue to become. Cardcaptor Sakura may have ultimately ended with Syaoran and Sakura together, well the second Cardcaptor Sakura movie does anyway, Clear Card picks up right where their relationship left off.
At 17 episodes and currently ongoing, there’s still much to be uncovered in the sequel series. There’s new mysterious characters whose agendas still remain unclear, and Syaoran is keeping a secret of his own from Sakura that he’s not at liberty to tell her yet. While these plot points remain unresolved at the moment, the sequel does continue Syaoran’s trajectory of becoming a much more mature young man that we saw taking shape in the Sakura Cards arc.
Since the release of Clear Card, I have gone back and started slowly rewatching Cardcaptor Sakura. Comparing the series of then to now, it’s incredible how far Syaoran has come since his first meeting with Sakura. I almost forgot how Syaoran wasn’t always the gentler, kinder, and respectful teen boy you see in Clear Card. It took time for Syaoran to get to where he is in the new series, but I prefer seeing more of this Syaoran than the brat who always gave Sakura a hard time when she did her best under the circumstances she was in. With this newer and grown up Syaoran, there’s a different dynamic at play between him and Sakura.
Clear Card still shows Sakura and Syaoran feeling very bashful around each other, even now that they’re a couple. Though the sequel reunites Syaoran and Sakura after being apart for a few years when Syaoran had to be back in Hong Kong, the new series also explores them trying to figure out how to function as a couple now that they no longer have to be apart. There are moments where there’s a degree of formality between them, a feeling of wanting to be more familiar than they are but not really knowing how to go about it. The only time that sense of reserve and shyness falls away is in Episode 14, “Sakura, the Shrine, and the Zoo.”
When Sakura is in the process of finding the source of the latest Clear Card to seal it away, she finds herself in a grassy field with all her friends turned into animals. When she chases after her friends they’re stopped by a large and looming tree, which is then struck by lightning, splits the tree in two, and is engulfed in flames. As the burning tree begins to fall on top of her friends, who are paralyzed in fear, Sakura is also frozen in place not knowing what to do. It’s in that moment that Syaoran manages to cut through this other world everyone gets transported in and has used his magic to stop time for a few minutes. Sakura runs to Syaoran who collapses into her arms, as casting the time spell takes every ounce of his energy and strength. Sakura admits to Syaoran how scared and uncertain she feels in figuring out how to get everyone back to their normal selves and to the shrine. During her confession Sakura is on the verge of despairing when Syaoran grabs onto Sakura and hugs her tight. He comforts her, which is reminiscent of Episode 66 of Cardcaptor Sakura, and reassures her that she has the answers and power within her to bring them all back before passing out in her arms.
Episode 14 of Clear Card has become one of my top favorites of the show so far. It’s a tender moment between Sakura and Syaoran that for once they’re not always so self-conscious around each other to really be themselves. They’re both vulnerable and completely shirk their inhibitions with each other, which sometimes keeps them from really and truly being together. Although it’s obvious there’s plenty of affection and love between them, I always feel there’s some kind of invisible barrier that keeps the couple at arms length, despite being in the same physical space as each other. But what Episode 14 does show is the lengths Syaoran will go to protect the girl he loves. There’s a sense of an impending challenge or struggle Sakura will have to go through, and the fact that this Syaoran in Clear Card seems to be burdened with worry for Sakura, more than the Syaoran of Cardcaptor Sakura, it seems Syaoran is determined to see her through it.
Wherever the story of Clear Card ends up, I hope it leaves it at a place where Syaoran and Sakura are together forever.