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As a kid, I always loved Cardcaptors. It may have been the first anime I ever watched, and I loved it. But, it played just before I got home from school, or just after I left for school, or some time like that that made it just not fit a kid’s school schedule. So, I never got to watch the whole series.

Now, with the freedom of an adult and the convenience of the internet, it’s totally available to me… but less enchanting. Dub issues, along with just having grown out of it, have sorta ruined my dream of rewatching the whole series.

But I’ve always found those things less troubling with manga, at least if it’s a manga I can feel engaged with. And while the first few chapters made me worry it would be a bit too childish, now that I’m nearly a volume and a half in, I can say I’m really enjoying Cardcaptor Sakura.

But, as one of Clamp’s earliest and biggest hits, I can’t help but scrutinize the art.

Clamp is a manga circle, one of the few professional groups in the industry. Most mangaka are independent artists, sometimes with assistants. Circles, or manga writing groups, are generally formed by amateur doujinshi artists. Though it makes sense that Clamp would be a circle because, well, they are essentially a doujinshi circle that just got really really good, and really really popular.

Cardcaptor Sakura ran from 1996 to 2000, back when Magic Knight Rayearth was still the only big Clamp manga. While it would be insulting to call them amateurs at that point, they certainly weren’t the giant name that are today, and I think they had quite a bit of learning to do.

Cardcaptor SakuraCardcaptor Sakura

The main trouble I’ve had reading Cardcaptor Sakura has been the organization of the art. Clamp is known for their beautiful, detailed drawings, but following them here can be a little difficult. Whenever the direction of a scene suddenly turns, I have to go back in the page and re-examine the fine details in the art to understand exactly what happened. It feels like a very amateur mistake of putting the loveliness of individual panels over the flow and the reading experience of the page as a whole.

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That being said, having to re-read a page or two isn’t necessarily a problem. While confusing art is generally a criticism for manga, Cardcaptor Sakura almost makes it a feature. The climax of the big action sequences always seem conveniently saved for the end of the page, as if to catch the reader off guard with how things turned out, but not make them have to turn back pages to catch up.

If you’re thinking you can drive through it at full speed, like an Arakawa or Toriyama manga, these moments are your helpful road signs that tell you to slow down and back up a little. A few panels you just passed really deserve more attention. It makes you really appreciate the detail of the art, and it adjusts the pacing for a Clamp action sequence.

I’ve noticed none of this in another Clamp series I’ve been reading, Chobits, but that’s a very different series, with a much more consistent pace. The difference makes me wonder if Clamp improved, to move away from this sloppy layout, or if they really are manga genius who knew how to make sure their art got the appreciation it deserved.

Either way, there’s a lot more manga art than just pretty pictures.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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