CardCaptor Sakura Blu-Ray

Welcome to April everyone! In March I made quite a few contributions to make up for the lack of traffic over the last year, so I’m hoping to bring some more new stuff now that April has arrived. I decided to take a little break from all of the Moon-related posts and do a review of the CardCaptor Sakura collection. On August 5th, 2014, NIS America released the entire series on Blu-Ray in amazing 1080p greatness and I definitely made sure I had my set preordered long in advance. I actually ended up viewing this entire boxset before the actual release date (isn’t that crazy?), so this review has definitely been a long time coming. Whether you have always been an avid fan of the show or simply remember watching it on TV when you were a child, there are some very good reasons why you should open your wallet and shell out the funds to purchase this collection. Read on below to find out my true thoughts!

The Premium Edition set (featured above) contains Blu-Rays of Episodes 1-70 (the entire series) in both Japanese and English. Special features include standard extras on the discs such as all Creditless OP-ED Themes and other Anime series’ Trailers, and a special Episode + Clow Card Guide artbook, all housed in a nice boxset. Just for clarification, the English dub included here is not the Nelvana version aired in America and not the Madman version dubbed for Australia. It is actually a later re-dub done by Animax, perhaps being the most uncut English dub out there. FYI, the US dub was heavily edited and marketed differently as Cardcaptors in case you would be looking for that. The DVD Editions were released separately and divided by season into Set 1, Set 2, and Set 3.

My review is based on the Premium Edition Blu-Ray set, so without further delay, here is why I think this Anime classic is worth your time and money:

The video-quality is absolutely stunning

Before I get into it, I do want to say that I did my homework and prowled the Internet for thoughts on these topics and came back with very mixed reviews. I’ll try my best to be as objective as possible henceforth as I did come across valid points all around. First of all, I personally think this project is what the term ‘digital remaster’ was created for, much similar to Disney’s track record of releasing AMAZING Blu-Ray remasters of their classic animated movies. We can thank Geneon (my former favourite Anime distributor) for getting the ball rolling in Japan by obtaining these results for us several years ago when they released their Japanese Blu-Rays for CCS. When Anime started making its appearance on the Blu-Ray format a few short years ago, the first titles to get the high definition treatment were more modern day Anime shows produced in widescreen format. The obvious reason for this would be that upscaling the video becomes a lot easier as very little enhancement has to be performed on the footage. The Japanese Blu-Ray releases for the series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is an example of this where the already-amazing DVD footage was simply scaled into high definition size. This works out so easily because most modern animation is no longer hand-drawn onto cels, but completely rendered digitally. Unfortunately, the standard definition transfer to high definition process is not so easy when we go back to the 90s to revisit the classics. LESSON TIME! In traditional animation the characters were drawn onto stencils, which were then laid over backgrounds and then finally captured by film in a photographic manner (obviously a long and grueling process when you consider an average of 30 frames per second). Since this process entailed the physical work of arranging the animation by hand, the frames would often capture dust, hairs, prints, and maybe even fall out of alignment at times. The film was then transferred either onto a computer in digital format, or directly into whatever the most common formats were for that time; Japan liked LaserDiscs, but VHS was a more universal standard.  These now obsolete formats would not typically show any of the trasnfer artifacts of animation because even though at the time those formats were praised for their high quality, in this day and age we refer to them as low quality or below standard definition. This changed when the era of DVDs arrived and started to obliterate film media in favor of digital media. In the very beginning, most DVD releases were simply more transfers of the original production film to DVD or even the VHS film back into digital format.  The reason I’m taking the time to explain this is so that I can illustrate the many ways the footage gets corrupt during all these transfers and ages in its own right. Thankfully, as the digital age progressed, it became possible to edit video digitally and clean it up to look a lot better, eventually producing these high quality R2J DVDs. The 2000s became a great time to relive a lot of old titles in what we now call standard definition, until years later when high definition would be introduced. Now, the thing to take not of here is that whether we talk LaserDisc, VHS, or DVD, they all have one thing in common: 480p/i at 29.97fps (more or less). High definition meant a few changes: 1) a bigger frame size, either being 720/1080p/i, 2) possibly more frames per second, increasing to 30fps, 50fps, and even 60fps, and 3) a firm goodbye to fullscreen video and a big hello to widescreen only. At first, it seemed that only productions created in high definition would see the light of Blu-Ray treatment, but soon upscaling became a quick trick of the industry. Upscaling works really well when your video already has the right coloring, framerate, and widescreen dimensions, but what happens when all you have is old lackluster, interlaced, ghosted, aliased, fullscreen standard definition video? You get the bullshi North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray collection; a bad quality source, barely acceptable for DVD that has simply been upscaled and mass produced. The end. Of course, in that example there are levels of politics involved, but when upscaling to high definition it is important to obtain the highest possible quality video source because upscaling is only a trick that makes the images bigger. Okay, lesson time is over and back to reality. In this case, rather than stick us with a grimy upscale, Madhouse (the animation studio behind CCS) unearthed the original film the show was produced on in the first place and re-transfered the entire series directly into high definition. This is what makes this a remaster and not just an upscale, because film is a manipulative medium that can be rendered into any format or size, where else digital video can only be manipulated in so many ways. Since the studio was able to provide the original film for direct transfer, CardCaptor Sakura has never looked so beautiful. The lines on the characters, the detail in the background, the ease of motion and playback is absolutely stunning. This is a process that was absent in the North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray release because the animation studio claims they do not have the original source anymore (which seems very unlikely to me, but you never know given that 23 years have past…). Now, some video experts criticize that the animation now lacks it’s original age factor because there is no grain or depth to the footage, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. I like the idea that the show looks smooth and almost new. The colors or vibrant and gorgeous, and the onscreen text is very sharp and pristine. If you ask me, this release couldn’t have received better treatment. I, personally, never heard of NIS America until this set was announced, so I had my doubts since I’m an old school Geneon, ADV, and FUNimation kind of guy, but this studio handled the mastering really well. I don’t really know what else to say to convince you that the work that went into this project’s revival was absolutely outstanding, but I hope my long lesson above did the trick!

We really needed an uncut English dub

CardCaptor Sakura is one a few Anime shows that were hacked and slashed when they sailed over to America. To name a few: Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Pokemon, Digimon, and of course, Cardcaptors. I won’t really destroy these titles because they represent my childhood and I wouldn’t change that, but because of all the heavy editing, these shows were almost entirely different from the original Japanese Anime they once were. Episodes were banned, genders were changed, music was replaced, scenes were redrawn, and storylines were altered, all to make them into children shows geared towards American viewers. This is all fine and dandy, but has obviously enraged die hard fans of the original respective Anime titles because the English versions are so far gone from the true essence of each show. When DVDs came into circulation, uncut and dual audio releases became very popular, especially since more modern Anime are dubbed uncut to match the original footage. Some of these older shows eventually received new uncut dubs, while some still have yet to. NIS America promised a brand-new uncut dub for this set, but actually did not deliver on that promise exactly. Instead, the dub audio track used here allegedly from a dub Animax did for places like the Philippines. For some reason, people are not happy about this, but I don’t know why! I really like this version of the dub. Let’s focus on the good thing here: it is uncut, so we get all of the Japanese names and references, as well as some pretty damn accurate casting. I’m not a fan of the whiny girl voices they often use in Anime, but that’s basically how the girls sound in Japan so I get this decision. If you remember Cardcaptors then you will have some adjusting to get used to because Sakura, Kero, Tomoyo, and the whole gang will sound a lot different. However, I don’t see the crime here considering how accurate the voices are in comparison to the Japanese track. Only negative thing I will say here is that BECAUSE NIS America must have obtained this dub on the sly, it is only available in Mono and that is very noticeable. It sounds especially weird when you switch from the rich Japanese soundtrack to the English one and get only the one channel of audio. Another odd thing is that it seems some scenes (like the ones involving any homosexual relationships or feelings) were not dubbed, so instead you hear silence while subtitles appear onscreen to fill in the conversation. I never really encountered this before, but I like how NIS handled it. I think it would have been weird to suddenly switch to the Japanese vocals for a few minutes. I should also mention that some people are pissed that Animax did not make the effort to dub Tomoyo’s songs and opted to have her sing in Japanese. I see where this warrants some concern, but I also respect this decision because Anime fans can be very critical and would have bashed the lyrics of the singing. Considering the characters live in Japan, I don’t think it’s weird if the Japanese songs (whether performed by the characters or not) remain the same, especially given that the English voice actress for Tomoyo sounds identical to the Japanese one. Anyway, I feel that the dub is pretty good and even though there are minor things that aren’t perfect, I feel content finally hearing the story as it really is.

The product design is basically flawless

I always like to talk about the physical feel of a product considering it is a form of memorabilia when you think about it. Again, this is my first time hearing of NIS America, so I was quite skeptical about how they would handle this release. To my surprise, I have to hand it to them: this thing look great on my shelf. They opted for a more unorthodox size of boxset, making it a little taller than any Blu-Ray box I’ve seen (it’s probably the same height as a DVD collection). Though, I get that 9 discs is no joke, especially when you put them all in one case. The design element is very nice and especially the pressing on the discs, which are all holographic and feature the Clow-circle. All artwork used look brand-new, some of which I recognize from the Geneon releases in Japan, but some of it might be new. The artbook is another added treasure that you can’t go wrong with. It basically is an Episode Guide, but every time a new Clow Card is introduced, it features that as well. The end of the book contains some really nice artwork of Sakura and production credits for your knowledge. The entire set is very sturdy and heavy duty, so you won’t feel like you were robbed of anything. Content-wise, the menus feature some slight animation that must have been put together by NIS and I think it’s great. It’s good to see all versions of the OP-ED Themes are included without credits too. There are a variety of viewing options, ranging from Japanese with subtitles, English with partial subtitles, full subtitles, or none. CONTRARY TO FALSE STATEMENTS, NO THIS SET IS NOT HARD-SUBTITLED. It’s just that you cannot turn off the English subtitles when you view the episodes in Japanese (unless you manually switch them off via whatever player you’re using). The translation is pretty accurate and I appreciate that the different episodes switch between English and Romaji subtitles for the songs. Overall, excellent job from this production house for pulling this off!

This is a classic journey you will never want to forget

I’ve discussed a lot of things pertaining to the release itself, but now it’s time to talk CardCaptor Sakura. Fans all around the world will know about Sakura and Shaoran, the cutest little couple in the Anime world. I never was a huge fan of the show when I was a child because I was more into other shows, but revisiting this story was a treasure. I had once watched the show uncut, but I largely forgot how cute and passionate this adventure was. I feel like given the age of Sakura and her friends, it should be a obvious that they are relatively young and yet they have to deal with really mature problems. The cuteness of this show is what makes it stand apart from most other series because everything is innocent, even the approach to love. There is a lot of intricacy within the storyline, especially between Sakura’s parents and their secrets, as well as the relationship between her brother Toya and Yukito. Largely, there is something there for any audience member of any age to latch onto given the array of ages among the characters.  You have to appreciate Japan for always touching on homosexuality in Anime somehow, and I really must say the idea of how normal and bashful it is definitely appeals to me. There is also another golden taboo I noticed when Toya falls in love with his significantly older teacher, but then moves onto loving a boy. Like I said, leave it to Japan to make that seem average. You can never go wrong the magical girl element of the show and the wide array of magic brought into the story. I actually went out and got some cosplay Clow Cards for myself after watching the show because they are SO COOL. Yeah, I know that’s embarrassing, but I like them. Even the elements of evil in this show were never too ominous or evil, giving a very childish vibe to the series. I feel like the focus here was to present a show about growing up and being a mature role model, and this is definitely Sakura by definition. She showcases the importance of friendship, loyalty, hard work, and love. How can you go wrong with all of that? Kudos to CLAMP for giving us a timeless adventure to remember forever.

I must say that out of all of the Anime I’ve recently been able to relive in high definition, this collection is by far the most impressive. If you were a fan of this show back in the day (even a little bit), this is such a worthwhile investment to have in your collection as it is the best way you will ever see and hear this series. Head out and grab it while it’s still in print! Meanwhile, here are some of the Creditless OP-ED Themes to wow and amaze you.