Quarantine and the general state of the world has warped my girlfriend and I’s viewing habits. We are in a very fortunate position and don’t have to leave our house to work, which has afforded us extra time to sit down and start new shows. The heaviness of current events has led us to steer away from more intense tv series. Luckily Netflix added Cardcaptor Sakura earlier this year. It was a show I watched more than a decade earlier on Kids WB and was surprised to learn just how much of that version had been edited down. It’s been a great salve, a slice of life show with adventure fantasy wrapping. It’s a show made for children too so it’s light and has relentless positive energy even when it’s tackling difficult subjects. Sakura has been great to put on every time our mental states are just worn out. The only thing puncturing this positive bubble is the weird existence of teacher – student relationships.
Cardcaptor Sakura follows ten year old Sakura Kinomoto as she collects the magical “Clow Cards” that she accidentally unleashed. These cards all pertain to specific elemental or magical properties and cause havoc in the world. They range in intensity as well: some cause windy days or snow storms while another has Sakura caught in a time loop. She’s aided by the card’s protector Kero who has lost his true form and now appears in the form of a small bear with wings. The show generally sticks to a “monster of the week” format where a new Clow Card surfaces and causes some level of menace. Sakura learns how to beat, captures it, and wins the day.
Sakura’s mission is much more of the background in the show though as the A plot usually sticks to more of a slice of life. Cardcaptor Sakura is much more concerned with school, hanging with friends and general home life than it is with any card capturing. The lessons Sakura is primarily concerned with center around growing up and learning empathy toward others. Sakura hangs with her good friend Tomoyo (who takes great delight in making her new costumes for battling Clow Cards), crushes on her brother’s friend Yukito, and deals with rivalry from a new classmate Syaoran Li. The whole cast is endearing and the show really takes time to develop them. Each of the side characters are well rounded with their own goals and issues. Li for instance learns to understand his emotions better through his competition to capture the Clow Cards. While Sakura. Sakura’s brother Toya, while initially painted as a nagging older sibling, is shown to be the true caretaker of the household. There’s a running gag of Toya constantly appearing to have a new job wherever the characters are visiting, but it shows how much effort he puts into taking care of the family since they lost their mom.
Romance is also a big thing in Cardcaptor Sakura and for the most part the show handles the respective crushes with great care. Sakura pines for the gentle and caring Yukito in a very pure, grade school appropriate way. She swoons when she thinks about him and is embarrassed when he’s around and Yukito is nothing but warm in return. The show also has a majority queer romances as well which was edited out of the original American version I watched as a kid. It’s evident that Tomoyo has romantic feelings toward Sakura, ones that she knows go unrequited. She wants nothing but the best for Sakura and gets validation from making her new costumes and outfits. It’s a tender portrait of a lesbian girl with a crush on her best friend. Li meanwhile is instantly attracted to Yukito, lending another thing to rival over with Sakura. He’s a young boy that doesn’t know how to express his emotions, so his feelings come out in gifts and silent stammerings (something I very much relate to). Yukito only had eyes for Toya though and it’s evident Toya feels the same. They are very close friends at first that are slightly removed from making their feelings known. The show portrays them as two people who enjoy each other’s company that are unsure how to move forward in a very high school sort of way. All of these relationships are handled with great care and it’s been so nice to have a show where everyone respects one another’s feelings so well.
Which leads me to the truly baffling decisions made around two important relationships. There are two student teacher romances in the show, both of which pertain to the Kinomoto family. In episode 10, it is revealed that Sakura’s mother Nadeshiko and her father Fujitaka met when he was a student teacher in her high school. Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi, a cousin to Nadeshiko, reveals during the episode that she blames Fujitaka for her death. The family had forbade Nadeshiko from dating Fujitaka, but she did anyway and was ousted. I hate to say it, but I’m on her family’s side. A teacher dating a 16 year old is creepy and predatory, even if said teacher is only in their twenties. It adds a whole layer of grossness to the story and the show doesn’t seem to realize the implications there. It’s treated as a love against all odds as Sonomi comes to at least slightly forgive Fujitaka. It’s also generally dismissed to the background and never brought up again. My girlfriend and I were floored by the revelation, especially the implications that Tomoyo was now a cousin to Sakura.
Then to double down on it, the show reveals that Toya was involved in a teacher student relationship when he was in junior high. Episode 26 introduces Sakura’s new teacher Ms Mizuki who also mysteriously has a tie to the Clow Cards. At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Toya recognizes her. Episode 27 has Sakura trying to reign in the Return Card and ends up in the past watching Toya and Ms Mizuki. She was formerly Toyas student teacher when he was in eight grade and they entered into a relationship. The exact details on the relationship are unclear, but it is evident it was romantic. Ms Mizuki broke it off after a year when she left to go teach in England and says that Toya will meet the person who was truly meant to be with (Yukito). Again it’s treated fairly romantically but has such gross implications. It’s weird that the show provides an example of predatory behavior from both male and female teachers. Ms Mizuki might have ended things after a year, but entering into that relationship is profoundly manipulative to a minor. Toya and Ms Mizukis relationship isn’t dismissed as Sakura’s parents as Ms Mizuki interacts with Yukito multiple times over the course of the first season. Yukito seems to understand that they had a past relationship and wants to know more. That’s where the show draws the line though and never calls attention to the fact of the power and maturity discrepancy between Toya and Mizuki.
It’s truly baffling that these relationships exist in this show that treats other romances so thoughtfully. I can’t disengage with them especially when Cardcaptor Sakura reminds the viewer about Toya and Ms Mizuki’s relationship often. The face that the show seems to tacitly agree that they were ok is truly wild. It takes me out of an otherwise truly pleasant and positive experience. No adult that engages in a romantic relationship with a minor, let alone a student, is a hero. Cardcaptor Sakura doesn’t seem to understand that. I’m still loving the show, but everytime this subject matter comes up I can’t help that it breaks my brain.