Love, Sexuality and Gender in Cardcaptor Sakura
Warning: This article has some spoilers.
I have been watching a lot of anime lately and I happened to stumble upon this absolutely delightful show called Cardcaptor Sakura on Netflix. If you were born sometime in the 90s and watched a lot of Cartoon Network, you would remember that it used to play every evening at 4:00 p.m. or thereabouts in the early 2000s. I was only 6 or 7 years old when I watched it, and I remembered that it was about a girl who had cards with magical powers, and a tiny little teddy bear like creature for a companion. But I didn’t quite remember what happened in the show. So I proceeded to check the IMDB rating to see if it would be worth my time, and on confirming that it is an utterly watchable and fun show for adults (at least adults like me who love cartoons and animation) and children alike, I proceeded to finish all three seasons.
If you’re anything like me, I very highly recommend that you check it out. Cardcaptor Sakura is a sweet, fun, feel- good show that leaves you feeling very, very warm. The concept, the plot and the characters were so original. It is about a girl named Sakura who comes across a deck of cards that have magical powers, and she unwittingly lets them escape. She is enlisted by the guardian of the cards (the tiny bear like thing mentioned above) to find them again. What ensues is a series of adventures that Sakura finds herself in as she seeks out the cards, and puts them back in the deck. All the while, Sakura and her friends are dealing with school, friendships, crushes, homework and everything else your average eleven year old deals with. Add a dash of humour and lots of kawaii (1), and you have a nice little show to watch,
But there is another aspect of the show that really got my attention. Queerness. Which is so, so rare in a children’s show, and which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. The queerness, along with the exploration of love and confusing feelings in a manner that is entirely appropriate for little children to be watching. Take for instance Syaoran having a major crush on Yukito, but falling for Sakura later on. Or Toya having a relationship with Mizuki Sensei but falling in love with Yukito later. Or the maybe crush that Tomoyo has on Sakura. These are all people falling in love with members of the same or both sexes. These are just a bunch of kids exploring their feelings and sexuality in the cutest way possible, and without it being made a big deal of.
There are also instances of these kids having crushes on people far older than them. Some of it is because that person reminds them of their parent, which is a bit Oedipal, but it is not uncommon for people to fall in love with someone who has traits in common with their parents. And while it is not entirely appropriate to have feelings for someone who is much older, it is something that almost everyone has gone through at some point in their lives, and the way that it is portrayed in this show is very sweet and innocent.
I was also quite intrigued by Tomoyo’s feelings for Sakura. They are best friends, but Tomoyo might very well be in love with her. She is always complimenting Sakura, seems a bit obsessed with her, and wants to follow her around and be there for her all the time, filming her as she captures the cards. It is even revealed in one episode that Tomoyo dreams of Sakura wearing all the costumes she has designed for her. Tomoyo also states in one episode that some feelings are best left in the heart, and that watching the person she loves being happy is the best for her. Even as Tomoyo grows up, these feelings might never develop into something sexual. Maybe this is an asexual sort of love. Or maybe it is just deep admiration and affection for her best friend.
There are also instances of cross dressing during school plays. Boys play the female roles, and the girls play the male roles. It’s not much, but that maybe just the slightest push in the direction of gender non-conformity. There is also a character called Ruby Moon, who appears only in the third season, who is a genderless entity. And let’s not forget Yue, who is male, but is beautiful in a very traditionally feminine manner with his lean body, long hair, small delicate features and cat eyes. This subculture of genderlessness is referred to as ‘Genderless-kei’ in Japan. There are a few other instances like this which I thought had queer undertones.
I was astounded because this show came out in 1999, a time when conversations surrounding queerness were not really mainstream. But as one of my friends pointed out, the Japanese have Hentai (2), so queerness in a show for small children is most likely not a big deal for them. But isn’t it?
From the very little that I read about LGBT+ rights in Japan, I understand that while being gay or trans is legal, members of the community face abuse, and there are no laws to specifically protect them from abuse directed at them for who they are. And here we have a children’s show that released in the late 90s that approached queerness, gender and feelings in a heathy way, which I believe even American cartoons did not do till the previous decade.
It is important for children to grow up without rigid gender ideals forced down their throats. It is important for them to have a healthy understanding of what it means to love, what sexuality is and that gender is but a societal construct. Sexuality is a spectrum. Gender is a spectrum. And most importantly, love is love, no matter who you chose to love or how you love.
(Images from various sources on Google.)
- Kawaii (Japanese: かわいい or 可愛い, IPA: [kaɰaiꜜi]; ‘lovely’, ‘loveable’, ‘cute’, or ‘adorable’) is the culture of cuteness in Japan. It can refer to items, humans and non-humans that are charming, vulnerable, shy, and childlike. Examples include cute handwriting, certain genres of manga, and characters including Hello Kitty and Pikachu.
- Hentai : a genre of Japanese manga and anime characterized by overtly sexualized characters and sexually explicit images and plots.