Niche

The Many Love Polygons of CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura


Few manga are as thirsty as CLAMP’s manga. The four-woman team of manga artists — whose work includes Chobits, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, and Magic Knight Rayearth — have functioned under the driving philosophy that all love is valid, regardless of society’s taboos. But more than that, not only is taboo love valid, but every character should be so incredibly thirsty for their partner that their entire lives will sometimes revolve around romance.

Of all the thirsty works CLAMP has created, though, none can surpass Cardcaptor Sakura in terms of sheer burning desire. It’s not uncommon for shojo manga to indulge in the occasional love triangle, in which characters remain infatuated with one another and compete for one another’s affections. Cardcaptor Sakura’s love polygon proves to be less of a triangular shape, and more an exploration of a line game, where every character exists on an interconnected grid, and every single dot must link in one way or another to its neighbors. Every character experiences a crush on at least one character, with every taboo, for better or worse, being explored in the process.

One very important element of Cardcaptor Sakura is that of fluid sexuality. Specifically, characters  can be attracted to any number of people for any number of reasons, with many players falling somewhere in the middle on the Kinsey Scale.

A brown-haired girl and a brown-haired boy blush as they gaze at each other awkwardly.

The series’ most iconic relationship is arguably that of the titular Sakura Kinomoto and her male counterpart, Syaoran Li. While the two are established at first as rivals who compete over the Clow Cards, they are eventually drawn closer. Little by little, they begin working with one another, before becoming romantically involved. Their love grows to be so powerful that it’s able to transcend reality, with their alternate incarnations in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle still being tied together by their mutual attraction.

Ironically, Syaoran was not just Sakura’s rival for the Cards, at first. The two clashed in a contest for love, since both of them had a crush on one Yukito Tsukishiro. It’s later revealed that Syaoran’s attraction toward people is less determined on a person’s gender and more on their connection to Moon energy. Therefore, Yukito, who is tied in with the Moon energy generated by Yue, exudes an aura that Syaoran simply can’t resist. Ultimately, though, both Sakura and Syaoran end up failing to attract Yukito. This is partly because both are around twelve, while Yukito is in his teens. More important though, is that Yuktio already has a crush of his own, in Sakura’s elder brother, Touya.

A brown-haired teenage boy does a kabedon to a smaller blonde teenage boy.

Touya and Yukito are unambiguously queer, though it’s uncertain whether the two are bisexual, like Syaoran, or gay. Of course, Touya seems uninterested in romantic involvement with anyone other than Yukito, even in the face of Nakuru Akizuki’s, AKA Ruby Moon’s, repeated flirtations with him. We also know that Touya dated Kaho Mizuki in eighth grade, but it is uncertain if he found her genuinely attractive, or if this experience showed him he had little interest in women.

This love quadrangle surrounding Sakura, Syaoran, Yukito, and Touya is already complicated, with numerous periphery relationships. Furthermore, it becomes more complicated when we consider that Yukito is in actuality two people: Yukito Tsukishiro and his alter-ego, Yue.

A black-haired girl with pigtails wears an elated expression as a brown-haired girl in a blue dress and pink bow stares, nonplussed.

And then there’s Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend and confidant who is consistently in love with her card-capturing friend. The series features multiple moments where Tomoyo, flanked by a storm of flower petals and romantic imagery, admits that she loves Sakura, only for Sakura to respond the same, albeit in a platonic sense.

At times, this affection appears to be pure in nature, with Tomoyo valuing Sakura’s happiness over her own, especially when Sakura ends up falling in love with Syaoran.

That said, the actual purity of Tomoyo’s love for Sakura truly is debatable. For example, she frequently designs new costumes for Sakura that she wants her friend to dress up in, going out of her way to film Sakura posing and fighting. In this light, Tomoyo is certainly in love with her friend and she values her happiness. At the same time, there’s a real thirst to Tomoyo’s attraction that indicates that Tomoyo is beginning to feel some tinge of attraction deeper than puppy love, which she  expresses in a pure, chaste manner.

A dark-haired woman lays atop a brown-haired man in a suit.

Not all of the relationships are so chaste, though. Most notably, there are plenty of cases in Cardcaptor Sakura, where older men engage in relationships with characters at the cusp of consent. This is most notably seen in Sakura’s own parents. Sakura’s dad, Fujitaka Kinomoto was thirty-four when he had children with Sakura’s mom, Nadeshiko, who was sixteen at the time. In fact, Fujitaka was Nadeshiko’s teacher. This infuriated Nadeshiko’s cousin, Sonomi, who also might be harboring some attraction to Fujitaka in later years. To make matters more complicated, Sonomi is also Tomoyo’s mother, which means that Tomoyo’s best friend isn’t just a possible love interest. She’s also her second cousin.

A woman with reddish-brown hair wearing a yellow suit.

That’s to say nothing of the aforementioned relationship between Touya and Kaho Mizuki.

Remember her?

Ayway, while Kaho does present a possible piece of evidence that Touya is bisexual, it’s also another taboo being broken, since Kaho Mizuki is also Touya’s middle school teacher. One who, even after returning after a long time apart, makes some fairly inappropriate gestures towards a person much younger than her. For example, tackling and hanging onto Touya as he stands near her. As her birthdate was never explicitly stated, there’s a possibility that Kaho is only four or five years older than Touya, given the minimum age she could be as a middle school teacher And while the gesture in itself is highly inappropriate, it still isn’t as bad as Cardcaptor Sakura’s most problematic relationship.

Cardcaptor Sakura’s most controversial romance is arguably that of Sakura’s classmate, Rika, which is made more notable, given that the romantic lives of Sakura’s schoolmates are usually kept very tertiary to the main plot. And,  while most of these entanglements are side elements to an already romance-heavy story, few plot points are as profoundly uncomfortable as that of Rika and Yoshiyuki Terada.

A young girl looks expectantly at a brown-haired man holding a teddy bear.Terada-sensei is Sakura’s homeroom teacher, and Rika, a twelve-year-old girl, is one of his main students. The two are, as we are shown through Rika’s perspective, in such an “intimate” relationship that the two plan on getting married once Rika turns of age. The anime softens the intensity of their affair  by a great degree, cutting out most of CLAMP’s overt “amorous” angle between a fully grown adult and a literal child. At the same time, it’s fairly difficult to determine Terada’s specific age, in relation to Rika’s. Regardless, no matter which way you slice it, this relationship is highly disturbing.

At times, it feels as though CLAMP wanted every character to be romantically involved with someone at some point. They break many taboos — many of which need breaking. The boundaries of gender and ethnicity do not stop characters in Cardcaptor Sakura from pursuing one another. As a result, this necessary form of representation helps to further the message that “love is love.” Sure, some characters developing intense crushes on, and in some cases  filming one another, can come across as incredibly thirsty, but it’s within the realms of acceptability.

Moreover, while Sakura and Tomoyo are distantly related, neither of them actually knew this until long after they had become friends. On top of that, there is enough distinction that the two could legally enter a relationship, though it’s still uncomfortable for two people so closely related to get into a relationship.

Meanwhile, the relationships between students and teachers — especially with given age gaps as vast as the one between Rika and Terada-sensei —  are profoundly uncomfortable. Unlike the other relationships, there is a distinct power dynamic at play here, which dials up the uneasiness. Even characters in-text, like Sonomi, criticize the relationship dynamic found in teacher-student relationships like this. Add to everything the fact that Terada, as an adult, has far more life experience than Rika, and you end up resulting in a profoundly uncomfortable, unpleasant romance that made countless readers back off and try to determine  ways to possibly come close to justifying the relationship. Such measures include, but are not limited to looking to estimate the absolute youngest age Terada could be.

CLAMP wanted to create a story where love could exist without taboo, where adoration for one another is embraced as natural and good, where every relationship leaves the characters feeling empowered rather than entrapped. And, for the most part, they succeed. Still, the one taboo that strains under this belief is that of teacher and student, especially when dealing with such a huge age gap.

In an ironic twist, one of the oldest characters — in a sense — in the series is the only one to not be romantically involved with anyone. About the only major character who never expresses attraction in anyone is Eriol Hiiragizawa. And, while Eriol is only physically twelve, he is a reincarnation of Clow Reed, which makes him an incredibly ancient being.

Then again, Eriol also probably had plenty of romantic affairs over the course of his centuries on Earth…

About the author

Anthony Gramuglia

Anthony Gramuglia is a lifelong fan of anime and manga. He has been published in CBR, ScreenRant, The Mary Sue, and The Anime Feminist. You can follow him on Twitter.

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