Tell us how Card Captor Sakura got started.
Ohkawa: Before we started Card Captor Sakura, we were working on Magic Knight Rayearth. When the series was reaching its final episodes, Nakayoshi magazine said they were interested in another series. At that time I wanted to do a cute story with a younger character.
A younger character? Were you looking to create a main character that was still in elementary school?
Ohkawa: The main character for our previous project was in Middle School, so we thought it would be nice if the main character was in grade school. It was kind of a casual decision. We decided on 4th grade because we thought 3rd grade is a little too young, but by 6th grade, the character would be too jaded. A 5th grader doesn’t feel like a “child” very much. We thought 4th grade was the perfect age where they’re still children, but they’re at that point where they’re about to step into something more.
Where did the idea of a “Card Captor” come from?
Ohkawa: At first we were going to make her a witch. But the more we thought about it, the more we wanted to do something unique with the “magic” part of the story. We wanted her to be more original than just a witch with a magic wand. That’s when we came up with the “Card Captor” concept … I think. I don’t remember too clearly (laughs).
Were you interested in card games?
Ohkawa: Yes. I really didn’t have any card game experience, but I was somewhat familiar with Tarot cards. At that time, I had recently looked at a set of beautiful tarot cards.
Igarashi: I had some knowledge of Magic: The Gathering. About that time it was becoming very popular in Japan. I actually never played the game myself, but I remember looking at the cards thinking it was really neat.
Ohkawa: That’s true. But my biggest influence was that foreign Tarot card design. It was a gorgeous set filled with details. The design of the Clow Cards resembles those Tarot Cards a bit.
Were the designs and meanings behind the Clow Cards determined from the beginning?
Ohkawa: Before we started working on the series, we created most of them. The design on the back and borders were created first, then Mokona filled in the illustrations as we determined the cards’ names and functions in the story.
Many of the Clow Card illustrations feature a girl. Any particular reason?
Ohkawa: Clow Reed, the one who created the cards, was a man, so I figured he would create cards with girls on them.
Why did you decide on the title Card Captor Sakura?
Ohkawa: Since she was a magical girl, I wanted her name in the title. It wasn’t easy thinking of a decent title. The main character’s name, Sakura, was already decided. We just weren’t sure what the title was going to be. Nekoi finally came up with the title.
Nekoi: I just started putting words together like a puzzle (laughs). It didn’t take too long. Maybe a few hours, one night? If I remember correctly, we were talking in the car when we decided on the title.
Mokona: That’s right
Igarashi: Actually, our deadline was coming up. We were supposed to have the editorial staff create the logo before we could move on with the project and they really needed that name. In the end, we were so strapped for time, we ended up creating the logo ourselves.
Do you usually take a long time to decide on a title?
Ohkawa: I think so. I’m just not good at coming up with a title. It always gets pushed back ’til the very end. I don’t think I’ve come up with titles on recent projects.
Once the overall concept was decided, what happened next?
Ohkawa: We started working on the characters. We created Sakura, Tomoyo, Touya, and Yukito almost immediately. Later, we came up with Syaoran’s character pretty quickly, too.
Igarashi: Yeah, we created Syaoran long before he appeared in the series.
Mokona: You left one out. There were five characters, including Sakura, that we initially created. Kero was one of them.
Nekoi: The design got changed several times for Kero after he transformed (laughs).
Ohkawa: Yeah, what the readers’ see wasn’t our original idea. The same goes for Syaoran. The design itself isn’t very different, but his expressions are. The personality is different, too. At first, we were going to make him Japanese. What was the name of your nephew?
Ohkawa: That’s right. Actually, Sakura’s named after Mokona’s niece … so we thought we might name the boy character after Mokona’s nephew. When the character changed into a foreigner later, we re-named him Syaoran.
Mokona: Actually, Ohkawa-san named my niece.
Ohkawa: We were asked what to name Mokona’s niece, and I said, “How about Sakura?” However the kanji is totally different. The kanji used for Mokona’s niece is too difficult for our grade-school readers.
In Magic Knight Rayearth, the characters had unique names that tied into their personalities. Did you have similar plans for the characters in Card Captor Sakura?
Ohkawa: Since the main character’s name is Sakura, we named her brother, father and mother after flowers. We wanted to make the names easy to pronounce and understand. Nekoi was the one who came up with Yukito’s name.
Nekoi: I thought of Yukito, Hanato…
Ohkawa: When I heard “Yukito,” I thought it was cute. I had wanted to use it for a while. Yukito was a very gentle character, so we thought it was perfect.
Igarashi: Yeah, I don’t think a harsh sounding name would have been appropriate for his character.
During the design process, did you have any problems with any of the characters?
Ohkawa: No, we didn’t have any problems with any of the character designs. Their expressions, however, definitely changed from the original plan.
Mokona: Yeah, once we had the story in place, things started changing.
Ohkawa: We mentioned Syaoran earlier. He changed quite a lot during the series. When the series started, he was an exchange student, but we had not determined which country he was from, so as the story progressed, we had to make some adjustments.
You created Sakura first. What happened next?
Ohkawa: Tomoyo was next. After that we created Syaoran. We were working on Kero at the same time we were working on Sakura. We wanted the necessary mascot sidekick for the magical main character so Nekoi came up with different ideas.
Nekoi: I had designs based on dogs and squirrels.
Ohkawa: We asked her to come up with different variations, and we chose the final version out of those.
You mentioned you were interested in creating a magical character. Were you influenced by anything in particular?
Ohkawa: Not really. None of us had ever paid attention to series where the character was a magical girl. We’ve seen maybe one or two episodes on TV. As a kid, I was into detective stories (laughs). I think that’s why I wanted to do it, because it was more of a challenge. We wanted to see how it would turn out. We included all the basics, like a cute sidekick, a wand, etc. However, fans that are into that genre tell me that Card Captor Sakura stands out in the genre because it’s somewhat atypical.
What were the influences behind Card Captor Sakura?
Ohkawa: I can’t think of anything specific. I know that we were doing harder stories at that time. We wanted to create something really cute. I think we were all a bit tired with so much serious stuff. With our other projects, we often had meeting with editors where we had to explain everything. I think we wanted to do something where explanations wouldn’t be so necessary (laughs). We wanted to do something were the focus was on the “cute” factor.
Card Captor Sakura is separated into two parts. How long did it take to compose the story?
Ohkawa: It was really quick (laughs). I had been thinking about it for a while, so once the basic direction was in place, the basic story came almost immediately, like the introduction of Eriol, the “disaster”, etc. In the beginning I didn’t plan on separating the series into two parts — The Clow Card Arc and the Sakura Card Arc. This was an editorial decision, but both parts are still connected. We think of everything as just Card Captor Sakura. The most time-consuming element was making decisions on the little details on a daily basis. We wanted the story to remain cute; we didn’t want any character to die. As you might imagine judging by our other series, it was pretty difficult to stay within those parameters.
Sakura actually doesn’t have any means or the opportunity to travel much, so did you worry about where you were going to hide the cards?
Ohkawa: Actually I didn’t worry about that. They’re always hidden within Tomoeda, where she lives (laughs).
Igarashi: When the Cards flew away, it seemed like they were going far, didn’t it? (laughs).
Nekoi: We pondered over which cards to use, which costume Sakura would wear.
Ohkawa: The costumes weren’t my department, thank God (laughs). I’m sure it was hard (laughs).
Mokona: It was very hard.
Ohkawa: The costumes were designed as the story progressed, so we had a lot of costumes designed already when the anime began but when Mokona took over costume design for the anime, she used up all the existing designs really quickly!
Did you look at magazines for design ideas?
Mokona: Not for Card Captor Sakura. I looked to things in my environment. There were animal motifs, like cats and sheep.
Ohkawa: The cat costumes were popular.
Nekoi: The fans love cat-ears (laughs). The dog costumes weren’t so popular. Readers didn’t think the dog ears were as cute.
Mokona: There was a mouse costume, but we figured if it was realistic, it wouldn’t be received very well. We made the ears bigger.
Were there any other difficulties?
Igarashi: It wan’t difficult but it was unusual. When the series was published in Nakayoshi, I drew Mokona for a scene. It was a scene where Sakura was imagining what a “real” Kero would look like. As a joke, I drew a gigantic version of Mokona (from Magic Knights Rayearth). People thought Mokona was going to be part of the series, so when it was published as a comic book, it was edited to show a gigantic Kero wreaking havoc instead.
In the previous part of this interview you had mentioned that you decided to keep Card Captor Sakura a cute story in which no one dies. Did you have any other set decisions?
Ohkawa: I didn’t want Sakura to be a Super Elementary-School Girl. She can’t do everything; she struggles with math, and she does well with physical exercises. Everything she cooks is fairly simple, like okonomiyaki and pancakes, which might be the most a normal fourth-grader is capable of.
Mokona: Another thing we decided was her brand of clothes. Part way through the series we introduced the clothes brand “piffle princess,” which Sakura-chan particularly likes. It has wings and eggs as a visual motif.
Igarashi: Don’t forget her handwriting.
Ohkawa: Sakura’s style of writing is different (compared to our other works). I came up with the style back in middle school, but I’ll let Mokona explain it. *laughs*
Mokona: It’s filled with instructions, like the dakuten is a circle, the tip of “n” character twirls off roundly, and the circle in “su” looks like it’s been skewered. But if you follow all the rules, it looks too stylized and some of the characters become unreadable. *laughs*
Ohkawa: Then use your imagination. *laughs* There was also the shape of Sakura’s hair. I’d been wanting to try out for a while a character whose hair was just a bit longer at the front.
Mokona: The hair on the top of Sakura’s forehead that goes up, I tried that out on my own. I think it catches attention.
Ohkawa: It does certainly stand out. *laughs* Actually, at first Rika-chan also had that that bouncy hair sticking up on the top of her head. But if she has that, you can’t tell her apart from Sakura when looking at them from behind, from a distance. So part-way through we removed that portion of Rika’s hair.
Nekoi: Go ahead and check the beginning to see her with that bouncy hair. *laughs*
So you take care even with the character’s silhouettes?
Ohkawa: We avoid letting anyone have a silhouette that resembles the main character’s. With Sakura and Tomoyo we wanted a high contrast between them because they are in a lot of night scenes together. We made Sakura have short light hair, and Tomoyo’s hair is long and black. We wanted a friend for Sakura who knew her situation and could give her support.
Tomoyo’s father doesn’t appear in the works, but do you have any information on him?
Ohkawa: Yes. But I think it’s better to leave him as a mystery. *laughs*
Were there scenes you’d planned on that you couldn’t put in, or, the opposite, were there any scenes that you put in despite not being originally planned?
Ohkawa: We didn’t get around to Naoko’s long-distance love. Actually, towards the end of the story Sakura-chan goes around and receives advice from a lot of people, and from Naoko-chan I meant to have her learn that “long-distance relationships are not so painful.” But since we weren’t able to include an episode about her long-distance relationship, I couldn’t put that scene in. As for scenes I hadn’t planned on, there weren’t any of those. If anything, there are so many episodes I want to include that it’s always a challenge deciding which go in. *laughs*
Nekoi: Card Captor Sakura ran in a young children’s magazine, so we couldn’t put in as much content as normally. We avoided cramming too much material into a certain number of pages. Stories that were meant to last one chapter only sometimes had to be expanded into continuations.
Not just with Naoko, but in the series there’s a wide variety of romances. Why did you do this?
Ohkawa: I wanted to create, with Card Captor Sakura, a series with a girl who saw minorities as normal. For example, Syaoran and Eriol are foreign exchange students, but to Sakura they’re the same as boys who transferred in from a local school. Similarly, Sakura believes in all the forms of love she sees. Towards the end I had several characters give advice to a worried Sakura, showing that there are many kinds and forms of love. I wondered how the series would be received, since it ran in Nakayoshi, but it was received better than I expected.
Now for the last question. Will Sakura, like Clow Reed, be able to live for centuries?
Ohkawa: Since Sakura is now stronger in magic than Clow, if that is want she wants, she is capable of extending her and Syaoran’s life spans. However, while I have my own version of what happens to Sakura and the others afterwards, our readers probably also have their own version. I’d be happier to leave it to your own imagination.
Translated from Japanese by unknown (claim this translation).
Interview originally published in CLAMP No Kiseki vols. 1-2 (Kodansha), released on September 22 (vol. 1) and October 22 (vol. 2), 2004. Original text available upon request.
If you found mistakes in this translation or would like to contribute with translating other interviews, please contact me.