You have no idea how deep I had to dig through the strata of books and DVDs to find this one. While I accept part of the blame for accidentally messing up not just order but also series, I have to frown significantly at Pioneer, or at least the ghost of what was once Geneon which was once Pioneer, for not including numbers on the CCS DVDs.
The… fifth? Yes, I think it's the fifth… DVD of Card Captor Sakura is titled "Vacation Daze", in the predictable pun about how three of the four episodes in this disc deal with Sakura's summer vacation. I suppose that one is more likely to remember the more hectic parts of one's holidays, as evidenced by the blurb:
Summer is nearly over but Sakura's tests never end! Sakura's school stages a test of courage in some scary caves, but when the Erase Card makes her friends disappear, Sakura and Li rise to the challenge! Then, The Glow Card creates a romantic mood with Yukito, only to have it spoiled by Li, Toya, and her undone homework… If only The Move Card would leave her books alone! Finally, Li's cousin, Mei Lin, arrives from Hong Kong to help Li capture the Clow Cards, but she thinks Sakura likes Li! No way!
I'll leave the in-DVD extras for next time, but the out-of-DVD extra consists of a postcard of the CCS girls on the beach, meaning Sakura, Tomoyo, the trio of Chiharu, Naoko, and Rika, the soon-to-be-introduced Meiling, and the definitely-not-introduced-yet Kaho Mizuki as the only adult present. The caption is "Fun In The Sun", and all this would probably be more appropriate if I were reviewing it half a year from now, when it's actually summer in the northern hemisphere.
For now, we'll deal with what would technically be the staple beach episode of the series (well, this season anyway), entitled "Sakura's Scary Test of Courage", referring to the kimodameshi activity which happens on lonely, spooky nights, usually organized by friends of a certain couple trying to get them together. If anime is to be believed, summer is a time of beach excursions and scary stories.
Also, natsu-matsuri, but that's the next episode.
We open the episode with Kero-chan, alone in Sakura's room, sweating. This would imply that Kero-chan has sweat glands, which generally cats (and dogs) only have on their feet. I'm just going to assume that this is a consequence of MAGIC, since otherwise we will have to go into discussions about whether Kero-chan needs to hydrate himself, or whether he needs sodium to replace that lost through sweat, or what his sweat is actually made of, or other questions of that stripe.
One also wonders how Kero-chan can clean himself when Sakura is not around for an extended period of time. Also, one wonders how that chocolate bar has not melted in the heat yet, but that's another matter.
Next door, Yukito and Super Baito Touya are studying (nudge nudge wink wink) in their room, probably entirely for the upcoming segue into Sakura's school-sponsored class outing to the beach.
I'm not sure whether this counts as Lucky, in that one gets to go to the beach on someone else's time and money, or Unlucky, in that it's still a school-related event and there'll be a schedule and teachers and all that.
Can't win them all, I suppose.
I took this screenshot to illustrate how Sakura (and Syaoran) can swim underwater with their eyes open. In salt water, no less. I've heard of, but not met, people who can do such things. Personally, I can't even swim, much less keep my eyes open in swimming pool water without goggles.
Meanwhile, Syaoran checks out a mysterious cave, and then goes back to swimming.
CHECK!Point: Tomoyo and the Trio prepare for a game of beach volleyball. With the possible exception of Rika's, none of their hairstyles/accessories look suitable for swimming.
I'm assuming that this is the Free Time section of the itinerary, in order to get all the "but we wanna play in the sand/sea/surf" out of the way first. We do not, however, see any teachers around (yet), and definitely no teachers in swimsuits, which makes some sense considering that this is aimed at the elementary school age audience, who are unlikely to care about screentime dedicated to teachers in bikinis.
Meanwhile, Syaoran is still swimming.
The girls play beach volleyball via a sequence of repeated scenes, which probably didn't save all that much animation time overall, although I could be wrong. Sakura misses a catch, and runs out to get the ball, which is suddenly appropriated by Yamazaki.
I like Sakura's expression here, which eloquently expresses the burning question of Where The Hell Did You Come From.
Meanwhile, Syaoran is still swimming.
CHECK!Point: As Yamazaki explains how beach volleyball was once played with coconuts and Sakura looks on in amazement, the expressions on the girls' faces are an amusing study in contrasts, ranging from stunned bemusement, polite interest, polite skepticism, and impolite exasperation.
Chiharu assures Sakura to disregard everything Yamazaki says, for it is, like cake, a lie. Sakura innocently asks Yamazaki about this, and Yamazaki evades the question by turning into The Amazing Yamazaki And His Mysteriously Multiplying Balls.
Four bystanders, one annoyed girlfriend, one ball, one target, and a partridge in a pear tree.
I've heard from various anime (first in You're Under Arrest) that if one is buried in sand upright, one cannot escape without help. I'm not sure how true this is, but to have placed Yamazaki in that position must have taken some doing. I'm choosing to interpret this as evidence of the Power Of Angry Girlfriends.
Meanwhile, Syaoran is still- wait, no, he's back. Never mind.
The class collects dinner by casting a net into the ocean, and then dragging it back in. Note that I have no idea how this works, or if it's even feasible without, shall we say, skewing the results by preparing the area beforehand.
Also, marvel at how there appears to be nobody else around this clean and pristine beach during summer vacation. I mention this because where a large number of people are gathered, there will inevitably be trash, which will just as inevitably end up tossed into the ocean by someone, since the probability of an inconsiderate group rises with the number of people around.
What I'm saying is that if you ever try this yourself, chances are you'll get at least an even mix of fish and enough rubbish to make you not want to eat the fish.
CHECK!Point: Scared!Sakura always sets off my "aww, it'll be all right" instincts, which I believe is the True Source of moe. So she gets a CHECK!Point, even though in this case, the entire purpose of the moe feeling is not to keep that expression, but to make it go away.
That night, the five girls engage in one of what is apparently a classic Japanese tradition of summer, which is telling scary stories. I've not experienced such things myself, even on overnight beach trips, but then my experiences in such tend to be Indonesian more than anything.
Naoko spins a tale about disappearing students on a beach trip during their kimodameshi, which sounds too suspiciously tailored to be close to the class's current situation for me, but the others are sutiably terrified.
Personally, when I tell my own ghost stories (a couple of which I experienced myself, but which I have never discovered if it's supernatural or otherwise), listeners appear to be most frightened by how I just recite the whole thing calmly as a Statement Of Fact, like some dry after-action report. I get the feeling that this is somehow scarier than trying to actively modulate my tone for scare effects or something. I don't rightly know for sure, to be honest.
Terada-sensei opens the door, and the girls scream, with Sakura being the loudest, which is probably why he addresses only her. He mentions that they should all have been asleep by now since it is a long day tomorrow, which raises the question of why he sees nothing wrong with shining a great big flashlight into their room after banging open the door.
Sakura feels scared enough to brave the path from her bunk cabin to the teacher's cabin. It makes sense when you're scared, really.
On the way, though, someone taps her shoulder, and she screams. I'd make a comment here about not needing to worry about it if it doesn't do level drain, but then I think maybe only two other people would know what I'm talking about.
The tapper turns out to be Syaoran, who finds no other choice but to accompany Sakura while she gets over her fear of ghosts, at least for tonight.
Mind you, he doesn't really help all that much.
Syaoran mentions that there is Something Strange In The Neighbourhood in the cave he was checking out earlier, which is coincidentally the cave that will be used for the kimodameshi. This leads to Sakura doing the Hear No Evil routine.
The conversation on the beach turns to Syaoran's home life, where he mentions that he came from Hong Kong with one retainer/butler, Wei. In the manga, Syaoran arrived in Japan alone, which probably involved a great many well-connected relatives in order for a ten-year old to live alone in a foreign country, which is probably why Madhouse simplified the matter by adding Wei as a character.
Sakura thanks Syaoran for taking her mind off her fears. Syaoran does not blush; I'm thinking that the whole "Syaoran likes Sakura" bits will come much later.
CHECK!Point: The next day, Tomoyo watches…
CHECK!Point: … as Sakura takes a nap.
I love the cinematography on this.
That night, the class prepares to go on their kimodameshi. Everyone is grouped according to gender, in twos or threes. Needless to say, Sakura and Tomoyo are paired together, the Trio are in another group, and Syaoran goes with Yamazaki. There Is No Such Thing As Coincidence, Only Destiny.
Naoko is extremely pumped about this expedition. I suppose everyone should have a hobby.
CHECK!Point: Sakura clings to Tomoyo's hand, as Tomoyo takes the confident lead. I've noticed that unless it's a direct threat to life and limb (hers or another person's), Tomoyo usually isn't scared of much, being a steady pillar of support for her friends.
Gods, I love that girl.
Terada-sensei jumps out from the shadows in a sheet. This, in itself, is not exactly horrific, but the element of surprise would have been enough to make me emit a most unmanly shriek. Sakura, for her part, screams and grabs Tomoyo's arm. Presumably this test of courage does not actually matter for one's grade, but Tomoyo, being completely unperturbed or even showing much reaction other than mild curiosity, would have passed with flying colours.
The two of them continue deeper into the cave, and Tomoyo notes that apart from Terada-sensei, they had not met a single other person. As they reach an old (but sturdy-looking) wooden bridge, Sakura's terror spikes when they hear cries of panic in the distance, which turn out to be the Trio minus one: Naoko had mysteriously disappeared, and Chiharu and Rika are frantic. Things become even worse when Rika vanishes, simply fading away, before being quickly joined by Chiharu.
Tomoyo and Sakura rush back to tell the teachers, but only Sakura ends up on the other side of the bridge, for Tomoyo had also disappeared, and the candle she was holding falls onto the bridge, and when Syaoran finally catches up to her, the bridge has completely burned away.
Syaoran reveals that the culprit is a Clow Card, which he sensed when Yamazaki vanished. This replaces most of Sakura's fear with determination to get her friends back.
If you're wondering why I haven't made light of the fear the characters felt, I would guess that I would not have maintained my composure if I had been there at ten years old. Consider the oft-repeated legend, or rather plot device in myths and legends, of kamikakushi. If nothing else, anime has taught me that old mystical-looking structures in deep caves often hide some incredibly sadistic ritual from the ancient past. See also: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (or the English title When They Cry), the kamikakushi arc of Detective Academy Q, sola, AIR, the game Fatal Frame… mind you, with the stories about faeries (the old ones, Seelie/Unseelie and whatnot) and such, this is by no means a uniquely Japanese thing.
In short, if you truly don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, well and good. But if you're ten years old and you know that ghosts exist (remember, Sakura can sense them but not see them), you've got all these stories which grown-ups tell each other and believe, thus giving them a sort of legitimacy not shared by the usual "the bogeyman will get you if you're bad" stories.
However! Being that we have established by now that this is a Clow Card, which is a Known Factor, I can go back to the gags and cheap laughs, especially with Syaoran's ANCIENT CHINESE LASER BEAMS, but that reference will probably not make sense to many.
Sakura conveys herself and Syaoran across the bridgeless moat, which almost looks deliberately landscaped or at least chosen for its convenient watery barrier, using the Float card. At the other side, Syaoran begins to disappear, and Sakura, in what is probably a significant amount of foreshadowing, exclaims that she does not want to be alone.
Cue card capturing sequence, against the Erase, which appears as a blob of something. Ectoplasm, maybe. No binding is needed; apparently the only requisite for sealing is to locate it.
Sakura offers the card to Syaoran, since it was his words which gave Sakura the courage to deal with the situation, but he refuses. He walks off… and then comes back, since he can't cross the water himself.
The next day, the five girls plus Yamazaki, who would in another series be living the harem dream, discuss how they can't remember anything about the previous night's excursion. In the manga, this is made somewhat clearer in that they rationalized about how there was a hidden passageway leading back outside behind the shrine, neatly explaining why nobody was seen coming back out. Several speculative fiction stories have remarked upon the ability of humans, albeit usually adults who've had their belief in the spooky burned out by the mundane world, to come up with reasonable explanations for fantastic phenomena.
In this case, the Erase card also deleted the memories of the event from everyone but Sakura and Syaoran's minds. One does not even have to come up with an alternative explanation; the affected will do it for you.
This being the last day of the class trip, the group decides to have one last game of beach volleyball. Yamazaki, true to form, mentions how beach volleyball used to be some sort of love fortune predictor, or something like that.
To a predictable reaction from Sakura and Syaoran.
Before Chiharu can tell them that it's all hogwash, the two of them engage in a duel which… seems to involve mainly Syaoran spiking and Sakura returning. I'm not sure how Sakura is supposed to win like that, but it's the end of the episode anyway.
This episode's Kero-chan ni Omakase covers the school swimsuit, where Kero-chan waxes lyrical about the beauty of Tomoyo and Sakura in theirs, and then spends about two seconds on the Y-chromosome version with Syaoran and Yamazaki. Slightly less lolipedofin is the Kero-chan Check portion, which takes a look at what I presume to be the Tomoeda Elementary standard summer non-school outfit. There's a name for this, but I am sartorially incompetent.