In order to love others as yourself, you must first love yourself.
Sakura and friends are over at the Daidouji residence, when a sudden earthquake breaks up the fun. Sakura uses Snooze to put everyone not involved with magic to sleep, then Flight to get a bird’s eye view. The ground tears up in discernible paths all over the garden, and heads straight for the gateway and the world beyond. Sakura pulls out the Siege card for the largest barrier she’s ever made. The barrier holds, but the critter turns around and heads for the house! Fortunately, Flight understands the urgency, and speeds Sakura in to head it off. As the creature, a massive brown serpent, rips free of the ground to destroy the building, Sakura seals it into a card: Swing. Swing? Really? Not Tremor or Quake? Whatever.
The girls head home, and Akiho meets up with Kaito. The two have a lovely conversation about Tomoyo and Sakura and Sakura’s Dad’s work and… Wait. She never told Kaito that Mr. Kinomoto was an archaeologist with an interesting library. Kaito pulls out his stopwatch and casts a spell, reversing time to before he made his gaff. He’s using magic to manipulate her, and gain access to the Kinomoto Library!
In the meantime, Sakura and Meiling walk home. On the way, a mysterious girl ambushes them. She’s a proficient fighter, able to keep even Meiling on the defensive. She gets one good hit in on the stranger, shattering one of the jewels on her shoulder. The girl’s form on that side turns to crystal, then regenerates. She seems stunned in the meantime. This gives Sakura an idea. She and Meiling have to work in tandem, luring the artificial girl into the right position before shattering the crystals on each shoulder at the same time. She turns completely to crystal, and Sakura seals her, gaining the Struggle Card, which seems like the Clear Card version of The Fight Clow Card.
Afterward, Meiling and Sakura have a very important conversation. For one, Meiling warns Sakura about the downside of her martyr-like kindness. She doesn’t take care of herself or seek her own happiness. Same as Syaoran. And if the two of them keep sacrificing for others without loving themselves, they’ll burn out. If she were to seek her own happiness for a bit, she’ll be charged up and ready to bring that joy into a relationship. Hint-hint, wink-wink. Sakura accepts this advice, and as Meiling gets in a cap to head back to China, she grants Meiling the right to call her by her first name.
With that, the filler arc is over! That’s right. This whole story with Meiling was not in the manga. I’m a bit miffed with that since that means that Swing, Struggle, and Hail may be meaningless to the story as a whole, and are likely to be as forgotten as Gravitation and Mirage. What it really does well, though, is it announces for all to see how the Shinomoto gang’s dynamic works. Kaito definitely manipulates Akiho for his own purposes and has pretty intense magic to be able to turn back time. And yes, he really does turn back time. This isn’t a mind wipe. The two of them moved back to where they first met up. So, this is more like a Quantum Leap. He retains memories of what he did, but she doesn’t.
He’s obviously trying to get a hold of the Kinomoto Library. Since these archaeological ruins, Sakura’s father studies may be a link to the other worlds we saw in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles, they may be a potent source of magic. He could also be looking for the Clow Cards. His watch bears a resemblance to the clock on the cover of Akiho’s book, which has shown to predict Sakura’s adventures in advance. Perhaps the two are tied? What if every time he reverses time, the changes are written in the book. Thus, Akiho isn’t reading what is about to happen, but what should have happened. Further, whenever he pulls out his watch, the camera focuses on Momo, which suggests that she is also a part of things.
As usual, this episode is beautiful. Madhouse does great work with making sure the environments look just right. What really struck me was the cinematography of the fight with Struggle. The camera flew all over the place and gives us an intense view of the action. I saw a couple of instances where the art of Stuggle herself looked amateurish, and had a few errors in it. Fortunately, this wasn’t often. The majority of the animation for this scene was stellar.
I also tip my hat to Monica Rial. She did some deep voice work with Sakura. The way she apologized for the damage to the garden did stuff I doubt could be accurately replicated. She had a waver in her voice, and it was almost melodic. Sheepish, but trying to play it off as a playful thing. I didn’t hear a single thing I didn’t like in this episode, other than some difficult timings.
They left this filler arc with a bang. Good development, great animation, and some nice voice acting. It's getting nine ominous watches out of ten.