Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 49
Genre: Fantasy / Mecha / Drama
Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 04 Nov 2005
CLAMP takes the RPG genre and gives it their trademark twists!
Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji are three junior high school students who meet while on their class field trips to Tokyo Tower. The three see a bright light outside the tower in which the imprisoned Princess Emeraude, the Pillar who sustains the world of Cephiro, summons them as the legendary Magic Knights to save her. Though they barely know one another, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are then swept away to this world of Cephiro. There they meet Mage Master Clef who grants them magic to begin their quest to revive the fabled Mashin (or Rune Gods), which will confirm their destiny as the Magic Knights from another world brought in to save Emeraude, and in turn, Cephiro.
This is one of CLAMP’s earliest animated adaptations, and it is pretty solid the whole way through. This review covers the series in its entirety, despite being split into two “separate” series for its American release.
Magic Knight Rayearth is a story in two parts. The first twenty episodes, at first glance, seem to be nothing more than your average RPG show: battle occasional monsters and mini-bosses while leveling up and upgrading weapons and armor. This was my impression on seeing the show for the first time. I was actually a little let down while watching this first part of the story. Being CLAMP, expectations were high, and it wasn’t clicking. Sure, there were a few unexpected elements, such as occasional slips into Super-D for comedic effect, and some self-referential humor (“This is just like being in a role-playing video game!” one of the girls notes), shifting alliances, and the biggest twist for this RPG: the Magic Knights’ “ultimate weapons” – the Mashin – are mecha, albeit sentient beings in themselves. Mecha, in an RPG series! CLAMP was doing their thing, but nothing particularly stood out. If the series ended here, after the inevitable saving of Cephiro, I would have given it a C. Not bad by any stretch, but not extraordinary either.
Then the second arc began.
With Cephiro rescued, and the girls back in Tokyo after their emotional final battle, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu’s lives have returned to normal. Hikaru, however, is now having nightmares where a dark figure is threatening to harm all of her friends in Cephiro, but she keeps this frightening vision from Umi and Fuu.
The three decide to visit Tokyo Tower again, and while there they wish they could see all the friends they made in Cephiro once more. Just as they say this, a bright light once again appears outside the tower, and the three are transported to Cephiro for a second time, but things have changed. The bright paradise they encountered before is gone, and a dark, crumbling world greets them instead. On arriving in Cephiro this time around, the girls take shelter in the castle which is being protected from the dangers outside. They soon find out that there are three countries that are attempting to invade Cephiro in order to take its Pillar system for their own reasons. On top of this, a girl who looks much like Hikaru has appeared, and threatens to kill not only everyone that Hikaru loves, but Hikaru herself.
Also, it is learned why Cephiro has fallen into darkness, which simultaneously fills the second role of providing backstory for the first arc, and this is when CLAMP’s magic pays off. What is found out at this point of the story makes the structure of the series clear to the viewer – in other words, why the first arc plays out the way it does – and with the second saving of Cephiro the series draws to a rewarding conclusion. This is when i finally “got” the first arc, and any flaws I thought it contained were promptly tossed out of the window.
The second half concentrates on the character drama, though it’s not without its share of battle sequences. Hikaru is slightly more developed in character than Umi or Fuu, which was a minor detraction for someone like me who usually likes their characters as fleshed out as possible, but Hikaru becomes the main protagonist, so Umi and Fuu’s roles as supporting leads are filled nicely. That said, despite a large cast, none of the characters are shallow. RPG and Mecha fans alike should enjoy Magic Knight Rayearth, with the caveat that it doesn’t follow the conventions of either genre.