Rayearth

RayearthType: OVA
Episode Count: 3
Genre: Apocalyptic Fantasy / Mecha
Vintage: 1997

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 29 May 2006

Grade: C

The dark and scary alternate version of Magic Knight Rayearth.

Plot Summary
Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji are classmates graduating from junior high school. Legend says that if a wish is made under the cherry tree at school, the fairy who lives in that tree will do everything in its power to stop anything that gets in the way of that dream coming true. The three girls have made a promise under that tree to be friends forever after leaving junior high. One day, as Hikaru waits under the tree for Umi and Fuu, a small creature jumps out of the tree and runs off. When her friends arrive, Hikaru tells them about the creature she saw, who she believes is the tree fairy. As the girls are walking in Tokyo later on, Hikaru sees the creature again and runs across a busy street after it. As she crosses, Hikaru has a vision where she learns of people from another world who are on Earth for a divine test, and that her destiny will be tied to that of a mysterious figure who is watching from Tokyo Tower. The fate of two worlds will be decided by Hikaru and her friends.

The Review
First things first. This is not a compressed retelling of Magic Knight Rayearth the TV series. In fact, you should not watch Rayearth if you have any part at all of Magic Knight Rayearth the series still fresh in your mind! Doing that would only cloud your impressions of Rayearth the OVA. The characters are here, but this story has nothing at all to do with Magic Knight Rayearth the TV series!

Oh, how I wanted to rate Rayearth higher; after all, I am a CLAMP fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good OVA and all, it’s just not, well… great. The art is very good – I actually prefer the three main girls’ character designs in this OVA to the TV series, to the point that I’d call them gorgeous. By itself, the idea of saving Tokyo from complete destruction in a dark landscape devoid of color is fascinating to watch. Rayearth is a very gritty and harsh story, as far as mecha fantasies with a shoujo slant go. Even the ending theme song is among my favorites. Everything seems to be going for this OVA. For me, it only lacked one thing… a connection with what was going on. Rayearth has almost no backstory. Only during the final episode do things begin to be explained, but by then it’s almost too little too late. Between the setup in the first episode and the resolution in the last, it’s hard to follow what is exactly going on and why.

Nearly all of the primary characters from the TV series reappear in this OVA, but most are flat. Only my previous familiarity with them from the TV series could help fill them out, but even then… this is not the same story as the TV series (have I mentioned that yet?), so it ends up not being a true representation. Even Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu aren’t as developed as they are in the TV series. Also suffering from a lack of depth is the plot. As I mentioned before, the premise and visual execution of the story in this OVA hold much promise, but the story lacks that spark and depth which, if present, would have elevated Rayearth from being merely ‘good’ to ‘very good’ or even ‘excellent’.

The first time I watched Rayearth, it was immediately after I finished the TV series, unaware of how different the two were. Then, I attributed my somewhat less enthusiastic than expected reaction to Rayearth to its being so different from the TV series that it wouldn’t allow me to see it on its own merits with the series so fresh in my mind. This time, I watched it on its own, able to see it and not make so many comparisons with a different story still in my mind. Sadly, after partly through the first episode, I was no longer drawn into the story, but just a viewer.

So, my final call on Rayearth is that it’s good. Not bad, but not remarkable either. It looks very cool and is animated very well, but it’s light on story and character development. Rayearth doesn’t get an average rating because it is different from the TV series, it gets an average rating because the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and it lacks the mystique typically associated with CLAMP productions. Give it a B if you don’t need depth behind your apocalypse.

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