Magic Knight Rayearth
Genre: Action/adventure, Magic Girl, Mecha, Fantasy
Notes: Clamp's first hit. There is 1 movie (OVA of 3 episodes) in addition to the series.
On a field trip to Tokyo Tower, three girls from different middle schools are suddenly summoned to another world. To return home, they must fulfill Princess Emeraude's wish and pursue a quest to become the legendary Magic Knights, facing a number of enemies and monsters. They must then defeat high priest Lord Zagato and save the imprisoned princess. But are all the enemies evil and is the Princess's ultimate wish the salvation of Cephiro?
Animation is quite good, as expected from Clamp, but since each Magic Knight has her own identifiable color, the scenes and costumes are often too bright and colorful. The character designs are nicely done in the shoujo animation style, but with overly heavy eyelashes and eyeliner. The opening and ending themes are quite catchy in both the original and dub versions. Overall score is adequate, nothing special. The original voices are distinctive but the dub voices of the girls sound too similar and rather squeaky. As usual the original voices are more fitting to all the characters. Dub is just adequate.
Story contains two arcs. In the first 20 episodes the girls resurrect the Rune Gods, become Magic Knights and face off against Zagato. In the second arc they return to find Cephiro in ruins and other countries about to invade. The episodes should be seen in order to follow the quest.
Cephiro is a world formed and based on one's will. Princess Emeraude is the "pillar" of Cephiro and it is her prayers that keeps it a land of peace and beauty. She has been imprisoned by her high priest Lord Zagato and the only ones who can defeat him are the legendary Magic Knights who must be summoned from another world. Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru are eighth graders summoned by Princess Emeraude in the hopes of saving Cephiro from Lord Zagato. They go on a quest to resurrect the rune gods but it is also a quest where they learn about themselves and whether they are worthy of being the Magic Knights. The girls are assisted by an assortment of characters including the Master Mage Clef, Ferio (a sly mysterious swordsman), Presea (forger of their weapons), and Mokona (a fat rabbit-like magical creature).
The three main characters have well defined, distinct but typical personalities. Fuu, who wears glasses, is of course the smart level-headed calm analytical one. Hikaru, with red hair, is of course the fiery compassionate enthusiastic one, and Umi, with blue hair and model looks, is the self-centered bad-tempered one with a good heart. The series starts off very quickly with the three girls suddenly transported from their field trip to Cephiro. There is no time to associate with the characters and get to know their lives. They just pretty much accept their situation and become friends. Umi stays in denial for a while longer but after a couple of episodes, they're all best buddies with no in-fighting despite their different personalities. (Note that the movie version actually takes more time to know the girls in their own world before any action, and all the girls attend the same school.) The quest involves defeating monsters and enemies one after another while searching for the rune gods, which appear to be living mecha. "Rayearth" is the rune god of the primary character Hiraku. The girls fight with magical swords and later mecha. The action is straightforward with lots of inspirational talking.
There's action but it's not terribly exciting or original. There's some nice romances and Clamp is always good at portraying such feelings. The humor is forced and rather weak with lots of chibi characters and funny faces. Children will find it funnier than adults especially with the addition of a cutesy creature called Mokona who magically provides food and shelter. There's a lot of talk about friendship, will, and heart and the many of the enemies are not the typical evil villains but more conflicted.
Rated G but there are some tame nude transformation scenes and fan service. Recommended for shoujo fans and children under 12. Older kids and adults may find it rather boringly typical.
Rayearth Movie (Grade B-)
The movie is a retelling of the story rather than a continuation of the series. For those who have not seen the series it will make little sense. If you've seen the series, there's no reason to watch the movie. I watched the movie before watching the series and perhaps I would have appreciated it a bit more if I had seen the series first, but there were too many characters to track, and the plot was confusing. Instead of the three main characters being summoned to Cephiro, various characters from Cephiro, a dying world, invade Earth. The animation is better, but the villains are not as developed.