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Dec 04

Manga Review – Magic Knight Rayearth

Cardcaptors of the Clow, expect the unex-wait, wrong series

CLAMP. More iconic than the Odas, Kishimotos or Kubos of manga, the quartet of manga artists have produced over two dozen manga works over the past few decades. Some of which have gone on to become enormous successes, like Cardcaptor Sakura, or Chobits, which I reviewed last year. But this time I want to focus on one of their earlier works, Magic Knight Rayearth, so hit the link to learn more.

Debuting almost 20 years ago now, Rayearth exhibits a lot of what would become Clamp tropes, but also shows the group still very much finding their feet in terms of their style, both artistically and storywise. Said story itself isn’t really pushing the boat out. Three girls are magically transported from Tokyo Tower one day into Cephiro, summouned by a locked away princess and tasked with saving the world before it falls to Zagato, her captor. In Cephiro, prayers and belief are power, with her job being to pray for the constant wellbeing and peace of the land, so that its inhabitants can continue to lead their happy, blissful lives. With her locked away, monsters and other calamaties have begun to fall upon the land, and if the princess isn’t saved soon, who knows what would happen.

And so our three brave heroines, Hikaru, Umi and Fuu, are sent on a journey across the land to gain weapons, armour and “mashin” (essentially summoned creatures, if you’ve played any Final Fantasy you’ll know exactly what I mean) so that they can defeat Zagato and save the day. Of course, said journey is full of hardships and strives, as the girls learn a little about themselves and are made to overcome trials to prove their worthiness of becoming “Legendary Magic Knights”. As they evolve, so too do their armour and swords. If this is sounding somewhat like any shonen series you’ve read… it pretty much is. But with CLAMP at the helm, there’s also plenty of shoujo elements in the mix as well.

But despite all this talk of evolution and the rich world that is Cephiro which I’ve just explained, take a step or two back and the sad realisation dawns that very little is actually utilised to the full. Aside from one part where our trio of heroines are forced to fight and overcome that which they love the most, we learn suprisingly little about who they actually are. The same applies to the world and its support cast. Mokona, who acts as a guide for our leads, is never looked into. Ferio, an expert swordsman, appears, bails our characters out, has a relationship rapidly built up with Fuu, and is then discarded, never to be seen again. The same applies to Presea, and Guru Clef.

Top row (L to R) – Presea, Caldina, Guru Clef, Hikaru, Princess Emeraude, Alycone
Bottom row (L to R) – Zagato, Ascot, Fuu, Umi, Ferio, Rafaga

Weirdly, its the antagonists who get more development with less time dedicated to them. Zagato’s minions are shown to be perfectly rational human beings, some working for him out of love, fear, or just for a paycheck. They’re not monsters deadset on world domnation, they have motives and emotions and in several occassions are willing to talk it out with out heroes instead of resorting to violence. Even Zagato himself is shown to have a purpose for his actions, although his provides an unusual turn to the story right at the end.

Which moves me onto the pacing. I mentioned how this hadn’t yet met CLAMP’s usually refinement, at it shows the most here. The first half of the story, be it because of setup or otherwise, drags on and on. After that though, as our heroines gain their swords, the story suddenly kicks into overdrive, almost falling over itself to give the girls the three mashin they need to fight Zagato and conclude the story. And before you know it, you crash headfirst into the end, one of the most sudden conclusions I have ever seen in a manga. Its not a bad, random ending, but you will be left stunned at how abruptly it concludes. And left wanting for Magic Knight Rayearth 2. Oh yes, there’s a sequel, but I’ve yet to read that so I’ll save that review for another time.

I suppose I should address the artwork too. Arguably, this is CLAMP at some of their very best. I mentioned earlier they were still finding their feet at this point, but this means the infamous “noodle people” style they’ve become infamous for as of late isn’t on parade. Instead, characters look graceful, there’s great use of full page artwork and panel combinations which you don’t really see much outside of CLAMP, and the world is brilliantly realised. If I was to point out flaws, when the action gets going it can be hard to derive who’s doing what or what certain creatures and moves look like, but on the whole these are small niggles in an artistically sound experience.

In conclusion, while I’d be lying if I said this was a brilliant CLAMP work everyone should read, its certainly not bad, and if you can look beyond the pacing and shallowness of characters, its an enjoyable ride. One for CLAMP aficionadoes, but to those new to the group, probably best sticking off with Chobits or Cardcaptors. For those who are interested. Dark Horse have released omnibouses of both Rayearth 1 and 2 (this review only covers 1, I’ve yet to read the sequel) with some great colour artwork and bonus strips.