A long time ago, before xxxHolic, before Chobits, even before Cardcaptor Sakura, the enigmatic team of artists known as CLAMP created a manga called Magic Knight Rayearth, which was made into a two-season television series, the first anime to be based on their work.
Perhaps because it was an early work the series has a strangely uneven tone. Watching the first season for the first time I initially felt amused, then impatient, and finally shocked. The second season seemed darker but more enjoyable. When I watched it for a second time I had a better idea of what the first season was really about and I enjoyed it a good deal more.
Actually once I accepted that there is more going on here than just a goofy parody I found the story powerful and affecting. If you are a fan of CLAMP’s other stories you will definitely want to see this one. On the other hand, if you have no previous exposure to CLAMP’s somewhat twisted sense of humor you would probably do better to start with one of their more accessible works, such as Cardcaptor Sakura or Angelic Layer.
Original TitleMajikku Naito Reiaasu
GenresFantasy, Parody, Sword and Sorcery, Mecha, Tragedy
Contents49 episodes on 12 DVDs (2 boxed sets)
LanguagesJapanese with subtitles, English
Based onA manga by CLAMP
BroadcastYomiuri TV, 1994-1995
Region 1 PublisherAnime Works / Media Blasters
First Season, Episodes 1-20
The story seems to hit every common trope of shounen anime. Three heroes travel through a magic kingdom, slaying monsters with swords and magic spells, trying to level up to the point where they can rescue a princess. When they get tired of swords and sorcery they acquire some giant robots to stomp around in.
But something is wrong here. The heroes are actually girls in frilly dresses, and the magic land, aside from monsters, seems to be overstocked with pink unicorns and other fauna that would make any self-respecting shounen hero gag.
So this is actually a whimsical shoujo parody of the kind of stories that the boys like. Fair enough. But as the story progresses it seems to become increasingly dark. By the twentieth episode it has disconcertingly turned into a full-blown classical tragedy, causing the first season to end on a rather sour note.
Second Season, Episodes 21-49
Solitary tears fall into the sea that I sealed away inside my heart.
The bright light that I missed will not come back to me now,
So I want freedom, just like the wind that will come with the next sunrise.
I feel it trembling in the bottom of my heart:
Both the light and the darkness that I warmly embrace,
A chase for the dream that I just can’t give up on…
The second season contains some whimsical elements but the overall tone is darker than the first. Instead of a sword-quest through a beautiful magic land, we see giant robots battling in a desolate landscape for a prize that seems hardly worth having. Characters wrestle with their inner demons, sometimes literally.
Repeatedly this story arc threatens to end as tragically as the first, if not more so. Finally it works it way to a more-or-less happy ending.
This series is best suited for teenagers and adults. It doesn’t contain anything likely to be particularly harmful to younger children, but they probably will not enjoy it. Older viewers who have some experience with stories with tragic elements are more likely to appreciate it.
Children as young as seven might enjoy the whimsical opening episodes, but by the time they reached the end of the first story arc they would probably be confused or upset. The second season would probably be even less appealing.
The series includes numerous violent action sequences. The violence is stylized but not entirely bloodless, particularly in the later episodes. None of it would be likely to frighten a typical American ten-year-old.
A three-episode OVA (direct-to-video) was released in 1997. This uses the same character names and designs to tell a completely unrelated story. Since it has nothing to do with this story I won’t discuss it further here.
Premise and Characters
In Cephiro Hikaru develops the ability to use magic spells based on Fire.
It turns out that Umi can use magic based on Water.
Fuu can use magic based on Wind. A kind soul, she prefers to use healing and binding spells but is prepared to use attack spells if necessary.
(I am presuming that Mokona is supposed to be male. The English subtitles refer to him that way. The Japanese is not much help, especially since he only says “puu”.)
Mokona is obviously supposed to represent Mokona Apapa, CLAMP’s lead artist. (She later changed her name to just “Mokona”.) The three Magic Knights are generally assumed to represent the other three members of CLAMP. Most of the other characters are named after cars for some reason.
Ascot has a strange habit of mixing villainous gloating with childish speech patterns. “Ha ha ha! What stupid onee-chan (big sisters)!” he sneers.
Caldina speaks with a heavy Osaka accent, which is considered comic in Japan. The producers of the English dub think this is equivalent to a very bad imitation of an American southern accent.