Welcome back to magical girl month. Let’s talk about Clamp again. Yes, the same studio behind xxxHolic and Cardcaptor Sakura. Now, I’ve already talked about their most famous magical girl series and, although I could look at one of its films, this month let’s look at the other major one, Magic Knight Rayearth. One of the odd things about Clamp is that their anime adaptations all seem to be handled by different studios. Cardcaptor Sakura was a Madhouse production, Production IG did xxxHolic and this series was handled by TMS, a studio that’s done a lot of famous stuff like Lupin, Detective Conan, Sonic X & Monster Rancher. None of which I’ve reviewed. So, let’s take a look and see how they handle Clamp’s work.
Our narrative opens at Tokyo Tower where three different schools have all come on a field trip at the same time. That seems a bit convenient, but I’ll let it go because I honestly have no idea if that’s actually a thing that happens for Tokyo Tower. It is a famous landmark, maybe it’s a perfectly normal occurrence for multiple unrelated schools to visit at the same time. In a flash of light three girls, Fuu, Umi and Hikaru, appear in a strange world with floating stones. They meet a tiny man who calls himself Clef, the master mage. He tells the girls that to return to their world they have to revive the Rune Gods, become magic knights and save their land called Cephiro. Their princess and the pillar of their world, Emeraude, has been kidnapped by a villain called Zagato. But Clef’s exposition dump is interrupted by the arrival of Alcyone, one of Zagato’s minions. Clef buys time for them to escape, telling them to find Presea, a master blacksmith who will forge weapons for them. So, the girls set out on their quest to stop Zagato and save Cephiro.
Let’s start with the story issues. The biggest one involves a character death. I won’t spoil who dies, but I will say that at this point it’s been established that Fuu has healing magic and while this character is dying she doesn’t do a thing. Later, they tell you that she tried her healing spell off-screen after the events you see, but there’s still the problem of why she didn’t do it sooner. Why wait until this other character stopped talking and moving to try and help them? Was she worried that she’d interrupt their speech by acting while they were still talking? It just makes the magic knights seem pitifully slow to react and incompetent. The worst part is that there are two easy ways to fix it. Method one, Fuu gets knocked out in the battle and doesn’t wake up until it’s already over. Method two, the character in question dies instantly. No time for a death speech or for healing magic. Honestly, the fact that they have the scene and only explain quite a bit later that Fuu did anything at all just makes it look like the writers forgot she had the healing spell or didn’t think of having her use it at the actual critical moment, only realising they’d screwed up later on.
There are some more minor issues too. For example, the magic knights spend way too long fighting the same few minions. Zagato is shown as having five major underlings and more than half the series is spent with two of them. Which results in the other three having really rushed conflicts with the knights and most of them not getting much screen time or room for development. The story is also pretty predictable since it relies heavily on cliches, but it’s also intended for a pretty young audience so they’ll probably find the events somewhat surprising, at least.
So, what does the series do well narratively? Well, it is good at foreshadowing the events that are coming, which will give the intended audience a good head’s up and some sources of tension. The heroes journey element is also done fairly well with a nice, steady progression. The romance elements, though not exactly good, are better than what you’d expect from Clamp’s usual works. For one thing, only one of the girls gets a love interest, although the sequel might change that. For another thing, he is important to the plot and, in a rare move for Clamp, he’s not far too old for her nor is he related to her. Granted, that’s only a positive because Clamp is usually pretty pants at writing romance, but I’ll give them credit for writing one that isn’t gross or overly intrusive. I also do like that all three of our heroines do share the focus pretty evenly with all of them getting the spotlight at times, their own subplots and their own shining moments.
The characters are pretty mixed. Hikaru, Fuu and Umi do get a respectable level of development and are somewhat fleshed out. However, the side characters are pretty weak. The vast majority of them follow a very basic and common character type with nothing to distinguish them from any other character who follows that type. They aren’t terrible or offensively written but they also aren’t good or interesting. Even the love interest is just your typical charming rogue character. They try to make the villains sympathetic, but most of that just involves using the lazy “they’re doing it for love” excuse without putting any actual effort into making them the least bit compelling or three dimensional.
I won’t lie, the series does not look good. Yeah, it was made back when everything was hand drawn so it’s bound to be a bit dated by today’s standards, but even when comparing it to other anime that came out around the same time, or earlier, it looks pretty bad. I will grant that there are some interesting designs, both in terms of characters and environments, but the animation is choppy and there are a lot of really noticeable art errors, usually having to do with drawing faces.
Our main three are voiced by Shiina Hekiru (Hikaru), Yoshida Konami (Umi) and Kasahara Hiroko (Fuu). All of whom give competent performances, albeit not the best of their careers. You could say the same thing of the acting as a whole, it’s competent but not anything special. The music is… there. It’s not bad but it’s not really good either. It’s okay.
There’s a bit. The series does have a lot of moments where Hikaru, Umi and Fuu strengthen their relationship and some of those seem to go beyond the realm of friendship. Still, it’s obviously not deliberate and nothing comes of it. So, I’m calling the ho-yay factor a 3/10.
Magic Knight Rayearth is a pretty standard series. It has some things that are pretty well done and others that are pretty badly done, but most of it is in between the two. All in all, it’s average. If you’re curious about it then it won’t hurt you to check it out but you also won’t be missing anything if you skip it. My final rating is a 5/10. Next week we’ll continue the month with a look at Umi Monogatari: Anata ga Ite Kureta Koto.