Anime Review – Magic Knights Rayearth (Season 1)

This week I’ve got the anime adaptation of the CLAMP manga I reviewed a few months earlier.

General Information

Hekiru Shiina as Hikaru Shidou
Hiroko Kasahara as Fuu Hououji
Konami Yoshida as Umi Ryuuzaki
Emi Shinohara as Presea
Juurouta Kosugi as Zagato
Megumi Ogata as Princess Emeraude
Minami Takayama as Ascot
Nozomu Sasaki as Clef
Takumi Yamazaki as Ferio
Yuri Shiratori as Mokona

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano
Written by Osamu Nakamura & CLAMP
Animated by TMS Entertainment

Available from in a boxed set with Seasons 2. This review covers Season 1.

The Premise

Hikaru, Umi and Fuu are three ordinary high school students on a field trip to Tokyo Tower, who are whisked to the magical land of Cephiro by the Princess Emeraude to be her three Magic Knights, and free her from the clutches of her former protector, Zagato, before the land of Cephiro – where will defines reality – falls apart.

The High Points

Normally, when an manga series is adapted into a longer anime, the quality drops because the show has to be padded out some. Rayearth actually benefits from the extended length. Where the original manga basically only gave each of Zagato’s generals one, and only one, fight against our heroes, and very limited character development, the anime gives time to flesh out their characters, and make them more than just flash-in-the-pan villains.

The Low Points

Unfortunately, the added character length doesn’t help everyone. After his first couple appearances, Ascot appears to finally undergo the big piece of character growth he goes through in the manga, after the Knights beat him and he leaves. However, then he comes back the next episode as an antagonist. Then he does it again. Then one more final time before he gets the hint. This actually kind of weakens his character instead of strengthening it.

Also, the ending of the series loses some of the impact the ending of the manga had. In the manga, after killing Emeraude, our heroes are almost immediately whisked home after realizing what they’d done, and appear in Tokyo Tower almost exactly after they left, and weep openly together for Emeraude, leaving us with a tragic final image, instead of a happy one. The anime gives us a chin-up-it-will-be-better moment, and then a joyous return to Earth.

Content Notes

As with the manga, there is some minor blood, some no-detail nudity in some of the transformation sequences, and some skimpy outfits on some of Zagato’s female lieutenants.

The Scores

Originality: This is an adaptation, but one that builds upon the original’s work, rather than mimicking it or trying to do a revised version of it. 5 out of 6.

Acting: The acting is generally good, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out for better or for worse. 3 out of 6.

Animation: The animation is okay, though there are some notable problems with the animation quality for clouds and similar things dropping later on in the series. 4 out of 6.

Production: Sound design is good, and the music is alright – the composition is good, but it feels like all they had the budget for was a really nice keyboard. 4 out of 6.

Story: The story really helps expand on the material from the manga, giving characters who only appeared briefly more screen time (Ferio, Clef), and raising the stakes in a few more places (Clef, Presea). 5 out of 6.

Emotional Response: I suspect having read the manga before watching the series hurt this for me – I already knew what several of the major beats in the series were beforehand. Still, the added length in turn allowed the writers to–successfully– build up some tension for characters who didn’t appear much in the manga. 4 out of 6.

Overall: I’d definitely say that this is probably one of the better manga-to-anime adaptations in general. For those coming from the manga, there’s enough good new stuff here that you have a reason to stick around for a longer series. For those who are coming in new, there’s still the older stuff that makes it worth sticking around for. 5 out of 6.

In Total, Magic Knight Rayearth Season 1 gets 30 out of 42.