Magic Knight Rayearth
August 7, 2011
CLAMP – Dark Horse – 2011 – 3 volumes
this is an omnibus containing all three volumes
So. I’ve got this omnibus now. It’s my second time around for this manga, because I also own the original Mixx editions. I did skip the fancy Tokyopop boxset re-release, but to make up for it, I own both artbooks. Also, the anime on both VHS and DVD. Also, the rare Sega Saturn game (the last US-released Saturn game!). And two sets of figures.
These are just things I do, though. I don’t actually like this series that much. I’ve probably seen the anime at least twenty times (it was the only anime I had for a long time) and read the manga at least ten times through (for the same reason), and I can recite the whole thing in my sleep. Reading it now wasn’t that much fun, because I still have the whole thing memorized almost line-for-line, and because the storyline in the manga is so incredibly condensed it makes watching what happens far less interesting than it should be.
It’s structured just like an RPG, something that Fuu comments on quite frequently, so it has a very rigid storyline it must follow. Orientation, weapons, reviving the mashin, then fighting the bad guy. Not much time is spent with characters that aren’t Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Nor is much time spent on climactic fights. Most last only a few pages, be it the first fight with Alcyione, the fights that determine whether the mashin will go with them… or even the final fight at the end of the book. The story is extremely economical, if nothing else.
It’s a shame, because the series does have interesting characters. One of the most interesting things about it is that the villains all have practical and very understandable reasons for working for Zagato and fighting the Magic Knights. Except these reasons are explained in a few panels, and the characters pause to re-affirm their friendship and “strength of heart,” then they move on to something else. The anime is slightly better about this, since each of the villains gets at least a few episodes to be themselves. It’s especially a shame because what we see of the villains shows us that they have really interesting personalities, too. A lot of work went into them, but it’s wasted when they only show up for one chapter, no matter how interesting they are.
It’s also… a little repetitive. The Magic Knights go through trial after trial as Cephiro tests them to make sure they have the “strength of heart” to earn their legendary weapons and each of the three legendary mashin. The girls talk a lot about what good friends they are, and get angry when one of them gets hurt. Then they overcome whatever trial by wishing hard enough, which is apparently enough “strength of heart” for anything that needs to happen in Cephiro.
It’s got a light touch, but sadly, the humor is very dated. There’s a lot of physical humor that falls flat, and a lot of punchlines that come from Umi yelling and over-reacting to something. This happens a lot. Especially early on. I had a hard time getting through that first conversation with Clef this time through because there was just too much humor, especially dealing with Cephiro culture shock.
Having said that, this is still a classic. I love and adore CLAMP’s older shoujo style, with all the detail and organic shapes and panels so full of stuff. It’s the epitome of girly artwork, and what I think of when I think of 90s shoujo manga. Their art in X is their best, in my opinion, but this was drawn at the same time as the early parts of X, so it looks very similar. Everything from the various armor and weapon designs, the character designs, and the environments is well-considered and excellently planned. There’s a ton of interesting stuff to look at on every page, and I never get tired of looking at Magic Knight Rayearth, at the very least.
It’s also a very classic story, condensed though it may be. It’s got one of the biggest twist endings in CLAMP’s repertoire, and this is a high compliment given the fact that CLAMP tends to faceplant when they end a series. Only Tokyo Babylon’s ending makes a bigger impact, in my opinion. I don’t want to spoil it if you don’t know about it, because it really did surprise me the first time through. It doesn’t make much sense, even after the logic behind it is explained, but it’s a terrible twist nonetheless.
And the ending is a cliffhanger, too, that picks up perfectly in Magic Knight Rayearth II.
Dark Horse’s omnibus is 100% worth the price of admission if you’d been thinking of giving this series a try. It’s so big it feels fragile, but I love having the whole thing in one book. Plus, they included a smattering of color pages at the end of each volume, including a color bonus comic every time.
I think the story hasn’t aged well, but it still has a classic feel to it, and the art is definitely timeless. Fans of CLAMP will want to give this a try, and I think it’s also good for kids. The twist is a bit traumatic, but I adored this when I was a teen, and it’s definitely a good first step for a future career as a fantasy/video game junkie.