The Fall 2019 Manga Guide
Magic Knight Rayearth
What's It About?One day, Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji, all from different schools and different backgrounds, are out on a field trip. Suddenly, without warning, all three are transported to another world, the mystical land of Cephiro. Cephiro is under threat, as the Princess at the head of the world has been abducted by dark magicians. In order to rescue her and put the world back in balance, they must awaken the rune gods and become the magic knights of legend. And so begins an adventure grand and terrifying, as in order to save the world and get back to Earth, the three girls must past harsh trials and confront great hardship. If they don't, they and the whole world of Cephiro will be vanished.
Magic Kinight Rayearth is by the manga artist collective Clamp. This 25th anniversary collection contains the first three volumes and an art book and is published by Kodansha, releasing on November 26th and retailing for $129.99. A 49 episode anime adaptation was released and is available from Discotek Media from $99.95.
Is It Worth Reading?
Ah, Magic Knight Rayearth's first half, the magical girl-adjacent series that scarred us all back in the day. (Yes, I still have my old Mixx editions.) This box set, the first of two to commemorate the series' twenty-fifth anniversary, is absolutely beautiful – three hardcover volumes (so the same as the original release) in oversize format and an artbook in a very sturdy maroon box. Each volume has a smooth translation, liner notes in the back, and removes all of the localizations from the first English editions, so if you've been holding off on rebuying this when it was previously re-released in omnibus form, now is your moment. It's also easier to hold than those omnibuses, which may be another helpful thing to mention.
The story is very much of its time, both in terms of CLAMP as creators and the prevalent type of magical girl stories. Magic Knight Rayearth coexisted with Sailor Moon and Saint Tail, stories that had their dark moments but basically came with a romance novel's happy ending guarantee. CLAMP, however, at this point did NOT come with that guarantee, and long before Puella Magi Madoka Magica scarred magical girl fans, Magic Knight Rayearth was getting the job done. Historically that makes this particularly interesting, and while you can see hints of what's to come now, at the time the books' adherence to a lot of basic shoujo fantasy tropes made it difficult to predict what was to come. While not technically magical girls (there's not really a catch phrase and transformation in the usual sense), the story still plays with the genre well, which also should intrigue genre fans.
CLAMP's art at this period is some of their most memorable, with the sharp eyes, distinctly triangular faces, and complex backgrounds. While many times the characters don't look as if they're actually interacting with those backgrounds but sort of perched on top of them, both the black-and-white and color images are striking, and the artbook alone is almost worth the (high) price of purchase. While some readers may hesitate knowing that there's a part two coming, this really is exquisite and the series is worth it.
Let's this get this out of the way: This box-set is stunning. My jaw dropped when I took it out of the package and saw its gorgeous golden patterns and sigils, beautiful book-bindings and dazzling, incredible artwork. Flipping the pages of the volumes was a tactile joy. I went ‘wow’ at so many spreads, brought to beautiful sheen on lavish, exquisite paper. And then there's the artbook, which might be worth the price of admission alone. It has beautiful, immaculately colored character portraits, artist commentary on both specific drawings and the general manga-making process and astonishing, layered fold-out spreads in the back. I skim through it for hours and still be in awe of the compositional mastery. All things added up, this edition is a must for any fan of Magic Knight Rayearth, and it is a loving, perfect complement to a series whose artistry and aesthetic quality are to this day unparalleled.
And frankly, Rayearth's art is its main appeal. It might be the definitive magical girl isekai on aesthetic merits alone; the uniquely femme touch Clamp brings to every layout and character design creates a tone of wonder and sensitivity that elevates the conventional fantasy plotline into being something unique and bold and new. And the spreads are on a level you rarely see in manga. Every other page contains awe in terms of its creature designs, its action, its background, its character designs. It's lovely. If you ever have any fondness for any kind of Shoujo fantasy, Rayearth is a must. This is one Clamp's great achievements in sheer terms of its illustrative majesty.
The story and characterization, however, are under-developed. I don't really know who the main girls are beyond vague personality traitss; one is a semi-Otaku who keeps comparing the fantasy world to RPGs, another used to fence back on Earth and another quick-witted and together, the designated team leader. But that's all I can really gather about them, as the pace is so lightning-fast and no spent time is spent on fleshing them out that these brief nods to characterization don't do much in the way of defining the main cast. It might be that further dimensions to these character open up as the story progresses and the stakes heighten, but at the outset they feel a tad lacking in distinct personalities and struggles, and the main plot is a little generic and a little flat.
Magic Knight Rayearth means a lot to a lot of people, for good reason. It is a gorgeous high fantasy about girls being the heroes of their own amazing epic. That alone is worth praise and love, and I can confidently say that this is Rayearth's definitive, best English release. If you have any love for magical girls, Clamp or good, beautiful fantasy in your heart, I cannot recommend this box-set highly enough.
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