Just because an anime is doing something fairly unique doesn't mean it can't bore you straight into your grave.
Magic Knights Rayearth
VHS 1-2 Daybreak & Sunrise
Again, this is a series that nearly everyone knows about, everyone loves, and everyone wants to know its fate. Well, in the roulette-wheel world of anime licensing and the even bigger roulette wheel of production quality, every anime in the world should be so lucky as this one.
The Rayearth TV series, directed by Toshihiro Hirano (Iczer, Dangaio), chronicles the manga fairly closely: Three middle school girls, the well-meaning but immature Hikaru, rich primadonna Umi, and intelligent visually-impaired Fuu, get beamed from their lame shcool trip to the Tokyo Tower into far-off kingdom Cephiro (we're going to have to get used to that spelling) and are told by a high magician named Clef that they can't go back until they save the Kingdom from the evil Zagato and his henchmen. Sent off on their own, they are teamed up with happy white fluff-ball Mokona, they go off in search of Presea and the magic ore Escudo. The foes and potential friends they'll meet along the way will make the journey interesting...
The TV series is slightly above-par for its time, offering more detailed art and smoother animation than is typical for that era, which included shows like Marmalade Boy... Certainly good enough to please the heavy newbie crowd that this show is certain to attract. (Some might question the show's frequent switches into SuperDeformed mode, but they'll get used to it.) While Rayearth isn't the kind of thing I enjoy (a little to stereotypically magical girl for me, thanks), there are enough rabid fans of this series out there to let me know I am in the minority. So while I sit here picking apart the lack of originality and overly-cute adventure that plays like so many fairy tales, everyone else is sure to be enjoying the rich art, the fantastic character design, and the intricate storytelling so sadly missing from nearly all kiddie shows of Western origin.
I was expecting good things from AnimeWorks with this title (it IS the biggest thing they've released to date), but I was blown away by the time and attention that went into it. First and foremost, all video-post production is flawless -- exactly how all anime, especially TV shows, should be presented on video in America. The dubbing, produced by Bang Zoom! Entertainment, is also fantastic and at times can't even be told apart from the original (besides the fact that it is another language.) Surprisingly, even the opening and ending themes are dubbed, and those came out spectacular (except for near the end of the opening, where what sounds like an editing mistake left the vocals coming in a split second too early). The subtitled version is also well-done.
Really, the only thing about the American release that fans are likely to whine about is the fact that the relatively useless "Who will it be today" end-of-show eyecatches are not in this version. Even though this useless feature is really nothing but a few still pictures, and three lines of dialogue (two of which are the same every time), hardcore fans will probably notice and complain, but it's really not that big a deal... All of the voice actor credits are left for the very end of the tape, a hint that a bilingual DVD release may be just around the corner.
There are a lot of fansubs of this series floating around, and finally, fans have a good reason to replace them with commercial copies. At a fair price, well done, and with fantastic Spine-picture box art, there's really no good reason not to buy these tapes... Even if you happen to be a stick-in-the-mud for this type of material like I am.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
+ First-rate dub/sub production values. Fans of the series will eat it up!
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