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Summary

The Magic Knights are mysterious warriors from another world whom legend says will rescue Cephiro in its time of crisis. Cephiro is a magical realm where anything can be accomplished through the power of one's will or strength of heart. Princess Emeraude is the Pillar of Cephiro, and it is the power of her prayer, ever since she took the role of Pillar at a young age, that has kept Cephiro stable and tranquil.

A utopia? Perhaps. But inherent in the Pillar system that maintains this utopia is a potential flaw. Just as the strength of one's emotion can bring one to accomplish great feats, so can one's thoughts lead to great destruction. For what happens when the Pillar can no longer pray on Cephiro's behalf?

Now Cephiro has become a place of monsters and fear where the very elements turn upon its inhabitants. Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are three Japanese schoolgirls summoned by Emeraude to become the Magic Knights and save Cephiro. What awaits them when they are pulled into this mystical world? As ordinary Tokyo girls, what can they do to save a world whose strongest swordsmen and most powerful magicians have failed to stop its inpending destruction? Can they truly become magical warriors and save an unknown land where magic and the strength of one's spirit are the most powerful weapons? If they try with all their hearts, fight their hardest, and never give up on each other, just maybe they'll succeed.


Story

Magic Knight Rayearth is an awesome mixture of magical girl genre, sword & sorcery fantasy, and giant sentient mecha, all illustrated in gorgeous CLAMP art.

Hikaru, Umi and Fuu are three middleschoolers who are transported to a magical land where they gain upgradable weaponry, armor and special powers as part of their quest to “save the princess” who has the ability to shape the world through the sheer force of her will. They encounter typical fantasy tropes like the weapon maker, the wise elder, the money grubbing grifter, escalating “boss” fights, and a pseudo-medieval culture filled with peasants who need the Knights’ protection against the monsters who have infected their once peaceful country. The series takes a sharp turn from the typical RPG set up when the girls discover that the Mashin or "rune-gods" they have been seeking turn out to be battle mecha, whom they must use in a final battle against a foe they never expected.

In the second half of the story they must come up with solutions that are atypical for a sword & sorcery world: the fantasy political system just does not work, and the solution can only come from outsiders with decidedly values. Our heroes are able to come to these solutions because they are idealistic girls and not the typical male RPG hero. Socialism and peace, not monarchies and war, are the surprising solution to Cephiro’s existential crisis. In the end the inhabitants must take a personal, collective responsibility for their world (this is clearer in the manga than the anime). Magic Knight Rayearth takes the masculine traditions of the RPG fantasy and shows how they are lacking, offering instead a feminist solution to the interrelated political and personal issues. It's very satisfying that the girls get to do so while wielding fierce weapons and piloting awesome sentient mecha, in a symbiotic relationship rarely seen in typically male dominated sci-fi series.

CLAMP’s trademark art style is present in the characters' large, finely detailed eyes, heavily detailed backgrounds and character designs, and recurring sword & sorcery motifs that present in the magical items and mythical emblems sprinkled throughout the world of Cephiro. Consisting of only six volumes in total, the manga moves along very quickly and finishes off villains rapid-fire, rather than redeeming them as in the anime. The main characters have much less time to develop than in the anime, so much of their personality is revealed through the art, the characters’ finely illustrated expressions revealing their intentions and natures. The art is dramatic and exciting, full of gorgeous full page spreads. An absence of noticeable chapter breaks gives the impression of non-stop action: the story moves along at a brisk pace as the girls achieve more impressive armor and weapons in their quest to retrieve the mashin ("spirits" or "rune gods"). The second part of the story, Magic Knight Rayearth 2, diverges significantly from the anime's second season, which examines both the villains' and "good guys" motives more in depth. The ending of the manga reveals a big surprise that is not explained as clearly in the anime finale.

Magic Knight Rayearth also features familiar and fun magical girl elements. The following is taken from Emily's Magical Girls Page:

The three heroines of the series are all in their early teens. They are color coordinated. Once they arrive in Cephito, they soon gain Magical Items, namely gloves that contain their weapons and some armor. Hikaru and Umi get swords, and Fuu gets a bow and arrow. The armor they all get fits over their school uniforms. As the series goes on, their magical items change and grow in power. They also get more armor. All three girls have magical attacks, complete with attack names to use in supplement to their other weapons. There is a brief Transformation Sequence for each of them that can be seen in the first OP animation sequence. Finally, they have a Talking Pet in the form of Mokona, a marshmallow looking blob of white with ears and a smile. Mokona's vocabulary is limited to one sound 'Pu!" which she repeats constantly. Mokona doesn't really act as a mentor type like other talking pets. Instead Mokona can be considered to be a walking supply store. Mokona can generate food from nowhere, along with other camping provisions such as a tent complete with pajamas for each girl.