124.-126. Magic Knight Rayearth vol. 1-3 by CLAMP
Publication: TOKYOPOP (June 12, 2007), originally published 1993-1995, Paperback, 588pp / ISBN 0760793530
Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel (YA?)
Read: October 22, 2011
Summary from Amazon:
Umi, Hikaru, and Fuu are three schoolgirls out on a field trip to Tokyo Tower, whisked suddenly away by a strange voice and light to Cephiro, a world full of spirits and sorcery. They were summoned here through the last remaining strength of the Princess Emeraude, who hopes that they are the trio destined to become the magic knights legend says can save her realm! But how are a bunch of junior-high-school kids supposed to defeat the dark might of the sinister Lord Zagato… with only an exceedingly strange bunny creature named Mokona as their guide?
I’ve been wanting to read the Magic Knight Rayearth series for several years now, mostly because I’d seen an ad for the anime series on some DVD somewhere a while back and became intrigued. Women with huge swords kicking butt and being awesome! That’s what I thought Magic Knight Rayearth was about– and it IS about that, sort of. It’s also about the power of friendship and love and loyalty and stuff.
The butt-kicking is the best part, though.
I’ve read a fairly decent amount of CLAMP’s work, and they tend to have the same sort of themes (art-wise and story-wise) in all their books. For instance, their stories have a lot of emotional depth, with exciting bits thrown in to keep one interested. There’s nearly always at least one love story, though it’s not necessarily at the center of the plot. And they tend to have more trope-tastic characters, though there’s hints of depth sometimes.
Re: art: All their lady characters tend to have a lot of hair and can cry at the drop of a hat. Clothing, armor, weapons and so on is super detailed and ornate. All their dudes tend to be pretty!boys like you’d find in a boy band or something. I suppose, after a while, reading a series with that sort of artwork can get annoying, but MKR was interesting because while all the secondary characters fall into that CLAMP art style, the three main characters, Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru, are surprisingly plain1.
Not that they’re fugly, but they’re less overtly fantasy-ish looking than everyone else is. Their hair doesn’t get impossibly big for no reason, for instance. Their armor gets more and more elaborate as they “level up,” but they themselves seem to be more firmly rooted in “reality” than everyone else. I liked that, because it showed just how important/different/etc. the Knights are to the fantasy land in a visually interesting way.
The story itself is really good, too, though I didn’t particularly like the pacing. The first volume was excellent: it introduced all the main characters, it set up the plotline for the rest of the series, and it had enough action/mystery/adventure in it to be very exciting. The next two volumes were also pretty good, but I felt like each individual volume’s story was just a repetition of the first volume’s (except for the volume 3′s ending). The Knights would meet a baddie, get beat up a bit, figure out what thing they needed to defeat the baddie, and then they’d win, usually with a bit of character development. The first fight was the best fight because it was unexpected and terrifying– by the time the last baddie showed up I already knew what was going to happen because I knew the structure of that story arc was exactlythe same as the first one.
Usually you get a lot of repetition in anime/manga anyway, when the focus is on the characters leveling up2 in order to defeat the big bad. Think of Naruto, for instance. All the fights have basically the same structure, but the circumstances surrounding the fights are different. Plus, usually the character growth at the end of the fight is somewhat different from the other fights, even if the outcome (Naruto winning) is the same. With MKR, almost ALL the fights had the EXACT same character growth (and outcome): the Knights acknowledging their friendship and love of one another which they then use to defeat whoever they’re fighting. After three or four of these sorts of fights/character growth spurts, it gets…kind of boring. You know?
I don’t think it helped, either, that the last volume in particular felt really rushed. It felt like CLAMP was trying to squeeze a medium-sized story into a tiny-sized container, and it made it much less effective than it could have been. I think, for instance, that if the fights had been spread out more, instead of one going right after another, they would have been a lot more fun to read.
For all that the pacing was problematic, and the art somewhat overly flowery for my liking, I nevertheless greatly enjoyed reading MKR. I liked that the protagonists were women, that they were in roles that are more usually given to men in action books, and that there was such a heavy emphasis on the power of emotions. The villains, especially, were interesting– for reasons that are spoilers but which are still pretty awesome. It’s an overall fun story to read, and the ending especially was exciting!
It turns out that there’s another series of MKR available, which I’m very glad about because this one ends pretty abruptly. It doesn’t feel like a neatly-tied-up ending that you usually get with a manga, and that was very annoying. I think they did it like that to drive home the traumatic feeling you get after the ending sequence. It worked!
For the whole series.
Manga Critic: “What sets Rayearth apart from so many other shojo fantasies, however, are the lengthy battle scenes. Fuu, Umi, and Hikaru prove just as adept at repelling surprise attacks and killing monsters as their shonen manga counterparts; though all three girls experience pangs of self-doubt, they show the same steely resolve in combat that Naruto, Ichigo, and InuYasha do. Equally striking is their fierce loyalty to one another; each girl is willing to sacrifice herself so that her friends might live to complete their mission. Though shojo manga can and does stress the importance of female friendship, Rayearth places unusual emphasis on the girls’ shared sense of purpose and commitment to one another.” [The rest contains spoilers, btw.]
Poisoned Rationality: “It does take a little bit of patience to get used to their back and forth storytelling. The first two volumes are filled with drama, action and sudden moments of comedy that break up both. It can be disconcerting to be having this roller-coaster of plot and be detailed for a minute by Mokona’s antics or some bad guy insulting Hikaru’s height.”
Slightly Biased Manga: “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.”
I also LOVE that CLAMP is an all-female manga artist group. They do everything themselves! They don’t even have any assistants to help with lineart or whatnot.
Dark Horse has a newer version of this omnibus available. I wonder if the translation is different (i.e. better). Does anyone know? Also, a reviewer said that there are color pages in DH’s version– mine’s black and white all the way through.