Created by CLAMP, the manga series Magic Knight Rayearth was originally serialized in the manga magazine Nakayoshi from November 1993 to February 1995. In honor of the series’ 30th anniversary, the English dub of the anime adaptation has been brought to platforms such as YouTube, Tubi, and Amazon Prime.
The series tells the story of three middle school girls: Hikari, Umi, and Fuu. On a school trip to Tokyo Tower, they are suddenly summoned to the magical world of Cephiro by Princess Emeraude. There they are told to become the legendary Magic Knights in order to save Cephiro from the evil reign of Lord Zagato.
Magic Knight Rayearth is an underrated anime series that would go on to have a humble place in anime history. Not only was it one of the few high-fantasy anime in the ’90s to have female protagonists, but the series took a relatively simple premise and expanded on it. Here are a few reasons Magic Knight Rayearth is an adventure worth watching.
It was one of the first anime series in the isekai subgenre
Isekai is an anime subgenre that involves ordinary people getting sent to extraordinary worlds and can also be known as “portal fantasy,” though some sci-fi elements might be included. One ’90s isekai anime series with a premise similar to that of Magic Knight Rayearth is Vision of Escaflowne.
Vision of Escaflowne features a young girl named Hotomi, who is transported to the magical world of Gaea after meeting a prince named Van in the real world. Van has the power to control a giant mech robot known as Esclaflowne and Hotomi develops fortune telling abilities. Both became the key to stopping the war with the Zalbach Empire.
Another ’90s isekai anime with a strong fantasy influence is Fushigi Yuugi. It tells the story of Miaka and her friend Yui, who are transported to Not-China via a magic book called The Universe of the Four Gods. Miaka becomes the Priestess of Suzaku and must save the world from turmoil by gathering the Seven Celestial Guardians, which includes her eternal paramour Tamahome.
In the years since the premiere of Magic Knight Rayearth, the isekai subgenre has been booming, with the advent of anime such as Sword Art Online and That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime. It is worth noting that some of the most popular iterations of this subgenre involve a virtual game world and that none of these would be possible without the path set by Magic Knight Rayearth as well as other isekai anime.
It has a genre-defying premise
At first glance, you’d think that the show was just a typical save-the-world fantasy romp. As the series progresses, you’ll also notice sci-fi elements mixed in as well, particularly that of the mecha anime subgenre that involves people fighting using giant robots. When Magic Knight Rayearth first released, there were only a small handful of 90’s mecha anime featuring female characters.
In addition, there is also a sprinkle of the magical girl anime subgenre as well. Magical girl anime typically involve young girls using magic to transform or become heroines to save the world. Not only do the girls have some transformation sequences and become literal magical warriors, but they also gain a magical mascot named Makona. Although this seems like a minor feature, hints of this influence can be seen in future shows combining magical girl and mecha elements such as Symphogear and Granbelm.
Last but not least, there is a distinct video game influence on the series, particularly that of Japanese role playing games. The girls gain power ups in the form of elemental spells similar to those found in games such as Dragon Quest and some of the antagonists have a silly vibe similar to that of Dragon Quest villains as well. In fact, Magic Knight Rayearth was even adapted into a Sega Saturn video game in 1995.
It has heroines who literally empower themselves
Hikari, Umi, and Fuu didn’t set out to be heroes, but they manage to become them anyway. Each girl has their own unique set of skills and personal quirks, as well as the shared goal of returning home to Tokyo. Despite the fact that they don’t know each other well, each girl manages to pool their skills and work together.
Starting with Hikaru, she is a great sword wielder due to the fact that her family runs a kendo place. She is also agile and a quick thinker and this comes across well in certain episodes. One notable episode involves her luring a mud monster to a water source in order to defeat it for good.
Next there is Umi, who is a little airheaded but also very loyal. Prior to the girls getting their official weapons, Umi uses a rapier well due to her fencing experience. One of the best episodes that showcases Umi’s character is when she gets severely injured, but still finds the will to fight for Hikaru’s sake.
Finally, there is Fuu who is intelligent, level-headed, and brave. Before getting her official weapon, Fuu’s archery experience and belief in herself allows her to skillfully use a bow and arrow. One episode that gives Fuu a chance to shine is when Fuu rescues Ferio, a mysterious swordsman, all by herself in the middle of a desert.
It has sympathetic and fun antagonists
As mentioned earlier, some of the antagonists have a wacky vibe similar to that of the ones found in Dragon Quest games. For instance, Caldina, the greedy dancer, initially reminded me of a villainess version of two Dragon Quest IV protagonists. As season 1 of the series progresses, you see she has a soft spot for Ascot, another antagonist younger than her.
Speaking of Ascot, he is a young monster tamer that sends various creatures to battle the girls in order to follow Lord Zagato’s orders to wipe out the opposition. Although he initially seems to be blindly following Zagato’s orders, Ascot actually cares more for his own monsters than Zagato himself.
In addition to Caldina and Ascot, Season 1 of the anime also features a character not present in the manga, the magic advisor Innova. Of all the antagonists, he may be the only one who can be considered truly evil due to the nature of his actions against the girls. This is clearly shown in an episode when he is willing to manipulate the girls’ emotions in order to make them lose the will to fight.
Yet the most surprising antagonist ends up being Lord Zagato. Although the girls are told that he is “evil” for kidnapping Princess Emaraude so that he can take Cephiro for himself, the truth is far more complicated and tragic. Zagato hints at his true feelings a few times throughout the story, most notably when the heroines finally confront him.
It has some down-to-earth worldbuilding
One of the strengths of the anime adaptation Magic Knight Rayearth, especially season 1, is that its worldbuilding is well developed. While the manga just has the girls going from point A to point B without giving them time to slow down, the anime allows the girls to get to know the world of Cephiro better through their visits to various towns as well as small restful moments.
In fact, the visits to towns show how everyday people are suffering due to Lord Zagato and the monsters running rampant in Cephiro. In one episode, the town people are downright scared of the girls even when they save a child from a monster. Some of the town people are also desperate in some cases, willing to kill the girls in order to guarantee their safety.
On the relaxing side of things, this mainly comes in the form of Mokona, the animal mascot that guides the girls on their journey. Besides being adorable to look at, Mokona can also summon useful items such as food and shelter from the jewel on its forehead. It can also use its jewel to communicate with Clef, the most powerful magic user in Cephiro.
One subtle bit of worldbuilding comes in the form of magical walkie-talkies that the girls receive from the swordsman Ferio. While the girls initially assume that they are magical wishing stones, the walkie-talkies are actually extremely useful. Not only do they allow the girls to keep in touch with Ferio, but they become a key element in defeating a monster in a certain episode.
It has themes worth thinking about
One of Magic Knight Rayearth‘s strongest themes discusses fate and whether or not everyone has the ability to choose it for themselves. In the world of Cephiro, everything is decided by the strength of one’s heart. On the surface, this seems immature and silly because the heroines are schoolgirls using the power of emotions such as righteous anger and compassion in order to fight and protect each other.
As the story progresses, you also see that strength of heart also benefits most of the antagonists as well. For instance, it is Ascot’s love for his monsters that allows him to continually summon them to fight against the heroines even as they keep being destroyed. A similar situation occurs with the sorceress Alcyone, whose love for Zagato gives her the strength to keep fighting against the girls even as she keeps failing. This even causes her to manipulate others for the sake of winning Zagato’s love.
On the other hand, Magic Knight Rayearth also considers what happens to people who don’t have the strength of heart needed to choose their fate. One episode states that the monsters roaming Cephiro come from the fear within people’s hearts. This is seen when the heroines are immediately attacked by a monster upon entering a village where the townspeople are hiding. Even when the girls defeat the monster, they are still feared by most of the villagers with the exception of a little girl they protected.
Thirty years after it was first published, Magic Knight Rayearth has gone on to become a significant manga, anime, and video game. Through its creative mixing of anime and video game subgenres, it told a complex story with powerful heroines, entertaining antagonists, and pragmatic worldbuilding. Magic Knight Rayearth set the tone for many isekai, mecha, and magical girl anime series to come, making its impact undeniable.