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Magic Knight Rayearth: The OAVs

What was reviewed: Three of three OAVs, soon to be released in the US by Manga Entertainment
Based on the television series Magic Knight Rayearth, currently being released in the US by Anime Works
Reviewed by:

Although the original Magic Knight Rayearth manga and television series was intended primarily for young Japanese girls, the quality of the animation, story, and characters, as well as the series' more serious moments, also endeared it to older Japanese males and, more recently, American otaku. So it was with this more mature audience in mind that the OAV (made-for-video) series, simply titled Rayearth, was created: a darker, more serious, and more realistic tale of the Magic Knights.

It's not an extension of the series, not a side story or movie, and not even a retelling of the original story. Rayearth is, in most respects, completely original. Directed by the TV series' director, Toshiki Hirano, Rayearth uses only the barest of plot outlines and character designs from the first and second TV series. Princess Emeraude keeps stable the entire living world, not only Cephiro but also Earth, and so Tokyo itself is also on the verge of collapse. A (taller) Master Clef appears atop Tokyo Tower, looking for the legendary ones who will stop the destruction.

Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu, now all in long, gloomy black dresses, are the only humans who can see Mokona. (The fluffy one is still just as cute; he just doesn't appear very often.) The only survivors of a strange supernatural event, the girls are contacted by Clef and by the Mashin, animal gods that merge with the girls. As the girls find their Mashin, they fight alone: Hikaru against Alcyone, Umi against Ascot, and Fuu against Ferio. Hikaru is wounded, but is helped by Zagato's younger brother Lantis (from the second series). Their final enemy is not Zagato but a character based on Eagle Vision (also from the second series).

In short, although the characters are based on the originals, there is quite a bit of difference. Alliances are switched, characters are mixed and matched from the two television series, and the plot has been played with. It's still undeniably Rayearth, though, since the basic themes of friendship and the indomitable will are intact. The girls' unbreakable friendship is never questioned, and they're still the same Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Only now, with the more mature direction, they're a lot moodier, get a lot bloodier, and get a lot more naked (when fighting inside the Mashin, they are, inexplicably, without clothing).

If this all sounds strange, remember that these kind of metamorphoses do happen quite often. Consider Hirano's statement: "We in Japan watch and are greatly influenced by large-scale Hollywood movies… so what we can no longer express visually by our own movies, we put into our anime."* That said, Rayearth's transformation from cuddly series to gritty video greatly resembles the transformation of American cartoons and comics to PG-13 live-action movies. Every change made to the characters, story, setting, and look of Rayearth is similar to those of the recent live-action versions of, say, Batman or X-Men. So in lieu of a Rayearth film, we have the OAVs. Like Batman or X-Men, they might not please fans of the original, but you won't know until you watch.

* Quote: Animerica Vol. 8 #1, p. 11.


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