Magic Knight Rayearth
There was a nice, albeit old, poster at the local anime store showing the three girls who star in this series. I remembered there being an impressive element to this story, saw that my review was old, and decided to re-watch and re-review it. It was sort of nice finding an old-style fan-sub tape too, complete with that classic "many duplications" fuzz, credit screen and cultural trailer.
Welcome to the magical world of Cefiro, the perfect place for fantasy adventure. It's got pleasant people, perfect weather, lots of magic and the occasional monster to be vanquished. And it is a world where champions and heroes are made because of a strange little quirk in the physics of this dimension. In Cefiro the things you desire, and the strength with which you pursue them, actually have an affect upon the world itself.
Indeed the true core of the world is not boring stuff like rocks and gravity. It is instead the mind of a princess, the support of Cefiro, who prays for all to be good in the world. But it seems like some of the actors in this drama aren't playing their parts properly. The balance has been upset and the world is paying the price. Evil now stalks these once innocent lands, and even the lands themselves, founded on will, have begun to collapse in its absence. But there is a legend for times just such as these, the princess has the power to summon three girls from another world who might be able to become magic knights and save the land from disaster.
Yep, it's CLAMP doing a fantasy RPG series. And the world is both as perfect and as unsubtle as I've indicated. It's just so obviously designed to be the backdrop for an epic adventure that it loses any sense of depth or realism. It's a stage prop, and the girls even comment on how perfectly it fits the "role-playing" model. For example at the very start of the adventure they get certain items which they can use to fight with. These items, quite literally, grow over the course of the adventure. It's almost exactly like the sort of character progression you'd see in a video game.
The characters themselves are also pretty simple. The young but fiery Hikaru is of the never give up school of genki energy. She also has a tendency to give emotional speeches about "striving ever onwards" and is a bit of a dunce when confronted with deception. She also tends to be the one who gets most visibly injured, because her boyish character allows that, although the only visible effect seems to be another speech. The rich, and theoretically spoilt, Umi actually comes off as being the normal one.... at least when she's not spazzing out and chasing the annoying mascot / plot device around. Fuu, with brown hair and glasses, is obviously the intelligent but insecure one. Which is a good thing because the other two tend to be easily distracted. They're attractive enough in a shoujo sort of way, although they're also in the running for "biggest eyes in anime" and have these odd eyelashes that look razor sharp in closeup.
The plot is, and feel embarrassed if you didn't see this coming, pretty simplistic. The girls are given an annoying little puff ball called Mokona. He's a pet for Hikaru, a source of annoyance to Umi and spends the rest of his time as a plot device. He can summon anything the story needs, including advice though he can't talk himself and is also a compass, leading the girls from one encounter to another. Those encounters are classical RPG, learn magic, get weapons, get mythical weapons, boss fight, roll credits. Specifically they must free three legendary mashins in order to become magic knights so they can save cefiro.
The strangest thing about this title is that the villains are excellent. Most of them manage more depth and personality than the leads, which is just really weird. It's almost as if this is a game and because we're "playing" as the three girls we don't need to know their backstory. But we do need to know that of the villains. They also have more varied powers and motivations which play a large part in determining how the story plays out. The villains also have a clever plot twist behind their actions, one that underpins a rather nice conclusion.
So is it good? Um, not really. It's just too shallow and unsubtle to really be taken seriously. The girls are very likeable but they have no depth or variation to them. They need a backstory, more varied interaction, and most important a deeper involvement in the plot. Since it seems that the plot is almost running on automatic, they don't have to worry about food, tactics, navigating or training, which makes it feel a bit like they don't do anything other than deliver emphatic speeches, frequently while their mortal enemy waits for them to finish. It is watchable, and the conclusion is elegant, but it could have been a whole heap better.
Certainly it's not getting any newer. The character designs are quite complex, clearly either taken from a manga or intended for a game, which means they look great. It also means they don't actually animate that well, so the movement is far from smooth. At worst it's more like a transition from one pose shot to the next. The complex effects, such as spell casting, are of course re-used generic sequences. There's also way too much talking during any action, which takes much of the energy out of it. The animation does the job, but its not nearly interesting enough to keep the attention of the action fans. The voices are varied and decent, although the villains seem to have better voices (or is it just dialog?). The music, barring one awful electric guitar riff in the opening, is decent but there's a lot of re-use.
CLAMP, the renowned but weird shoujo house, do a very gameish fantasy RPG in which three girls from Tokyo must become magic knights in a strange alternate world. It's not very subtle, and the villains are cooler than the leads, but it does have some nice artwork and a neat little twist at the end. Watchable, although a bit dated and too talky for the action fans.