For CLAMP, Magic Knight Rayearth is definitely one of their higher profile properties, even if it has been somewhat overshadowed by the likes of CardCaptor Sakura, X, and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. As a property that helped birth the likes of Fushigi Yugi (Miaka’s panic over a lack of burgers in that story is taken directly from Umi’s own panic abt the lack of BOS Burgers in Cefiro) and Twelve Kingdoms, as well as CLAMP’s own mega-stardom (as X at this time had yet to take off like it eventually would), it’d be difficult for it to become forgotten, as some of the more obscure CLAMP works largely have (The Legend of Chung Hyang and Man of Many Faces spring readily to my own mind, but there are many others one could substitute in just as easily). So little surprise that Dark Horse came riding in to save the property when TokyoPop went bust.
Sadly, despite some decent elements, Magic Knight Rayearth just isn’t that good, a fact which primarily has to do with a pacing that would make an Olympic runner feel winded. Perhaps over the years that it was serialized it felt properly structured, but collected all together, Rayearth just feels rushed. Moments where the reader is supposed to truly feel for the characters ring hollow, because we simply don’t get the time to make a connection with our heroines. This is most strongly felt at the end of the story, which is supposed to be utterly tragic – and with good reason! – but left me cold. For me, Rayearth’s story was like being dragged around by a cheetah as someone shouted a story at me.
I actually felt kind of resentful at the end. Rayearth is supposed to be a seminal tale, and I felt like I’d been short-shrift. I was presented with these decent characters and an intriguing world, only for both of them to be barely fleshed out. The evolving swords and armor may’ve been a cool concept, and actually pretty cool in execution, but cool devices hardly a story makes. There are also startling moments of illustrative consistency, made all the more startling since the Dark Horse edition was apparently “re-mastered” prior to its release.
Speaking of the particular edition, Dark Horse does a decent enough job here, although like the Chobits omnibuses before it, the book suffers from a spine prone to creasing just from reading the volume. The price-point is difficult to argue with, as you get three volumes worth of material for $19.99 (I myself paid $14.95).
Having read this, I was suddenly hit with a question – is CLAMP actually good at pacing at all? CardCaptor Sakura feels fine, but it is the odd one out in my experience, as their shorter series feel rushed and their lengthier ones feel dragged past expiration date.
Anyway, the upshot is that I don’t recommend Magic Knight Rayearth. It looks rather pretty most of the time (although the battles are generally a muddled mess), it has an interesting approach to armor and weaponry, and the characters are fine, but the pacing is terrible and the characters remain archetypes throughout. There are much better fish in the sea, and if you want some CLAMP supernaturally-flavored shoujo, CardCaptor Sakura is a much more satisfying read.