This will be a pretty long review, so just skip to the end if you want my basic opinion.
As the first anime selection here on DTV Hell, I felt it would be a good idea to go with something that had a solid history behind it. You know, an OVA based on a good manga or series. So, naturally, Aquarion was out, and the Escaflowne movie was released in theaters, so that’s two strikes against it right there.
Honestly, I have no idea why I’m ripping on Shoji Kawamori right now, he has nothing to do with this OVA. However, I have been struggling valiantly to figure out who I can blame for this massive letdown, when the people behind the original manga are some of my absolute favorite writers and artists in Japanese animation.
For those who don’t actually know, CLAMP is an all-female manga making powerhouse, with a distinctive art style, a love of sci-fi and fantasy works with a slice-of-life feel, and an emphasis on the theme of love in its many forms, be they standard or, in some cases, really creepy and weird. You may not know their name, but if you are an anime fan, you’ve at least heard of some of their famous series and seen their influence. They brought us Cardcaptor Sakura, X, Chobits, Tsubasa Chronicles, and even did the character designs for the hit series Code Geass. However, my personal favorite work of the team is the series of Magic Knight Rayearth.
Magic Knight Rayearth is the story of three girls who get wisked away to another dimension, where they are given extraordinary powers to fulfill the request of a damsel in distress. They go on an RPG-style journey, even leveling up to some extent, as they search for three magical giant robots that will allow them to confront the villainous Lord Zagato. The ending of season one features one of the most fantastically well constructed surprises I’ve ever seen, and by itself qualifies Magic Knight Rayearth to compete for “Best Anime Ever,” but season two takes it up quite a few notches, culminating in yet another great ending. Both seasons are now available in a box set from Anime Works, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. However, that isn’t why we are here, is it?
No, this is a review of Rayearth. Not Magic Knight Rayearth, just Rayearth. How much worse is it? Oh, quite a bit. Quite a bit indeed.
I do have to point out the good first though. This OVA is, as expected, very beautiful. Much like Myst in its day. Also like Myst, however, it is effectively a beautiful void. The fight sequences are solid, which is a good thing since they take center stage, but really, nothing else worthwhile really happens in this production. And the dub sucks, too.
We start on apparently season two Cephiro, and Emeraude is totally walking around naked for no reason. Well, actually it’s because her love, Zagato, is sitting in the room, though he is fully clothed so I’m still rather confused.
I’d better get this out of the way. Most of the characters here act almost nothing like their original character, except for Alcyone and the Magic Knights. Other characters whose characters develop in the original series get no such development here, and we even see Eagle Vision and Lantis at the very beginning of the story, whereas in the series, they didn’t show up until season two. Oh, and good luck figuring out any real backstory here. The DVD extras just use most of the plot from the series to explain character backgrounds that aren’t given at all in the actual OVA.
Anyway, we get over to Earth and see the Magic Knights, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu, just doing whatever the hell they do with their spare time. Now, given the apparent age difference between the series characters and the OVA characters, you might think that this is a sequel. However, if you do, I’m not sure you’ve seen enough anime. Much like Escaflowne, Eureka Seven, or Revolutionary Girl Utena, this OVA effectively is a retelling of the original story. Anime does this quite a bit, and in many cases, it doesn’t work out so well. At the least, our heroes are going their seperate ways after graduation (don’t we all), and they want to remain totally BFFs forever, you guys!
So, they wish on a tree so that their wish will be heard by the fairy who live in the tree. Or, perhaps the adorable stuffed bunny thing called Makona. That works too.
So, Hikaru chases Makona into traffic, as she suddenly starts to trip balls. No, literally, she is surrounded by crystal balls. Then, after a conversation with the voice in her head named after a luxury car line, she gets a weird gem thing embedded in her hand. And, they call it an Ovum. Yeah, uh, I think they really are trying to by symbolic here, but it is CLAMP, so who can really say. Also, there is no joke I can think of here that isn’t either ridiculously forced or offensive.
So, Umi and Fuu start seeing the marshmellow demon from Hikaru’s bad trip as well, bringing this in line with Hunchback 2, but at least they are all safe and sound. Until the earth starts getting effed up by Cephiro overlaying it’s dimension onto ours. And, as expected, only the three girls actually have the ablity to do anything. Well, except for Clef, the master mage who time warps the planet to protect its inhabitants from the crazy shit that’s about to go down. Not entirely sure how this master mage is so pathetic, but my best guess is that a new level cap is available, and he’s a bit behind on his grinding. So, of course, the more studious Alcyone shows up to crack some skulls. She shows up a bit early, and ices some poor civilians for no good reason before Clef time-shifts everyone else. Then, we see our villain get attacked by one of our heroes, who decides to just leave the villain be for no good fucking reason.
Anyway, the girls are the only ones left on the planet, and Hikaru then realizes that the prophecy made wishing to be friends forever a bad idea. Oh, and Ferio is a villain now. Why? They needed one of the series’ main characters to pad the numbers. That’s the only reason. The trio locate Clef, who recognizes Hikaru and spots the Ovum, saying that the three are being tested. Clef attempts to explain, but, much like in the original series, he gets interrupted and proceeds to tell them nothing useful yet. Alcyone tosses around dialouge with Clef, and proceeds to transform into a giant cat robot thing. So, since she’s the heroine and all, Hikaru gains her own Super Robot, Lexus the Rune God. Well, Rune God, deity, whatever. So, after another acid trip, she begins a duel with Alcyone. Fire vs. Ice. SPOILER ALERT: Fire wins. Oh, and of course she’s naked in the cockpit. Did you expect anything less? And, borrowing another thing from Super Robot fantasy shows, she is physically hurt when her mech takes damage. Nice finish, though.
In the end, Cephiro decends, and Hikaru tries to blow it to smithereens, I think. I’m not really sure, actually. And that’s basically the end of episode one, with Hikaru getting beam cannoned by some random mech that comes out of nowhere. Lantis shows up to help the injured Hikaru, and so much stuff is said and done that means absolutely nothing to the audience.
Episode two starts with a recap, since OVAs tended to be released one episode at a time originally. Thank goodness for American economic sensiblities, because there is no way in hell I would buy this an episode at a time. However, another interesting thing about the OVA becomes quite noticeable during the intro. Basically, this OVA has about three songs, and it repeats them constantly, though in the case of one of them, they at least had two versions of it. Though, the songs are pretty bland, even if they are enjoyable. Fuu stands near the ocean and muses about the idea of being able to fight like Hikaru as Mokona pops up to be adorable. Inside the resturaunt, Umi notices a train go by, which Fuu realizes is an automated train. Convenient, I suppose, since they will need to fight soon enough. Thankfully, Fuu also found a local Subway to break into, but reveals that she has gained an Ovum of her own, which sparks a confrontation between the two girls.
“Let’s promise not to take off on each other.” Yeah, that gets shot to shit in two seconds as Fuu wanders off alone to do battle. Umi ends up chatting with Clef about how Fuu’s Ovum gives her the ability to find the truth. Ferio, true to form, goes after Fuu, while the bratty and (in this case) irredeemable Ascot, stays behind to harass Clef and Umi. We get a short flashback that explains Fuu seeing that people in the other dimension are dying. Which, of course, is bullshit, but we’ll get to that a the end. Ferio attacks the train with locusts, but Fuu escapes him. Ascot attacks Clef and Umi with acidic bubbles. Ingenious plan really, wiping out a schoolgirl with a deadly bubble bath. Girls can’t resist a nice bubble bath, right?
We get some more flashes to the crazy people of Cephiro, and Hikaru dreams of how she met her friends. Lantis shows up and drops Hikaru in a pocket dimension after berating her for sucking at her job of protector. What a dick.
Fuu managed to teleport within a stone’s throw of her objective, so she gets moving after Ferio shows up again. God, everyone from Cephiro is an asshole, just belittling the girls. Umi isn’t doing much better, but for not having much power, she’s trying. Ascot then proceeds to summon a giant enemy crab.
After a little while, Fuu and Umi manage to gain their own Giant Robot things, with Umi’s conveniently located right next to where she and Clef were running around. So, I guess Fuu was the only one who actually had to do any real work. Man, everyone and everything in this movie exists to torture the heroines for no good reason. Fantastic. So, Umi gets her dragon god after it destroys a good portion of the area around the river, and Fuu ends up destroying a stadium with her god. It’s probably good that no one is around to see them do all of this, or they would have so much property damage to pay for.
To be honest, this episode does actually work to provide more character development for the protagonists, but when inevitably compared to the series or manga, it feels extremely rushed. Then, we see Alcyone apparently getting groped to death, since we don’t actually see what happens to her. The battles are now underway, with Fuu getting her ass kicked, and Umi basically fighting Ascot quite well. Fuu does much better after she realizes that Hikaru is still alive, knocking Ferio quite a ways away and defeating him in one shot. She is saddened by the possible death of Ferio, but that turns out to be bullcrap by the end. Ascot reappears, emotionless as usual, but somehow, Umi thinks he’s different. And, of course, she’s right for no good reason. And that’s the end of episode two.
Episode three starts with a looks at Cephiro when it was peaceful and fantastical, with Zagato and Emeraude giving each other longing stares. So, for that, Zagato ices himself, rightly pissing off his brother.
We then pick up from the cliffhanger, with Fuu and Umi outnumbering Ascot, but still having trouble for no good reason. Ferio and Lantis confront each other about Emeraude’s wishes, and Ascot calls down the demon lightning. Luckily, Hikaru shows up with her giant robot, finally completing the set and pulling a combo attack that has sadly been excluded from Super Robot Wars. I’m not sure why the series has never been in any of the games, but hey, it only has robots in the second half, and the OVA is criminally lacking in attacks for the mech beast things.
The trio goes to find Clef, who, as expected, survived a building falling on his head, and finally, FINALLY gives us the whole backstory. And, it’s a lot more cliché then the original series or manga while still hitting on all the most important elements of the original manga story. Yay, proof of the cheap knockoff. And one of the cutaways in the English dub apparently forgets to replay the proper audio at one point.
Anyway, Hikaru asks to meet with Emeraude, and Clef looks at her as if she had just asked to fuck him. The other girls are about as surprised, but listening to Hikaru’s “sound reasoning” about Emeraude’s voice belying her real nature, they agree to the insane plan. And I think we all know how that will turn out in the end, right?
However, we have one last big battle before the budget runs out, so Eagle summons the white dragon robot we saw blast Hikaru in the first episode. There isn’t that much to say about the fight itself, though it is prefaced by the trio actually getting to go to Emeraude’s castle. Eagle comes by to steal their magic powers, but that goes about as well as you expect. The trio is broken free, and they get the chance to talk to Emeraude, kinda. Lantis and Ferio show up and get them out, letting them summon the combining Super Robot God thing, Rayearth. They even end up borrowing Lantis’s Deity as a weapon. They do end up destroying the Deity, at least twice, but it just keeps coming back. In the end, they actually do get Emeraude to wake up from her nightmare, and Eagle is defeated.
And after all that, the Earth is restored, with only the property damage remaining. I’m not going to go into how that doesn’t make sense to me, because I need to wrap this up.
There are great things about the OVA, mostly the animation and the battles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t manage to even attempt to live up to the original series or manga, and as such suffers immensely for this. And the dub is just abysmal, compared to the rather well done series dub. The story is much weaker, to say the least, and without having seen the original show, you won’t understand some of the characters, and if you DID see the series, the changes will just piss you off.
Sadly, this production ends up in the circle of Betrayal, for these issues. I don’t want to put it there, as the animation is actually quite good, and there was potential for a much better story here. It just doesn’t hold up. It isn’t a worthwhile investment, unless maybe you find a copy for a few bucks, just to say you own this OVA.
So, what’s up next after that disappointment? Well, according to the DVD case, it is “A Film Beyond Belief.”