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Magic Knight Rayearth. By CLAMP. Los Angeles, CA: Mixx Manga, 1998. 203p. $11.95. ISBN 1-892213-00-1.



Teens, older kids; very mild violence

Three fourteen-year-old girls--the vivacious, short Hikaru, the beautiful Umi, and the intellectual Fuu (you can tell she's an intellectual because she has short hair and wears glasses)--are called into another world, Cephiro, by the captive Princess Emeraude. Their destiny is to become the Legendary Magic Knights of Cephiro and revive the Spirits and rescue the Princess. Supplied with armor and potentially great magical abilities by Guru Clef, the Princess's chief wizard, they embark on a quest to gain magical weapons that will help them achieve their goals. They are accompanied by Mokona, a mysterious little beastie (think Pokemon's Pikachu, without the lightning but with the ability to draw useful items from the ornament on its forehead). They are opposed by Priest Zagato, the kidnapper of the Princess, and his minions.

Well, I'd say I was getting too old for this sort of thing, but I watch Pokemon on TV with some enjoyment, so it isn't the age factor. Quite frankly, this is a stupid book. Granted, it's only the first in a series and is setting up a lot of stuff, but I've read my share of starter books, and this one doesn't make the grade. The more I read it, the more it drives me to distraction.

For one thing, the main characters have minimal personalities at best. Only Hikaru comes off as any kind of person; the other two girls are little more than models. Their reaction to being thrown into another world (by falling from a high tower in Tokyo, no less) can be summed up as "Oh, darn it!" There are so many elements in this story that have been ripped off from other works that it's not even funny. For example, the girls have elemental powers (fire, air, water)--whoo, how original--and when Hikaru uses her fire magic, she sure does resemble Sailor Mars from Sailormoon. The notion of weapons that "evolve" along with the characters (and evolving characters, for that matter) is so totally video game that even the characters acknowledge that the story is like a video game. They acknowledge this several times, which leads to another major complaint: the story is LOADED with repetition. The three girls introduce themselves at least three times, explanations are often repeated, and statements are often repeated. For example, on page 44, Guru Clef tells the girls, "You cannot return to your world." On page 45, Hikaru says, "What...?!" and Guru Clef says, "I said, you cannot return to your world!" On page 46, Fuu says, "We cannot return home...?" and Guru Clef says, "Those summoned to Cephiro from another world cannot return home by their own will." Man, is this crappy storytelling! This sort of thing drastically slows down the story--and whereas I know that manga is paced more slowly than American comics, this is beyond slow; it's almost fossilized. It's just like rush hour traffic: start, stop, start, stop. ARGH!

The art, at least, is reasonably impressive, but there are so many "poster" scenes where a character just stands there amid a fantasy swirl that again, the story just grinds to a halt. Indeed, the art sometimes seems disconnected from the story. One peculiar technique is that sometimes the human characters, who are portrayed as shapely and sexy, are drawn as little dinky squat humanoids, especially in distant or jokey scenes. I've seen this done before, especially in animation, but not to this degree. I don't know if I like the technique or not. I do find the "munchkins" entertaining, especially when they act out the ridiculous thoughts of the characters, but on the other hand there was at least one point when I thought they were different characters altogether. The only thing I really liked about the art was the creative use of translated sound effects. (BTW, there's no translator listed, though the person's name might have been covered up on the verso--which has to rank among the most annoying versos I've ever seen, with the Mixx Manga logo covering up most of a page of repeated copyright information. Who designed that thing?) CLAMP, which is a collective of four women, also provided a special "introducing the creators" comic at the end of this book, which I found more interesting than the book itself....

However I may feel about this book, it's very popular (it's claimed to be CLAMP's #1 manga), especially among teenage girls. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone as a good read, but it's certain to be popular in YA collections. There's relatively little text, too (virtually no narration), so it might be a good book for reluctant or low-ability readers.

Sorry, I couldn't find a purchasing link to this volume, but Amazon does carry later volumes.

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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