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Magic Knight Rayearth: Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

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Magic Knight Rayearth Blu-ray CoverWhat They Say:
Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki, and Fuu Hououji are just three average Japanese schoolgirls. While on a field trip to the Tokyo Tower, the three girls’ minds are on anything but different worlds filled with magic and wonder. That is, until Princess Emeraude, the Pillar of Cephiro, cries out for the Magic Knights to save her world–and that just happens to be those three!

The girls must learn to control the magic they suddenly possess, drive back the monsters that plague the land, revive the Rune Gods that have been sealed away, and then fight against the High Priest Zagato, who has kidnapped Princess Emeraude. It’s the only way they can return home, for willpower influences Cephiro, and it is the Princess’s will that the three girls become the Magic Knights of legend, and save her world! Mecha, magic and mystery abound in Magic Knight Rayearth!

See what becomes of Cephiro in this complete Blu-ray collection, containing both seasons of the classic CLAMP anime presented in High-Definition for the first time!

The Review:
The audio on the episodes themselves come through fine in Japanese and English LCPM 2.0 with no distortions during playback. The extras though have varying levels. Some sound perfectly fine but others have a hiss dating back to the VHS / Beta era of camera equipment. So results may vary.

On the episodes themselves, the video quality is quite exquisite. I’ve had the prior releases by Anime Works and this set is the best-looking presentation by far. It benefits greatly from the modern blu-ray technologies and remastering capabilities, correcting and improving on the errors found in the original film clips. The extras vary in video quality. Some look good fo modern HD while others clearly had no video enhancement and looked like they came right off the classic console or VHS releases. We’ll tackle this a bit more in the ‘extras’ section.

There is a slipcover with the three lead characters standing in front of a sky-blue-ish background with the title masthead above them. The back has the text of the ‘what they say’ section taking up the upper left area. Although it’s clearly distinct in black lettering against the sky blue background, it’s rather small and hard to read. The upper right has very detailed artwork displayed prominently. There are more screencaps displayed horizontally across the page, with features listings and technical information taking up the bottom 1/3. The actual case is a plastic blu-ray case designed to hold 6 discs on individual pages. There is a reversible insert here. One side is exactly like the slipcover and the other has a different bit of artwork on its front but the rest is exactly the same.

Each disc has footage and music from a given season. In the lower left corner is a circular-styled symbol with text based menu options. When not highlighted these are somewhat easy to read though the text is a bit small. When lit thought, it’s nearly indistinguishable on smaller TVs.

This set is just exhaustive in the amount of material. Discotek Media really went all out collecting various kinds of videos to watch. In the ‘extras’ link on the 6th disc, there are 47 separate links to interviews with voice cast and production staff, as well as openings, closings, episode omake, TV spots, trailers, storyboards and production artwork. For example, I’m sitting here looking at footage from a Rayearth console game I’d honestly not known of before. The interview with series director Toshihiro Hirano was most insightful on the challenges of adapting CLAMP’s work for television. It was also fun to hear 90s remarks from Wendee Lee and Lex Lang as well. The English interviews are a bit had to hear which is both a little frustrating but fun for the nostalgia of pre-HD era recordings. But yeah, I could write paragraphs on this section alone.

Content:(please note that contents, portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to unconventional dark fantasy tales, the ladies of CLAMP have proven themselves to be excellent storytellers. From X/1999 to XxxHolic and various works in between, their stories have often featured lavishly beautiful characters facing horrible situations in supernatural settings. Magic Knight Rayearth is a prime example of this.

Starting in Tokyo during a museum field trip, three female junior high students are suddenly whisked away into a fantastic realm with floating islands and odd creatures. The girls, named Hikaru Shidou, Umi Ryuuzaki and Fuu Houiuji, are met by Master Mage Clef. He explains they’re trapped in a world called Cephiro, which needs the three Legendary Magic Knights to save it. Cephiro has beings whose strong wills can make miracles, or allow monsters to be created through their darkest fears.

Much has to do with a being called the Pilar, who keeps Cephiro existing through strength of sheer will. The current one, Princess Emeraude, has been imprisoned by her high priest Zagato. So the girls have been called psychically by Emeraude to awaken three powerful Rune Gods (large mecha) to aid their quest to save the princess and the realm. The ladies initially refuse, saying the people of Cephiro should solve their own problems, but Clef notes Zagato is virtually unbeatable without their help and there’s no way home without his defeat.

Like I said, CLAMP (whose name means potato) have proven themselves the masters of dark fantasy, and their story here is excellently done. Rayearth itself initially feels like lighter fare. However, it does take a rather shocking turn in the end of the first season, which (although well-done) is a bit of a downer, all things considered. The second season has the girls return to Cephiro where things have gone horribly wrong as a result of their actions. They resolve to put things right and have to fight many menaces along the way, while finding a new ruler for the realm.

Right from the get go, you have these teens who’re taken from Earth and thrust right into a fantasy adventure. Rayearth is akin to the ’80s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon in that regard. The general tone remains somewhat lighthearted, with characters randomly alternating from chibi (super-deformed) to normal designs in an instant. The series is directed by Toshihiro Hirano (Hades Project Zeorymer, Vampire Princess Miyu), who demonstrated an affinity for guiding mecha and strong female characters through unusual situations in Fight! Iczer-1. In some respects, the mix of mecha in a fantasy setting works as well as it did for Vision of Escaflowne and Aura Battler Dunbine, though those shows went in different directions from Rayearth.

There are those who may look at this series and be instantly tempted to compare it to Sailor Moon or other shoujo fare but Rayearth isn’t quite like them. Part of me wants to say it’s a mix of the darker elements of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the fantasies from Record of Lodoss War, even though those two shows are from different eras of anime. There are some lighter elements similar to other CLAMP stuff such as Cardcaptor Sakura, but they are few. Overall, the first season has decent pacing and story development. The second isn’t quite as good to be honest but the action is still solid, I was still invested in the characters’ fates and the conclusion, while not as good as the first season is reasonable at least.

In Summary:
Though it hasn’t had the notoriety recently that it once had, Magic Knight Rayeath was one of a few shows in the 90s that got many women into collecting anime and manga and so it deserves to have a decent place in fandom history. I’m glad Discotek Media has given this show the treatment it deserves even if I’m not super into the magical girl genre. Hopefully, I’ll get to catch the OAV series someday. But in any case, just for the picture quality and the educational value of the extras here, I have to say this set is one of the best anime releases of 2017, and definitely for the serious fan’s collection.

Features: Both English and Japanese Versions, Remastered in HD from the Original Film Elements, All Next Episode Previews, Bumpers, Recaps, & Omake Endings, English Pilot, Opening &V Endings Collection, Trailers & Promotional Spots, Interviews with English Cast & Crew, English Outtakes and Greetings, Production Art Gallery, Storyboards, Mokona’s Song, Episode 49 English Dub Director Commentary

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A / C+ (varied)
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A++

Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: January 31st, 2017
MSRP: $99.95
Running Time: 1176 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Samsung 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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