Review: Rayearth (2000)

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If there is one thing about anime, and in particular anime from the creative pool called Clamp (check out the X review for more info on the Clamp collective), it is that nothing ever happens on a mundane level. If you find yourself in a Clamp story, of indeterminate high-school age and Chosen (it doesn’t really matter what for) you can at least be sure the last thing you are going to be is bored. It’s the world at stake (again) and it’s up to you and your friends to fight the forces of evil (again). Will you prevail? Well probably, but it won’t be easy and you’ll probably take quite a beating in the process. Lucky you’re blessed with astonishing, supernatural powers, but then in the end it will be your humanity, not your super-humanity, which will defeat evil and save the world.

A little formulaic perhaps, but what is continually satisfying about Clamp’s work is that it’s never quite as straightforward as that. Rayearth, known in its manga form as Magic Knights Rayearth, might be aimed at a slightly younger age group than something like X but don’t ever mistake it for Disney (can I get sued for saying that?). Underneath its surface moral lessons abound, orbiting a central theme of self-awareness versus self-delusion. Never mind that there are huge, hulking spirit-beasts, called Deities, whose colossal battles destroy whole city blocks, this is a story about the willingness to face the realities of growing up, to understand and accept the role of personal responsibility and all the pain that accompanies it.

The three main characters — school mates Hikaru, Umi and Fuu — find themselves nearing the end of school and the reality of never seeing each other again. Under an enchanted Sakura, they make a fateful, perhaps childishly innocent wish to stay together forever. True to the tenant of Be Careful What You Wish For they get their opportunity but not in the way they expect. There are forces at large in the universe settling in Earth’s dimension with the intention of destroying all life in order to fulfill their wish. What precisely this wish is remains unclear throughout, but it doesn’t change the fact that all that stands between Earth and its destruction are three unprepared teenagers. The friends must first face their own fears and self-deceptions alone before they can team up and fully assimilate their spirit beasts, Deities of immense power who need the humanity in each girl to be free from illusion in order to manifest their full warlike aspects and defend the earth. Yet illusions are not the divine providence of humanity and defending the earth requires strength of both body and spirit. The gods of Cephiro, the forces behind the threat to the earth, delude themselves also and in the end it is the girls that show them how to face reality.

Originally, I was supposed to review the third volume in this trilogy only. I sat down to watch it, and while the action was kind of cool, the story was interesting and it was easy enough to spot the bad guy (he’s always the prettiest), was that guy in black a friend or foe? And why were the girls grieving over the death of an enemy? Things seemed a little more complex than just coming in a third of the way through the story allowed. I was forced to hunt down the first two volumes just to fill out the details (so you’re getting a three for one deal here).

In order, things make a little more sense, and Rayearth is yet another example of how lovely both Clamp’s visual and narrative style can be. While it is not overtly violent it is often graceful, and action packed enough to hold interest. The plot unfolds well despite the fact that on the surface it seems to be aimed at a slightly older, post Sailor Moon age-group and things move a little too fast to get any more complicated than that. There are a few plot holes, the worst of which is that it is never completely clear as to what the much talked about ‘final wish’ is, and exactly who made it. Wishes seem to be a bit of a theme in Clamp and seem to have something to do with a hidden desire to have something happen no matter what the consequences to yourself or indeed anybody else.

But anyway, despite the confusion over this issue, it is still a pleasant, inoffensive movie. The music is quite nice, very operatic in parts although not constantly dominating scenes, and there is nothing really grating about the dub. There is a lot of yelling and screaming which got a bit annoying but that’s fairly standard for anime of any sort and it only becomes a real problem during the battle scenes.

It won’t blow you away, probably, but it’s fun, nice to look at and easy to listen to. As well, it’s interesting if you feel like thinking about it that much. Personally I liked what Rayearth had to say under its surface, its basic comments on self-awareness, and I liked its consistency in that respect. The characters, even the so-called evil ones, confront this basic issue in one way or another. Whether because of a need to hide from pain, from fear or from truth each character reaches a point of illumination, of understanding which is not only crucial to their survival but to their humanity, to what they believe is right and wrong. Maybe I have selective memory, but I don’t remember any Disney film trying to teach me anything quite so adult. Trust Clamp to turn what could have been simple entertainment into lessons for the heart.

6 Double Edged Wishes out of 10.
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