When it comes to telling stories with memorable, realistic girls and women, CLAMP is the go-to creative team. They have brought us classics like Cardcaptor Sakura, Clover, and Chobits. Among those stories stands Magic Knight Rayearth.
For some, shojo manga is synonymous with romance. That’s fine. In fact, it makes perfect sense. Shojo stories gravitate towards romance, and it sells well. But Magic Knight Rayearth centers on something more important to the fourteen-year-old protagonists than romance: friendship.
I have a weakness for stories about young women that are about friendship. Too often we are inundated with stories of women who compete with each other (a product of male-centric stories where the women are often competing for the favor of the leading man). Most shojo manga breaks down that stereotype and presents female friendships that are strong and healthy. Think about Sailor Moon and how much emphasis is placed on loving your friends. Magic Knight Rayearth follows in that tradition of portraying friendship between girls.
Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi are three different girls from three different backgrounds. They are all at Tokyo Tower for a field trip when they are suddenly pulled out of their reality and into a magical kingdom called Cefiro. They are drawn there by Princess Emeraude, who needs the help of three women from a different world. The girls are instructed to work on becoming Magic Knights to save this strange world.
It’s a classic premise, one that’s seen over and over again in countless other media. What makes Magic Knight Rayearth worth reading is the focus of the relationship between the three girls. They start out as complete strangers, but they make the conscious decision to trust each other and protect one another. There’s even a part of the story where they compliment each other on their contributions to their newly-formed team. This is the manga I want to hand to a teenaged girl.
The girls gain magic powers and swords, but their true strength comes from their heart. They aren’t butchers; they are compassionate towards their adversaries and truly want to do good in Cefiro. Their mercy and wisdom are rewarded as they gain the power they need to save Princess Emeraude.
Magic Knight Rayearth is inspired in part by CLAMP’s experience playing fantasy role-playing games. The blend of a woman-centric heroic tale rooted in friendship is a winning combination. As someone who is accustomed to reading romance in her shojo, I surprisingly didn’t miss it at all. In fact, I’m left hungry for more kick-butt stories about female knights being besties and upgrading their armor and swords.
Magic Knight Rayearth is a completed story. You can purchase it from Dark Horse Comics. There is also a series from CLAMP called Magic Knight Rayearth 2, which continues to tell the story of Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi in Cefiro. There is also an anime available on Hulu in America.