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This Shojo series is one of the most popular creations of the creative collective known as CLAMP, blending Magical Girl, Humongous Mecha and High Fantasy into a unique and entertaining mix.

Schoolgirls Shidou Hikaru, Ryuuzaki Umi and Hououji Fuu are visiting Tokyo Tower with their respective middle-school classes when a mysterious force addresses them as "Magic Knights", begs for their help, and then transports them to another world. The three fourteen-year-olds find themselves in the magical world of Cephiro, brought there by a wizard named Clef. Cephiro, he explains, is held stable and safe by the constant attention of the Pillar, a princess named Emeraude. But Emeraude is now the prisoner of her former high priest, Zagato, and monsters have begun to overrun the countryside. Clef informs them that they are the Magic Knights of prophecy, who will save Cephiro from its impending doom. He gives them mystic armor and magical powers to use in their quest. But before he can explain how to use them, agents of Zagato appear on the scene, and the girls are dispatched on their mission with only the faintest idea of what they have to do.

In the course of their adventures, the three girls must discover their magical gifts and hone them while fighting their way across the countryside through hordes of monsters. They encounter Presea, the Master Smith, who sends them on a quest to find the materials for their magic weapons. And they learn that to accomplish the prophecy they embody, they must find and awaken the great Mashin, the elemental god-creatures who sleep and waken only to protect Cephiro. In the process the girls, initially strangers, must learn about each other, and how to trust and depend on their teammates; they soon become fast friends. Dodging, defeating and even subverting the deadly agents of Zagato, they finally come to the point of fulfilling the ancient prophecy — only to discover that what they must do is nothing at all like what they expected.

Magic Knight Rayearth, despite its deceptively simple "schoolgirls on a quest" appearance, is a surprisingly complex story, with layers of motivation and backstory behind the events of Cephiro's crisis. What seems at first to be a simple, straight-line adventure/quest plot turns out to be darker and far more complex, and the final revelation of the prophecy's true meaning forces Hikaru, Umi and Fuu to make mature, grown-up choices that belie the earlier impression of "fairytale fun".

One of the story's greatest strengths is characterization. The girls are unique and clearly drawn — Genki Girl Hikaru, snobby Rich Bitch Umi and the bookish, excessively-polite Fuu (who addresses every creature they kill as "monster-san") are about as disparate a trio as can be found; how they work through their differences and forge a determined and skilled team of fighters is one of the show's triumphs of character development. But even the villains are surprisingly complex and even sympathetic on some levels.

Although ultimately a drama, Magic Knight Rayearth leavens its serious storylines with occasional mild doses of slapstick and Super-Deformed action. Much like the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, this comedy doesn't detract from the story but instead throws its more serious aspect into sharper relief. Although supposedly targeted at young teen girls, it is easily watchable by adults of all ages.

There's also an OVA, which changes around the plot to be set in the real world, and the manga has a sequel. The second season of the anime was adapted from the manga sequel, which primarily dealt with the aftermath of the Magic Knights' actions in the first season.

There is also a video game adaption of it for a couple systems in Japan, with the Sega Saturn version released in the United States by Working Designs. This version is noteworthy not so much for the actual game, but for the Development Hell that it went through - it was delayed for so long that it ended up as the final title ever released for the Saturn in the U.S.

There's also the Character Sheets.

Tropes used in Magic Knight Rayearth include:

  • Attack Drone The FTO in the manga has these.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There's a lot of new contents in the anime compared to the manga which went straightforward to the Rune Gods. This is used to develop the girls further and other antagonists get developed this way.
  • After the End: The second season. Cephiro has been reduced to a wasteland and a crystal palace filled with refugees.
  • A God Am I: Subverted. Hikaru actually becomes the Pillar of Cephiro, but immediately uses her powers to get rid of her status and the Pillar System, and allow Cephiro to be shaped by all its inhabitants instead of one person.
    • Could be played straight with Debonair, though.
  • All Your Colors Combined: The Magic Knights perform a spell called Rainbow Flash against Zagato.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The first episode where they get their magic.
    • Also one of the first shots in the third opening (second opening on the old R1 DVD releases), is of Hikaru naked with fire burning in the background, and she is portrayed with no nipples or genitalia whatsoever.
  • Anti-Villain: Eagle Vision, oh so much.
    • Well, pretty much all of them except Debonair
  • As Long as There Is Evil: Is Lady Debonair's claim to immortality as The Heartless of Cephiro. Averted, however, after Hikaru pretty much rations out her godhood to everyone, and the Combined Energy Attack blasts her into true nothingness.
  • The Atoner: Several in Part 2, but especially the Magic Knights themselves for killing Emeraude and Zagato. Hikaru is the most affected.
  • Backup Twin: When Presea is killed in the anime, a HUGE plot hole appeared since she was alive in the manga. CLAMP fixed it by introducing Sierra, Presea's twin younger sister, who pretends to be Presea so she and Clef can keep the girls under a sort-of illusion that Emeraude revived Presea as her last wish, lest they'll be even more broken. At the cost of taking a toll on poor Sierra's emotions..
  • Badass Adorable: The Magic Knights, but especially Hikaru.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Once summoned, the Magic Knights have to awaken the Mashin and save Cephiro. No buts. Emeraude also believed this about being the Pillar: pray only for Cephiro on her own forever or be executed, no middle ground. Hikaru rejects this notion.
  • BFS: Fuu's sword, especially near the end of the first season, is longer then she is tall. Her wind powers make it light enough for her to carry; no one else can even lift it.
  • Big Bad: Zagato in the first season (probably), and Debonair in the second.
  • Bishonen and Bishoujo: As per CLAMP's standard modus operandi for character designs.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending of the anime series. Cephiro is restored, the Big Bad (Lady Debonair) is defeated, but Eagle is dead and the three girls have to return home for good.
  • Bodyguard Crush: One of the most heartwretching cases ever in CLAMP manga and anime: Zagato and Emeraude.
  • Bond Creatures: The Rune Gods/Mashin. Whatever injuries they sustain, the Knights will, too, albeit at a smaller scale. Rayearth getting his shield sliced in half results in Hikaru having a very nasty cut on her arm.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Lafarga, by hypnotic tattoos, while Caldina uses magical music to brainwash Hikaru and Umi. Alcyone as well, in the second anime season. Ferio also falls victim to this in the Saturn game.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Hikaru turns toward the reader on the final page of the second manga series and asks "you who have watched over us from the beginning" to write in what Cephiro's new name will be.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Heroic instance: when The Creator takes away Hikaru and Eagle into the Pillar's Trial, Lantis flies up to it and shoves his sword up right at Its face, threatening to kill It if It doesn't bring them both back, unharmed, RIGHT NOW.
  • Calling Your Attacks: For magic spells.
  • Chekhov's Skill: All three of the main girls, when they pick out their initial weapons. Hikaru's parents run a kendo dojo (broadsword), Umi was on the fencing team at her school (saber), and Fuu was on the archery team at hers (longbow).
  • Chromatic Arrangement: Additive primary colors: Hikaru, Umi and Fuu have respectively red, blue and green uniforms and eyes. Hair colors almost fit, but Fuu is blonde.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Presea likes to threaten these against anyone who annoys her, particularly Mokona.
  • Cool Big Sis: Presea. Caldina is one to Ascot in the anime and the Knights in the second half.
  • Cool Ship: The invading countries in the second half each come with one.
    • Autozam has the NSX, which is a standard space battleship with missiles and Humongous Mecha on board.
    • Fahren has the Dreamchild, an enormous dragon-shaped vessel.
    • Chizeta has the Bravada, which is shaped like a genie's lamp and has gardens on its deck.
  • Creator Cameo: Mokona is named after CLAMP artist Mokona Appapa.)
  • Cross-Popping Veins: Umi, Clef. (Often caused by each other.)
  • Combining Mecha: Rayearth, Celes, and Windam combine into one being to defeat Emeraude.
  • Coming of Age Story: More so in the anime than the manga, especially for Hikaru.
  • Cute Giant: Great Sanyun.
  • Darker and Edgier: The second half of the story, where Cephiro is mostly falling apart. The O.V.A. is also darker than both the manga and anime.
  • Dark-Skinned Redhead: Tarta and Tatra. If we count pink hair, Caldina.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Rescue the Princess genre of Heroic Fantasy.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Caldina, Ascot and Lafarga.
  • Demonic Invaders: roughly speaking.
  • Died Happily Ever After: At the end of season 1, Emeraude and Zagato are finally together after the Magic Knights have killed them both.
  • Downer Ending: Volume 3 of the manga.
  • The Dragon: Alcyone (and in the anime, Innouva), for Zagato. Nova, for Debonair in the second half of the anime.
  • Elemental Powers: Check the character sheet for details.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What will happen if Cephiro doesn't have a Pillar.
  • Evil Minions
  • Evolving Weapon: As the girls grow in skill and awake the Mashin, their weapons and armor also evolve.
  • Extraordinarily Empowered Girl: The three girls.
  • Facial Markings: Lafarga has tattoos on his face. They're a tool of hypnotic control and gone in part two.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Autozam is the United States of America, Chizeta is India (and/or the Middle East), Fahren is China.
  • Fisher King: The Pillar.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Soon after entering Cephiro, the girls encounter a giant flying fish. Hikaru and gives it a hug.
    • Ascot makes a living out of this.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Used as a disguise by one of Ascot's monsters.
  • Frilly Upgrade: The girls' armor, which is magical in nature and evolves as they do.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Alcyone, in her first appearance in the second season.
  • Go-Go Enslavement: In the second season of the anime, when the girls are captured by the invading countries, they're forced to dress up in their typical clothes. Fuu and Hikaru don't have a problem, but Umi (captured by Tarta and Tatra from Chizeta) has to wear an odalisque outfit and is not amused.
  • Happy Ending: The second half of the manga. Everybody Lives, the Pillar system has been altered so that Magic Knights won't be needed again, Cephiro has been restored to its former beauty, and the girls get to visit whenever they like.
  • The Heartless: Most monsters in Cephiro are created from negative emotions. So is the Big Bad of the second season.
  • Hellish Horse: Lantis' horse.
  • Hermetic Magic
  • History Repeats: High Priest Zagato fell in love with Emeraude, Pillar of Cephiro. Tragedy ensued. In the second season, Zagato's younger (but identical) brother Lantis falls in love with the girl who would become Pillar, Hikaru. The irony was not lost on either.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Lafarga and Caldina, Hikaru and either Lantis or Eagle, Ascot and Umi (though Umi is quite tall, Ascot towers over her.) Genderflipped (and the romance/platonic nature a bit more debatable) with Clef and either Umi and Presea or Sierra.
  • Humongous Mecha: The Rune Gods/Mashin. Autozam also uses conventional, mechanical mecha.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Well, it's CLAMP.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: The swords, and the way they ensure only their users can wield them.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Mecha: The Rune Gods could have just bestowed powers to the girls, but making them mecha was just cooler.
  • Joshikousei
  • Kansai Regional Accent: People from Chizeta speak with this.
  • Laser Guided Tykebomb: When you get down to it, the Magic Knights are middle schoolers who've been summoned to kill someone, even if he does look like the final boss of a video game. But it really comes into play when they realize that they have to kill Princess Emeraude.
  • Lady of War: Umi, Fuu, Princess Emeraude.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Princess Emeraude and Alcyone, both for the same person.
    • Zagato too, for that matter. Sending vicious assassins after teenagers isn't going to win the Good Guy of the Year award.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Ferio, Princess Emeraude is your older sister.
  • Magic Knight: The Trope Namer - it's even in the title!
  • Magic Skirt
  • Magical Girl
  • Meaningful Name: Hikaru = Light, although she has flame magic; Umi = Sea, Fuu = Wind.
  • Medieval European Fantasy: Played straight in the first half with Cephiro. The invading countries in the second have real-world counterparts (see above).
  • Memento MacGuffin: Lantis' necklace in the anime, a gift from his mother and which he later gave to Hikaru. It even plays a role in the final battle.
  • Motion Capture Mecha: All Rune Gods/Mashin, plus the Djinn from Chizeta.
  • Mukokuseki: A CLAMP staple, though it's a bit oddly used here. Despite the "big eyes," all of the girls do have a characteristic "slant" to their eyes that many of the Cephirans don't, marking their ethnicity, and Hikaru's complexion is typically depicted as pretty standardly Japanese. However, none of the girls dye their hair, so they are, apparently, a natural fire red, a natural blue and a strawberry blonde, and both Umi and Fuu have skin lighter than most caucasians... yet they're still meant to be totally Japanese with no ancestry oddness. Obviously doesn't apply to any of the Cephirans, since they're technically aliens.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: Done by Presea and Fuu (believe it or not) in the anime.
  • No Export for You: Well partially...for the longest time the R1 DVD releases were missing the second opening "Kirai ni Narenai" and the third ending "Itsuka Kagayaku" due to only openings 1 and 3 and endings 1 and 2 being dubbed, though they were included as extras on the old R1 DVD's, eventually this was fixed in the remastered R1 DVD's and the Hulu streams, so after so many years we finally got all 3 openings and all 3 endings in Region 1 land with the original Japanese credits, episode titles and next episode previews intact
  • No Name Given: The combined form of Rayearth, Seles, and Windam is not actually named--Big Rayearth and Great Rayearth are fan names.
  • Noodle People: Especially evident when Eagle or Lantis shed their armor and stand around in standard uniforms.
  • Off-Model: Few bits here and there in the anime, but the quality really decreases in episode 17.
    • Made intentionally funny when recycled animation appears and the difference is night and day.
  • The Ojou: Umi and Fuu, each in their ways.
  • Older Than They Look: Anyone in Cephiro can invoke this trope. But poor Hikaru is mistaken for a grade schooler, both by her schoolmates as well as Umi and Fuu when they first meet her, because she's so short and innocent.
  • Omake
  • Personality Blood Types: Lampshaded when Fuu introduces herself to Hikaru and Umi--she says it's in case they need first aid.
  • Planet of Hats: Cephiro has a relatively varied environment and culture for a fantasy-RPG world, but the Invading Countries...
  • The Power of Friendship: Pretty much the point of the series, this is what saved Hikaru from being dissolved when she insisted on saving Eagle from the Pillar's Trial in the manga.
  • Power Gives You Wings: All Rune Gods change into Humongous Mecha forms with themed wings. The Knights, who had traversed the whole of Cephiro on foot, even comment on how this allows them to reach the Very Definitely Final Dungeon at the end of the first season.
  • Power Trio
  • Promotional Art Always Spoils: If you haven't finished the first half, don't look at the art of Emeraude and Zagato.
  • Punny Name: Eagle Vision.
  • Puppy Love: Aska and Sanjun.
  • Samurai: Loosely speaking; all three girls are accomplished swordswomen by the end of the show.
  • Secret Test of Character: That's how you obtain both your Phebotinum and your Power Upgrades.
    • Rayearth pulls one on Hikaru by telling her to abandon her friends and save herself. (The other Mashin just tell their chosen to show strength of heart, although the circumstances of Hikaru's battle were unique).
  • Schrodinger's Cast: A character who the anime killed off but were alive and well in the manga (Presea) had to be "brought back" in the second season because they were needed for the plot. There's just one problem... it goes against CLAMP rule. So she actually isn't revived... but has an Angsty Surviving Twin, Sierra, posing as her.
    • And some were killed in the manga and not in the anime, like Alcyone.
  • Shojo
  • Shoot the Dog: Played completely straight with the Magic Knights themselves. They aren't here to save the Princess, they were summoned to destroy her because since she had found love, she could no longer function as the Pillar.
  • Shoulders of Doom: Zagato, Lafarga, Lantis, evil Emeraude, Debonair, Nova, the three Rune Gods....
  • Skyward Scream: Courtesy of Ascot after one of his summoned monsters is killed.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Emeraude and Zagato.
  • Suicide by Cop: The real reason that Emeraude summoned the Magic Knights.
  • Summon Everyman Hero: Someone needs to battle Cephiro's most powerful sorceror and Pillar --quick, find some schoolgirls!
  • Super-Deformed. The main characters sometimes take this gag farther:
  • Tenchi Solution: Hikaru decides she's going to marry Lantis and Eagle in the manga.
  • The Sweat Drop: Several.
  • Theme Naming: Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are named after their respective elements. Virtually everyone else in the series is named after a car.
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe: Subverted; it's only a jumping-off point.
  • Tokyo Tower: It's CLAMP, dammit.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl : Tomboy Hikaru, Girly Girl Umi, and Fuu has traits of both. Tomboy Presea and Girly Girl Emeraude, with Caldina having traits of both. Tomboy Tarta and Girly Girl Tatra.
  • Took a Level In Badass: After Hikaru's sword --and confidence-- is shattered by Nova, she undergoes a Journey to the Center of the Mind to recover. Her willpower shoots through the stratosphere... with all that it implies in a world shaped by one's will.
  • Trapped in Another World
  • Triang Relations: Type 8 with maybe a hint of 9, between Hikaru, Lantis, and Eagle. There might be some Love You and Everybody on Hikaru's end, too, though she says the ones she wants to marry are the other two.
  • Twist Ending: You will not be ready for it.
  • Visible Sigh
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Zagato, and the invading countries from the second half.
  • Wham! Episode: The end of the first half, when the Magic Knights find out what their duty fully entails.
    • Wham! Line: Hikaru: "Then tell us why you summoned us to Cephiro." Emeraude: "I summoned the Magic Knights to that you could kill me."
  • White and Grey Morality: The Magic Knights themselves are definete good guys, but Season 1 Big Bad Zagato is an Anti-Villian. Plus, the Autozam, Chizeta, and Fahren factions are Anti-Villians as well. And in anime season 2, Nova is also a more sympathetic character.
  • Worf Effect: Whenever one of the knights is conversing with a Mashin, the other two are always one-shotted by the villain sent to stop them that time.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The girls are whisked away by Emeraude's prayer in a flash of light. They have adventures spanning several weeks, probably months, then they return to Earth at the exact same moment they left. Even their schoolmates are still blinded by the light.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Umi with blue hair, Ferio with green hair, Caldina with pink hair.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Emeraude just wanted to be with her boyfriend/be allowed to be in love.

Rayearth OVA provides examples of:

  • Alternate Continuity: This is described as a shortened retelling of MKR. That is really inaccurate. There are so many changes to the plot, it's another story entirely.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The girls attend the same school and don't want to be separated after graduation. They wish to stay friends forever, and this story really tests that wish.
  • Bond Creatures: Even worse than in the mainline series. Physical injuries while in Rune God form translate directly on the summoner's body.
  • Broken Bird: Emeraude, who is sort-of The Ophelia too.
  • Darker and Edgier: Cephiro is dying; Zagato sacrificed his life in a vain attempt to avert this. Emeraude is alive, but is clinging to a dream that Zagato is with her. The actual story has more violence, some blood, and about half the characters from Cephiro are killed off (although Emeraude lives).
    • Also, remember how the anime and the manga have these moments where our three heroines and their friends go into chibi-mode? Well, they're gone.
  • Enfant Terrible: Ascot isn't in to save his friends in this version. He just wants to kill everyone.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The Rune God battles are bloody and nasty.
  • Fan Disservice: The Magic Knights appear naked within their mecha. Adding horribly bloody injuries as they synch and fight with their Masshin quickly makes it Squick of the highest caliber.
  • Older Than They Look: Averted. There is no mention of appearance-changing in this story, so Clef looks like a grown man, and Ascot is actually a young boy.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: While "piloting" the Rune Gods, the girls appear entirely naked (their foes are never shown, however.) Also, their invocation of the final attack starts with them floating naked in the void.
  • The Other Darrin: Dub-only for the entire cast. This is due to being dubbed by a separate studio from the TV series.
    • Also due to the OVA being released by Manga Entertainment back when their North American division used to license anime
  • OVA
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Emeraude's dress is far fancier than in the main story.
  • Product Placement: There is a Subway restaurant, but it's actually used for an important scene in the story.
  • The Tokyo Fireball: Large sections of Tokyo receive a pretty thorough trashing in the duration of the OVA.
  • Trapped in Another World: Inverted. Instead of being sent elsewhere, the girls are the only living things on Earth after Clef whisks everyone else to another dimension, for safekeeping.