Magic Knight Rayearth 2
Somewhat depressed after their return to Tokyo, Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru meet at the Tokyo Tower to discuss some of their feelings about their previous adventure in Cephiro. Discussing their desire to return to Cephiro and do something to help it, they are soon whisked away by a magic light very similar to the one that originally brought them to Cephiro.
Unfortunately, they find that all is not well in Cephiro. The land is dying. Without a Pillar to support it, the very fabric of the world is tearing itself part and monsters rampage across what remains. The kingdom's magicians, lead by Master Mage Clef, have constructed a magical castle as their last hold out and have evacuated all the remaining survivors and refugees into the castle. As if that wasn't bad enough, three foreign armies are approaching Cephiro intent on seizing control of its legendary "Pillar" for their own uses.
Besides mechanized troops of Autozahm, the exotic Chizetans, and the imperial Fahren, another force lurks in the shadows: the mysterious Lady Debonair. She seems to have her own dark schemes that may not even include the continued existence of Cephiro.
Although it is quite possible to watch this and not be too lost (we're not exactly talking a super complex plot after all), this second season/series of Rayearth is directly linked to the events and characters of the first series. Those who watch this without watching the first series will be missing out on a lot of characterization contrasts and the like. I'm going to approach this review with the assumption that people have seen the first season. If you haven't I would encourage you to do so, and stop reading at this point as certain parts of this review will contain major spoilers concerning certain events in the original Magic Knight Rayearth.
Well, perhaps the first most important aspect to address is that of tone. If you positively just couldn't stand the somewhat downer ending of the first season, you probably want to avoid this one. The second season is nowhere near as light, and there is a general sense of angst and desperation inflicting all of the characters. The Magic Knights are pressed to their limits trying to fight off multiple invaders while still dealing with the psychological trauma caused by their last quest in Cephiro.
Personally, I actually liked this season better than the first. The angst isn't overwhelming, and the slightly darker edge to the plot makes it a bit more compelling than the more straight forward fantasy quest that the girls originally took part in. Though if you watch this expecting something as light in tone as the original Magic Knight Rayearth, you will be disappointed. This isn't to say that every moment is filled with terribly depressing drama just that the percentage of humor, wacky SD, and various other lighter elements is considerably lower. Even Mokona seems a lot more somber in general.
The introduction of at least four distinct factions actually does make for some interesting plot twists and interaction. Each of the foreign factions is distinctive in character and design, an aspect I rather enjoyed. They all seemed to fit well into the general flow of the show as well and I didn't find them out of place despite them being considerable different in general style from the fantasy denizens of Cephiro. These differences weren't shied away from, but rather integrated directly into the plot for good effect. Whether it be the scientific Autozahm troops' interest in the non-mechanical nature of the Mashin or just the different styles of magic that the various more mystical factions employed.
I liked the general pacing of the plot. Though there were a few episodes that dragged here and there, in general I found myself engaged and as the show closed in on its finale, the pacing helped heighten the dramatic build-up instead of detract from it. The non-Autozahm factions, at times, seemed a bit more underused compared to Autozahm, and sometimes I wonder if the show would have been stronger overall if they were eliminated, but I still did find their presence interesting anyway.
Character development was handled well for the most part, though the decision to include pretty much every character from the first season (well at least those that survived at least), means that you do have a lot of characters who are perhaps underutilized. Besides the various characters associated with the invaders, we have Lantis, the younger brother of Zagato, a man of complex motivations who the denizens of Cephiro are not entirely able to trust both because of his brother and because Lantis returned to Cephiro after spending time in Autozahm. I should also note that this season has a much stronger emphasis on Hikaru somewhat at the expense of Umi and Fuu. This isn't to say that they don't get character development time or plenty of scenes, it is just clear that the Magic Knights, as group, aren't as much of the focus.
Romance and love, as plot points, are much more prominent as it seems almost everyone gets paired up with someone toward the end. Even Mokona gets a romantic interest of sorts! Most of these were handled pretty well, though some of the romances of the secondary characters are a bit abruptly revealed. Hikaru's complex feelings for a number of characters are well handled. I was a bit disappointed by what they ended up doing with Umi, but that was just because I was expecting something else. It wasn't particularly unreasonable.
Especially when contrasted with the somewhat happy-go-lucky, happy, yet brave girl of the first series, Hikaru ends up a somewhat more complex character. The introduction of Lantis, the younger brother of Zagato, provided the basis for a lot of character work as a guilt ridden Hikaru tries to deal with the brother of a man she personally helped kill. Her angst and suffering isn't overdone, but all the while she still tries hard to do what she thinks is right. Understandably, she and the other girls, don't quite have the moral certitude that they previously had, given the horrible costs of the completion of their previous quest in Cephiro.
Besides the Magic Knights themselves, the representatives of the various faction get a lot of good character work, though Eagle, the leader of the Autozahm expedition, is the most fully developed of the new characters they introduced. I was pleased that none of the factions were really represented as mindlessly evil or ruthless conquerors. Particularly toward the end with the final struggle toward control of the "Pillar System", I was feeling more pity for all the people involved more than anything else.
Even (the unfortunately named) Lady Debonair and her seemingly psychotic Hikaru-obsessed servant Nova are much more than the mindlessly destruction obsessed villains they appear at the first. The nature of these two, particularly as it becomes clarified toward the end, presents some sad implications about Cephiro and presents some interesting challenges for the Magic Knights who spend most of this season learning that sometimes even with the help of their powerful Machine Gods, not every threat to Cephiro can be stopped with simple force. It is a good elaboration on the prominent themes of growth that were present in the first season. Even though the Knights have become powerful and experienced the more tragic aspects of life they still have to learn different ways to solve their problems that may be less straight-forward than they would like.
Despite the overall darker edge to this season, the final ending of the show is, for the most part, rather happy. I can't say that every individual character perhaps get what they individually wanted or desired, but it is far from the sad Pyrric victory of the first season. There is a bit of a surprise toward the end especially concerning the utilization of the powers of the Pillar, but it is no where near as surprising as the end of the first show.
As with most CLAMP titles and the original Magic Knight Rayearth, the art itself is rather good. We have a wide variety of characters ranging from science fiction pilots to Arabian nobles and all the design work was well done. Besides the character work, the various mechanical and ship design work were also well done as well.
I must admit, in terms of actual animation, MKR2 isn't exactly particularly stunning. A lot of action scenes get relatively low frame rate and a lot of stock footage is used for certain magical attacks and the like. Most of the action scenes are still interesting enough in spite of this. However the general impact of these scenes could have been heightened by better general animation.
The main themes are pleasant enough, though the in show music is pretty forgettable. It is decent enough for helping to set the mood of a scene, but is nothing that you would care to rush and purchase on CD.
A worthy follow-up to the original Magic Knight Rayearth with a slightly darker edge and populated with a variety of interesting factions and characters. A bit tighter or elaboration on a few of the characters and themes might have made it a bit better overall, but it still was an enjoyable show to watch. If you really just don't care for fantasy stories, subtract a star or two. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There are a lot of battles going on, but they aren't really graphic (the average monster that gets slashed just tends to disappear for example). There is no real foul language and no real sexual situations. There is one scene in a hot spring, but even in that scene you don't see any nudity though there is somewhat adult "girl talk". I must admit I had certain issues with some of the age disparities apparently involved in certain blossoming romances (that seems a specialty of CLAMP), but since everything is kept pretty chaste anyway it comes off more sweet than disturbing. The rather psychotic Nova and her open obsession with causing Hikaru and her loved ones to suffer is bound to be a bit too much for some younger kids.
Version(s) Viewed: VHS, English dub; VHS, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (29/29)
Magic Knight Rayearth 2 © 1995 CLAMP / Kodansha
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