Magical Mondays: Rayearth and (Possibly) Zapping Tropes in Shoujo

Magic Knight Rayearth PreseaMagical girl anime and manga have been around for what seems like forever and have meshed with several other genres outside of their shoujo roots. Recently—for seemingly no reason—I was reminded of Magic Knight Rayearth, a magical girl series that combines the transformations and magic we all know and love with the sort of impending doom one might get from a Final Fantasy game, with a dose of giant robot anime on the side. The three protagonists—Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu—journey to a land called Cephiro to become the Magic Knights to save its Pillar (aka: Princess/Priestess) and learn how to harness their magic and mechas along the way, but the functionality of Cephiro’s magic is more explored through the series’s side characters (which makes sense, since the three heroes are from Earth and not Cephiro). While for the most part the magic is your typical elemental/summoning fare and the series utilizes several genre and character tropes, Rayearth does manage to surpass the limitations of some of these tropes. In the case of the character Presea, an older woman in a series focused on younger women, I found this to be especially true. Through both her character and her personal magics, Presea manages to become her own person rather than a character defined by her presumed role in patriarchal tropes.

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Manga Mondays: Saint Tail

One of Japan’s favorite themes to use and re-use is the magical school girl. Those punishers of good and evil. Those middle school-ers who learn how to kick ass and take names with the help of a fancy new costumes and neat weapons. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica entering back into mainstream discussion, this genre is also experiencing a rebirth of sorts. So, in this spirit, let’s visit an old friend who didn’t manage to age as gracefully as its sister series.

If I had the internet at the time, I’m certain that, after Elfquest, Saint Tail would have been my first fandom. Like every other magical girl series, we follow after the young school girl, Meimi Haneoka who attends St. Paulia’s Private school by day and takes on the persona of the theif, Saint Tail, at night. While she is thieving, she’s also being pursued by the detective—rather, the detective’s son—Asuka Jr. Asuka is also Meimi’s classmate who somehow doesn’t put blonde hair together with blonde hair, and so he’s continuously obsessed with figuring out Saint Tail’s identity. The third player in our main cast is Meimi’s friend, Seira. It’s from her that Meimi is able to get all of her information. It is a little strange that a young girl would have so much information pertaining to items of interest, but Megumi Tachikawa explains this partially away with Seira’s after school job. No, she’s not a computer whiz like Amy in Sailor Moon, Seira is a nun. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Seira is incredibly lucky in that all the people with problems about stolen items come to her church to confess. I’m not exactly sure that’s how going to a confessional works (aren’t you supposed to confess to a sin you’ve done instead of crying about something that got stolen from you?), but it’s at least is plausible-sounding.

This brings up two things about this series that separates it from other magical girl stories. First off, Saint Tail is a much different heroine than we’re used to. In fact, I would say that she’s more comparable to Kaito Kid from Case Closed/Detective Conan than someone like Wedding Peach. Despite her acting more like a Robin Hood figure than Catwoman—she only steals back items that have already been stolen to return them to their previous owner—she’s still a legitimate thief. She is actually breaking the law, and thus deserves having the police go after her no matter how good her intentions are. She also gives Asuka advance warning of where she’ll strike next to give him a fighting chance on catching her. Kaito Kid also does this, but for him it’s much more smarmy since he does it in codes and puzzles rather than just saying it straight out. Main antagonists in a magical girl story usually are mystical or extra-terrestrial, so seeing the genre taking a foray into the more realistic is refreshing.

As a sub-point to this, Saint Tail also has no magic powers. …Let me rephrase that. Saint Tail has no magical powers that thwart her foes. As Meimi’s father is a magician, her shtick is using subterfuge and other magician tricks to fool her opponents and help her get away. This series is much more about outsmarting the other person rather than overpowering them. I wish more magical girl series focused on this, actually.

Secondly, the clear connection to religion is somewhat unique. Although it can be easily argued that every magical girl series has a god figure, I find that it’s hardly ever actually THE God. Granted, it isn’t used in the same way: God didn’t come down onto Meimi and give her magical tools. But with Seira being a nun, St. Paulia’s being an assumedly religious academy, and the two girls praying before each ‘heist’ it’s a factor that can’t be ignored. In fact, it was so un-ignorable that in the first seven episodes of the anime they tried to remove every mention to the religious figure. Considering the setting, you can imagine how well that went.

Is this one of the better examples of the magical girl series? No. But it is enjoyable to read and some of the arcs are genuinely interesting. I haven’t been able to find a scan online, though, so if you want to see for yourself it may take a little digging. Not a series I would recommend off the bat, but if you’re bored I’d give it a try.

Manga Mondays: Magic Knight Rayearth

Keeping with LadyBacula’s theme of talking about the series that got one into anime and manga, I feel it’s only right to bring up this series. I found Magic Knight Rayearth during my “buy something randomly and hope I like it” phase early on in my career (I have a lot of these, for better or worse) and luckily I enjoyed it quite a lot. Although the art style lends itself to the shojou genre and despite having both school girls and snippets of romance, this series manages to keep itself firmly planted in the “magic girl” genre, focusing more on the adventure rather than the romance. And by this point, I think it’s safe to say that CLAMP is skilled at making stories that contrast with the art style; even X/1999’s art is rather cute, especially for an apocalyptic manga. That’s for another review, though.

It’s fair to say that this series is broken into two distinct parts (not counting whatever the anime series did). The first part focuses almost exclusively on the three girls, and not without good reason. Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi are three girls from three different schools who are all on a field trip to Tokyo Tower when a blinding light transports them to the land of Cephiro. From there on, the girls have to essentially play through a real-life RPG, with a princess to save—the princess of Cephiro, Emeraude, has been seemingly trapped away by the evil priest, Zagato—weapon upgrades, a token mascot, the works. In other words, my dream come true. However, after getting some sweet mechas, cool magic, and reaching the princess the girls realize that the situation was not what they were lead to believe. After a heartbreaking final battle, the girls are thrown back into their own world (where not even a moment has passed since they were transported) with the possible destruction of an entire country on their hands and a lifetime of pain in their hearts.

After ‘settling back in’—I use the term loosely because none of the girls truly return to their previous selves, and who would?—the second part focuses on the return to Cephiro and the attempted reconstruction of the country. After the last battle, Cephiro has lost their pillar—the one person that protects everyone and everything in Cephiro at the sacrifice of their own desires and life (they don’t die, they just can’t live for themselves)—and that has left the country in total disarray and it is literally falling apart.  Because of this, the countries of Fahren, Chizeta, and Autozam have decided to invade to become Cephiro’s pillar for their own reasons. Fahren wants to make Cephiro their personal playground. Chizeta wants a subordinate. Autozam just wants to make the country fade into nothing. So, once more Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu must don their mechas and protect Cephiro.

What I like most about this series is how unique the girls are and that the three main characters are strong females. Fuu is exceedingly proper and intelligent. Umi is hot-headded and emotional. Hikaru is almost overly-caring in some places and always optimistic. They have their arguments, but still can remain friends and kick ass. They have weak moments, they have strong moments. They’re human. They’re characters that a young girl reading the series can look up to.

At only six volumes, the series isn’t too much of an investment money or time wise, but I would recommend reading this well-loved series.