Synopsis: Magic Knight Rayearth is about three teenage girls who are called to save the world of Cephiro. While in the middle of a school trip, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are suddenly drawn to a strange place where monsters and mythical creatures roam free. They are given mystical weapons and the elemental powers of fire, water, and wind. Things happen so fast that the girls themselves can't fully grasp what's going on. What they do know is they can't go home if they don't save Cephiro. They must take on the responsibility of becoming Magic Knights and work together before evil forces destroy everything... including their home world.
Review: Despite constantly being compared to and likened to Sailormoon, Magic Knight Rayearth is not at all like the former. The only similarity is probably the fact that the main characters are all cute schoolgirls with special powers.
Spanning 26 episodes, Magic Knight Rayearth unfolds like a good RPG you play on your home console. First you're presented with a plot, then there's some very detailed character development. The Magic Knight Rayearth girls aren't just granted powers and special equipment. Instead, the things they are given grow and evolve as they learn how to use them. Think of it as game characters gaining levels and unlocking new abilities. Conflicts also arise, and the girls have to really work their way through the obstacles and enemies they encounter. The girls also get injured, just like normal people. Fortunately, one of them develops the abilty to heal the party.
Magic Knight Rayearth is like one big quest, and embarking on it introduces you to a whole world of interesting people and places. Although Hikaru is obviously the lead character, she doesn't get to finish off all the baddies like Sailormoon does. There are equal opportunities for the girls to hone and display their fighting prowess. The clashes are markedly more intense and more serious than most other magical girl anime. There's also a touch of mecha in the later eps. Characterization is very good, even the villains are developed well. Magic Knight Rayearth has its share of both comedy and tragedy too.
The art and animation are exquisitely done, as is what we'd come to expect from a Clamp work. The English dubbing is generally fine, they even used a Jap voice for Mokona in the dub version. Still, I prefer the original Jap voices. The songs and music are pleasing and very fitting for the series. I especially like the fantastic opening song. Pacing could be improved, as I felt there were some rather dry parts in the series. But all in all, Magic Knight Rayearth is highly recommended for shoujo fans. DVD extras include image galleries, interviews, magic spell index, alternative OPs and EDs, and various trailers.
Miscellanies: I love the surprise ending! I think Magic Knight Rayearth is one of Clamp's best works. Check out the Magic Knight Rayearth manga here. The TV series continues on in the second season.