In the Context of CLAMP
CLAMP is a famous mangaka group responsible for many highly valued and well-known works over the years. This page's aim is not to introduce you to CLAMP (who they are, what they are known for, etc.), but to examine how Magic Knight Rayearth is located within their work (see Symmetry for the visual part) and what thematic links there are, since CLAMP's artistic vision, storytelling and values are quite distinct, with some themes repeatedly appearing as a focal point. This is in no way meant to be a conclusive presentation as there are so many different series to look at (I have read about 18 of them, but not all); instead, I will single out a few series that best represent the respective point I'm trying to explore.
CLAMP is known both for very dark (e.g. RG Veda, Tokyo Babylon, X) and very sweet stories (e.g. Card Captor Sakura, Angelic Layer, Wish) as well as their blurring, or rather, successful combining of genres, especially via elaborate action sequences (e.g. X, Angelic Layer, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle), something which often makes their creations simultaneously popular among shoujo and shounen demographics. Some of their longer series run into issues with pacing and convoluted storylines (e.g. X, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle), while others aren't as friendly to new manga readers due to CLAMP's occasional eccentricity, whims, inclusion of guest appearances and long-running insider "jokes" (especially in their more recent work) as well as the handling of elements that departs from usual manga conventions; naturally, some of these traits set CLAMP apart from other mangaka at the same time.
Wish, Card Captor Sakura and Clover.
In my opinion, Magic Knight Rayearth is among their most accessible, brightest and friendliest series – along with, say, Card Captor Sakura and Angelic Layer, as they all have no artificial entry barriers or frustrations in the form of things mentioned above. Compared to their portfolio, it's of average length and was created quite early into their career, following the big hits Tokyo Babylon and X, but before Card Captor Sakura, which was serialized in the same magazine and belongs to a similar genre (if you refer to both of them as Magical Girl series). To me, MKR is straight-forward, with a length matching what it sets out to accomplish, and a memorable, unexpected twist, the aftermath of which is handled carefully – in other words, it's a well-executed story that gets its message across, something that is not to be taken for granted (see: RG Veda, X, Chobits, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle).
The two series among CLAMP's work that MKR shares the strongest thematic links with are, in my assessment, Clover and X, even though on the surface, the three are nothing alike, be it visuals, the size and composition of the cast, the mood or the storytelling. Clover is an episodic story told with cinematic visuals that make generous use of negative space and focuses on a select few characters whose links are presented from different non-chronological perspectives; its mood throughout the four volumes is unerringly wistful and melancholic. It's a very quiet series in both plot and art. X, on the other hand, spans 18 volumes and, like MKR, is not divided into chapters; its art and heavy symbolism are so elaborate it could be considered CLAMP's most visually dense and richest creation, and its cast, divided into two fractions, is immensely large. Unlike Clover and MKR, its plot is not at all condensed, the scenes jump around a lot and rarely is there a time without explosive action.
What they have in common are, among other things, the themes of happiness, the individual as part of a whole, the inability to live on one's own, necessitating the connection to others, the struggle and resolve to determine one's own fate, and the act of self-sacrifice – all of which are central to the evaluation of MKR's Pillar system (though MKR includes themes beyond that).
Wishes and desires are a frequent plot point in CLAMP's series, and are often vital to a character's self-perception and self-expression. Clover in particular makes happiness its central theme and explores it from the viewpoint of several characters in different circumstances. In Clover, CLAMP demonstrates that happiness is highly individual, thus varying from person to person, and that happiness can only be defined by yourself; no one else can dictate what happiness is, just as no one else can truly know what makes you the happiest. It goes on to demonstrate that to some, happiness is worth striving for no matter how fleeting it may be (a sentiment also present in, for example, Wish), and in some cases, even at the cost of one's own life.
Desires, however, are also selfish in nature: What you wish for is not necessarily what you're supposed to act on, it may clash with other emotions or values that you hold, and may come at the cost of something else. For those reasons, having your most heartfelt desire granted does not guarantee your happiness. Selfishness alone, however, is also not necessarily framed as thoroughly negative, for without selfishness, a person cannot find self-realization. The struggle with one's own desires and the struggle for one's own happiness as each person fights in their own way for their wish are not just highly relevant in Clover, but also Tokyo Babylon, X, xxxHolic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.
Wishes in CLAMP's work are often linked to the right of each person to love and the desire to express that love, even if that expression is destructive to themselves or others, with each person expressing themselves differently. Desires are born from the need to connect to others, as humans cannot live alone; this is explored in Wish, X and Chobits, but is especially poignant in Clover, which shows wishes born in isolation, and Tokyo Babylon, which expresses the pain of loneliness in many different circumstances. Lastly, there are wishes that you cannot grant yourself (as Wish demonstrates at its climax) precisely due to the interpersonal element and dependence in human society.
Magic Knight Rayearth contains all these aspects and explores them in Cephiro's fundamental principle, the Pillar system, Emeraude's wish and the characters' individual wishes in the second story arc. In Cephiro, everything is determined by the heart and the will – a wonderful principle if it weren't for the fact that one person alone has to bear the weight of the entire world to ensure its stability. Magic in particular grows in power the stronger your will: Hikaru's magic is at its most powerful when she is fighting to protect her comrades, and Umi and Fuu first learn to use their spells when they desperately wish to help their comrades. In the second part of MKR, those with desires are strong – especially those willing to risk everything for their desire, as is the case with Lantis and Eagle.
Emeraude, Cephiro's Pillar, struggles with her wish to preserve the world she loves and her personal desire to live only for the person she loves; the two wishes are equally important to her, yet cannot coexist, and she could not put one before the other – it is this inability and this struggle that ultimately tear her apart.
Princess! You are this world's Pillar. But before that, you are human! No one can blame you for wanting your own happiness! (Clef)
Emeraude suffered heavily from her feelings of guilt due to the perceived selfishness of her own wish, despite it being such a basic desire. The equal value of her two wishes are expressed in her in inability to forgive herself even if everyone else forgave her, and her inability to become happy no matter which wish is reality. Dark Horse Comic's translation often liberally deviates from the original script, as it does in this instance, but on this point, I feel that it best expresses the subject matter:
There are many reasons to fight. And people often say they fight for what's in their heart. That's true. But what I learned when I became a Magic Knight is that the heart itself is a battleground. Princess Emeraude taught me so. She tried to kill us with her heart that loved Zagato. She tried to kill herself... with the heart that loved Cephiro. If it hadn't been for that, we would have never had to fight... If it hadn't been for that, we could have never won. Princess Emeraude loved this world. In the end, that was stronger than her own terrible pain. (Hikaru)
In the second story arc, Hikaru wonders how anyone falling in love could be a bad thing, and expresses that humans need to be able to love, connect, and be understood in order to live. In the final battle, she challenges Mokona with these words.
At the end of the story, when Ferio thanks the Magic Knights, Fuu echoes that happiness is not something you can make by yourself, thus simultaneously saying that it is never just thanks to others. This combines the two important messages CLAMP sends in so many of their work: You are responsible for your own happiness, but happiness is not something you can achieve on your own.
Fate and Resolve
Strongly featured in CLAMP's work is the belief that with determination and resolve, an individual can shape their own fate through their own choices and actions, rather than be subjected to a force that determines their destiny. Speaking strictly of visuals, X is best at conveying this due to its many Dreamseers with prophetic abilities and the vast amount of hauntingly beautiful and symbolic dreams; throughout the series, Kotori, the deceased childhood friend of the protagonist, expresses optimism for the future despite other characters claiming otherwise, continuously repeating that the future has not yet been decided.
This theme is strongly linked to wishes: As mentioned, many wishes demand action on one's own part, and the stronger one's resolve, the stronger the wish when it is realized. For this reason, many of the series mentioned above cover this theme as well, though Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and xxxHolic make it the most graphic with the inclusion of Yuko, a dimensional witch who grants wishes in exchange for an equivalent price, and by showing the lengths some go to to have their deepest desire fulfilled.
In Magic Knight Rayearth, resolves are not just addressed in the world's principle (see above), but are present especially throughout the second arc; the paths of light that enable those from other countries to travel to Cephiro are manifestations of that resolve. In its finale, two characters in particular defy predetermined fates: Eagle reveals that according to Autozam's doctors, he was not expected to live to reach Cephiro due to his condition, yet was the most threatening external force on his way there and makes it all the way to Mokona's trial. When Hikaru is chosen as Cephiro's new Pillar and Mokona does not permit Eagle to return through the portal, he urges her to leave him behind rather than sustaining more wounds from trying; he wouldn't have much longer to live anyway.
You're still alive! Don't give up! Live your fullest, until the end! For the ones you love and for yourself. (Hikaru)
After Hikaru's resolve allows them to make it through and order has returned to Cephiro, Eagle is, against all odds, able to make a gradual recovery as he rests in Cephiro. Hikaru, on the other hand, rejects superior principles twice: First by bringing Eagle back with her from the other dimension, then by abolishing the Pillar system and putting a different system in its stead, something no other character had even thought of in such concrete terms.
Just as closely linked to wishes, but also valid on its own, is the question of self-sacrifice – for one's own wish, but all the more so for the sake of others. X is one of CLAMP's darkest series, and it is the one to tackle this theme head-on. In a series of battles that juxtapose the desire to destroy Earth and the desire to preserve it, it raises the question why taking someone's life is wrong, and why no one should be allowed to kill others – to which the answer is that there would always be someone to mourn that death. And yet, characters in X keep sacrificing themselves for the ones important to them without seeing the value of their own life and their own importance to those they're protecting, missing the other side of the answer.
In Magic Knight Rayearth, Eagle tells Hikaru in their final confrontation that his own wish to become Cephiro's Pillar stems (at least in a large part) from not wanting Lantis to die for his wish, that of giving his life to destroy the Path to the Pillar; for his wish, Eagle is willing to give his own life. Hikaru calls him out on repeating the mistake of the very system Lantis is trying to destroy, the system that made Emeraude sacrifice herself for the good of Cephiro.
Princess Emeraude sacrificed herself to protect the people she loved. But what happens to those same people she left behind?! Those who loved the princess, those who thought more of her than anything else... What about their hearts? What about their love? [...] I cannot bear to see anyone sad again. I cannot bear seeing anyone cry for losing a loved one ever again. And... I don't want to have to bear the feeling of regret ever again! (Hikaru)
Emeraude, too, had the choice to do away with the Pillar system, yet chose to shoulder the burden alone – in fact, the series goes as far as not considering the possibility of this choice until Hikaru, a stranger from the other world, makes that decision for Cephiro. This goes to show how deeply rooted the notion of having to carry one's own burdens and duties is and how widely accepted and praised it is – until it causes one person's downfall. The way out is only possible by sharing that burden, striving to do better as a group and treating the well-being of any one person as well as the group itself as everyone's responsibility.
Cephiro and Earth
When CLAMP's writer Ohkawa refers to Cephiro as "an exaggeration of Earth", I assume they mean many of the points addressed here. Cephiro may be magical world powered by will, a world created in response to the failures of Earth's people, but just as Earth, you are responsible for your own happiness, your own wishes, your own fate, all of which leads back to your own will to make things happen.
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