I don't remember when exactly it was that I first read Magic Knight Rayearth, but it must have been around the time of transition between childhood and adolescence, the time of exploration and transformation (regarding my own identity, but also manga and video games in general) – perfect for a coming of age story, all the more so one with such a clear and broad message.
As someone with great love for fantasy books and JRPGs, MKR's first story arc was an exciting experience from the very start, and I was so in love with the beautifully fleshed out Cephiro, how fondly everyone living in it spoke of it, how all the antagonists were driven by different reasons, how dear the Magic Knights became to each other and how much they grew – but in retrospect, I think what must have moved me most of all was Clef's fierce love for Cephiro and how desperately he wanted to protect it, the princess, and everyone living in it. After all, the most impressive moment for me back then was the flashback scene between him and Lantis: Clef, who had expressed nothing but love for the world up to that point in the manga (I don't mean chronologically, since it is only in the flashback that he called it beautiful), started to question the system the world was founded on while looking at the gorgeous scenery spread out in front of him (no wonder that scene sparked fanart):
This world is beautiful. There are neither natural disasters nor war... All the people live in peace. And all this is created and preserved by the heart of one young girl. But... who will protect her that girl's happiness? I have grown fond of you two, my students. I have watched over Princess Emeraude ever since she was born. I do not want to see any of you cry. I want all of you to be happy. But happiness is different for everyone. Even if the princess' dearest wish were fulfilled, she would not be able to forget that others are suffering because of it. There are those who cannot be happy even if their wish comes true. Lantis... Is this world truly beautiful?
It struck me then that the world I fell in love with and accepted without question asked for too big a sacrifice. See, a lot of Magical Girl, coming of age and classic JRPG stories are about growing up, but focus mostly on self-perception: understanding the world you live in, making your own identity, connecting to those around you and thus finding your place in all of it. You may face antagonists and other obstacles on the way, but not necessarily the world itself, much less its system. Magic Knight Rayearth, however, combines both: understanding yourself and your world and changing both for the better.
Back then, I also struggled to differentiate between Cephiro's Pillar system and Cephiro's fundamental principle, that which turns force of will and strength of heart into power. Abolishing the former does not mean doing away with the latter. The Magic Knights' growth and Cephiro's revolution mirror each other, showing you that you can learn new things, adapt and change without abandoning your values and staying true to your heart.
Over the years, Clef has also become my favourite character in MKR, and all the scenes involving him are very dear to me, especially when he speaks of his love for those he has taught. Umi's relationship with Clef, in my opinion, illustrates the Knights' and the readers' growth: When they first meet at the beginning of the story, they're both quite impatient with each other, Umi demanding to go home, Clef telling the girls that they must save a world they do not know. In the second story arc, Clef apologizes for sending them on a journey that ended up hurting them so deeply, while Umi seeks him out at night to apologize for her previous impertinence, hurting for him because she knows how close he was to the princess and how much he must have worried.
Above all, I think MKR teaches you to question the things around you (even the world itself), to look at them from a different perspective (this also goes for other antagonists they fight, not just Zagato), and to have the courage to be part of it, even if it means facing change – lessons that are crucial to growing up. And for that, I consider MKR a tremendously important and formative work in my life. (And the effective inclusion of JRPG elements, and the characters, and the relationships, and the worldbuilding, and the way the conclusion of its first story arc set a high standard for every work of fiction and JRPG I consumed afterwards, etc. etc. etc.)
Strength of Heart was created in July 2015 and is my first big shrine.
It's funny, really, how I was not part of the shrining community for almost three years, neither interested in reading nor writing, until a friend of mine suggested shrining something over the summer. When I went to look at Amassment and saw its Old School Challenge, I decided on Cephiro – because it means a lot to me and because I want more people to get to know it (all the more so because at times, it feels as though it doesn't get as many mentions in comparison to other works by CLAMP).
I sketched out the shrine and coded it during an intense time full of stress (aka finals hell), and to my surprise, the motivation to work on the shrine fueled both the brainstorming process as well as my studies. Having something to look forward to really makes you give your best!
The bulk of it was written in the one-week break between written and oral finals, and it wasn't until I started to write for the shrine that I realized there was more to it than just regained motivation in creative endeavours. Working on this shrine was a very nostalgic experience not just due to the subject, but because my first steps in the world wide web around 2002 were accompanied by Magic Knight Rayearth. Though I no longer remember whether I ever finished the MKR fansite I had wanted to make, evidence of which is still among my ancient backup files, I still remember at least three different MKR layouts I had made to be featured on my old websites – in preparation for a full MKR expansion. Creating Strength of Heart very much feels like realizing a long-standing dream of mine, one that I no longer consciously remembered having, while granting the wish of the young me from back then.
If there is something that I am especially proud of, it's the way this shrine is structured, something that came together as I worked on it, even in something as "elementary" as descriptions in Act I. It includes things that are dear to me and that I'd always miss when looking at fansites of the subject – location information, for example, since they are integral to the RPG experience, or character profiles that go beyond the already detailed ones included in the volumes (since reading a fansite differs from reading the original profiles in addition to the story itself), or the links between the characters, which are what make Cephiro's world feel populated and connected (especially all the connections to Clef). I adore all the characters in MKR, and they are essential to my experience of Cephiro, which is why I've spread them out as stations on the journey, rather than have them on a single page.
In the end, all of this makes the shrine's structure something very personal, something very "me", which, to me, means a lot in something that comes very close to a series shrine. In that regard, Strength of Heart truly feels like the Cephiro I have journeyed through at the side of the Magic Knights: a Cephiro envisioned by my mind and created from my heart.
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