I've previously reviewed the original manga of Magic Knight Rayearth on Bureau42, and this review is adapted from a review I did at Bureau42 of the full series.
Usually, when a manga gets adapted to an animated series, the pacing suffers some. Either the studio runs out of manga and to pad the story out to fill out a season, or the studio has to adjust the pacing of a completed manga (or otherwise longer manga) to fit the length of a season by either cutting content or adding filler.
Such is the case with Rayearth. However, this is one of those rare cases where the filler helps the series rather than hurting it.
The show follows Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru, three schoolgirls, from different schools, whose schools were doing field trips to Tokyo Tower at the same time. They end up finding themselves whisked to the mysterious land of Cephiro, and are told that they must become Magic Knights and save Cephiro in order to return to their home. Together with the mysterious creature Mokona, and with the assistance of the swordsman Ferio, the smith Presea, and the sorcerer Clef, they must gain the power of the three Mashin and save the land of Cephiro.
The original manga was about 4 volumes long, and was very tightly written. Each of the four generals of the villain, Zagato, basically only appear in one volume, where they are introduced, fight with our heroes, and then are defeated. On the other hand, the series stretches things out significantly, and uses that added screen time well. Every supporting character gets additional screen time that they didn't get in the original volume, and they're all fleshed out. Presea, Clef, and Ferio only appeared in the first volume of the Manga, but Clef and Ferio get repeat appearances throughout the series, and Ferio gets a sub-plot. The Generals get multiple attempts to defeat their enemies. Additionally, a few new characters are introduced which helps flesh out the world more.
The animation, and sound quality in the show is good. The music is fair, though it sounds like their music composition budget consisted of buying the composer a really nice keyboard, and then getting some studio time. The animation runs into some problems near the end, particularly with cloud effects. Anime generally tends to have a general problem with clouds on TV shows, and this is no exception. Further, during the final fight scene I found myself losing track of the action some.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the show is with the show's conclusion.
In the manga and anime, the series ends after the Knights are forced to kill Princess Emeraude, who they had sworn to protect, in order to save Cephiro. In the manga, after Emeraude's death, the knights are almost immediately whisked back to their world, almost immediately after they left. The image we're left with is one of our heroines weeping openly for Emeraude amongst their confused classmates. In the anime, on the other hand, they get a "keep-you-chin-up-it'll-all-turn-out-alright-in-the-end" mini-speech, as they're returned to their world, and we don't see what happens when they arrive. Now, this is something that could be addressed in the second series. Still, in context, the ending has lost some significant impact.
Still, this is one of the better adaptations of CLAMP's work that I've seen - with stuff for those new to the series, and those familiar with the manga, and I'd say it's definitely worth picking up.