Magic Knight Rayearth: The strength of sisterhood and the rejection of self-sacrifice
Full disclosure: The following reading is based on the MKR and MKR 2 manga, not the anime. I have only seen a few episodes of the anime, and that was like, 8 years ago, so this reading is manga based only. This post DOES contain spoilers for the ENTIRE series.
In a bought of nostalgia, I recently re-read the entire Magic Knight Rayearth manga series (part 1 and 2). For those unfamiliar with the series, it is a 6 volume manga by Clamp (the same creations as Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Tsubasa, and many others.) It is your classic Magical Girl series; three normal japanese girls are transported to a magical kingdom, given magical powers, and tasked to save the world.
I love magical girls stuff. It is very feminist in nature, and female-centric. MKR holds true to that. There are two big feminist themes that run through the series: sisterhood, and the rejection of self-sacrifice.
Not just literal sisterhood, but solidarity between women in general. Our heroes, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu, had never met before they were transported to Cephiro. Yet, there is never any inter-personal conflict between them. These three instantly become best friends. They even decide to call each other sisters in the FIRST volume. Other characters actually comment on how quickly this bond formed.
And that bond is the source of their strength. In order to unlock their “Manshin” (legendary spirit mecha things), they have to prove the strength of their hearts, and for each of them, they do this by saving the others from danger. Alone, none of them would have prevailed. Together, these three girls draw strength from each other. Women are strong when they rely on each other in this narrative. It is a complete rejection of the “women are catty and always fight” bullshit that media so often pushes.
2. The rejection of self-sacrifice.
Women in narratives are often called upon to be self-sacrificing. They are martyrs, dying for their sons or husbands or countries. As though nobility for women only comes from nurturing and giving up literally all we have: our very lives.
MKR rejects that entirely. Cephiro’s “pillar” system dictates that one person (the pillar: Princess Emeraude in part 1) must dedicate their lives in total self-sacrifice to prayer in order to keep Cephiro in balance. When Emeraude falls in love with Zagato (and act that calls upon her to wish for her OWN happiness and the happiness of the person she loves), Cephiro falls into chaos, and the Magic Knights are called upon to kill her, rather than let the world crumble.
The girls are torn up when they discover the truth about WHY they had to kill Emeraude, and the entire plot of part 2 surrounds the flaws of the Pillar system. Asking a person to self-sacrifice, even for the good of an entire world, is WRONG.
Through their rejection, Hikaru (who is deemed the new pillar) and the others completely dismantle the Pillar system. Again and again in part 2, the girls are fighting to BE TRUE TO THEMSELVES. Not to save Cephiro, not for anyone else. They fight because THEY want to be true to what THEY want. It is not self sacrifice that motivates them, but rather the opposite of that.
Here the message is clear: it is not wrong, or selfish, or evil to wish for your own happiness. Any system that forces such a dichotomy between caring about yourself and caring about others is flawed and leads to pain.
MKR is not a PERFECT feminist series, there certainly are flaws here. But I deeply enjoy that the two major themes of the work are so wonderfully feminist in nature.