Back on topic about this specific show, I've read most of Clamp's manga but I haven't actually seen the anime adaptions of most of the stories including this one. No particular reason I hadn't seen this one yet, well only the dub and only the first half of the show is on Hulu which was part of the reason, but I think I'll end up sticking to the manga for this one.
Magic Knight Rayearth (both seasons):
Summary: Three ordinary, unconnected girls from Tokyo, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu, are all on field trips to Tokyo Tower one day when they are summoned by a princess from another world to save that world by becoming the legendary Magic Knights. The girls bond with each other, learn magic, and fight their hardest to make sure this story has a happy ending.
The Good: The manga for this series was rather short so it’s nice to see some side characters get more much fleshed out than they were previously. Ferio and Fuu’s relationship benefits from this the most (I always found it odd that they were established as a couple so quickly in the manga despite having barely met), here the girl’s run into him multiple times instead of the single time in the manga and something similar happens with Ascot and which helps out him as well since it’s easier to see where he got his crush on Umi (again, in the manga they meet maybe three times and that makes it a little harder to take the relationships seriously). In the second season this also helps Eagle since in the manga he and Hikaru didn’t meet in person until the final fight, here they meet rather early on (although giving him extra screen time means that he comes off much more manipulative than he does in the manga which is neither good nor bad but just plain odd). However, while the extra run-time (49 episodes vs 6 manga volumes) helped with the character development it did not help with the already present plot problems.
The Bad: This series has two major problems, foreshadowing and pacing. The first is a carry over from the manga, the first arc doesn’t have nearly enough (even though I knew what was to come and was actively looking for hints of it) and the second half had entirely too much, enough that it was hard to believe that the characters were taken by surprise by the turn of events. The pacing however is a problem from taking a six volume manga series and stretching it out to 49 episodes, 39 episodes should have been enough and they might have even been able to tell the story in 26. The second half is where the story really plods along and, since Hikaru is the true main character of the show, there are periods when nothing happens because she’s out of the picture. I have to admit that I prefer elements of the manga’s overall ending to the one here and was a bit surprised at the changes since I thought that one of the members of Clamp helped to write the anime*.
The Audio: It appears that this show had three openings and three endings total but I’m a bit confused by exactly when they all were shown. There’s one opening and ending for the first twenty episodes, ie the first season, and when I was watching the streams there were two openings, I preferred the one that started close to the end, "Still embracing light and darkness" (Hikari to Kage o Dakishimeta mama), which also had more spoilery imagery. However I had missed a few episodes and had to find fansubs, since hulu only has up to episode 20, and those early episodes were also playing that song instead of what I thought was the second opening, "I can't hate you" (Kirai ni narenai). I don’t know if "I can't hate you" had been created for the re-mastered tapes or if for some reason it just wasn’t released in the US originally, it’s all a bit odd. I also watched the show in a mixture of English and Japanese and thought that the Japanese dub was the stronger of the two (which isn’t surprising since the dub is a bit older), even though I was unnerved to realize that Eagle Vision’s Japanese VA was the same as Yuki’s from Cardcaptor Sakura (Megumi Ogata). The English dub actually isn’t terrible, there are some voices which are equally annoying in both languages and I felt like Ferio sounded too old in both languages (I had always thought he was mid to late teens, here he sounded more like he was in his 20s), Umi’s voice was one of the most drastic changes (in Japanese she sounds like a rich girl with a soft voice, not as soft as Fuu’s but still soft, and in English she comes off as a lot louder and more screechy, which matched up with her character better I thought) and I’d still recommend the Japanese dub over the English one but it’s certainly listenable.
The Visuals: At first I wasn’t sure if I was watching the remasters or not but now I can say that I’m pretty sure the streams on hulu are in fact the remasters. Not everything is fixed in the hulu stream, there are still some scenes where something or other is glowing too brightly (bloom) and some of the details are lost, but the colors have been restored and most of the scenes have very sharp, crisp lines. It’s clear that the show is a bit dated, and I’m not even talking about Clamp’s love of giving their characters enormous shoulder pads here, but it doesn’t look bad. Back to the shoulder pads however, I’ve thought that a lot of the character designs here look ridiculous (somehow they are just pulled off better in the manga) but you do get used to them somewhat after a bit.
In the end I would rather recommend the manga over the anime but I wouldn't have any qualms about giving the anime to kids in the right age group, especially girls. The show has three strong female leads (both physically and emotionally and they all have to grow to reach that point) and manages to do so without dumbing down the other characters, male and female (well, except for when the anime turns into "The Hikaru Show"). It is a show for kids but it's not one that is too stupid for adults to stand even though it certainly has it faults.
*The changes are as follows (and mostly appear in the last volume): in the anime it was the girls who warned the three worlds about the duties of the pillar, here Eagle already knew and tried to use the information to bully the other two nations into leaving (not a bit changes and the anime change makes sense but it's still significant). As mentioned earlier, in the manga Hikaru and Eagle never met in person until the fight for the pillar, which makes their romance make more sense in the anime, and the determining of the pillar is VERY different. In the manga it’s an actual fight between Hikaru and Eagle (in Tokyo which is probably where the Rayearth OVAs got the idea, which I plan to get around to sooner or later BTW) and it’s not an object that symbolizes the pillar, it’s a road that only they can enter. One thing that caught me off guard in the anime however is that Eagle in fact dies, when re-checking the manga I figured out why, he lives there! Funny enough, Eagle is supposed to die in the manga as well (from the battle for the pillar) but he actually makes it out alive, honestly his death was one of the things in the anime that bothered me the most, although the one that makes the most curious is how Umi and Ascot seem even closer by the end of the manga yet Umi basically confesses to Cleft in the anime, an odd change (shipping battling between writers I guess???).