#1 Because it’s Clamp
Magic Knight Rayearth is probably the first, real hit manga by Team Clamp, preceding major successes like Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Angelic Layer, and Tsubasa Reservoir. While I wouldn’t rate the manga, and by extension the anime adaptation, as highly as those works, I will say that the qualities that make Clamp such a unique team are present in abundance in MKR.
Most prominently, the character design is absolutely sublime, with main characters Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu having exceptionally detailed and memorable designs to them. Clamp has a particular style when it comes to drawing humans and this shows particularly well in our teenage heroes, which look taller, more mature, and more feminine than characters from other shows within the same age group (14). Magic Knight also looks particularly shiny, especially when it comes to the girls’ hair, and I thoroughly enjoyed the look of their armor and weapons, which evolve as the knights become stronger. When it comes to comedy segments the animation can also easily switch to an appealing chibi style.
The plot too is very emotionally driven, another trait shared across many CLAMP works, with the villain of the story having kidnapped the princess (and deity figure) of the fantasy world Safiro out of his deep love for her, causing Safiro to fall into disarray and break apart. You also have characters like Alcyone, who is unquestionably loyal to the villain out of her unrequited love, and the wandering swordsman Ferio, who develops a romance with one of the girls as the story proceeds. And of course there is the budding friendship between Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi itself, which is portrayed really well in this adaptation.
#2 Mokona is the most hilarious little bastard in anime
To some extent Magic Knight Rayearth is a magical girl show and no mahou shoujo is complete without a cute companion character. Hikaru and her friends are accompanied throughout Safiro by a weird, bunny-like creature known as Mokona. While technically super useful as he knows the way throughout all of Safiro and can summon almost anything the girls might need, he is hilariously uncooperative.
Prone to disappearing at the worst times and keeping many of his powers hidden, Mokona is often more of a cutesy nuisance than an actual help. Mokona just hits all the right notes to make him hilarious, at least to me. He is a big, fluffy bastard, he bounces around constantly, and his dialogue is limited to weird noises. He also gets some fantastic scenes and his interactions with Umi in particular I found really enjoyable.
#3 It’s better than the manga
It’s not often I get to say this, especially in regards to CLAMP works, but the anime adaptation of Magic Knight Rayearth really is better than the manga. With 20 episodes to it the adventure Hikaru, Fuu, and Umi embark upon gets a lot more breathing room than in the single omnibus the manga comes in. This means there are a lot more interactions with the citizens of Safiro, with the heroes helping villagers, battling monsters, and aiding the people they meet, whereas in the manga they only meet with a few plot-relevant characters.
The scale is best seen in the interactions with the villains, who bite the dust much later than they do in the manga. For example, Ascot in the manga has just one confrontation with the girls in which he grows increasingly upset until confronted by Umi directly. In the anime several episodes feature confrontations with him in different situations, which gives us more different stories and shows us more of Safiro, while also letting his character develop more gradually before concluding at basically the same point as the manga.
Characters as a whole feel more developed, owing to extra dialogue and more screen-time, which makes the whole adventure, the heroes, their friends, and the bad guys more interesting. I will admit it’s still not the best fantasy story out there, but it does elevate a 4/10 manga to a 7/10 anime.