Welcome to the new year, everyone. It’s time for magical girl anime month and let’s open with a look at Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. Nanoha is the first TV production of Seven Arcs. The same studio that did Sekirei & Inukami, both exceedingly stupid. So, how did their first foray into tv anime go?
Our tale opens with our protagonist, 3rd grader Takamachi Nanoha, getting a psychic message in a dream asking for her help. The next morning she finds an injured ferret on her way to school, hearing a call for help that leads her to it. She and her friends take it to a vet. The three discuss what they should do with it, eventually deciding that Nanoha should ask her family if they can keep it, at least until it recovers. The discussion goes well but when she’s about to go to bed she hears a voice in her head crying desperately for help. She runs back to the vet finding a shadowy monster attacking the ferret. He tells her that his name is Yuuno and that he came to her world searching for ancient relics called jewel seeds. He begs for her help, giving her a red jewel called the Raising Heart that enables her to transform and use magic. Using its power, she dispatches the shadowy assailant and claims the first jewel seed. At first, things are going fairly well but then a second mage appears, a girl Nanoha’s age who she describes as having beautiful and kind eyes. A girl who wants the jewel seeds for her own purposes, leading to a conflict between the two.
The narrative is really good at setting up tension and at pacing. The story moves fairly quickly, but still manages to find time for breathing room and slower character moments. The short running time is used very effectively with good mix of character moments, action sequences and plot advancing scenes. Every element that goes into the final conflict and climax is introduced in an organic way before it’s used there, which makes everything hold together very strongly. The only complaint I can really make about the story itself is that it does waste a little time with transformation sequences, which is admittedly an incredibly petty complaint especially when you consider that it uses that particular element less than most magical girl works. Frequently skipping it altogether.
Sometimes a solid story can be diminished by weak characters. This is not one of those cases. The character building in Nanoha is really superb with every single character, including the minor ones, having verisimilitude except for in one scene but I’ll discuss that a bit later. The relationship between Nanoha and Fate is especially good, with Nanoha’s attraction being established instantly and Fate going from being somewhat apprehensive to liking Nanoha back more and more. Which culminates in four really excellent scenes near the end of the series. I also like that the main antagonist has a very well explained, very human motivation behind what she’s doing. She does terrible things, but once you understand why you actually start to feel kind of sorry for her. It doesn’t excuse her behaviour but it does make her surprisingly sympathetic. Which is really hard to pull off but it’s done really well in this.
Now, let’s go to my one issue with the characters. As I said, most of the time the characters have verisimilitude. The exception being when Nanoha basically tells her mother that she’s going off into danger, without explaining anything about magic, and her mother just readily goes along with it because letting a nine year old go into danger is fine if it’s what the nine year old wants. The basic idea could have worked, but they’d have had to have Nanoha show off her power a bit or have her mother see her in action at some point prior for it to work. As is it just makes her mom seem like a highly irresponsible parent which is not supposed to be the case.
Most of the animation is well done. The action sequences are intense. The character designs are interesting and the various bits of magical technology have a unique aesthetic. However, this is also where my biggest issue with the series comes in. Nanoha’s transformation sequence is awful. I’m not talking about them having a transformation sequence, I’m talking about the actual visuals for it. They show her in her underwear and then starkers in a way that’s not explicit but is pretty damn uncomfortable especially when you consider that she’s nine. No sane person wants to see a nine year old starkers and I seriously question why they would show the audience so much of her body during it.
They got a really amazing cast for this series. Mizuki Nana, Tamura Yukari, Kuwatani Natsuko & Mizuhashi Kaori make for spectacular leads and Igarashi Rei makes for a great villain. The music is really great as well.
There’s certainly a strong element of les-yay, even more so than with most magical girl works. Nanoha develops a crush on Fate as soon as they meet and the two of them have a lot of really cute moments as their relationship develops. They’re still young but it makes for a spectacular first love story. But maybe I’m over-stating it. It’s not like they’re going to adopt a child together when they get older or something else that moves it definitively into the realm of canon. But even early on it is a very strong element to the series so the ho-yay factor is going to be a 6/10 for this one.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is an excellent series. The story is compelling and well constructed. The characters are really superbly done, save for one scene. The acting and music are both amazing. Really, its biggest flaw is the way they do the transformation sequence which is just gross and disturbing. Still, it’s not a huge problem. Check out the series and just look away when the transformation sequence is going. My final rating is going to be a 9/10. Next week magical girl month continues with Magic Knight Rayearth.