It’s time to look at Seven Arcs’ incredibly Sapphic Nanoha franchise once more. Although, this one was handed over to A-1 Pictures. Which isn’t that odd when you consider that Seven Arcs is more into the business end of animation these days and less into actually animating. Let’s start with a quick recap of the prior series. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, our young heroine gained magical powers and developed a serious crush on young Fate. Their budding relationship was adorable. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A’s, the two teamed up against a sympathetic threat. In the process their first love started blossoming into a deeper and more meaningful relationship, which was adorable. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, the two were fully grown, living as a couple and adopted a child together. Eventually rescuing their young daughter from the machinations of a nutter and his elite force of female cyborgs. Their relationship continued to be adorable. If there are two things I can predict based on the other series they’re that Nanoha and Fate will have an adorable relationship and the transformation sequences are going to be awful. Let’s see if those patterns continue to hold up with Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha Vivid.
Vivid takes place four years after Strikers and follows ten year old Vivio as she practices her martial arts under the tutelage of Nove, one of the reformed cyborgs, alongside her two best friends, Corona and Rio. The three are quickly joined by a fourth student, Einhald Stratos, whom Nove invites in order to guide. Vivio is instantly enamoured with Einhald in a way that’s somewhat reminiscent of how her moms were when they met. The four participate in a mock battle with most of the main cast from Strikers, minus Hayate and her guardian knights. Lutecia and Nove use the opportunity to tell Einhald about the Inter-Middle tournament for young mages. She agrees to enter, encouraged by Vivio. The rest of the series is about Vivio, Corona, Rio and Einhald preparing themselves for and facing the first few rounds of the tournament.
The biggest issue with this one is that it has no real stakes. In the prior three series, there was something major and important that the characters were fighting for. Including Vivio’s life in the last series. In this one, we’re primarily following four kids who are competing in a tournament. Even if they lose they can compete again next year and lose nothing important. There’s no real tension from the plot as a result. About the most tension we get is over whether or not Vivio will confess her feelings to Einhald. The plot itself is also one we’ve seen before, a lot, usually as part of a bigger work but sometimes by itself like this. At this point, it’s quite a banal spectacle. The series also suffers from some gratuitous fan-service scenes because when your main characters are ten you really need those. Way to keep it classy, A-1 and/or manga writer Tsuzuki Masaki.
That being said, the story does flow from one narrative point to another really effectively and, even though it is a standard plot, it’s well told. There are lots of good slice of life moments. Both with the Takamachi family and with Vivio and her friends and it is interesting to see what became of the reformed combat cyborgs. I also appreciate that they didn’t try to force a more serious situation and have Nanoha and Fate inexplicably absent or beaten in order to let Vivio take the lead.
The characters are still a strength of the series. We don’t see as much of a focus on Nanoha, Fate and their comrades but they’re still strong characters. The new characters we get are fleshed out well and get some development. Even their major opponents in the tournament have enough to them to give them a good level of verisimilitude. The interactions are Vivid’s biggest strength. The dynamics amongst these characters are really well done whether the mentor relationship between Nove and the girls, the familial stuff between Vivio and her moms, the sapphic tension or just the friendly relationships. They’re all really good.
Well, I was right about the transformation sequences. They’re still terrible, lovingly outlining all the contours. The artwork also suffers from gratuitous fan-service, some of which involves ten year old girls. Even some of the designs suffer from being fan-service based. Like Sister Chantez and her battle habit complete with under-boob. She’s fourteen, by the way. Far too young to be showing under-boob.
That being said, most of the character designs are really good and don’t do that. The action scenes are almost really good, except that the crass fan-service rears its ugly head and a lot of the action sequences result in the girls getting their clothes torn in a way that’s supposed to be sexy. Remember last series where they fought for their lives and, somehow, kept their clothes largely intact? Why exactly is it that they can’t manage that when having sparring matches? I get the feeling that the answer involves despicable art direction.
The performances remain stellar. Saito Chiwa gives a really strong one as Nove, also as Subaru but Subaru has less of a role in this series. Mizuhashi Kaori, Noto Mamiko, Fukuen Misato and Kitamura Eri all do excellent vocal work as our main four. The music is also really good, suiting the series perfectly.
There’s a lot. In addition to our NanoFate moments, Subaru and Teana still appear to be an item but the main focus is on Vivio and Einhald. The two of them aren’t really as adorable as Nanoha and Fate were in prior series, but they get a lot of good moments and their blossoming love is really cute. There’s also an episode where Sein does something that’s completely uncool, but still homo-erotic.
Vivid is the weakest instalment in this franchise yet. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it has a lot of strong moments, excellent characters and great sound, but the narrative itself is a lot weaker than prior instalments and it really suffers from the crass and gratuitous fan-service. So, while still a good series, it’s not a superb one. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Next week I’ll end the year with a look at Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru.