The Nanoha franchise is one I’ve talked about a lot. I’ve reviewed the first series, As, StrikerS, Vivid and even the loosely connected Triangle Heart, which has been the only ungood one thus far. This week I’m going to look at Vivid Strike, which is a side story for Vivid. It was produced by Seven Arcs, the same studio behind everything else I’ve looked at except, oddly enough, Vivid itself. Let’s see if it upholds the franchise’s proud traditions of quality and les-yay. That excludes Triangle Heart, obviously.
Fuuka Reventon is an orphan with a propensity for trouble. We open with her getting into a fight with a bunch of ne’er do wells. When law enforcement arrives on the scene, she’s forced to flee. She runs right into Einhald Stratos and manages to throw one punch before collapsing from injuries she sustained in her earlier altercation. Einhald sees potential in her and brings her into the Nakajima Gym, offering to coach her in martial arts. Fuuka eventually accepts, hoping to reconnect with her childhood friend, Rinne Berlinetta.
The only real narrative issue I have with this series is that it may abridge things too much. A lot of the stuff they skip over is totally justifiable. We don’t need to see all the tournament fights. Especially when one of our main characters is going against some Rando and they’re obviously going to win because it’s a main character against someone who we’re just now meeting. However, the unfortunate side effect of skipping over all but a few of those is that we don’t get a proper arc for Fuuka and her development as a martial artist. We see her train with the other girls a bit and win a single match before we cut to the climactic fight betwixt her and Rinne. Which really isn’t enough to give her a plausible chance. Instead, we get to be told how far she’s come by other characters. Because that’s just as good as seeing it.
That aspect aside, I do have a lot of praise for the story. The conflict between Fuuka and Rinne is really well handled. It acknowledges the mistakes that are made while also showing us the reasons behind them. The scenes showing Rinne’s back story are actually highly poignant. The narrative being about these old friends and their trying to reconnect also provides a compelling tension to the narrative that was absent from the regular Vivid anime and using martial arts as a vehicle that could potentially make that happen really works to tie it in with the framework we’ve already got. I also do appreciate that the tournament doesn’t go the way you would normally expect from this kind of series. The pacing is fairly well done, in spite of the aforementioned abridging issue. It has rising action, an intense climax and then adequate time to wrap things up from there.
The character element has always been a strong suit for this franchise. This instalment is no exception. Fuuka has a strong student-master relationship with Einhald. There are a lot of nive little touches that give us insight into her character. The way she talks to the other girls, frequently using nicknames is one. The way she responds to Rinne when Rinne is talking about the lack of understanding other people have towards her is a big one. The dynamic of her and Rinne is the core of the series and it is actually superb. The flashbacks of them together show us very clearly why they mean a lot to each other and add weight to the reconnection plot. Their early interactions also illustrate both the difficulties of rekindling their connection and the yearning to rekindle it from both of them. Which makes things really interesting. I also do like the way it further develops the Vivid cast.
the only real art issue I have with this one is that the transformation sequences remain rather sleazy in their usage of fan-service. It does, however, improve on a lot of my issues with Vivid. There’s a lot less general fan-service. There aren’t any overly fan-servicey outfits on display. We don’t see Sister Chantez’s stripper nun outfit, for instance. They manage to fight in their matches and keep their clothing intact because, I guess, Seven Arcs is better about that than A-1. I do generally like the character designs. Although, Fuuka looks a lot like IF from Neptunia. Did IF and Compa have a science baby? Come to think of it, Rinne looks a bit like Lady Blackheart but with Neptune’s eyes. Did Noire and Neptune also have a science baby? Did the infants get left alone with Neptune and accidentally sent to another dimension? She probably responded to the justifiable anger by breaking the fourth wall and joking too. Joking tangents aside, the designs are striking and I do like that Fuuka bases her transformation off of her mentor. It’s another of those little touches that tells us about her. The action sequences are really good. You can really see the force of the impacts and the animation is just highly polished. And all without having anyone’s clothes torn apart. Almost like that was completely unnecessary, A-1.
The performances in this are all great. The strongest come from our main duo voiced by Ogura Yui & Minase Inori. Sakura Ayane, Noto Mamiko & Mizuhashi Kaori also do particularly well. This series probably has the best soundtrack I’ve heard from Yoshikawa Youichirou. You may remember him as the composer for Iria & Green Legend Ran. Iria had good music as well, this just has really good music.
As this is the Nanoha franchise, there’s a lot of les-yay. The vast bulk of it in this series is between Fuuka and Rinne. We don’t see much of Vivio and Einhald’s sapphic tension in this one and a lot of our previous couples (Nanoha & Fate, Subaru & Teana, etc.) don’t show up. It’s also heavily implied that Victoria has a thing for Rinne. Harry and Els allude to it during a conversation and Victoria just responds like it’s completely natural. As she should. There’s no shame in her having a crush on Rinne. I don’t think she’s going to win out over Fuuka in that regard, but I’m sure she’ll get over it and find a nice girlfriend of her own eventually. After all, the population in this franchise seems to be ninety percent lesbians. No lack of selection there.
Vivid Strike isn’t just a marked improvement over Vivid. It’s a really great series in its own right. The narrative of old friends trying to connect again after falling out really resonates. The action sequences are awesome. The acting is skilful. The relationship dynamic between our leads is amazing. It is, however, not a perfect series by any means. The transformation sequences are overly focused on titillation and Fuuka’s coming into her own as a martial artist could have been much better handled. Still, I do recommend it for any fans of the franchise. Even those of you who were a bit disappointed with Vivid. Especially since I was as well. My final rating is still going to stand at a very solid 9/10. Next week I’ll take a look at Bishoujo Yuugekitai Battle Skipper.