Tag Archives: Nanoha

Vivid Strike: Reconciliation is Key

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.

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Story:

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.

Characters:

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.

Art:

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.

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Sound:

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.

Ho-yay:

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.

Triangle Heart: Sweet Songs Forever-Weak precursor to amazingness

I’ve reviewed a lot of the Nanoha franchise. The first series, A’s, StrikerS, Vivid and I’m sure I’ll review the follow up to Vivid when it comes out. Why am I talking about Nanoha? Well, today’s offering, Triangle Heart Sweet Songs Forever, is kind of a prequel but not really. The basic gist of it is that this series started as a series of eroges and OVAs called Triangle Heart. Nanoha’s character was introduced as the younger sister of two of the main characters in the third instalment, and the one this OVA was adapted from. It was also the last hurrah of the series, with the OVA coming out late in 2000. Incidentally, the Nanoha franchise spun off of it in 2004, changing hands from Discovery to Seven Arcs. So, is it worth checking this one out or is it fortuitous for everyone that it isn’t tied directly into the Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha franchise?

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Story:

We open with a young woman named Crystela Fiasse, who’s been receiving threats. She’s about to go on a concert tour with charity along with the students at her song school. Her childhood friend, McGaren Ellis, is brought in to act as her bodyguard. She also reaches out to their old friends, the Takamachi siblings, Kyouya & Miyuki. They may not be professional bodyguards, but they’re experts with blades. Ellis resents their amateur interference. Will they be able to put aside their differences and deal with this threat?

Let’s start by talking about what the series does poorly. The biggest issue is that there’s quite a bit of filler for a four episode series. We get to spend time watching people work in Kyouya’s café, even though none of them are actually important to the narrative and the scenes do absolutely nothing. We also get to watch overly long exposition scenes about the shared back story of our four leads. We don’t need these scenes since everything important in them comes out in the main narrative but we get them anyway. The climax is also weak. We get a lot of build up for a battle that gets concluded in a very short amount of time. That aside, what we’re left with is a pretty standard action story.

Characters:

The cast in this is really boring and not just those café characters who just take up time. The main characters in this are just bland. Both Kyouya & Miyuki were better fleshed out in the Nanoha spin off. They weren’t incredibly complex characters in that, but they at least had verisimilitude, which is more than I can say for them here. Which is really sad since they were just minor characters in that and they were the focus characters in this.

Triangle Heart.png

(Nanoha’s first anime appearance, Folks. Working the cash.)

Art:

The art is pretty well done. Aside from some odd, faux artistic choices like tinting everything a single colour for some scenes. Overall, it is a nice looking OVA with some strong designs and solid action scenes. The artwork is definitely the OVA’s strongest point.

Sound:

The acting in this is passable, mostly. There are exceptions. Kodama Satomi sounds like she’s not trying at all. She gives a very listless, emotionless performance as Miyuki. Which could be why Miyuki was voiced by Shiraishi Ryoko in Nanoha. Seki Tomokazu has the opposite problem. He really chews the scenery in how far he goes over the top. Aside from that, we get performances that are functional, but not really good. The music, on the other hand, is pretty good. The biggest issue with it is that they talk the concert up quite a bit. In fact, they go really overboard with it, going on about how great it’s going to be and how it’s going to bring tranquillity to everyone who hears it and it really doesn’t live up to that kind of hype.

Ho-yay:

There’s only a little in this one. Surprising given how much is in the spin off, I know. A lot of the dynamic between Ellis & Fiasse comes across like they’re an old couple. Although that could be more as a result of there being basically nothing to their characters than anything intentional.

Final Thoughts:

Triangle Heart isn’t a bad little OVA but it is pretty weak. The story, what little it has, is largely forgettable and the characters are just dull. Overall, I give it a 4/10. Next week is going to be one that was requested quite a while back, Golgo 13.

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A’s: NanoFated Reunion

Back in January I talked about Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, an anime from Seven Arcs. The second anime series in the franchise, A’s, aired in 2005. Exactly a year after the first. Let’s recap the first, shall we? Young Takamachi Nanoha gained magical powers to help Yuuno, a boy transformed into a ferret, find artifacts called Jewel Seeds. While doing so she came into conflict with the young mage Fate Testarossa. Nanoha was immediately drawn to Fate, wanting to become friends and more than friends with her. After a climactic battle with Fate’s abusive mother, Nanoha returned triumphant and Fate was taken away to face judgment for the things she did for her mom. Nanoha was allowed to see her before she left which naturally resulted in her and Fate calling each others names, holding hands and gazing lovingly into each others eyes. Which brings us to the situation at the opening of this series. Will the two meet again? Will more yurirrific content happen? Can Nanoha and Fate possibly be more adorable? Will the transformation sequences still be super uncomfortable to watch? Let’s watch Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A’s and answer those questions.

Story:

We open with a young girl in a wheelchair at hospital. She returns to her empty home and reads in bed. She’s about to sleep when a book on her shelf shines with an unearthly light and things start happening. We cut to Nanoha before we can learn what happens with the girl. It’s been months since the events of the first series and she’s been maintaining a long distance relationship with Fate and they’ve been exchanging video letters as part of that. We see her look at her most recent one and blush because of course she does. We find out that Fate is returning very soon and Nanoha can’t wait to see her. We then find out that mages are being attacked and their linker cores, the internal mechanism that allows them to use magic, are getting drained in order to fill a strange tome called the book of darkness. Nanoha senses some strange magic and finds herself under attack by a red-haired girl wielding a massive hammer.

Honestly, the only complaint I have with the story is that the pacing does border on the hectic. The first series managed to be fast-paced while still having plenty of breathing room and slow moments. A’s tries to do something similar, but it isn’t as effective at it. To its credit, it’s never an egregious problem so the narrative isn’t difficult to follow nor are you liable to miss anything but there are certainly moments where the shift from one big moment to the next are too sudden. On the positive side, the story is very compelling and there are a lot of interesting moments within it. A’s is really good at introducing mysterious elements, using them to build tension while hinting at the answer and giving the answers at a natural point. It’s also good about establishing its plot devices and how they work early enough on that when they come into play during the climax it really works. There’s nothing that feels forced or contrived.

Characters:

The characters remain a strong point of the franchise. Nanoha, Fate and the other characters from the first series remain fleshed out and they develop naturally over the course of the series. The minor characters don’t get as much development but they are three-dimensional and have verisimilitude. The antagonists are really interesting as well. They have developed motivations and back stories. You get the sense right away that they have something that they’re fighting for and the reveal of what exactly that is is really superb. They are very much sympathetic villains. The character interactions are also really good. Fate’s developing familial relationship with Lindy and Chrono is very well done. As is her budding romance with Nanoha. The antagonistic group also gets a lot of really good moments.

Art:

The artwork is much the same as the first series. The animation is good as are the action sequences, character designs and various bits of magical technology. The biggest problem with the series is still the transformation sequences. We get to see nine year olds in their undergarments and starkers in a way that is just detailed enough to be really uncomfortable but not so explicit that they can’t air it. I will give A’s some credit for barely using the transformation sequences, but they’re still horrible when they do show up.

Sound:

The vocal cast remains an amazing aspect of the series. Mizuki Nana and Tamura Yukari make spectacular leads and really convey the chemistry between Nanoha and Fate. For the antagonists in this one we’ve got Yuzuki Ryouka, Shimizu Kaori, Asami Sanada, Ueda Kana and Ichijo Kazuya. They all deliver spectacularly in their roles too. The music is really damn good.

Ho-yay:

There’s a lot here. Since they aren’t on opposing sides in this one, the relationship between Nanoha and Fate is able to grow even more romantic with a lot more shared moments and they are incessantly adorable. They even set up the ending theme as a love song going from Nanoha to Fate. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they adopt a child together when they’re adults. There’s also a bit between Hayate and Vita. It’s less of a focus but they certainly seem to have chemistry.

Final Thoughts:

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical A’s is every bit as strong as the first series. It has a compelling, well crafted story, interesting characters and an excellent vocal cast. It’s biggest issue is the transformation sequences, which really isn’t that bad especially when you factor in how little they’re used and there are some things that it could have done better. In the end my final rating is a 9/10. Next week, I’ll look at Love Live series 1.

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha: NanoFated first love

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?

Story:

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.

Characters:

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.

Art:

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.

Sound:

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.

Ho-yay:

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.

Final Thoughts:

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.