When Nanoha meets her Fate.
Nine-year old Nanoha Takamachi is your average elementary schooler. She has a loving family, she has a couple of best friends, she has a good heart, and she’s just saved a talking ferret named Yuuno. Turns out, Yuuno is actually an archaeologist from another world who’s come to our world seeking the 21 Jewel Seeds–artifacts which can give individuals unnatural power–that escaped from his dig-site in hopes of returning them to their resting place. He’s been seriously wounded, though, and needs Nanoha’s aid to accomplish this task. Yuuno gives her the Intelligent Device Raising Heart in order to help, and luckily enough, Nanoha displays a great aptitude for magic. She’ll need it, too, as the mysterious magical girl Fate Testarossa and her companion Arf are also after the Jewel Seeds. None of them fully comprehend the forces they’re dealing with or the adventure that lies ahead.
Goodness me. Yes, that’s a “Part 1” you see up there. Here’s the thing: I wanted to watch an anime that’s generally outside my realm of entertainment. I constantly seek to broaden my horizons, if you will. So, I decided to check out a magical girl show–a genre more often than not directed toward a much younger female audience. Now, I’m no stranger to these shows since Sailor Moon is quite possibly the first anime I ever saw on TV, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica is…an anime I have also watched. But, I saw one as a kid and the other is about as far as you can get from the average magical girl show. Heard that Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is one of the best of the genre and has some great action set pieces. For some reason, I decided to go all in. (Author’s note: Sawcy confirmed for All In, bay-bay!) (Editor’s note: Sawcy ain’t confirmed for sh*t.) I watched six anime for this. Thus, we have us a “Part 1.”
The main weakness of the first season of Nanoha is it starts off as a very cookie-cutter magical girl show: Nice girl finds magical animal and receives powers in order to collect the things. The first few episodes are a bit of a slog to get through. It does help that there is some interesting tidbits with her family such as her father being covered in scars and having trained Nanoha’s older brother and sister in their family’s style of martial arts (I’ll be getting back to them in Part 2). They still train, but now they, along with Nanoha’s hot anime mom, run a fairly popular bakery. I dunno. Maybe that’s par for the course in these magical girl shows, but it was kinda neat to me.
The show really picks up when Nanoha’s rival Fate shows up. Fate, along with her familiar Arf, are out to collect the Jewel Seeds for Fate’s mom, Precia Testarossa. Now, Fate does some pretty bad things throughout the season, but Nanoha refuses to simply fight her and constantly looks for a way to connect to the obviously troubled girl. The dialogue is mostly whatever, but each of their encounters feels like a big deal thanks to this anime’s crew dedicating themselves to making the fight scenes awesome. The emotion really gets through as each battle escalates further and further, culminating in Nanoha using a move she calls “Starlight Breaker,” and it…it’s one of my favorite attacks in anime.
Yeah, with the emotional maturity the show builds coupled and its surprisingly solid action scenes, I can definitely see why Nanoha became such a big franchise. I would’ve stopped watching the whole series had this season not got me, but it did. The final fate (no pun intended) of the Big Bad was a little meh, the opening episodes are weak, and I can’t fully get over nine-year-old girls being used for even mild fan-service. Aside from that, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a good show. It’s a 7.5 for me.
You get “A’s” for effort.
Six months have passed since the Jewel Seeds incident, and Nanoha Takamachi is enjoying her peaceful life. She and Fate are besties now and exchange video messages while waiting for Fate’s sentence to be up. Fate’s turned over such a new leaf she even wants to join the Time-Space Administrative Bureau and work with Yuuno and her possible adoptive mother Captain Lindy Harlaown. Just as she’s supposed to return, however, Nanoha is attacked by the seemingly ruthless Belkan knights who not only break Nanoha’s Raising Heart and Fate’s Bardiche, but they also almost completely drain Nanoha of her magic! Our heroes find out the knights are trying to fill the immensely powerful Lost Logia known as the Book of Darkness for their mysterious master, and even though no one really knows what will happen when the Book is complete, with a name like that, it can’t be good. Nanoha and Fate have to step up their respective games, though, if they want to fight these ancient warriors. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, and save the world.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s is widely considered the best entry in the franchise, and I can definitely see why. I’d certainly recommend the first season to anyone who wants to give the franchise a shot, but I’d constantly remind them it gets better. I’m gonna go into more details, but just know right here and now that A’s does everything better than the first season. The action, characters, story, emotion, world-building…everything.
There are no weak introductory episodes here. The first episode has our main character getting beaten. And not just plain ol’ beaten–she gets thoroughly trounced by Vita. To say that I was shocked would be a bit of an understatement. Sure, you gotta establish your new antagonists, but I was floored by how badly Vita whooped Nanoha’s ass. And it wasn’t just her. The other Wolkenritter Signum, Shamal, and Zafira all showed up to chew bubblegum and kick ass, but alas, they were seemingly out of bubblegum. They also introduced the Belkan system of magic, which I love for a couple of reasons.
First, with multiple worlds being established, it makes sense there are multiple forms of magic. Nanoha, Fate, and their allies base their powers on the Midchilda (Yuuno and the TSAB’s home world) system of magic, while the antagonists use something almost completely different. Second, the Belkan system is so cool. It’s like this cartridge system where they load magic bullets into their magic weapons to make them more magical. Awesome moves become epic in those scenes where you see the weapon being cocked multiple times. I love it.
The characters really become draws this season, too. Nanoha already established her willingness to look at her enemies not only as opponents, but also as people with dreams and goals she isn’t aware of with how she treated and eventually befriended Fate. It’s a surprisingly mature viewpoint I hadn’t expected, and her depth of heart and character (and badassery) only grows in A’s. Fate, too, has gone from being a moody, unthinking weapon to a caring, thoughtful young girl who loves her friends and wants to help wherever she can. We could learn from these two.
See, I had already decided the Belkan knights were irredeemable and needed to be stopped, but then we get to find out who they are and why they do what they do. Their current master is another nine-year-old girl named Hayate Yagami. Hayate is a wheelchair-bound orphan who lives by herself, and she’s dying…and she knows it. And even though she’s aware that filling the Book of Darkness might save her life, she loves her guardians so much that the only thing she’s requested of them is to not fight. These proud, honorable Knights have never felt such love in all their years being bound to the Book. They want to do as she asks, but the thought of their new master slowly dying due to the Book draining her life doesn’t sit well with them. As with Fate and her awful home situation in the first season, I began to feel for the Belkan knights. Even rooted for them at certain points.
And that final confrontation. Hell yeah.
So yeah, the second season of Nanoha may very well be the best. It doesn’t have the weaknesses of the first season, and its strengths are even better. I’m giving it a 9. An honest to God surprise.
To err is human; to Bust, Divine.
Fifteen-year-old Subaru Nakajima is a hot-blooded mage who wants nothing more than to save people like the woman who saved her years ago. She and her best friend Teana Lanster are currently C-Ranked Mages in the Time-Space Administrative Bureau looking to move up to B-Rank. Their test goes a little off the rails, but the two show promise and are recruited to join Lost Property Riot Force 6–a new, experimental squad formed by Hayate Yagami specifically to hunt the Lost Logia called Relics. They, along with the young mages Erio Mondial and Caro Ru Lushe, accept and become the Forwards of Riot Force 6. Erio and Caro are the Lightning Forwards led by none other than their adoptive mother Fate Testarossa Harlaown. Subaru and Teana become the Stars Forwards led by the legendary “Ace of Aces” Nanoha Takamachi, the woman who saved Subaru and changed her life’s path. Certain members of TSAB are intimidated by such an absurdly powerful squad, but Hayate has sensed a great threat looming, and she aims to put an end to it with her friends at her side.
I really love Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers. Objectively speaking, A’s is a better show. Its character work is stronger, and the pacing is so much better. Granted, Strikers is the first–and so far, only–26-episode series in the franchise, so I guess pacing issues were to be expected. That said, I might wind up re-watching Strikers before A’s. I dunno. It’s weird!
When works of fiction really allow their characters to grow and change as people, it makes my heart go doki doki. We met Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate as somewhat naive third-graders, but here we see them as highly capable adults. I was so happy when I saw that Fate had actually taken in two children who’d been abandoned by their respective families. Like, of course someone who was hated and used by the woman who raised her would grow into a person who couldn’t leave a lost child alone. It made so much sense, but I didn’t expect it. On the other hand, you have Nanoha who’s basically thrown herself into her work and now trains new recruits. Both have grown into people we could see them becoming, and both are happy and fulfilled. And they’re one of my favorite anime couples.
The show never comes right out and says that Nanoha and Fate are together, but there are enough implications we can infer that that’s the case. The two of them are still ridiculously close and share a room and a bed in the Riot Force 6 barracks. There’s even a little girl introduced about halfway through the series named Vivio who is taken in and looked after by the two. So yeah, they basically wind up adopting and raising a kid together. And I love it. Their relationship is so rarely played up for titillation because it’s treated like it should be–normal. These are two women who’ve meant so much to each other since they were children, they’ve grown up and entered a relationship. And they complement each other so well. I’m gonna stop talking about these two now, but good on the creators for allowing these characters a positive natural progression.
The new cast, too, are pretty cool themselves. Subaru’s powers are especially cool with her magic rollerblades and gun-gauntlet thing, and her whole backstory with her family and situation was definitely a surprise. Teana is a character whom I initially slept on. She uses guns, but the creators found some neat ways to utilize that power. The main thing that got me about her is her character arc. I won’t give it away, but she winds up taking a couple kicks to her ego which allows her to grow without the show being too overt about it by the end. Erio and Caro get their own times to shine, too, but they don’t get as much attention as Subaru and Teana. Which is mostly fine. They’re neat enough characters who already had their big life-altering experiences before the show when Fate adopted them.
And, for the first time since Precia, we get a truly despicable piece of excrement for an antagonist–Jail Scaglietti. Actually, he’s worse than Fate’s mom since she fell into darkness trying to save someone. Scaglietti is just a scumbag. He’s picked his allies well, though. The young summoner Lutecia Alpine helps him out despite the old knight Zest Garangaitz and Unison Device Agito trying to convince her otherwise. These three are really cool and represent that misguided antagonist trope Nanoha loves so much. Scaglietti’s actual servants–the Numbers–are a mixed bag of cool and awful. Most fall into that group with Lutecia and friends, but then there are some–like Quattro–who are as bad as Scaglietti–like Quattro. Despite my issues with the pacing, Strikers did a phenomenal job of building up the final confrontations with these enemies, and I could not wait to see our heroes triumph and the villains get their comeuppance–like Quattro.
And, again, it’s a little too drawn out, but the climactic fight is amazing. Strikers has one of the most genuinely cathartic anime moments in this final fight when Nanoha damn near mercilessly takes out one of her opponents. (Spoiler alert: It’s Quattro.)
I spent way too much time just talking about the characters in Strikers (and the other entries, as well), but I just love them so much. It’s a large, diverse cast with quite a few we’ve seen grow up. And even though I think A’s does most everything better, Strikers is a whole heap of fun that continues increasing the show’s penchants for drama and action. I gotta give it an 8.5 out of 10.
There is a lot I didn’t get into with these first three, but let’s face it–this post has run on long enough. In Part 2, I’ll be taking a look at two more vivid entries (see what I did there?) in this massive franchise along with one other…tangential show.