Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
Jewel Seeds are powerful crystals that, when all 21 are combined together, are pretty powerful stuff. Yuuno Scraia, a mage, has had a bit of a problem with them as of late: they have scattered all across the world, and when the young mage (no more than 10 or so) tries to go to Earth to get them back, he finds himself in the body of a ferret. He can't get the Jewel Seeds on his own, so he enlists the help of a cheerful, upbeat third-grader named Nanoha Takamichi. Yuuno gives the ability to transform into Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha to gather all the Jewel Seeds from the evil embodiments they consist of. However, she faces competition in the form of fellow magical girl Fate Testarossa, who's collecting the Jewel Seeds for her own personal reasons.
Every now and again I review a show for this website that I practically force myself to finish, regardless of my wanting to watch it and do something more constructive of my time (like taking a shower). Nanoha, I thought, was destined to be one of those shows. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because the show actually does have likable characters and a few nice ideas. You just wouldn't know from how the series starts off, that's all.
The first few episodes of Nanoha are some of the most forgettable, boring, and just plain uninteresting episodes of any show I've ever seen. They aren't so much bad as they are typical of the genre: magical school girl collects stuff with the help of a talking mascot (a ferret, in this case), while facing a distant rival who doesn't understand her (whose mascot, a talking dog, can turn into a human with big breasts for fan service. Whee). The fact that we see Nanoha's panties when she transforms didn't help my initial impressions of this series, either. At least there isn't any filler: in a show this short, I'd be annoyed if there was.
The characterization in this series isn't outstanding, either. Nanoha is cheerful and likable, but there's nothing particularly unique about her. While it's nice that for once we have a heroine in a magical girl series who's not klutzy or boy-crazy, there's very little to Nanoha herself aside from her being a nice girl who wants everyone to be friends. Her family is also extremely nice, even when Nanoha leaves her house for hours and days upon end, they don't even so much as bat an eye as to why she does so. Still, there are still unique concepts to her character. For one, Nanoha's staff talks in English (by someone who's native language is English) instead of Japanese. Also, the series is not so much Nanoha twirling a baton around and converting things so much as her physically attacking things with her staff at times. (The Monster of the Day formula is thankfully not the driving force of the entire series.) Her talking animal familiar, Yunno, is actually a pretty cool character, and he's actually useful in battle, casting barriers and other such things for Nanoha.
As for Nanoha's rival, Fate Testarossa: she's a pity character if I've ever see one in anime. Not to mention that her character design was made to attract certain adult Japanese males: she's soft-spoken, has blond hair in two pigtails, dresses in black, is very shy, and has issues involving her and her mother. Even better, to drive that last point home, we see her regularly whipped by her mother for failing her missions, beating treated like dirt throughout the entire series by her. Fate's mission is driven by fear and worry more so than Nanoha's optimistic "everyone should be friends, I loooooove people" view. This could've been used to great effect, but instead director Akiyuki Shinbo apparently wanted you to see Fate rejected, sad, and abused instead. Her magical familiar, Arf (a dog-girl with a tail and big breasts), rubbed me the wrong way when she debuted as well, going into the obligatory "You don't understand what my master is going through! GRRR!! Prepare to die!!" threat to Nanoha that many other underlings for rival characters in anime often do. Oddly enough, though, she becomes the most sensible character near the end, though by that point the show is so drenched in drama no one listens to her. No one ever listens to the sane character in dire situations in cartoons. Ever.
So if I don't like the characters in Nanoha, why did I still give it three stars? Well, halfway through the series the main cast end up in space, and the show dramatically changes both in style and tone when it does. What used to be fluffy, camp magical girl action is now all of a serious, and the rivalry between Nanoha and Fate for the Jewel Seeds heats up. This isn't simply a case of two girls releasing magic beams at each other, as these girls actually fight each other physically at times, and not simply for something like saving the world. Unfortunately, Nanoha takes until episode 9 to reach this point of intrigue and excitement. And while the last five episodes are indeed good, I can't give this series a recommendation based on them alone.
The visuals and audio hold up better, at least. The art is good, and the character designs are distinct enough to distinguish the fairly large cast the series has. The animation, however, ranges from okay to downright lazy (except for some well-animated scenes of Nanoha in episode one). Aside from the great opening song, the music, though good, is forgettable. The opposite holds true to the ending theme, which has the cutesy Yukari Tamura (who apparently never hit puberty) squeaking her way through a lame J-POP song.
Nanoha is a frustrating show. If it was longer or relied less on squeezing out sympathy from certain blond haired girls, it might've been a solid magical girl series. Instead, it's a mediocre show with fairly big flaws and a boring first half.
Despite a slow start, it manages to stay gripping enough in the last five episodes to keep any magical girl fan's attention. If you don't already like this genre, feel free to ignore it completely. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Although most of the time the series plays it straight, there are occasional glimpses of fan service (including some from Nanoha herself!). The show can also get quite violent at times. In short, not for the lil' ones who watch Sailor Moon.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha © 2004 Nanoha Project
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