Let's take stock of what I knew about this series going in.
"Cardcaptor Sakura for lolicons"
"Magical Girl anime with actual property damage involved and spells loaded as cartridges"
"seinen sci-fi superheroes masquerading as a shoujo Magical Girl show"
"Magical Girls vs. space battleships! Enough said."
basic plot: third-grader Takamachi Nanoha searches for the Jewel Seeds, artifacts from another dimension(s)
there's a good bad girl, Fate Testarossa, and Nanoha/Fate slash is very common, implying the source material may be slashy
I'd seen the names Hayate, Reinforce, Wolkenritter, Vita and Linker Core, not knowing any context. In retrospect, I know I had seen many more names but forgotten them.
I'd seen descriptions of the various manga, and what stuck in my memory was "What relation is Vivio to Nanoha?"
What really grabbed me was knowing about StrikerS, the idea of showing Magical Girls grown up and training a new generation. Sadly, not something I'd expect in a real shoujo.
Now, did it deliver what I hoped? I knew that much of what I'd heard wasn't from the first season, so see my forthcoming reviews of the sequels to get the full story.
When Nanoha is granted her powers, Yuuno tells her the long incantation/password. I think two things. 1: Wow, I didn't realize it was going to parody Cardcaptor Sakura this directly. 2: I hope she doesn't have to repeat this ritual every time. This show knows what the audience wants, though. Starting with her second transformation, Nanoha is able to cut the magic words. Here the show is consciously ridiculing and discarding Magical Girl conventions... somewhat. We still get to see the stock-footage transformation sequence until halfway through the series. Incidentally, after that point, when we see her transform from the outside, it's very quick in comparison. Later scenes in As pretty much confirm my realization that the transformation sequence is only in Nanoha's mind. I don't know enough Magical Girl series to know if that's the convention.
Early in the series, when the first episode still colors my vision cherry-blossom pink, it becomes clear that Nanoha is meant to be more awesome and cool than Sakura by virtue of being more powerful (a dangerous thing for a writer to think). Sakura's flying was rather... well, "girly", often riding her staff side-saddle. She could only use one power at a time, so she couldn't attack while flying. Nanoha flies with energy wings that grow from her feet. In the title sequence, when she flies, she is no witch on a broomstick. She flies like a superhero. When she does a big loop, it captures the ancient dream of flight in a way Sakura didn't (until she rewrote the cards...) It's only because of this context that the most familiar of powers is able to seem cool again, even liberating.
To continue the convention-breaking, Nanoha and Fate don't call their attacks. Their devices do so for them. This reinforces the idea that magic is just sufficiently advanced technology. However, in the second half, this is undone. Called-attack conventions creep in, and Fate uses incantations that invoke deities.
Okay, it's official. "Divine Buster" is (distant) second to "Genocide Sunshine" as an awesome-stupid-awesome attack name. This isn't the biggest attack, though. That one has a name and appearance that have me thinking "disco".
And oh, so much moe! Can anyone be as pure and good as Nanoha? Or so I thought, until the next season topped her...
Despite that, the saccharine ending theme doesn't fit. It's here that the show best masquerades as genuine shoujo.
The episode previews are one of the places it does so worst. Several spend their limited time on fanservice shots that aren't necessarily representative of the coming episode.
The last episode: sappy, soppy and slashy.
Eventually, I decided to compare the dub. It was painful immediately. Nanoha's voice is the worst among a set of uniformly exaggeratedly high, tinny kids' voices. My review score will apply only to the sub.
This is probably one of the most underrated series out there; it's a real hidden gem. Most might bypass it because it looks like a magical girl series. But no matter who you are, take time to watch all three seasons of this; you won't be disappointed. It's been said that Nanoha(the character) is one part Sakura (from Card Captor Sakura), one part Goku (from Dragon Ball), and one part Gundam. Seriously, the producer is a big Super Robot Wars fan, and the color scheme of Nanoha's magical girl outfit is a direct shout-out to a gundam. Her Goku reference comes because she tosses out magical energy blasts as if they were going out of style.
Nanoha starts out seemingly like standard magical girl fare. Girl finds a wounded magical animal, and gets her powers from it. She spends the first couple of episodes sealing Jewel Seeds, which go out of control and create monsters. Then she meets Fate, a rival magical girl also trying to collect the Jewel Seeds, and things start to change. In fact, right around episode 7, you get two plot twists that hit you out of nowhere, and really let you know you're starting to watching something different. Although if you were watching carefully, you can see hints of them coming.
It's hard to talk about the story without spoiling those plot twists, so I'll just say that you won't be dissappointed. It's often been said that Nanoha is really a Gundam shonen story, but with magical girls. I'd have to agree with that.
In a word: Beautiful. Besides 4 transformation scenes that happen in the first 5 episodes, Nanoha doesn't make use of any real stock animation scenes. There are a couple others, but they are so minor that it doesn't really matter. Everything else is rendered individually. While most magical girl battles consist of stock animation footage as girls toss their attacks back and forth, Nanoha and Fate are much different. They may call out some of their attacks(or their intelligent devices do), but they are busy ducking and weaving through the air while they do it.
Some of the music may take a bit to grow on you, but most of it matches and enhances the moods perfectly. In most anime, I don't notice the sound or background music much, but here it really stands out. One of my favorite tracks happens during the tenth episode, as Nanoha fires off one of her famous Divine Busters.
As mentioned above, the characters are the real draw to this, especially once Fate is introduced, and you see her situation. Even side characters get a bit of depth to them, although the main story is between Nanoha and Fate, with a bit less towards Yuuno. And some people claim that Raging Heart and Bardiche are main characters in their own right. You'll have to watch to see for yourself (especially during A's, the second season).
One major notable difference, is that Nanoha isn't a whiny crybaby like most magical girls. She doesn't get real conflicted when facing tough circumstances. On the contrary, she's glad she got her powers, and is ever willing to step up and do what needs to be done. Yuuno, her ferret friend, attempts to tell her once that it might be too dangerous, and he'll collect the jewel seeds on his own. She stops him the middle of that speech, and tells him "I'm sorry, I can't let you do that. If it's within my power to help someone, I'll do it." And if she has to beat someone down to get her point across, she'll do it.
The one minor draw, is sometimes it's hard to believe this emotional maturity is coming from a nine-year-old girl. But I have to admit, such an attitude is a refreshing change of pace from most magical girls who whine and cry, wishing they could be normal, getting afraid of each new dangerous situation, andwanting someone else to save them.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is really a prelude to the series. The first season here starts out almost like a standard magical girl series, but halfway through, it takes you on a wild offshoot that feels more like a shonen series, but with more emotion and heart. It's when you go on to watch the second and third seasons, that you really see what makes Nanoha different.
Watch it, and you'll begin to wonder too, why this is easily the most missed and hidden gem of the anime world.
This had a pretty good story line. It definitely wasn’t in my tastes and it took me a good 6 months to finish it but I did finish it! It really was too magical girly for me though, haha. All in all, I liked Fate Testarossa the most, she grew quite a bit from the beginning of the show and Nanoha, well, she pretty much stayed the same thoughout until she made up her mind on what she wanted to do. Like I said before, the show isn’t in my taste range but it was pretty good nonetheless.
Note: As of the writing of this review, I have only watched part of the second season. The rest of the series will have minimal impact on this review, in other words, this review addresses the first season only.
I must admit, I love both Card Captor Sakura and Star Trek, so I would probably be one of the more biased reviewers of this series. On the other hand, having watched all of CCS and Star Trek: TOS, I am also aware of Lyrical Nanoha's lack of originality in terms of plot and themes. However, despite this derivativeness, one must give credit to the writers where it is due. Combining the elements of two very unlike series is no easy feat, and results in a fairly unique product in of itself.
The story begins like any magical girl story. 1. A fateful encounter. 2. A contract whereupon magical powers are bestowed. 3. A mission to capture dangerous magical artifacts and/or defeat specialized creatures attempting to take over/destroy the world. Where have I seen this before? While initially, the show sets up to be a typical monster of the week anime, the pacing of the thirteen episode series quickly accelerates, and the monster of the week element is dropped in favor of breathtaking one-on-one battles and a sci-fi plot twist.
Overall, the story is told very well. The pacing ensures that the viewer is not bored at any point in the series. The plot twists add a nice touch, but besides the relatively unexpected genre shift, they are somewhat predictable to anyone with the genre savviness of a 13 year old. However, the high score is a result of the solid entertainment value, even for a person outside the intended target audience (like me).
The animation doesn't contain anything that will break any barriers or blow the viewer away, but it is certainly not an eyesore. It fits the expectations of a small, up and coming animation studio. The lack of detail prevents the animation from receiving a higher grade, but its lack of repetition propels it above average. After the first few episodes, the over-the-top-anime-transformation-sequences largely stopped, which was a relief for sore eyes.
Once again, nothing particularly memorable. The OP and ED were sufficient, perhaps slightly above average. The battle music intensified the scenes but was largely unmemorable. Once again, this was expected from a relatively new studio.
The voice acting was well done. The characters were cast realistically, and Nana Mizuki's performance in particular was excellent. There were several scenes that called for emotional voices, and the voice actors largely nailed them.
The high grade comes from the fact that the characters were either lovable, or loved to hate. The attachment that I developed towards the main cast is not something that can be put into words. Short series that aren't slice of life tend to have underdeveloped characters, but here that is not the case.
The supporting cast, on the other hand, does not seem to serve much of a purpose in this anime. The friends are generic, and the family is unrealistically uninvolved in Nanoha's life. This does not so much detract from the quality of the anime, but is simply a result of the short run of the first season.
If you're a fan of the magical girl genre, Lyrical Nanoha is a must watch. If you like a sci-fi anime with a dash of another genre, this anime is a solid pickup. Even if you aren't particularly interested in either of these genres, there is a good chance that you'll like this anime.