Nanoha used to be a normal grade school student until one day she found a ferret in the woods -- but he's no ordinary ferret! His name is Yuuno, he hails from another world, and he needs Nanoha’s help to complete his mission: to capture the Jewel Seeds (mysterious stones that imbue their wielder with great power) that fell to Earth. Along with Yuuno, Nanoha must now collect the Seeds and protect her world, but she isn’t alone. A rival is also trying to collect the Seeds for an unknown purpose, and only Nanoha has the power to stop her…
StoryWhen I first turned on Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, I was expecting a boring and generic magical girl type series that might just put me to sleep. Luckily for me, I was very wrong. Our tale begins with Nanoha, a young girl who attends school and lives with her family (who include characters from Triangle Heart: Miyuki and Kyoya). One day near the woods, she runs across a ferret that is injured, but much to her dismay, this is no ordinary ferret! His name is Yuuno and he hails from another world, and he needs Nanoha’s help. Powerful stones called Jewel Seeds are loose within the planet, and only Nanoha’s power can assist him in reclaiming the stones so their power can be subdued. These stones, when activated by a person (or animal, or plant), grant the being their wishes which, needless to say, usually causes chaos to ensue. Admittedly, at first, this seems like the same old magical girl series. Each episode follows Nanoha and Yuuno as they try to seal another Jewel Seed, and of course, Nanoha transforms in each episode as well. Luckily, around episode 5 or 6 of the 13 episode series, the story takes a turn into sci fi land and becomes really interesting, and totally different than what you’ve been watching already. Instead of focusing on essentially a monster of the week type plot, we see Nanoha and her interactions with Fate, a rival magical girl who is after the Seeds for her own mysterious purposes. The last half is heavy on character development, and again, turns very sci fi in nature. Let’s just say quite a bit of the series takes place outside Earth itself! Truly a unique magical girl series if I ever saw one, but then again, magical girl series aren’t exactly my forte. In general, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a magical girl series at heart, but you shouldn’t let that influence your decision to watch it (since it becomes quite serious and sci fi related in the second half). If anything, you might be wary of it because it very, very clearly is aimed at younger folks. Young girls, in particular, will eat this up with a spoon. Not only are there cute creatures and magic powers, but there are friendships that are formed and a feel good ending that will make any young person happy. For me, an adult, I didn’t find it to be as interesting, but I still can acknowledge that this is a good series for those that really enjoy younger age group shoujo. Then again, the sci fi aspect is interesting enough to win over some older fans too, though the "twist" isn’t too exciting (I’ve seen the same twist in a few series). A very good story all around, if you are comparing it to other magical girl series out there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Paranoia Agent or something else that has a kickass plot, but comparatively, I was impressed that a simple magical girl series could actually have a decent plot. AnimationThough there were a few things that bothered me about the animation, overall this is a very, very beautiful series. Since the plot is based on magic and spells and the like, there were plenty of visual effects to be found. Nanoha and Fate alike had powerful magic that was animated beautifully, and the fight scenes were also fluid and wonderful. Given that this is a magical girl series at heart, there were plenty of transformations to be found. Luckily, unlike some series where the transformation is literally the same piece of recycled animation all the way through, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha manages to only recycle itself some of the time, and at other times it’s unique and even short. Admittedly, some things did get a bit old after awhile, like her weapon transforming into its various shapes, but it was minor and not really an annoyance. Easily the most interesting animation, for me, was once it turned sci fi. Though nothing super spectacular, I liked the way things were portrayed (I won’t say specifics because I don’t want to spoil). Other points of interest were the monsters in the first few episodes (including the mutant tree and giant cat, cute!), and also many of the character designs were beautiful. Then again, that brings me to one of my only minor complaints: the character designs. Some were good, as I just mentioned, but others like Nanoha rubbed me the wrong way. I hate, hate, hate that hair style on any anime character. Normal hair, basically, but with two thin ponytail strands of sorts that stick out on the sides, and occasionally make boingy noises and move up and down. If you’ve seen Princess Tutu, it’s sort of like Ahiru’s hair style. Also, the eyes were a bit too oval for everyone and Nanoha in general looked a bit weird. Fate, on the other hand, was beautiful and so were some of the other characters. In general, wonderful animation. SoundI can’t really think of anything wrong with the audio, but at the same time it isn’t a soundtrack I’d want to buy or even listen to again, hence the good yet not higher score. In general, the music fit very well with the tone and consisted of lots of synths with the occasional orchestral instrument thrown in. The ending fit well, the intro fit well, and overall the music helped portray a good depiction of the action and adventure that was prevalent throughout the series. Especially for younger viewers, I can see the music being a big hit. For the voice actors, I thought everyone’s voices were fine except for Nanoha’s brother, as it seemed a bit out of place for how he looked. Then again, he wasn’t a big part of the series or anything. CharactersAgain, it surprises me that I’d give this high of a score to a "mere magical girl series", but the character development surprised me probably more than anything. Though the first few episodes seem shallow, many of the characters have been developed incredibly well by the end of the 13 episodes. Specifically, Fate goes through a remarkable transformation, and realizes certain things about her life. Also, we learn a great deal about the main villain and what he/she is all about. Nanoha also grows into a more mature and serious girl, though Fate’s development was definitely more in the foreground. We are introduced to a variety of other characters as well, though they are definitely secondary (yet still interesting). The development of all the characters wraps itself up nicely in the end as well. Overall, a good set of characters who develop in a surprising way. OverallYou might be wondering why I rated every section fairly high, yet still gave this section around a 7? To put it simply, although I acknowledge this is better than most of the magical girl series I’ve seen, it still wasn’t inspiring enough to warrant a higher score. This could be because I’m clearly not the target audience for series like this, so perhaps if you really, really like magical girl series (and are younger than me), you would enjoy it more. As it stands, I enjoyed the 13 episodes but did find myself becoming a bit bored sometimes. Also, the feel good ending was a bit too cheesy and sappy for me. In general, I think a wide variety of fans could appreciate this series anyways, and even if you normally don’t like magical girl series, this one might be good to check out. Just make sure you get past the first 5 or so episodes, since the latter half is definitely a lot more interesting!
Notice: Consider this a review of all four seasons. PROPER MINDSET Nanoha is a mahou shojo that messed with the archetypical formula in an attempt to not bore the viewers with another Sailor Moon rehash. Although that partially did the trick, in the longrun it fell victim of its inability to evolve properly or make good use of its duration. THE STAFF Seasons 1 to 3 are animated by studio Seven Arcs which is famous for making colorful ecchi comedies. Season 4 is animated by A-1 Pictures, which is notorious for making good looking shows that feel lifeless in directing. Season 1 is directed by the all-famous Shimbo Akiyuki, who turned Shaft, the studio he usually works for, into a colossus. His style to combine the cute with the artsy and the symbolical is very interesting. This particual work is by far amongst his tamed ones. Seasons 2 and 3 are directed by Kusakawa Keizou, who has made lots of ecchi shows. This is why there was more ecchi and less artsy overtones in them. Season 4 is directed by Itou Yuuki. This was his first major job and did a very lukewarm job with it. The anime is based on an erotic game, and this is why it is full of lolicon fan service. PRODUCTION VALUES: S1: 7/10, S2&S3: 6/10, S4: 4/10 Nanoha’s setting is a three-in-one, blending the modern world with the magic of the past and the technology of the future. The contemporary Japan areas are very typical and have nothing interesting about them. The magic devices and the space-time spaceships on the other hand were an interesting combination. It had a variety and style which for the time it came out, had set it apart from all others of its kind. It doesn’t look special today, because the ideas were reused a lot in following titles. Almost all characters are drawn to look like cute little girls, with funky uniforms and magic gizmos that create all sorts of energy attacks. Their designs are quite generic and not really memorable. In fact, the thing you will most likely remember is how the camera is often going for a wormview perspective, so their panties will show, and there will be lots of scenes where the girls are naked or having leasbian tendencies. Nothing explicit today, but it was considered very bold when it first came out, and helped in the formation of a big fandom consisting mostly of horny otakus. The battle scenes are exciting compared to the average of their kind, filling the screen with all sorts of shapes and colors and patterns to the point you will be in trouble if you are photo-epileptic. Their choreography is not that good though; to the most part they are simplistic exchanges of energy beams. There are also many obvious budget problems, resulting to stiff characters, scrolling panels, and reused footage like the transformation and attack clips. There is also a gradual degradation in quality with each new season. The artsy overtones of the first one are gone in seasons 2 and 3 because Shimbo was not directing it anymore, while the fourth one was given a very low budget which results to look very run down and dull. STORY SECTION: S1: 5/10, S2: 7/10, S3: 3/10, S4: 3/10 The story begins in a typical fashion; cute good-hearted girl Nanoha finds Yuuno magic critter and gets powers in order to find something or stop someone. Along the way the story gets more complicating with the addition of an organization that protects the various dimensions from cosmic threats. It sounded very interesting as it blended magic with technology. The concept was utiliezed well though, and the pacing was very messy. The first season was at first to find scattered spheres from an advanced civilization, and up until the first half it was plain boring. Nanoha and her friends had nothing of interest to fill the slice-of-life moments and the battles were short and simplistic. It is only when her rival Fate is introduced in the story that something good starts to happen. Suddenly she is taken aboard her fuzzy mascot’s spaceship, where she meets lots of officials and villains. It became a lot more enjoyable this way, even if the twist wasn’t enough to save the overall story from still resorting to the usual magical girl tropes. It still came down to befriending the enemy rather than fighting him with wits. The villains also seem to be overpowered, so why were they even waiting all this time to storm in and had their way if the good guys had no defenses against them? The finale is sweet if you like the power of friendship (and lesbianism), but otherwise very anti-climactic action-wise.The second season is about finding an evil book that if it fully charges up, will create lots of trouble. This season is enjoyable to the most part because it has far more interesting characters, far better action scenes, far more interesting rivals and objectives. It is otherwise still full of silly moments, with the power of friendship (and lesbianism) being again all that matters in the end. One wonders why the hell they need all these cool weapons to fight, if all it takes is to just hug the enemy and cry (and then have lesbian sex). The third season is a bloody mess. Since nobody in this series ever dies, new characters are constantly introduced and the older ones are still present. As a result you have a huge cast that needed a lot of fleshing out or at least many episodes dedicated to each one of them. Something which didn’t happen, because most of it was wasted on a very slow paced military operation, with lots of pointless action and uninteresting villains. The idea of showing what happens when a magical girl grows up and forms its own organization was cool, but the presentation was just too dull to care about. The fourth season lowers the standards even further, by not even having a dangerous threat going on. It is just a mostly harmless school tournament of magic. And the protagonist is not even Nanoha anymore but rather her daughter (which was apparently created with the power of lesbianism, since she is married to Fate). There is absolutely nothing to look forward to here. CHARACTER SECTION: S1: 6/10, S2: 7/10, S3: 3/10, S4: 3/10 The cast is pretty much stock material; archetypes you encounter in all mahou shojo. The first season did a good job with what it had, focusing only on the two main girls and the mascot sidekick. The second season adds a dozen secondary characters and offers variety despite none of them being special for any reason. The third season overdid it by introduced even more characters without developing or colorizing any of them. Not only that but by now Nanoha is an adult working in a military organization, making the whole thing very bizarre. And then the fourth season moves away even further from how it began as, by being a simple school tournament about Nanoha’s daughter, while she is just background decoration. Yeah, nothing left to care about anymore. At the same time, the fan service never left; it was there all the time showing the girls in various forms of undress. That didn’t add context to them; it took away their dignity. Watching Nanoha’s and Fate’s adult boobs bouncing like that all the time while talking to little girls in their underwear is plain creepy. LEGACY Lyrical Nanoha is a prime example of how a series doesn’t age well. Although it had its share of loyal fans, it was progressively getting worse in production values and character appeal. It moved away from what was making it feel good at first. Its combination of magic meets technology with loli fan service no longer feel special because they were copied in later shows. There was also a huge hiatus between the third and fourth seasons, which made most of the fans to either move to something else in the meantime. It’s no longer the super hyped series people were making it seem to be back in 2004 and is now closer to yet another example of how no amount of pretty colors and loli underwear can make a series better than what it is. SUGGESTION LIST Madoka Magica (it took many ideas from Lyrical Nanoha)A Certain Magical Index (a famous example of magic meets technology)Fate Kaleid (a recent famous loli fan service show)
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.StoryCard Captor Sakura meets Star TrekI 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).AnimationThe 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.SoundOnce 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.CharactersThe 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.OverallIf 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.
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