Ten years after the Book of Darkness incident, Nanoha, Fate, Hayate and friends are all officers within the Time-Space Administration Bureau. With a new Lost Logia threat on the horizon and overworked Bureau units, Hayate establishes the 6th Mobile Division with the help of Nanoha (and her trainees), Fate, and her guardian knights. Together, the gang must train hard and rally their ultimate power in order to once again prevent large-scale multidimensional disaster as a result of the misuse of Lost Logia.
First, I have to say that this series doesn't deliver the premise I mentioned in my review of the original. The series has abandoned its pretense of being a Magical Girl show, and that's where my problems with it start. Most Magical Girl shows are the overlap of fairy tales and Silver Agey superheroes. That is, part of the formula (as far as I know - and like) is that they operate in our world. At the end of As, Nanoha moved to Mid-Childa, and I suppose it was that that made me realize the next season would be less interesting.Mid-Childa is basically an uninteresting alternate Earth. Magic replaces science, but since they look and feel the same in the Nanoha-verse, that doesn't mean anything. There also seems to be a confusion between planets and entire universes.The cast has, as I knew and expected, Nanoha, Fate and Hayate training younger mages. However, said younger mages don't work so well for me.First, we get the teenagers, Subaru and Tiana. The first is the designated hero of the new series (judging by the title sequences); a plot cohesion problem is created when the final conflict more concerns, and is resolved more by, the older generation. I'm reminded of a review of the Prince Caspian movie that noted how the title character wasn't allowed to settle his own fight.Subaru's also the barometer of how far this series has gone from its Sakura-imitation origins (and the Magical Girl genre as a whole). She doesn't have a staff; instead, she rides motor-roller-skates - including on the air* - and punches things with her magic gauntlet. Of the four cadets, three don't do much if any spellcasting. Subaru is a magic-powered physical combatant, and even if Nanoha-verse magic wasn't so tech-based, that would make her merely a superhero.*Okay, "Wing Road" is a case where odd English makes a good move name.Incidentally, it appears that mages can make up their own names for powers.Tiana goes beyond the staff-as-gun idea into simply dual-wielding magic pistols. And speaking of lack of interesting worldbuilding, a supporting character is a sniper. What use is a sharpshooter in a world dominated by magic, where magical weapons can shoot around corners? More proof that the writers are making it up as they go along.The younger children in the cast, Erio/Elio and Caro/Kyaro (depending which sub you're watching) seem to be to one side of the main plot and character arcs of StrikerS. As mages, they fit in better with the earlier generation. Erio's weapon is hysterical; you have to see it to believe it (though I suppose it's not that different from Vita's). Caro is an actual spellcasting mage. Hayate's "device" is, nonsensically (using the previous seasons to define what makes sense), a chibi girl, Reinforce Zwei, who's treated as fully a person to the point of holding a TSAB rank. Her most memorable moments are when she's used to deliver pointless fanservice and moe-service.Like Western superheroes only more so, StrikerS's "veteran" characters are pretty young, only around 20 in this case. As you learn more, you'll particularly think, "When did Fate have time to do all that?"I'd forgotten that I'd heard Nanoha called a yandere. I see now which scene brought that reaction, and it's justified. This isn't character development. This is character assassination.By this point, Nanoha/Fate is going beyond subtext. The writers try to maintain deniability (in the legal sense), but now I understand why Nanoha/Fate slash is the commonest type of fanwork.I'm also getting tired of Nanoha-verse morality.When your name is Jail Scaglietti, it's not a good idea to call Fate on her weird name...StrikerS is at its weakest when depicting monsters, and unfortunately it makes significant use of them. A summoned "dragon" - why can't you take advantage of animation to draw something that doesn't look like a guy in a rubber suit?Okay, we've seen this rip-off science before. Doesn't make it less annoying. That is, it's obvious this show is aimed at the SF fans. Which I am, but...I can't explain how unappealing the magic is any better than by showing this:Technicality combined with incomprehensibility.With the first season, I was amazed how many people must have thought exactly as I did for a show to be made that anticipated every desire. I don't think that anymore. If StrikerS appeals just as much to that audience - and I believe it's the most popular season - then I was wrong. The creators must've realized their audience didn't actually care about Magical Girls... but I still do. I'd expected the same cool factor I found in the Star Wars Expanded Universe at first. Like that universe, it proves ultimately disappointing. And speaking of EU, a small part of the appeal of Nanoha at first was that there'd be manga to expand on the story. I now have no reason to expect the manga sequels to be any good; they'll probably have StrikerS's problems magnified.
Story "That's ridiculous" ~Fate Testarossa Perhaps the writers of this anime should have taken Fate's advice to Nanoha, "make sure you don't overdo it." However, sensing the need to make the show more sienen, the writers decided to make the story more complicated, a LOT more complicated. Rather than putting the story on the level of its target demographic, the writers of StrikerS allowed the story to soar clear over the viewer's head. The 13 episode formula that contained flashy battles punctuated by a solid story was discarded in favor of a 26 episode format that allowed more tangential storylines to be developed. During the first 14 or so episodes, the plot only focuses on the development of the enormous amounts of new characters (see "characters" below). The next 7 or so episodes focus on a much more politically oriented story than either of the previous two series, which would have been interesting if it could be followed without having to consult plot summaries. Finally, the last 5 or so episodes return to what made this franchise one of the best in the magical girl genre, detailed battles with intense visuals. Overall, this format was simply contained too many plotlines (many of which, in my opinion, were inconsequential) and attempting to resolve all of them resulted in a tangled mess I am still attempting to figure out. Animation Perhaps I was just blind to it before, but the animation of this series was disappointingly worse than its predecessors. Since much of it takes place at the TSA Bureau HQ, there are many crowd scenes, walking through hallways, and other office style animation scenes. These were, in my opinion, lazily animated with little detail. What made the animation of the previous series so great was the detail of the battle scenes, but due to the largely political nature of the plot, these were few(er) and far(er) between. Sound The soundtrack was solid, not the most memorable, but still a good listen in correspondence with the visuals on screen. Nana Mizuki sings some of her best songs in the OP and insert songs. The voice acting was fairly good overall, although there were some headbang moments regarding gigantic screams. Oh, and could Rein please get a less annoying voice? Characters If I were to say one thing about the characters in StrikerS, I would say there are too many of them. Even with the expanded episode format, the development is stretched thin among all the new characters to be introduced. Also, since the series builds upon the previous two, all the other characters return. My sister gave me good advice, "don't even try to learn the names of all the villains." The primary failure of the characters in this anime is the way the forwards were developed. One of them is completely deconstructed about 10 episodes into the anime, and the writers spend the rest of the series trying to salvage the character's reputation. This leads to more tangled plotlines and bringing the already slow moving story to an almost complete standstill. Overall The series is a much watch for any Nanoha fan, even though the characters are older and the series has a darker and edgier look. Personally, I had to drag myself through 66% of the series and was rewarded at the end. If you find yourself in the same situation, just keep watching it. If you stop for a long period of time, it will be difficult to pick the series up again.
Coming off of A's, the next season of Nanoha had some pretty big expectations to fill, and they tried to do it with 26 episodes instead of 13. They also seemed to have the goal of really expanding the Nanoha universe, fleshing out world details, and in this vein, I think they succeeded. There were a few flaws in this stylistic change, though, and I'll get to them below. The series biggest change is the fact that Nanoha and her friends are now 10 years older. While most magical girl shows keep their protagonists young, and "lose the magic" if they age at all, Nanoha is unique in that not only do they keep their magic, but they grow stronger in it. They're more magical women than magical girls now, and it's refreshing to see the genre finally break new ground in this regard. And not only are they older, but they are now working full-time for the Time-Space Administration Bureau, a universe spanning peacekeeping organization. Nanoha in particular has elected to become a trainer and develops a repuation as something of a tough, but gentle, drill seargent. But for more, let's hit the categories. Animation: The animation quality has dipped a bit, but it is still fairly high. This seems to be because of the doubling of the number of episodes, but it doesn't slip enough to be noticable much. Most characters have just one transformation scene for flavor, although "Forwards" (the four new cadet heroes) have two. So again, Nanoha doesn't make use of much stock footage. There are a few things that were fixed or added from the TV series to the DVD edition, but other than that, youll be satisfied. Sound: There are considerably more sound tracks this time around, providing a good atmosphere for each scene, again airing appropriately to complement and enhance the scenes. Special mention has to go with the second opening, which really tugs at your heart strings, especially once you get to that point in the story and understand why. I'm not the best judge of sound and music, but there was nothing glaring in this regard, so I was satisfied. Characters: This is the first split for many people, because StrikerS adds in a TON of new characters. In addition to what we had last season (minus three or four that are relegated to mostly cameos), we get four new magical cadets, a dozen new supporting characters, and nearly two dozen new antagonists; most of which (the cyborgs aka "Numbers") you'll be struggling to remember the names of. StrikerS comes across as an ambitious project and you can tell they had difficulty making all this work. If you subtract the supporting characters, most of whom are there to serve as millitary personnel and thus don't have much of their own story (although you'll be surprised by a few of them really standing out in brief but memorable moments), then we're still left with quite a cast to develop. Two of the forwards, Teana and Subaru, are developed fairly well, but the other two, Erio and Caro, are left a bit lacking. We get hints as to their backstory and their connection with Fate, but they could have used some more character growth. Jail Scaglietti is the main villain this time around, and unlike the first two seasons' antagonists, there isn't much in the way of humanity-redeeming traits in him. He's a mad scientist, and that's about it. Still, he does it with such chutzpah, flair, and brilliance, that you can't help but like the guy; you'll find a smile on your lips everytime he's on the screen, hamming it up. A few of his supporting cast of cyborgs that he created and raised do get enough characterization to recognize them, but most sadly go underused. You have to look to the following manga continuation to really see them get developed. Overall, what we do see is fairly good; and even the main trio of Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate contiunue to get development. The series really tries to accomodate the large cast, but as I said, the ambitious undertaking is a bit lacking in the follow-through. I'd still give it a B for effort, however. The girls are older, but continue to show exactly why they remain the kickass leaders of the magical girl (now woman) world. Overall: Other than the sheer number of characters to keep track of (that will require rewatching to really get a handle on), you'll still find plenty of what made Nanoha great. Good battle sequences, good character development (for those that StrikerS focuses on), and heartwarming moments where we see the vulnerable natures of the women beneath the kickass exterior. One thing I haven't mentioned yet, is that the creators seemed to have a bit of trouble adapting the pacing from 13 episodes to 26. Early on, the series can seem a bit slow, and there can appear to be a couple of "filler" episodes, even though they focus on character development. Still, some things could have been condensed or not shown, in favor of bringing the main plot more to the fore and using it to develop some of the underused characters. Part of the ambitious nature of the series, is that they seemed to really want to develop the Nanoha universe, and this seemed to detract a bit from the story. Still, I don't feel it drags things down too much. It's a minor complaint, especially since the last 8 episodes or so really sell the series. It's like going through a decent dinner that perhaps doesn't have all your favorites, and getting a really delicious dessert at the end. It does throw a lot at you, so it will require rewatching to really catch everything and be able to nail down all the characters as well. So I still recommend the series. If you were a fan of the first two, you will still find a lot here to like, and I guarantee you'll enjoy many of the new concepts as well. Just be aware of the tons of characters and the slower pacing, and you'll find a good sequel to a great series.
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