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Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha back to reviews
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Waxing Lyrical
Season 1

Nanoha is, rather famously, essentially Card Captor Sakura by way of Gundam, although genre conventions of the former are largely discarded in favour of the latter's two thirds of the way into the season; since when did Mahou Shoujos start packing firepower capable of levelling mecha (with the attendant environmental destruction) on a personal level?

Virtuoso aerial daredevilry is but one part of what the eponymous heroine is known for, another being the complex relationship she develops with her troubled counterpart: the heartrendingly pretty Fate Testarossa, erstwhile rival and candidate for social services poster child. Fate's vulnerability immediately appeals to Nanoha's protective instincts, and she consequently spends a considerable amount of time mooning over how someone so beautiful could show such sadness in her eyes, precipitating sincere (if unconventional) ouvertures of friendship. Not even remotely love at first fight, no.

While the character dynamics elevate the show above shallow displays of Super Robot derived pyrotechnics, they are in danger of descending into melodrama, mostly due to Precia's pantomiming. That the atrocity she perpetrates on daughter Fate is an implicitly regular occurence would have sufficed as given: having to see it twice, lest we forget the real villain, is surplus to requirement and makes for uncomfortable viewing, despite claims otherwise.

Carping criticism aside, there is much to recommend about the series: short and sweet (a characteristic shared by its leads) at only thirteen episodes long, it never overstays its welcome despite intermittently uneven pacing. The grownup sensibilities are also refreshing: when not busy scarring the sky with plasma trails, Nanoha exhitibits a strength of character that belies her tender age. Of course, this precocity also informs her...interest in Fate, which is seen finally reciprocated in moving fashion at the season's conclusion.

Now what was it someone once said about how relationships formed under intense circumstances never work out?

The hell do they know.

Personally, I found the adult sensibilities frankly jarring. Nanoha and Fate, at the time of the first series, are supposed to be eight years old. Nanoha is even explicitly stated to be largely unexceptional for an elementary student, before she gets her earth-shaking powers, and proceeds to act not-eight-at-all. I found the promise of a lead who handles her powers with intelligence and maturity enticing, but when I watched it, it just came across as bad characterization.

The other, improbably aged characters, coming from entirely different worlds, might theoretically be justified, but in the first season at least, it receives not so much as a handwave.

I went into this series prepared to love it, but I gave it up at the climax of the first season, realizing that although the action had reached its peak, I still could not be motivated to care.
comment #314 Desertopa 29th May 09
Fair point, I suppose. I will concede that their behaviour is wildly dissonant with their actual age...but this is anime, after all, where someone can be an elite intergalactic special forces operative at fourteen. I don't necessarily agree with it being bad characterisation, though, just unbelievable: would you still accuse them of this if they were say, six years older?

Very little in commercial media is unintentional: the target demographic are much less likely to warm to Nanoha and Fate if they were actually written as eight year olds. An eight year old acting realistically should they be given such power might not make for entertaining viewing ("if thine enemy offends thee, give his child a drum": take this to extremes with mecha inspired weaponry...and...yeah).

Most anime characters conform little to their supposed age: fanservice-y franchises such as Ikki Tousen and Tenjho Tenge have adolescents acting with a degree of lasciviousness that you rarely see displayed in the real world by any gender of any age, for example.

But this discussion is probably a little too much Serious Business, anyway. It's just another one of those things about these kinds of shows: what endears it to its fanbase probably drives away an equal number of potential patrons.
comment #319 zeroplusalpha 30th May 09
They actually DID give some background on why Nanoha acts way beyond her age: her father's injury and her family's taking care of the Midori-ya (and the resultant lack of quantity time given to her) was probably what made her grow up a bit too fast (not that she doesn't enjoy being a an ordinary elementary school student every now and then). Same for Fate.

Nanoha handled the Raising Heart with intelligence, competence and maturity because that was what she was used to doing. So is Fate.

I'm aware this is crossing into Serious Business now, but now that I've gotten it off my chest, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was really very enjoyable to watch so that you could make a God Hand edit comic out of it.
comment #325 Nitramy 31st May 09
I've known eight year old kids with injured or dead parents, had shops to take care of, and/or just didn't receive a lot of attention. They might have been a bit more responsible (sometimes receiving less parental attention made them wildly irresponsible,) but they still acted like eight year old kids.

As for whether I would have called it bad characterization if they were six years older... I'm not sure. I'd have to watch it again to make that judgement, and I don't really want to do that. I certainly found the characterization unimpressive at best, but I don't know if I would go so far as to say bad, since I've seen anime that sets the bar significantly lower. Anyway, it would have had little impact on the plot for the characters to be a few years older, and I would have found the characterization less of a stretch.

Possibly I would have more (or at least some) nice things to say about it if it hadn't been so hyped up before I watched it, but when I watched it myself, I was consistently deeply disappointed by all the elements that had been talked up on this site. By the time I finished the eighth episode, I had to revisit this site to confirm that I had already passed the alleged beard-growing point, since the increase in quality was so marginal that I had trouble noticing it even when I was looking for it. I thought the action scenes would have been adequate in a series where the plot and characterization were holding up their ends, but not nearly good enough to carry the show themselves. Far from being the original fare I had expected, I found the plot at best mediocre, and at times painfully generic. The scene where Precia whips Fate made me cringe, but for all the wrong reasons. I know I was supposed to hate Precia, and feel sorry for Fate, but I found it so hamfisted that I could only hold Precia in disdain as a piece of writing, not hate her as a character, and when it came to cultivating sympathy for Fate, it was so over the top that it completely backfired and made it impossible for me to take her seriously.

Although I wouldn't recommend taking all her advice as gospel, Limyaael has a rant on the topic of abusive childhoods as characterization that I think would have been extremely helpful to the writers of Nanoha.

That same scene, by the way, was the point where I realized that Fate would turn out not to be Precia's real daughter, a plot point that had not already been spoiled for me.

I wouldn't call Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha a bad anime, since I've seen much worse, but I found it profoundly disappointing. Even if it hadn't been so overhyped, I have no reservations in saying that I could not have enjoyed it on its own merits.
comment #327 Desertopa 31st May 09 (edited by: Desertopa)
I absolutely agree with Desertopa on the superfluity of the abuse scenes: I called it out as melodramatic and pantomimic.

But...it's not a study in alienation and the effect of trauma on prepubescent behaviour a la, oh I don't know, Maladolescenza or something; it's...Nanoha, and most likely not designed to be a repository of gritty realism. Anime does not want Ken Loach. The writers of the show are too busy plundering Super Robot Wars and Sailor Moon for licks to be devouring child psych journals, presumably; somehow I'm able to find it in myself to forgive them for being less than academically informed.

(I'm just taking the piss mate, if I sound like a jerkass, rest assured it's all in the spirit of lively discussion).

I have to ask, though, because it appears to be something of a bete noire: why, but why the insistence on eight yeard olds acting like eight year olds in this kind of fiction? (Yuuno isn't much older than Nanoha, and he's an accomplished archeologist.) Eight year olds don't tend to fare very well under combat conditions, as Real Life periodically reminds us. They also don't tend to....uh, fly. How realistic can their behaviour possibly be expected?

In StrikerS, the third season, Nanoha attains the equivalent rank of a Spec Ops combat instructor. At nineteen.

We await your vengeance.
comment #328 zeroplusalpha 31st May 09 (edited by: zeroplusalpha)
The fact that I am so frustrated by the way the characters fail to act their age is that I'm always annoyed by Improbable Age when it passes without solid justification. I can buy one character being a prodigy, provided they face a believable degree of opposition and resentment for it, but an entire cast of improbably aged characters is a good way to break my suspension of disbelief. I can give some leeway, with the understanding that it's a genre convention, but I was given the impression, going into it, that Nanoha was intended to be more intelligent and better thought out than your average Magical Girl series, and one of the first things that hits me is the Improbable Age trope jacked up to eleven.

As for the abuse scenes, I don't expect deep familiarity with child psychology and the effects of trauma. A simple understanding of what is overdone and cliche would have sufficed.

It's a bit funny that you mention the point about eight year olds not being very suited to combat positions. That was one of the elements that made Nanoha the primary inspiration for the deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre I am currently working on (and unfortunately, at the current pace, will finish sometime a couple decades from now.)
comment #330 Desertopa 31st May 09 (edited by: Killomatic)
I seriously don't get what fans, especially Western fans, find enamoring about Fate.

Also think there might have been less icky way to demonstrate Precia's viciousness that would have gotten it less controversy for all the wrong reasons.

Loved season 2, thought season 1 was boring until the last five episodes, season 3 is too much of a mess for me 5 episodes in. Go figure.

This series has taught me that the anime fandom has gotten plain weird since I was a tyke, and also to maintain a minimum level of suspicion for any recommendation the wiki gives me.
comment #331 Charlatan 31st May 09 (edited by: Charlatan)
We like Fate because we think she's pretty and needs moar hugs. That's...as deep as it gets, I'm afraid <looks away sheepishly>. By the by, why would you be any more mystified by Western appreciation than the (quite substantial) home support?

I suppose one can't have it all ways. It would be hard to age up the characters appropriately without discarding Magical Girl tradition (something the third season does anyway, but by then Nanoha and Fate are adults joined by an extended adolescent cast), but it would be equally difficult for the usual age bracket to participate in the subsequent space opera without resorting to Improbable Age devices; you'd end up with an intergalactic Grave Of The Fireflies, which is not the intention of its creators. I suppose you could write it so that there is no space opera, but then it wouldn't have its distinct flavour; for better or worse, there isn't anything quite like it out there, but I'm willing to be corrected on this.

In the end, I think I may have given the wrong impression in the review: it's possibly worded a little too much on the laudatory side, but I do actually echo the detracting sentiments expressed thus far. I'm not saying that it doesn't suffer from unrealistic age, but I'm willing to roll with it more than others, it would seem. I recommend the show on its comparative strengths, not as an indication of accurate potrayals. It's just nice to see a protagonist who doesn't view her responsibilities as a burden, regardless of how absurdly mature she appears; I'm of a certain age, and find much to aspire to in her behaviour ("What would Nanoha do?").

Desertopa, you have piqued my curiosity. Can a sneak preview of your magnificent octopus be obtained anywhere? I think more of us empathise with you than you possibly realise; we've all got deconstructions of our pet genres that will uniformly reach completion decades hence.

Sadly, my dystopian noir wuxia treatment has yet to progress beyond conceptualisation. Namely, that last sentence.

comment #333 zeroplusalpha 31st May 09 (edited by: zeroplusalpha)
I'll start posting installments of the story online if and when I start turning them out frequently enough not to disappoint prospective readers. I can't have people bugging me as much as I deserve to be bugged.

Sorry to disappoint.
comment #335 Desertopa 1st Jun 09
Mate (and I refer to Zero), I don't see much reason to be bothered trying to argue with somebody that by their own admission didn't watch it past episode eight. Nanoha is very much grounded in taking ideas from other animes (and video games) and cranking them up to eleven. Arguably, including the youthful age of the protagonist.

Stephen Berkoff-"Naturalism, like smoking, is bad for your health"

comment #851 Marlowe 19th Aug 09
Who said I didn't watch past episode eight? I said I gave it up at the climax of the first season. I stopped watching about a third of the way through the twelfth episode (I was streaming it online and closed the tab) because the action couldn't hold my interest, and I didn't care enough about the characters to stick around for the resolution.

I've heard that the second season was much better, and it may be, although I wasn't impressed by the fight clips from it that I watched on Youtube, but since the first season didn't leave me with a taste for more, I'm not particularly inclined to find out.
comment #869 Desertopa 22nd Aug 09
Well, you certainly implied it. Mate, don't you have anything better to do? If you must complain about tropes you don't like, go visit Improbable Age and annoy them. Otherwise, find something constructive.
comment #948 Marlowe 8th Sep 09
I thought Nanoha and Fate were nine, not eight.
comment #1072 tikkihikki 29th Sep 09
Fate and Nanoha WERE nine, and I think most people are probably overthinking the Improbable Age deal here. Nanoha is nine because she was nine in Triangle Hearts 3, and she's really mature because that kind of mentality is needed to push the plot ahead, and watching a realistic nine year old acting like a realistic nine year old for 23 minutes each episode is going to annoy the heck out of the seinen demographic. She continues to be nine in A's because that's a believable amount of time for Nanoha and Fate to be meeting again for the first time after the events in the first season, and for what happened then to still throw a large shadow over the rest of the cast. When that part is over and done with, you can see how gleefully the writers throw most of the lolicon and Improbable Age to hell and give the main characters a timeskip of TEN YEARS, making them veritable not-lolis and old enough to be mothers, which they did become, and Vivio was a plenty convincing six year old if you ask me.
comment #1250 218.186.13.231 9th Nov 09
when the hell does this show come on god thats all i wanna know
comment #1719 96.36.85.242 22nd Jan 10
This troper learned of this show via TV Tropes and was expecting and willing it to be great, which helped to accept any dissatisfying scenes or elements, limited as they were.

The Improbable Age? I actually found that to be a big plus. From the beginning, Nanoha noted something about often being left alone by her family, hence the maturity. The lack of annoying wangst on her part appealed to me, but in a bigger part, it made her idealism and determination seem much more real. Okay, so she meets an Evil Counterpart in Fate, gets beaten up, and immediately wonders why does she look so sad? and I want to help her. I might've scoffed at a scene like this, but because of Nanoha's young age and innocence, I totally believed and loved it. Besides, so much anime includes Improbable Age (12-year-old-killing ninjas?) that I've become desensitized to it.

Yes, the whipping scenes were really over-the-top. But, accepting Fate as an unfortunate and lonely character, her interactions and relationship with Nanoha were cute and poignant. The physical violence from her mother also contrasted Nanoha's gentle touching very well in my mind.
comment #2011 Selryam 7th Mar 10 (edited by: Selryam)
I found this while searching for images of the 'white devil', being the Gundam-fan I am. Saw a little girl firing what appeared to be a beam weapon of some sort, I was intrigued. Now, I hadn't watched a magical-girl series after watching the dub of Cardcaptors when I was younger...so yeah. Her clothes flew off,*click* I stopped watching. Thought about it for a few days, watched again. She was just collecting things like Sakura, seen it before *click*. Finally a week after, I had some time on my hands and said 'what the hell, why not?' and watched the whole thing. Despite my general dislike for magical-girls, kid-heroes, and furry sidekicks, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even ended up watching the next two seasons (enjoyed them too), read the manga (even the manga is neat!) and whoops now I'm reading fanfiction (mixed-bag). How the frig did that happen?

For me, it's because it's fun, different and manages to have some rather dark things happen while still remaining light-hearted and optimistic. Would I recommend it to everyone? No. Is it one of the best series of it's time? Also no. There's certain groups of people for whom the elements come together just right, the rest will probably not really get what's so great about it. That's just how it is.

Also makes for a good middle step back towards more friendly anime after a Saikano, Bokurano, Evangelion binge (that was a depressing couple of months) if you can't just jump right back.
comment #2769 AluciusDawn 5th Jun 10
I personally feel that when watching something like anime or superhero stories, the 'willing suspension of disbelief' is just as crucial as it was back when Londoners first read 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner'. So the maturity of the leads is just one of those things I ignore while watching, just like I try not to think about the dangers inherent in Lois Lane kissing someone who can break planets with his eyelashes.

I really really liked Nanoha. All three seasons. Are they perfect? Of course not. Are they my favorite Magical Girl series now that I'm not ten anymore? Yes. The sheer Gundam-like power and the detail in the battle scenes is really different than most Mahou Shoujo series. Also, I liked the way they used Precia. Sure, she's so far over the top she could be played by Faye Dunaway with a wire coat hanger. But that one Wham Moment where Fate goes from being the dangerous opponent to being the Woobie made up for all of it, in my opinion.

comment #3365 MarvelGirl 12th Jul 10
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