It's easy to see why Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's (yes, it really is pronounced like that) seems to be the favoured child out of three: the minor pacing problems of its predecessor have been addressed, and plot elements are more smoothly punctuated with tighter combat sequences. Also satisfying is how evenly the protagonists are matched against the opposition, whose abilities closely mirror their own (itself an indication of things to come): close combat/edged weapon specialist Fate finds a Worthy Opponent in Signum, for example, and Vita duking it out with Nanoha using croquet mallet-beam-fu is worth the price of admission alone. Criticism is commonly levelled at how the leads acts in a manner incongruous with their depicted age; A's sees very little change in that respect. The most realistic it gets is Fate's disarming reaction to being given a smart new mobile phone as a present, but otherwise, expect the same old heads on the same young shoulders. Take heed: if you couldn't stand it the first time, it's unlikely you'll stand it now. But I find the problem with A's to be that the antagonists, unusually, are possibly too sympathetic; not even the anthropomorphic avatar of the Book of Darkness is exempt from your typical tragic history. Precia Testarossa was a deeply unhappy woman, but what made her such a textbook cliche was her unremitting malevolence and cruelty. Signposting writ large, to be sure, but such traits are conspicuously absent from saintly Hayate and the Wolkenritter, which has the effect of making the central conflict a touch...anaemic. Sometimes, somebody needs to wear the black hat. Yes, the mano-a-mano is present and imaginatively realised, but the inevitability of the outcome dulls the edge somewhat: were we seriously expecting Nanoha and Fate to do true violence unto a wheelchair-bound orphan? It's the quietest moments that make the greatest impact. Despite contributing towards aforementioned flaws, Hayate's interactions with her adopted family exudes warmth, and their scenes together in the last few episodes are particularly charged with emotion; the season ends with a snow-laden tableaux that Kanon would be proud of. Shamelessly sentimental,perhaps, but there should still be a place for such things.
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