“Still not lyrical, and they are not lolis anymore”
Initial reaction. What else can I say? This is one of the rare sequels in anime where they fast-forward about 10 years and make all characters older, taller, and sexier. That alone would alienate thousands of fans of the two original Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha series. That, along with the change of theme from innocent magic to… well let’s just say “corporate and political magic”, this would sure be a controversial piece to review. And indeed it may be, because this is the longest review I would write so far. If you can stomach all my rants and raves, please sit tight, we have a lot of ground to cover.
Basic structure, it’s 10 years later, and the main cast of Nanoha A’s become reputable officers of some group called Section Six, some organization dedicated to some kind of Relic hunting and investigating. Actually I have a lot of political jargon that I don’t understand in this anime, it actually overwhelmed me. I’m watching this in the mindset that this is a sequel of some magical girl anime, but then I’m supposed to be watching this like it were a Gundam or other kind of mecha/war anime. So episode after episode, I lose track of so many plot threads, especially when it deals on sectoral relations, the divide of magic and traditional methods, the history of secret magical, cloning, and human experimental projects, and most especially the now-consumer-based magical weapons that they possess.
Anyway back to the plot. So some secret government project is being supervised by a well-known terrorist, and so our beloved Sector Six, with the help of other orgs investigate and protect some part of the world from being attacked. Well, halfway through they failed and the destruction is high, but then they recovered and win towards the end against imminent attack. End of anime. Happily ever after again. Well that’s the plot in a nutshell. End of review?
The characters that move this anime are Nanoha series veterans, as well as thrice as many friends and enemies. No really. The cast is as huge and varied as any 52-episode anime, but then we have only 26 episodes in this one. While we know some of them from earlier series, the logistics of this are overwhelming. Do the producers expect us to just consume the “hello this is my friend of 5 years ago” approach of introducing new friendly characters? Moreover, the cast of enemy characters are composed of a dozen generics and some minor characters we basically have not much history to learn about. This anime is really humongous in scope. We don’t seem to have time for inter-character development. Makes me wonder, for example, if Nanoha and Arf ever met again and interacted in this one. I can’t recall these specific moments. The anime has a lot of details hidden because of the 10-year jump and the limited episode count.
The theme of this anime has drastically changed from the original two series. The first Nanoha has the vibe of innocence. A normal girl just starting to discover her magical power, then an enemy appears and they fight, but this is not bread-and-butter good and evil relationship. They became friends at the end. Likewise, Nanoha A’s has the vibe of friendship. Same formula but with a larger scope of characters and plot. Eventually they find the true evil and vanquish it, then they became friends at the end. Now Nanoha StrikerS… is about building a corporation of friends, and they fight typical enemies without much backstory… and not much “friends at the end” attitude. It’s cookie-cutter good vs. evil anime.
Let’s go to the corporate side then? The first few episodes focus on new recruits, and I seem to be watching an anime about the workplace. They get hired, they get trained, and we deal with the corporate society of bosses and employees. I say WTF. I’m at the workplace, and I see a parallel of my own job? Hey, I want a breather from this economic society, that’s why I’m watching anime in the first place! This Nanoha StrikerS is making me feel like I’m at work, and sometimes it stings me at the irony of it. Moreover, the magical side had just gone from relationship-based (the master and his/her partner) to consumer-based (the master and his/her magical tool or weapon). The characterization of their magical items like Raising Heart have just taken a backseat, only rarely would we see the master interact with his/her magic. I don’t even remember their names. They are supposed to be AI that can feel, but I don’t feel for them too much anymore, they seem to be disposables even.
Towards the middle of the series, I thought the corporate anime would become a political one. Section Six is one of the many bureaucratic organizations, and because of this we have ‘other’ bureaucratic organizations, some of them friendly and compassionate to Sector Six’s goals, others not so friendly and even trying to convict them. The so-called “Lieutenant Colonel” of Sector Six was apparently Hayate, and we all know from Nanoha A’s she caused a lot of havoc, and so we have other people digging histories about her ideals. But then the real plot showed up so good riddance, the politics ended suddenly.
The latter half was composed of the main story of clones, terrorism and old magic. If it were some other action anime I would turn the monitor off, but then this is Nanoha. I know these characters, or at least some of it. I want to see this to the end… but each episode is a painful process. I honestly don’t know what to expect. Do they focus on this character or that one? Would it go this way or that way. It’s inconvenient viewing. I know I’m not so much a fan of magical war anime, but I can compensate because this is a magical ‘girl’ war anime. You know, all the fluffy costumes, the nekkid transformations, the cute/cool poses, the long chants, the summons, the fireballs of rainbow colors, etc. All these mahou shoujo dynamics are being pitted out in a sci-fi setting. It’s a weird combination.
All this talk and I haven’t even mentioned characters yet except for “Lieutenant Colonel” Hayate. She is the leader of the gang, rather astoundingly, because she interacts with leaders from other bureaus who are a lot older than her. Then we have “Captains” Nanoha and Fate. Because this is a cast-of-hundreds anime, Nanoha and Fate are not so prominent anymore. They are just high-rank officers who train, investigate, lead and protect those of lower rank. While they have higher authority, in this bigger world, they are no longer super-special super-powered magical girls anymore. As I said, magic has just become consumer (or militarized), and so we have lower-ranking magical girls and boys under them. Namely, new characters “Privates” Subaru and Teana (teen hotties), and “Privates” Caro and Erio (loli and shota). If you ask me, they have the big bulk of character development in this one. They were the most fleshed out in terms of histories and plot movement. Yes people, they are the main heroes, and if you ask me, they kicked a$$ better than even their superiors! First, they outsmarted their enemies by hiding the Relics during a retrieval operation. While they were quite devastated in the initial attack (especially Subaru in a desperate rage to save her sister “Inspector” Ginga), in the final battle they are actually the ‘least’ stained, defeating their respective enemies with ease. Actually the teens Subaru and Teana had a harder time, while the younger ones Caro and Erio were really, REALLY good! Using both the “we are friends” approach of the earlier Nanoha animes, along with summoning and attack firepower, they ended the combat with nary a scratch. They are the best pair of the bunch, way to go kids! You deserve a spinoff of your own!
We go to more returning characters. We have a bunch of Nanoha A’s veterans serving as “Second Lieutenants” (Signum, Vita and “Chief” Rein). They take their secondary role rather well, although I’m less impressed with their underpowered-ness. “Medical Officer” Shamal and “Support” Zafira have even worse roles, they don’t appear too often. The older Nanoha veterans are much, much worse off. “Admiral” Chrono and freaking “Librarian” Yuuno, Nanoha’s boyfriends are never there to help any longer I guess. Arf, Lindy, and other minor characters serve either as cameos or at the same level of minor character positions as they were.
Lots of ground to cover eh? Other new characters pop up every now and then. Some of the ones I care about include “Knight” Carim of the Church bureau. She and Hayate seem to be friends from years ago, but no further development from there. She’s just yellow-cute. Another one was “Sister” Schach, a nun of the Church bureau. She’s also a magic combateer, and she’s quite hawt. There are other male characters I won’t care about, including some investigator friend of Chrono and a high-ranking officer of another bureau (which is important to the plot though).
Do we need to mention the enemies? We have crazy criminal Jail, the main head of all this crap. Well what else can I say? Under him are the dozen combat cyborgs, conveniently named from (1) Uno to (12) Dido. This is a complete mess, as I can’t catch up with their characterizations. What number was the ojou-sama meganekko, or the Subaru-equivalent, or the Signum-equivalent, etc.? We have some other characters working a bit more independently, like Lutecia, semi-evil loli, Vivio, innocent loli who is actually a key to tremendous power, and… agh so many. Okay, Zest and Agito, a pair I really don’t care about. Is that enough for characters?
Fortunately, this large cast paved the way for a large seiyuu list. This is one AWESOME list of voice actors, and maybe, just maybe, this is the greatest lineup EVER in an anime. Of course, all the major seiyuu of the older Nanoha series reprised their role, and the new characters were given voice by other popular seiyuu. Well actually, some seiyuu have multiple roles in this one, but still this is a very spectacular list of talent. Seiyuu fans will definitely enjoy this one.
Let’s go technical shall we? The animation here has nothing to write home about. It’s a typical healthy mix of inconsistent drawings, as well as some moments of high and mighty cuteness. Unfortunately for action fans who dreamt of even more awesome fight scenes (the two Nanoha series had some very intricate and well-scripted fights that remain legendary among anime fans), while we have more action in StrikerS, we see less style in the scenes. Nothing much to write about either. It’s less technical I might say, except for maybe the pinpoint shot action of Teana. I had the most fun in her fight scenes, she’s smart and talented. Subaru’s fights are second-best, focusing on close combat. Erio and Caro are the typical summon and fight combo. From there it gets bad the higher rank we go. The Lieutenants have their small fights. Nanoha and Fate didn’t show their absolute coolness. And, agh, Hayate got the worst end of the stick, I don’t see the “awe” in her magic anymore. Defying Nanoha tradition too, there are less transformation scenes in this one. If I count it right… there are just exactly “one” for each character. They are really running out of time I guess. The music isn’t that memorable either, except for maybe some moments of old Nanoha theme goodness. Some are rehashes of older music, which makes it quite nostalgic. But since this series is different, there are political and war boom sounds too. Boring if you ask me.
Should I compare the two older series with this one? Well, it is a non-issue. StrikerS is a direct sequel. Going back to my initial line, personally I didn’t care much about how they are not lolis anymore. It didn’t affect my enjoyment one bit. Actually, it was only Nanoha, Fate and Hayate who got taller and older, while the other characters are old enough to not change too much, except for maybe Vita who seems to be eternally loli. Well if I wanted to nitpick, Nanoha and Fate have grown too much for my tastes. They were unproportional from what I had expected. Hayate grew quite well, the perfect model for a 19-ish girl. This new series also lost some themes (mostly magical) in favor of new ones (corporate, war) which I think was not suited for me. I loved the earlier series because of its relative innocence. This new one made them more mature, and they start to think maturely too. The idea of fulfilling dreams in Nanoha and A’s are quite different from the idea of fulfilling dreams in StrikerS. Thankfully, there are old themes that stuck up, but a bit watered-down, like friendships, protecting people, etc. Those moments, while sparse in this one, are still as dramatic as ever, so I guess the emotions here are still tight. The main improved theme here though, is “family”. The focus is primarily family-oriented. We have all kinds of family here, albeit some adopted ones. Some examples include Nanoha as a mother to Vivio, while Fate is a mother to Erio and Caro, and Hayate and Carim seem like sisters too. We also have themes of broken families here and how they cope up, like Subaru and Ginga losing their mother, Teana losing a brother, and Hayate having none at all, but being supported by Signum and others as adopted family. Despite being different from the first two, the new anime retains the themes that make it both unconventional and traditional in the mahou shoujo genre. If you don’t like the change of pace, well, just think that 10 years is a lot of time to grow up from innocence to maturity, and it certainly shows here in Nanoha. Wasn’t Nanoha the daughter 10 years ago, now acting as a mother? It’s kinda like real life if you think of it that way.
It was a long road from the start, but I guess when all has been said and done, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS is nevertheless a worthy sequel to a good sequel and a great first anime. Still nothing lyrical, but still has me screaming for more. If I can predict right, I think this is even set up in a way that the next possible Nanoha series will actually be a “prequel” between the timeline of A’s and StrikerS. After all, those other side characters (like Carim) didn’t have much character development. For the loli fans, this may be a sigh of relief, because they can be semi-lolis the next time around. Be happy. Cheers for more Nanoha!