Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Anime Review: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha Vivid

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is a franchise I didn’t think I would enjoy, I wasn’t really into magical girl shows at the time but I’d heard good things so I gave it a shot. I love Nanoha now, it’s a great series, I even like the less popular StrikerS season quite a lot.

So when I heard they were adapting the manga Nanoha Vivid into an anime, I was pretty excited, more Nanoha couldn’t be bad right? Oh boy, here we go. Where do I even start with this thing, one of the most disappointing sequels in my recent memory?

One of the biggest complaints about Nanoha StrikerS was that the title character herself, Nanoha, was reduced to a supporting roll while it mostly focused on new characters. Oh what I wouldn’t give for her to have StrikerS level of involvement, while in that show she was mostly secondary, she was still story relevant and drove the plot along, even having a major scene in the finale.

In Vivid she’s a housewife.

Yes, Nanoha, one of the most powerful magical girls in any series has been reduced to a housewife. Outside of a single training fight in the midpoint of vivid, she has done literally nothing else. This show is now about her adopted daughter Vivio, something that I’m not totally against in concept, but it continues to get worse. As of episode 10, the last I’ve been able to watch as I wait for some brave soul to subtitle it (no fansub groups bothered picking it up) Vivio herself, the new title character (Vivid) has also turned into a supporting cast member.

Sure, the first season has a dual protagonist dynamic with Nanoha and dark magical girl Fate Testarossa, but those were the only characters in focus. A’s managed to add new cast without detracting from the fact that Nanoha was the lead character, and StrikerS is slightly infamous for it’s lack of nanoha. But at least in StrikerS Nanoha is actively training the cast in focus, making their victories a victory by proxy for Nanoha, their trainer.

In Vivid it’s as if they realized that Vivio is a super boring character, she’s almost instantly sidelined by her Chinese knockoff Fate-chan, Einhart Stratos. It gets worse as the show progresses, with episode 10 featuring less then 30 seconds of footage of Vivio OR Einhart, as it shows us a completely irrelevant tournament fight about characters we know almost nothing about. That fight was a joke, they built up one of the girls as a threat, but she’s totally wrecked by somebody we’ve barely even seen before, making it complete filler for a series with a very limited episode count.

This show is boring, I mean really, really boring. There hasn’t been a single exciting event of note in 10 out of 12 episodes, because nothing has any consequences. Gone are the first season’s world effecting, galactic level crisis events. Now we have hotsprings, loli fanservice (not that we had none of that before, but there’s more now), and tournament battles with simulated damage. That’s right; nobody is even in any danger of getting hurt at almost any point in this show, if there’s no threat then why should I care what happens? It’s not like they developed any characters into somebody I would want to root for in a sports competition.

I guess if you want a fluffy slice of lifish story with magical girls you could enjoy this. But the almost completely different tone of the series is extremely off-putting to me, a fan of Nanoha for its darker take on magical girls. And don’t even get me started on Vivio and Einhart’s magical devices, some of the dumbest shit I’ve seen in years. Nanoha’s magic device is a necklace that turns into a staff; Fate’s is a wristband that turns into a poleaxe. Vivio’s magical device is… a STUFFED RABBIT!

How am I meant to take any of this seriously when a goddamn cartoon rabbit is involved in Vivio’s transformation sequence, where she also turns into a more adult mode (when Nanoha was able to kick ass as a loli, I guess Vivio just sucks). Oh yeah, Einhart’s device is a cat, not a stuffed animal cat, an actual, normal cat. Her device is just a cat, what, why?

On the animation side of things, A-1 Pictures does an adequate job of animating the fight scenes, though there is no standout animation like you might see in an Ufotable or Madhouse production. However I do have a problem with the style of the show, and I’m not sure if this is a problem with the manga which I have not read, or the adaption. That problem is the setting backgrounds, Nanoha as of season 3 is set on an alien world full of magical technology, and Vivid is set in the same world. So why does it look like Japan? Did they forget the setting was no longer modern Japan or something; everything looks so standard it barely feels like the same show anymore.

The music is so utterly unremarkable that I have nothing to say about it, other then it’s not offensively bad so I guess that’s a plus! But no really, I don’t know much about music, nor do I really pay attention to it unless it sticks out in a big way, like Gurren Lagann’s soundtrack.

Now, this part is just personal theory, but let me try and explain what went wrong. Seasons 1 though 3 of Nanoha were all written to be a TV anime, they have a distinct beginning middle and end paced for their episode counts. Vivid however, is an ongoing manga, adapting only a fraction of the content. This would certainly hurt the concise, well planned pace of the other three seasons. It still doesn’t excuse the baffling design decisions and lackluster characters however.

I was going to write here “this is an anime I’d only recommend to hardcore Nanoha fans” but no, a hardcore Nanoha fan would probably be even more disappointed then I am. This is barely a sequel to StrikerS and almost feels totally disconnected to the rest of the series thanks to this far more lighthearted tone, I really can’t recommend this unless you’re desperate for some magical girls, but you’d be better off watching a different magical girl show instead.

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