Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

A while ago, Steven recommended that I check out an Anime series called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. It turns out that it's a sequel to the original series. Opinions differ on whether or not to start from the beginning, the crux of the matter being that the start of the first series can be a bit of a difficult watch. However, I've found myself to be something of a completist these days, and prefer to start from the beginning (this also holds true for Crest/Banner of the Stars - I'd recommend people to start with Crest even though Banner is the better series overall.) So while I was recommended the second series, I decided to start with the first.

This is probably a good topic for another post, but I've found this completist impulse to be interesting because I can remember when I was young and had no problem turning on a series or a movie even when it had already started. I'm not sure if it's just because I take the idea of watching a movie more seriously these days or what, but I rarely put on a movie that's already begun (unless it's something I've seen before). When it comes to series, a big part of it would have to be that when I was young, most series didn't feature an overarching story arc, instead consisting of mostly one-off episodes. That sort of series is obviously much easier to start watching than something more tightly plotted like the shows common today. Technology may be part of it too, as devices like my DVR or services like Netflix make it easier to watch a series or a movie from the beginning. But I digress!

Having just finished Disc 2 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, I have to say that despite some major reservations after the first Disc, the show has really turned the corner and become something I'm looking forward to finishing. Indeed, when I got home tonight and put in Disc 2, I had only planned to watch 1 episode. 4 episodes later, I hopped on my computer and pushed up Disc 3 in my Netflix queue and then started writing this post.

The story concerns a young girl named Nanoha whose life is changed when she runs across a magical ferret who gives her a stone called the "Raging Heart" (there seems to be some confusion in translations here, it sometimes being referred to as "Raising Heart" - I gather there's some sort of story there, but I don't want to read too much about it until I finish the series). The stone unlocks Nanoha's magical powers and she decides to help the magical ferret recover powerful but unstable Jewel Seeds (magical artifacts from another dimension). Soon it becomes apparent that they're not the only ones after the Jewel Seeds, and Nanoha gets caught up in the middle.

A sizeable portion of the premise feels a lot like a Japanese version of Harry Potter, what with the young protagonist and the discovery of a magical world, but despite the sometimes fluffy tone of this series, it does seem to delve rather frequently into darker territory. Indeed, while Harry Potter never really had a choice but to confront his destiny, people like Dumbledore at least attempted to protect him. Nanoha, on the other hand, seems to freely choose her fate. Yuuno, the magical ferret, seems to feel bad that he got Nanoha involved, but doesn't really do much to discourage Nanoha. I found this a bit odd, but then again, Yunno is apparently around the same age. For that matter so are Fate and Chrono.

I'm not necessarily opposed to a story that features young characters in such a way (for example, I like Enders Game a lot), but given the dark nature of the story, it's hard to imagine this appealing to young children. In particular, there's a scene where Fate meets with her mother that is brutal. I guess I'm just not sure why the characters aren't older (I speculate below, but I find that reason kinda creepy). There doesn't seem to be any story-related reason for it, and it can sometimes lead to rather odd tonal shifts. These tonal shifts didn't impact me nearly as much as they did in Trigun and indeed, seem to be something common in a lot of Japanese entertainment (I've also seen a few Yakuza flicks lately that feature this sort of thing, and certainly Kurosawa was no stranger to it either - this, too, is probably a good topic for a separate post).

There is one thing that really did bother me about the series though, and that's the fan service. I'm sure there's probably another name for it, but a show that features fan service with 9 year olds is pretty emphatically not my thing. I'm not a big proponent of fan service in general, but I can tolerate it in something like Ghost in the Shell, where it's pretty tame. Here it's just creepy. In particular, there are scenes where Nanoha transforms from her regular clothing to her magical armor, and the transformation is just disturbing. I seriously considered stopping the series after the first disc because this made me so uncomfortable. At this point, I'm glad I continued, but it's enough to hold me back from truly loving the series.

I suppose it helps that the creepiness factor seems to be waning a bit since episode 5 (the one with the hot spring). There have even been a few transformation sequences that aren't cringe-inducing, so perhaps it's something that will lessen as the series goes on (which may be too much to hope for, but still). Also, it seems that Yunno and I have pretty much the same reaction to these types of scenes.

In any case, I'm looking forward to how the first series ends, and I recognize that the second series is what I was really recommended, so I'm looking forward to that too. More thoughts (and screenshots) to come once I've finished the series.

Update: More thoughts here.