The last couple of days have marked another step forward in the march of the booming Nanoha franchise: the long-awaited release of the 1st movie DVD! I’m reminded again at just how remarkable the Nanoha series really is, it has to be one of the greatest success stories for a side-character ever! No one could of predicted that Nanoha would go from her roots as a minor character in a mediocre H-game and OVA series (Triangle Hearts) to being the face of a new era of the mahou genre, and one of the strongest character brands around today (just look at her and Fate’s saimoe records!). Instead of letting her fade into oblivion, it was director Akiyuki Shinbo and the animation studio Seven Arcs who pulled her out of obscurity by transforming her into a magical girl for an original TV-anime: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. The series was a success and was notable for its new take on the genre: it strayed from the humble themes of mahou shoujo and gave it an epic, science-fiction warfare bent, as well as portraying an overarching, tragic story. While other series also fit this description, Nanoha is possibly the best example of Mahou Shoujo series with an older male demographic. The first season pitched to the lolicon crowd with fanservice scenes, but this was soon overshadowed by its intense story and exciting action sequences. The fandom grew by the time the second season, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s, came along, and then jumped even further with the third season, Strikers. Many fans latched on at this point, but for me, the core appeal of Nanoha lies in the powerful emotional story of the first season, as well as the Nanoha/Fate dynamic! That’s why I was really happy to hear this movie announced, which would cover the first season! And, having just watched it, I can say that, as a big fan of the first season, I wasn’t at all disappointed!
The movie was released in Japanese cinemas some months ago, but the DVD has only just hit the street. On the eve of its release, Akiba was alive with Nanoha mania!
The movie itself was pretty much what I expected, and everything I’d hoped for. The production quality is obviously much higher than what was achievable for the TV-anime, but, as you’d expect for a movie aimed at a niche audience, it doesn’t truly have that cinematic quality that wider-release anime movies have. It almost certainly could have been an OVA series. But I don’t think the lack of stellar animation is a fault in this movie, or something that can be blamed on the studio or director – it’s simply a reality of doing a movie like this. In fact, I got the impression that the studio, producers and director did a very good job at spending as much money as they could, and putting that money to good use. The staff is populated by the Nanoha regulars: the same director (since A’s), writer, character designer/chief animation director, art design, music, etc as on the previous TV-anime.
It may not feel truly cinematic, but it is very polished in almost every area, and the use of 3D effects and other post-production assets really help to make for some impressive sequences without shelling out for really talented animators or vast amounts of drawings. For example, the water or the swirling clouds in the ocean-based face-off between Nanoha and Fate really gave those sequences extra visual depth and a sense of atmosphere. I felt that the background artwork was unsatisfactory for a movie release, however. Again, the same art director as the TV-anime versions worked on this movie, and I just don’t think his work is up to scratch for cinemas. In terms of the actual key animation, there was lots of great stuff, but no particular sequence that stood out as being truly remarkable for the movie standard. I’m familiar with two animators who worked on the movie: Soichiro Matsudo, who’s well-regarded for his aerial dogfight sequences, and Tatsuya Yoshihara (who I recently wrote about when he was the animation director of Milky Holmes episode 6). I couldn’t pick either of their contributions, but I’m sure they did some of the better action moments. Thanks to a strong storyboard and direction, good animation and effects, the many action scenes, especially the duels between Nanoha and Fate were genuinely exciting and a visual treat. The fights were fast, well-choreographed and dynamically captured by the “cinematography”. I think we’re finally seeing the full potential of the unique magic combat style that the Nanoha series offers: a thrilling combination of dogfights, magic artillery, strategy and close-range melee!
Nanoha vs Fate
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Whether you like it or not, another important ingredient in the original Nanoha series was the fanservice, which was at least partially marketing toward the lolicon crowd. Elements of that remain in this movie, but on the whole the fanservice has been largely toned down. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that scenes that weren’t imperative to the story had to be trimmed. So, sadly, that means we say goodbye to the onsen part! I also noticed that the staff went out of their way to keep panty-shots to an absoloute minimum, particularly in the action scenes (which seems a bit silly to me). What remains (of course), is the transformation sequences for both Nanoha and Fate. Particularly in the case of Nanoha, that transformation sequence was also very nicely upgraded to include nipples! Very nice! Then there’s also the developed Arf who perpetually dons a very sexy outfit!
Nanoha’s henshin sequence~!
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Fate’s hensin sequence!
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But the thing that really hit me was the profound emotional story behind Fate Testarossa and Nanoha’s increasingly violent attempts to reach out to her. To those new Nanoha fans who skipped the first season: you’re really missing out on one of the most tear-jerking character back-stories to ever appear in anime! I don’t say this very often, but I was literally on the verge of tearing up in some of those last scenes: the shocking sorrow Fate was hit with after ‘that relevation’, followed by her cathartic (and romantic?) final moments with Nanoha. It really is a story of how love can be abused, as well as a guide to the healing power of friendship. I’d forgotten just how powerful and gripping the first season of Nanoha was, but this movie was a powerful reminder. Nanoha is often a dark and distressing anime, but at the end of the day its themes are poignantly positive and heartwarming. The real moral of the the story is, anyone who dismissed Nanoha as just a silly moe/loli show is missing out, big time. The strong story was realised with an effective script that didn’t compromise the integrity of the original TV-anime, and actually managed to compress it into a 2+ hour movie without it feeling like a string of recap scenes. This movie is strong in its own right, with a distinct beginning, middle and end, and it in no way requires viewers to have seen the original material.
For new fans, this movie could be a perfect introduction to the franchise, and for us old loyalists, it serves as a fully-engaging reminder of why we fell in love with the characters in the first place. So now we begin the long wait until the second movie, which will cover A’s and be released in 2012! In the mean time, we can celebrate the fact that the movie was clearly a success: