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Anime Reviews

Review: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, Episode 1 — The Magical Girl Comes Back

Review

In 2016, hostile lifeforms known as “Disas” began a covert infiltration of our world. While these lifeforms look cute and cuddly at first glance—taking the forms of stuffed rabbits and bears—they are, in truth, bloodthirsty murderers. In 2017, another world that opposed the Disas made contact with Earth and formed a pact, thereby introducing earthlings to the reality of magical girls and allowing girls from Earth to contract with spirits, granting them access to magical powers. The girls fought as part of a unified front of Earth’s military forces and, after a long, bloody war, manage to defeat the Disas once and for all. Three years later, titular character Asuka is living a normal life as a high school girl, with her magical girl days behind her. Though she tries to put the past behind her, she is ultimately haunted by the things she’s seen and the fights she’s endured, often occupying her mind with books and other thoughts. While some of the other surviving magical girls have gone on to do further military operations, Asuka has refused all such offers, claiming that people only get hurt around her when she works. Meanwhile, Asuka befriends fellow classmates Nozomi Makino and Sayoko Hata, neither of whom know of Asuka’s past and both of whom try to recruit Asuka to their clubs for various reasons. When Sayoko finds herself in a desperate situation, Asuka is forced to realize that, though the Disas are defeated, the world still has need of magical girls.

The magical girl genre has come a long way in the past two decades. While many of us (guys and girls alike) were likely introduced to the genre through shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura (Cardcaptors for the American audience…shudder), there’s no denying that those shows were targeted towards a female audience, as had been the standard for much of the genre’s life. Since then, we’ve seen the genre expand to target male audience members more directly through more plot and action oriented stories (Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha), we’ve seen the genre take a darker, almost horror-themed twist on itself (Madoka), and now we’re seeing the approach of magical girls as soldiers.

I had seen this title in passing once or twice as the Winter 2019 season approached, but hadn’t particularly looked into it, only checking it out because the artwork ultimately caught my attention as I scrolled through Crunchyroll’s simulcast titles for this season. After viewing the first episode, I can honestly say that I am excited to see where this show goes. While I do have a couple minor gripes—namely, the way Asuka’s eyes are drawn, especially in comparison to the other characters, and the fact that Asuka was supposedly in middle school during the Disas war despite looking older, with no apparent change in appearance despite a three year time lapse—I was overall impressed with the introductory episode. While I acknowledge that the amount of blood and gore shown isn’t for everyone, I have personally mused on the concept of a more realistic magical girl story for a long time. Let’s face it, these girls are using devastating magical and physical attacks on their enemies, yet in most shows said enemies just burst apart into fragments of light. The existence of blood, injury, and death in such a battle just seems more realistic for such fights. I also appreciate the fact that Asuka didn’t watch people die and walk away as if nothing happened. She’s clearly haunted by the things she’s seen, and one scene suggests she may suffer from PTSD.

The show is dark, but not in the same vein as the shows one would usually throw into the “dark magical girl” genre (Madoka, Magical Girl Raising Project, Yuki Yuna, etc). The dark elements in this case aren’t based around horrific revelations of what it means to be a magical girl, but rather the realities of war and death, and for that reason I would consider it distinct from that particular sub-genre. It feels more adult-oriented, although it’s too early to say that for sure, as the series could easily devolve into typical magical girl tropes. Another noteworthy point is how the show deviates from the typical concept of magical girls working in the shadows, keeping their identities and existence secret from most of society. Here, magical girls are a known force, with their identities as magical girls—if not as real people—known far and wide.

If you are a fan of the magical girl genre and you like seeing new takes on it, I would highly recommend looking into the first episode of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. Those who are squeamish about blood or who simply disapprove of it’s use should probably look elsewhere, though, as you will find plenty of it to go around in this episode alone.

Content Guide:

Language: I counted one use of “d*mmit.”

Sexual Content: Asuka is shown transforming once in the episode and once in the ending credits—the first briefly exposing portions of her breasts and butt, the second showing only the equivalent of cleavage. Another female character is shown in a skimpy bikini near the end of the episode.

Alcohol/Drug Use: None

Violence: The show is gratuitously violent. Soldiers, enemies, and even magical girls are shown bloodied and dead. Characters are shown with lost limbs and others are shown being dismembered. Blood is ample during combat scenes. One sequence of events shows terrorists opening fire on police and civilians.

Spiritual Content: The magical girls contract with spirits from another world in order to obtain their powers. As of now, this is simply backstory so the details of the “contract” aren’t really shown. Beyond that, there aren’t any real spiritual or religious themes in this episode.

Other Negative Themes: In general, the focus on war and crime will probably be an ongoing negative aspect of the show. While the show doesn’t glorify these actions, they still serve as a reminder of the darkness that permeates our world, and they are done in a way that is realistic or, in the case of the attack at episode’s end, overly exaggerated. How negative this is will probably differ from person to person.

Positive Content: The climax of the episode is Asuka realizing that there are still reasons for her to fight and that, despite her reservations and desires, the world still needs magical girls. Seeing her friend in danger helps her to realize that there are still things wroth fighting for.

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Anime Reviews

Review: Yuki Yuna Is A Hero—Season 2

Producer: Studio Gokumi
Director: Seiji Kishi, Daisei Fukuoka
Writer: Makoto Uezu, Takahiro (Hero Arc only)
Starring: Haruka Terui, Suzuko Mimori, Yumi Uchiyama, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Juri Nagatsumi, Kana Hanazawa, Yumiri Hanamori
Distributor: Amazon Prime Video
Genre: Magical Girl/Action
Rating: PG-13

Washio Sumi and her friends—Sonoko and Gin—are tasked with the holy duty of protecting their world from the Vertex, invaders who seek to wipe out humanity. While they manage to repel the invasion, it comes at great cost, leading to Washio losing her memory and being given a new life under the name Mimori Toga. The series picks up sometime after the events of Season 1 (see here for our review), with a summary episode in-between, integrating characters from the prequel into the plot.

****Light spoilers ahead for Season 2, heavy spoilers for Season 1.****

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Yuki Yuna is a Hero‘s whole concept revolves around a world where multiple “gods” decided to destroy humanity, while one chose to save humanity. As a result, the world exists in a tiny bubble the heroines must protect from otherworldly beings sent by the malevolent gods. The girls themselves are also held in a reverent position, due to the service they provide humanity. Itsuki is shown to read Tarot cards, and the show tends to suggest they are actually capable of predicting the future

Language/Crude Humor: Infrequent use of minor cuss words like “h*ck,” “d*rn,” and “j**z.” A couple instances of “oh my G*d.”

Sexual Content: The show has several scenes with Barbie doll-level nudity, particularly during transformation and bathing scenes. There are also several instances of suggestive angles, including close-ups of the girls’ backsides and breasts.

Violence: If you’ve seen Season 1, then you can expect the same type of cartoon violence, with the girls engaging the otherworldly Vertex using a variety of weapons. Bloody scenes are not common, but they are present, with episode four being particularly noteworthy due to the girls being severely injured. There is also one scene where a character appears to lose her arm.

Drug/Alcohol Use: No concerning material.

Other Negative Themes: No concerning material.

Positive Content: The show tends to focus on themes of friendship and self-sacrifice. Saying too much would delve into spoiler territory, but there are several instances within this season where a character will sacrifice herself in one form or another for the sake of her friends. There is also a plot-point involving one of the girls withholding details about her condition from the rest of the group, which causes her to suffer alone. This acts as a cautionary tale, because the rest of the heroines are able to devise a plan once they become aware of the situation.

Review

Yuki Yuna Season 2 is composed of two arcs: the first half serves as a prequel, following the Washio Sumi chapter (which started as a light novel and was then adapted into three movies, which were then, in turn, adapted into these six episodes) while the second half serves as a proper sequel and is referred to as the “Hero” chapter. The two halves are connected by a one episode recap of the first season, shown from Washio/Togo’s perspective.

While I enjoyed seeing the prequel events—especially because I haven’t had the chance to read much of the light novel or watch the movies—I do have to wonder if it was really necessary to make yet another adaptation. It may have been better to create a full-length season sequel. My biggest complaint is I felt Season 2 (specifically, the Hero chapter) suffered from the same thing the first season did: poor pacing. While I would have liked to see a longer build-up of the relationship between the three girls in the Washio chapter before Gin’s untimely death, I understand this is an adaptation of an adaptation, and the source material was a single book. Extending that much material into six episodes was probably enough work, already. On top of that, from what little I’ve read of the light novel, it appears to be written in the format of a government report, which would probably explain the quick succession of events. All-in-all, I’m willing to be more lenient on the Washio chapter for this reason. It provided some insight into Togo’s life before she lost her memory and became Togo, and it gave a glimpse into the Hero system prior to the events of Season 1. Nothing was particularly shocking because we already knew what was going to happen, so in that sense it probably didn’t make a lot of sense to drag it out. The Washio arc also flows seamlessly into the Season 1 recap, making it feel like a natural part of the season’s progression.

Now, for the Hero arc. We are immediately plunged into mystery. All of the original characters return, including the now-restored Sonoko. All of them, except for Togo. As the episode continues, the other characters show no signs of remembering Togo. This particular plot-point was handled well, because as the viewer I sat there wanting to know what happened to her, while at the same time assuming it had something to do with her actions at the end of Season 1. It seemed too convenient she would get all of her memories and functions back while facing no punishment for her behavior. Ultimately, this is confirmed. However, I take issue with how quickly this particular piece of the plot resolved. Within the same episode, Togo’s absence is noticed by one character, who eventually makes the other characters aware. By the end of the second episode, Togo is back in the picture. This goes back to what I said earlier about how it may have been better to skip the Washio arc and dedicate a full season to the sequel instead, because it really demolishes the tension that started to build up when Togo was absent and no one noticed. Add that the girls were basically going against Shinju-sama to rescue Togo and it just feels like it was too easy.

However, rescuing Togo is what leads into the true meat of the sequel. Without giving away details, Yuna experiences some severe consequences for Togo’s rescue, and we watch her slowly decline over the next several episodes. These are by far the highlight of the season, because enough time is given for Yuna to deteriorate without things becoming stale. Unfortunately, the payoff is not worth it. The second-to-last episode ends with something referred to as the “god from above” invading the real world. This comes with no foreshadowing, right after we’re told Shinju-sama is dying and needs a bride/sacrifice in order to keep living, another event with no build-up. It turns out, unsurprisingly, the Taisha had some other motives behind the “marriage” to Shinju-sama and that they only need the heroes to hold off the new foe until the ritual is complete. Of course, the girls manage to take things in a different direction and save the day, but the story they wanted to tell simply did not fit into the six episodes allotted for it. Togo’s rescue should have at least taken an episode or two more than it was given. Yuna’s deterioration was done fairly well and could have been extended by another episode, although these events could have been improved by inserting some foreshadowing into Shinju-sama’s impending demise and the rise of the final enemy. I don’t have any particular qualms about the final fight taking only one episode, because drawn-out fights are overdone. Even at ten episodes, the story would have been given a little more room to breathe. Unfortunately, the writers were given what they were, and it resulted in a second season which was okay but could have been much better.

Story complaints aside, both halves of the second season continued to do what their predecessor did well. The artwork is lovely, with the setting retaining its otherworldly and haunting beauty. Everything looked crisp and clean, and will probably look even better once it’s touched up for home media release. The show’s music also did a superb job lending to the atmosphere, especially during the battle scenes. It never drowned out what was happening and always felt appropriate to the situation.

My final assessment is that the existence of this second season is still better than no second season at all. While I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities, at least a concrete ending was written for Yuna and her friends, with reasonable explanations given for some of the events of Season 1 (such as why the girls regained all of their lost functions). The construction and establishment of the Hero system also makes a lot more sense after watching both the Washio and Hero chapters, when it becomes clear the system itself is constructed by the Taisha. Knowing the side effects are the results of them tweaking the system makes a lot more sense than the idea that Shinju-sama is randomly changing his mind about what the cost of using these powers should be. If you enjoyed Yuki Yuna Season 1, then you should definitely give the Season 2 a look. Who knows, you may not even care about the things I take issue with, or you may see it from a completely different perspective. If you have already watched it and do have a different perspective, please share; I would love to discuss.

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Anime Reviews

Review: Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online — Episode 1: Squad Jam

Review

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, besides being a ridiculously long title, is a spin-off series of light novels written by Keiichi Sigsawa. Sigsawa as opposed to series creator, Reki Kawahara, though Kawahara supervises production. Why this particular spin-off, which features its own cast of characters completely separate from the main series, received an anime adaptation as opposed to any of the numerous others centered around the main cast is beyond me, but here we are.

So the question remains: is it worth the time? Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question based on the first episode, being that it is twenty-three minutes of Gun Gale Online battle royale combat. The most I can tell you is that the series follows a player who goes by the tag LLENN and her partner, M.

Apparently LLENN is well-known within GGO based on some comments from the very end of the episode, but other than that I can’t really tell what the plot of the show will be, what the characters’ motivations are, or anything like that. If you like Sword Art Online as a franchise and/or military-style action shows, then you will probably enjoy this first episode.

If nothing else, I can at least say the art direction for the show is well done, with the animation briefly taking us into a first-person POV several times throughout the episode. While some may find it disorienting, it actually provides an idea of what the HUD is intended to look like in GGO. After all, this is supposed to be a video game, but from the third-person perspective, it is easy to forget that fact… at least until bullets only leave red circles and “DEAD” flags pop up over defeated enemies. Alternative‘s first episode provides an entertaining twenty-three minutes of gun-slinging, but the question remains whether it will be worth an entire season of commitment.

Content Guide

Language/Crude Humor: A handful of both “d*mn” and “b*stard.”

Sexual Content: A few shirtless avatars in GGO; brief shot of LLENN in her underwear in the end credits.

Violence: Gunfire and grenades galore; avatars get shot during the battle royale.

Violence: Damage on the avatars is indicated by red circles—no blood is actually shown.

Positive Content: LLENN and M show courage despite being outnumbered by enemies who appear much more skilled.

Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Oriental Empires (PC)

Developer: Shining Pixel Studios
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Genre: Strategy
Rating: PEGI 16 (violence)
Platform: PC
Price: $29.99
Set in ancient China, Oriental Empires allows you to take an individual Chinese faction and build it into a powerful dynasty. Spanning three periods of Chinese history, the game allows players to develop their economy, military, trade, and inter-faction relations. Anyone familiar with the Civilization series should feel right at home here.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: There is a lot of Chinese mysticism within the “Thought” skill tree. Some examples include ancestor worship, shamanism, and divination. While these skills don’t directly translate into any gameplay elements (meaning you cannot actively divine the future or perform shamanistic rituals), they are still part of the game’s culture and worth noting.
Violence: Units clash on the battle field in bloodless violence. Players can see the combat in as much or as little detail as they likezooming out makes the units look like little more than ants running clashing while zooming in will show individual soldiers jabbing at each other with swords, spears, and other forms of weaponry.
Positive Content: As a strategy game, Oriental Empires makes you think and plan your actions around limited resources, a skill that is always useful in real life and should be practiced as much as possible. Like the Civilization games, the game does not make it easy to be a world dominator, so forming peaceful relations with surrounding civilizations is preferred to constantly being at war. In that sense, the prevailing benefit of peace is a positive aspect for Christian gamers.

Review

Oriental Empires can be played in either a single player campaign or in multiplayer online mode. The single player campaign starts by asking the player to choose one of several factions, some of which are not unlocked until at least 200 turns have been played in a different campaign. Each faction comes with a brief history and different strengths and weaknesses, which are derived from the clans’ characteristics. For example, a clan may have a history of manufacturing, which would give a bonus to technologies studied under the “craft” tree, meaning it would take less time to research these items, but they may be  a more peaceable nation, meaning that items in their “power” tree could take longer to research. Using this knowledge, players will be able to pick a faction that meets their preferred strategy or to at least formulate a strategy for how to play early on.
The default screen you will see each turn. The menus to the left provide real time information about your settlements while the menus to the right provide information about your diplomacy, research, and statistics in comparison to other factions.
Once the faction is chosen, the game will start. Unfortunately, the game does not follow a historical timeline like what you would see in the Total War series. Instead, as previously mentioned, it bears a close resemblance to Civilization, so once you get into the game you are free to develop and move about according to your own strategy. There are no missions or quests to be completed. Whether this is a positive, negative, or neutral factor will greatly depend on whether or not the player has a preference between the play styles. While having quests is a great way to mix up the gameplay, it can also distract from a player’s ability to pursue their chosen strategy, as the quest may require players to move in a different direction for completion.
Regardless of your faction, you will start with one city already founded and one settler unit. Settler units, as the name implies, are units used to settle new cities. The game will provide a tutorial explaining the best places to found cities and what different bonuses are available—for example, forming a city near rhinos increases income while forming a city near a herd of deer will increase food production. New settlers can be hired after a set number of turns, and each city you found will have its own cycle of producing settlers. Players have to consider the placement of cities, of course, along with their available monetary resources and the authority of their leader—a faction that develops a greater number cities than its leader has authority risks revolts. This is made even more challenging by the fact that leaders can die in battle (or from age), with an heir taking over, and the heir does not inherit their predecessor’s influence.
This is the menu where you can cycle between settlements and choose which buildings to construct and which military units to hire. This menu also provides information such as population growth and noble/civilian unrest.
Other factors that players can govern are the advanced construction of their cities (walls, palaces, city expansions), construction of various buildings in their cities, and the forming of military units. Everything costs money to build and most things require a maintenance fee per turn, meaning that players have to keep a close eye on their income versus expenditures. This is actually one of my biggest complaints about the game—making money is hard, and there aren’t any tutorials that give an in-depth explanation of how to make money. Trading is mentioned, of course, and this is initiated by building a bazaar in each town. Once a town has a bazaar, it can begin trading with other towns in your control. The game also tells you that if one city produces something another city doesn’t, then trade value increases; for example, if one city has a silk weaver and another city has a jade manufacturer, then the value of trading increases because there are unique items in each city. Despite this, I never noticed a considerable increase in my income, and every time I constructed something new or hired a new military unit, I felt the hit to my finances. In addition, there is no way for the player to control trade with other factions. It is possible to have this type of trade going on, but it happens automatically, and isn’t guaranteed to happen with all of the factions with which you are friendly. It would be nice to control my own trade network and to negotiate trade values on my own terms, instead of having the game decide who I do and don’t get to trade with.
Money woes aside, the game also allows you to research various areas of expertise. There are four different categories—power, craft, thought, and knowledge—and players can research one item from each category at a time. This was a nice addition compared to what I’m used to, since I didn’t have to choose between researching a new military unit or a new craft production; I could have them going on simultaneously. Of course, some items in a category are dependent upon an item in another category. For example, you can’t research bowmen in power until you research bows in craft, so there is some planning involved when deciding which items you want to research at any given time.
A clash of clans.
With all that said, allow me to share one of my biggest complaints about the game: the menu system. While most of the menus are actually very convenient, some are downright frustrating. On the positive side, the menu on the right hand side of the screen gives you quick access to things like your relationships with other factions, your research, your statistics compared to other factions, and many other helpful factors. Likewise, the menu on the right hand side of the screen provides a quick way to check on events that have happened that turn—including construction progress and research progress—and a quick way to switch between your various cities. Well that all sounds positive, right? So what’s my gripe? Construction! In order to construct buildings or hire military units, you have to enter a completely different menu system, which is done by double-clicking on the city you want to build in. From here, you can toggle between buildings and military by clicking the appropriate tab at the top of the screen. It is simply frustrating to not be able to do all of this from the main screen—why not have a menu at the bottom of the screen that provides quick access to your construction options, a la Total War? On top of this, some cities will not have access to certain things, such as military units, but no explanation as to why seems to be given. This is also where players will be able to build farms, construct roads, and clear forests, all of which provide their own benefits.
Now that we’ve briefly looked at construction, let’s talk about the map and exploration. As previously stated, players will be able to recruit settler units to scout the land and settle new cities. Military units can also explore the land, and a unit with a leader can navigate to “encounter” tiles, where players may be able to meet influential people that can be recruited with various bonuses. A crafting master, for example, may offer his services for a fee, and from that point on the player may receive a bonus when researching items in the craft tree. Players can also encounter bandits who will rob them on these tiles. Opposing factions will also move around the map and through player territory. As these factions appear, players have the option to negotiate various agreements with them, including defensive alliances and peace treaties. Honestly, I felt that establishing defensive alliances was a little too easy. Every time I would encounter a new faction, I would offer to set up a defensive alliance and a peace treaty with them, in exchange for them revealing the location of their capital. Every once in a while I would receive a counter offer that asked for some money from me, but I never had my offer rejected. Granted, it is nice to not have to worry about conflict early on in the game, but establishing peace just felt too easy.
A closer look at the research menu.
Of course, what would a strategy game be without war? Players can enter combat with bandit units as well as other factions. While combat is automated—meaning that when combat starts, the troops behave on their own instead of the player directing individual units. Instead, the player can set up behavioral strategies ahead of time that will dictate how particular units should act when they get into combat. Those seeking world domination can also attack and capture opposing cities to add to their own empire. While not much to look at from afar, players can zoom in on battling units to watch combat situations in great detail. For those not interested, combat can also be sped up to get it over with faster. I do not recall any blood actually being depicted in combat scenarios, so those who do not enjoy graphical depictions of blood and gore should be relieved.
Overall, Oriental Empires provides everything one would expect from a strategy game. While some factors are frustrating—namely earning money and navigating the menus—it is a solid game and should be enjoyable to anyone who likes the strategy game medium. As previously stated, those who have played Civilization 5 should especially feel at home here.

 

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Anime Reviews

Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

Producer: Seven Arcs
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
Writer: Masaki Tsuzuki
Starring: Christina Vee, Jennifer Alyx, Marianne Miller, Lauren Landa
Distributor: Geneon Entertainment
Genre: Magical Girl
Rating: PG-13
First released in 2004, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has become a well-known name among magical girl aficionados. Like most shows of this genre, the series follows a young girl who is bestowed with otherworldly powers.
Nanoha Takamachi is a normal, third-grade student who finds a wounded ferret while walking home with her friends. Little does she know, this ferret is actually Yuuno Scrya, an archaeologist from another world who is hunting down the lost Jewel Seeds. Injured and unable to defend himself, Yuuno bestows the Raising Heart upon Nanoha, allowing her to transform into a magical girl and recapture the Jewel Seeds on his behalf.
Nanoha soon finds herself in a competition with Fate Testarossa, a rival magical girl who is seeking the Jewel Seeds for her own purposes. As the two continue to clash, Nanoha finds herself more than a little intrigued by this mysterious foe as the two girls become embroiled in a universal conflict much larger than they could ever imagine.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: As suggested by the title, this series does contain magic, though it is entirely of the fictional, fantastical kind. Most of the characters use a tool of some sort to cast magic (Nanoha has the Raising Heart while Fate has Bardiche, for example), but there are instances where no notable tool is used (such as when Yuno puts up barriers). In the instances where tools are used, the magic appears to be a mixture of technology and mystic power, specifically because the tools change form depending on what is being asked of them, and they perform spells as if executing a program. Nevertheless, magic is presented in the series as being an innate power that is stronger in some than in others, so its exact nature is a bit of a mystery.
Language/Crude Humor: 1 “d*mn” (based on the English dub)
Alcohol/Drug Use: None
Sexual Content: Some viewers may take issue with Nanoha’s transformation sequences, as the characters are all prepubescent elementary school girls. When Nanoha transforms, she is completely naked, though the detail is Barbie doll-level. Arf’s outfit shows off her ample cleavage. There appear to be two very brief panty shots of Nanoha in the first episode and in the ninth episode. In Episode 11, Fate is briefly shown naked (again, Barbie doll-level) and another girl is shown naked, but as she is curled into a ball, nothing inappropriate can be seen.
Violence: Nanoha engages in combat in pretty much every episode. Most of the violence consists of characters being hit by magical blasts, although there are some scenes where physical violence is used. The explosions are bigger and the hits are harder than your typical magical girl fare. At times, characters come away from fights looking quite beaten up. There are also scenes of child abuse, such as when Fate is being whipped repeatedly by her mother as punishment for not bringing all of the Jewel Seeds. While not gratuitous, several scenes throughout the series feature blood. The beginning of episode 1 shows Yuno and the Jewel Seed beast that she is fighting both bleeding. Precia is shown coughing up blood several times, Arf is wounded and clearly shown bleeding in one episode, and Chrono is shown with blood running down his face. Aside from these telltale patches of red, though, there is no gore to speak of.
Positive Content: Nanoha’s very character is a walking ball of positive content. From the beginning, she is shown to be a helpful person–from the moment she decides to help Yuno “because she wants to,” all the way to the point that she keeps fighting for Fate’s sake. Nanoha puts her very life on the line just for a chance to talk to her rival, Fate, to get to know her, and to help her. In addition, Nanoha shows a strong sense of empathy, as she is able to use her past hurts and loneliness to drive her determination to help Fate.

Review

One thing that sets Nanoha apart from its magical girl counterparts is how lean it is. While many magical girl series of the decade surrounding Nanoha (Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretty Cure) feature large episode counts with plenty of stand alone episodes, Nanoha instead focuses on a well-contained, straight-to-the-point plot. Not that the series is lacking in magical girl tropes–the transformation sequence, animal companion, oblivious “muggle” friends, and parents who seem too detached from their daughter’s life are all there–but in this regard, the series focuses less on cute girl antics and more on building its characters and the story. The fight scenes are also considerably more intense; for the most part, Nanoha doesn’t simply whip out her special attack, win the fight, and go home, especially once Fate is introduced. The two girls are evenly matched, and their fights are intense, perhaps lending weight to the claims that this show is aimed towards a male audience for more reasons than just adorable bishojo faces.
While Nanoha does utilize a form of the “monster of the week” trope, this isn’t the sole focus of the series. In other words, unlike most magical girl anime where the weekly monster is a stand alone encounter meant to inflate the episode count or, perhaps, add some small, easily-missable nugget to the overall plotline, Nanoha uses this gimmick mainly as a catalyst to further the drama between the titular character and Fate. While the first few episodes certainly and simply focus on Nanoha collecting the Jewel Seeds, they still provide some background on the character and her world, while also giving her a chance to adapt to her newfound powers. By the fourth episode, we are introduced to the main rival of the series.

Unlike many 12-episode anime, Nanoha’s story doesn’t feel rushed… for the most part. There are a few episodes of “just Nanoha,” where the plot is fairly lighthearted. Then there are a few episodes that introduce Fate as Nanoha’s rival, working to deepen that conflict while spurring Nanoha’s character development and exploring Fate’s backstory. After providing a better understanding of both characters, the larger narrative is introduced, expanding the anime’s universe and giving greater significance to the Jewel Seeds.
Perhaps, the one thing that does feel rushed is the discovery of the final six Jewel Seeds. While Yuno and Nanoha are shown to have been busy in the interim between episodes 8 and 9, this instance doesn’t feel as rushed as it does summary. However, in episode 9, Fate pulls a Hail Mary and attempts to retrieve all six remaining Seeds at once–and they all just happen to have congregated in the same area under the sea. Granted, this leads to a bigger conflict, but it still feels rushed given the rest of the plot’s gradual build-up. It also comes right on the heels of Nanoha joining the Time Space Administration Bureau, causing her disobedience of their orders to have less impact than it could have had we seen her build deeper relationships with these characters.
The show accels in both art and music. While the art style certainly shows its age (pretty much every character has a weird tuft of hair–a popular inclusion of the early 2000’s), the animation isn’t outdated or washed out in comparison to more modern shows (hair tufts aside). The music also aids in setting the tone, especially during the opening monologues. Rather than having an upbeat tune playing underneath Nanoha’s recap of the story, we instead get a low, almost mournful song, which certainly helps the viewer enter the series with a more serious mindset. This is good because, while the series does have some lighthearted moments (such as Nanoha forgetting how to transform early on, or Chrono trying to tame Amy’s wild hair), it does go for a serious tone more often than not. This can be seen when the show tackles topics such as child abuse, accompanied by the denial that abuse victims sometime exhibit when their abusers are targeted. The show doesn’t try to justify this behavior–it is painted as evil and abhorrent–but it takes a more serious and realistic approach, which is quite heavy for a genre that is generally known for its lighthearted fun intended for young girls.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to accept about Nanoha is the maturity granted to the characters. Nanoha is presented as a third-grader, which means she is, at most, 8-9 years old. Several of the other characters are said to be about the same age, including Nanoha’s best friends and classmates, Arisa and Suzuka, as well as her companions, Yuno and Chrono. The amount of reflecting some of these characters give to first-time meetings and current events feels far too mature and advanced for characters of this age. Nanoha is also shown to be quite introspective, wrestling with her own feelings as a mage, particularly in regards to Fate and the fact that the two are enemies. While the general “I don’t want to fight you” mentality is understandable for Nanoha’s age, the depth and maturity of her thought process feels far beyond what one would expect. Add that to the fact that both Nanoha and Chrono are supposedly some of the strongest mages in existence at only 8-9 years old, and that Yuno is a fully-fledged archaeologist in his home world, and it starts to feel like there are too many gifted youngsters in this show.

On top of all of this, we have Nanoha’s conversation with her mother prior to her departure to join the Bureau. Nanoha’s mother simply smiles, accepts what Nanoha has to do, and gives her blessing. This is, perhaps, the one area that totally breaks suspension of disbelief, because what parent is going to happily let their grade school child go off on their own? It would be a bit more believable if Nanoha had transformed in front of her mother (and had Yuno do the same) so that she could explain all of the details. In short, there are scenes that simply challenge the viewer’s ability to suspend their disbelief, despite the already fantastical nature of the show.
While this won’t be an issue for everyone who watches the show, I must at least briefly address the dub, since that is the version I chose to review. Simply put, the dub is an extremely mixed bag. On the one hand, the main cast (Nanoha, Fate, Yuno, and Arf) are all well-voiced, with their actors presenting excellent performances. On the other hand, the supporting cast comes across weak, stiff, and awkward at times.
Overall, these negatives are ultimately nitpicks in the face of an otherwise solid series. If you consider yourself a fan of the magical girl genre and haven’t seen Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, then you should definitely remedy that, barring any personal reservations about the content concerns. The combination of the show’s art, music, and story make for a truly genre-defining experience.