Are you familiar with the 3-episode rule? Well sometimes it isn’t a true indicator of a shows quality. Such is the case with Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. It is quite strange because the first 3 eps act as a set-up for the basic plot and characters, yet it follows your typical magical girl tropes down to a tee. An ordinary grade schooler finds an injured animal from another world is all of a sudden thrust with ancient magical power and responsibility? This is by no means an original plot, but the execution is what makes Nanoha special.
The first episode begins with an introductory blurb narrated by Nanoha about daily life, tomodachi, emotional bonds, you know, all the “girly” things. After the OP plays, we see this DND looking LARPer guy running in a dark forest from this writhing, evil mass of fur? A furball? Whatever. He repulses the foul beast with a magic circle straight out of Kamen Rider Wizard and collapses. To be honest there isn’t a whole lot that happens right off the bat here. We’re quickly introduced to Nanoha’s family, her friends and the school she attends. Apparently Japanese schools are hardcore because she goes to cram school, despite the fact she’s 9. Shit when I was 9 I’d wake up early to watch Power Rangers Time Force and I really had no idea what anime was-
I’m sorry, please excuse me for getting sidetracked. So halfway in, Nanoha and her friends Suzuka and Arisa find themselves in an abandoned forest, with an injured ferret just lying there. The ferret can speak telepathically with Nanoha because OF COURSE they do, it’s an unspoken rule: mind meld with magical animals. They take him to the nearest vet and before I go on, I must address something. Nanoha aired late at night over 10 years ago. One of the main reasons why it aired so late was because it contains fanservice. And I’m not referring to the adult characters. Nanoha’s transformation into a magical girl contains shots of her in her underwear. There’s no real nudity depicted but it’s still super skeevy like as I’m typing this Chris Hansen fucking manifests out of thin hair with a gun pointed next to my head. This can all be blamed on Akiyuki Shinbo, this show’s director. He worked on hentai in the past, and he also went on to work on the Monogatari anime series. So this was a major turn-off for me for years, because I tend to avoid shows with such “fanservice”. Even on twitter I try not to retweet art that’s too lewd as a principle. But enough about that.
There’s another weird where Nanoha and her family are eating dinner, but I swear to god they blew all the animation budget in the worst way. How should I say this, all the movements are over-animated, it feels like a totally different show, it reeks of uncanny valley shit and poor, poor Nanoha starts shaking erratically. Like was this supposed to be cute? Moe? Was Shinbo on LSD? The world may never know.
So Nanoha and the ferret, whose name is Yuuno find the same monster from earlier terrorizing the nearest suburb, causing destruction in it’s wake. Yuuno tells Nanoha he can lend her magical powers and give her the Raising Heart in the form of a jewel necklace. So Nanoha says a prayer, transforms, and accepts her new fate as a magical girl.
And that’s episode 1. In most shows like this, the main character would usually freak out, perhaps with a loud, confused “ehhhhh???” Here Nanoha’s reaction is much more subdued. Yes she doesn’t exactly know what’s going on, but she’s also surprisingly calmer than most magical girl protags. And I think it’s because Yuuno does a good job at both explaining the situation to her. Even though it has just begun, Nanoha is aware of her new role. As the show goes on, she does become more experienced.
Episode 2 begins exactly where we left off, with Nanoha right about to fight the monster. Yuuno explains that magic is essentially programs that must be performed and executed via the user’s mental energy. This is quite interesting because we are now deviating from how magic is depicted in other shows. In shows like Precure, magic is wholly spiritual, and it can come out of things like the heart, or a magical trinket, wand, etc. But here magic is something artificial, something that must be executed with the mind. When the spell is executed, it converts itself into a physical force like a barrier or a laser beam. Raising Heart has an artificial intelligence, which allows it to speak in English. Did you know Raising Heart, Nanoha’s weapon is voiced by Donna Burke?
“Raising Heart, onegai!”
”ＴＨＥ ＳＩＮＳ ＮＥＶＥＲ ＤＩＥ． ＰＲＯＴＥＣＴＩＯＮ．”
Ha. Also we learn that monster is a “thought entity” and the only way to defeat it is to seal it. Yep. Now we see parallels to Cardcaptor Sakura, another show which has it’s main character seal monsters. Only here the objects that need sealing are called Jewel Seeds, 21 in total. The giant angry furball is defeated, and Nanoha and Yuuno get to talk again sitting on a bench. Yunno feels sorry for dragging Nanoha into this mess, but she doesn’t mind. They go home late, and you’d think her family would be somewhat upset she was gone for so long, but no. In fact, they even take a liking to her newfound ferret friend.
We get more exposition about Yuuno’s backstory. The Jewel Seeds were originally magic stones that could grant wishes, but were deemed too powerful and unstable. In his homeworld he was an archaeologist who found them one day under the rubble of ancient ruins. He then told the researchers with him to hold on to them. Unfortunately the inter-dimensional spaceship carrying them met a terrible fate. All the Jewel Seeds were scattered over the world. Yunno also mentions it will take five days for his magical powers to come back. Nanoha asks him what will he do when they come back. He replies by saying he’ll continue his search along, to which Nanoha counters, she won’t allow that. She says she can’t help during school, but she can help at any other time. Yuuno still feels sorry for bringing Nanoha along, but she knows how he feels. Because she knows how it feels to be alone. She doesn’t want Yuuno to be lonely. And I think that’s admirable. Now we know an aspect of Nanoha’s character that was previously unmentioned, and will be further explored later on.
After that little heart-to-heart, we see Nanoha on her way home, interrupted by someone screaming in terror. Apparently the Jewel Seeds can transform living things into beasts, as we see a dog-like monster about to attack its owner. Nanoha rushes to the scene, transforms, and defeats the foul creature turning it back to normal.
Episode 2 is a bit better than the previous one, simply due to our heroes getting a bit more character development, but as I mentioned previously, the show isn’t really breaking new ground. At least not yet.
Episode 3 is interesting because it is the first time Nanoha actually fails and beats herself up over an incident that could have been prevented. Not physically mind you, but she’s sad about it, you’ll see why. The actual episode is kind of forgettable otherwise. Nanoha has collected 5 Jewel Seeds up to this point, and she’s exhausted. Yuuno decides that she take a break from this, because Nanoha also has to watch a soccer game with the team her father both owns and coaches. The team wins, and they all go out to eat to celebrate.
While Nanoha and her friends eat outside, she notices one of the soccer players take a Jewel Seed out of his back, and then walk by with his girlfriend. Nanoha thinks to herself “was that just me?” and then we cut back to them back home when can you fucking not
Why is anime like this. Not just this show but the medium as a whole. Was showing a 9th grader getting undressed really necessary? I’m sure the FBI is tracking my words as I type because my god. Chris Hansen has moved the gun from my temple to the small of my neck, he smells blood.
Anyway, she takes a nap, and we go back to our filler couple of lovebirds. Futbol Generico takes out the seed and gives it to his gf as a gift. Until the seed activates and causes a city-wide mass of trees. This really is episode 4 of Cardcaptor Sakura, huh. Nanoha transforms again and Yuuno explains how the seed are activated by humans who have a strong will and wish hard enough make the seeds show the greatest amount of power. And Nanoha comes to the realization that she didn’t make up that boy carrying the seed, it was all real. She even says she could have prevented this wide-scale disaster. By tackling the root, Nanoha is able to shoot and seal the wood clow card- I mean jewel seed once and for all. This is also the first time we see Raising Heart change into shooting mode, able to fire long range magic beams. Nanoha sits with her knees up, gloomy over the fact she indirectly let this happen. Yuuno reassures her, saying she’s been doing a good job and that she shouldn’t look so sad. Nanoha finally decides she’s collecting the Jewel Seeds not just for Yuuno’s sake, but out of her own will and that she’ll never let this happen again.
Ever heard the expression “the destination is more important than the journey”? Well I think it applies to this episode. It bordered on filler but it also gave us a better grasp of Nanoha’s primary motivation now. Up until this point she was collecting just to help out Yuuno, but now there are greater stakes involved. Civilians got caught up and injured due to the jewel seed, there was massive property damage, and Nanoha being as young as she is has to carry this dangerous burden. If she can’t keep the townspeople safe, who can? She made her first failure as a mage, yet she learned from it. She learned she cannot let anything like this incident happen again. This is her mission.
But life is unpredictable, life has twists and turns beyond our control. Episode 4 is the major turning point in this story, where we go from typical magical girl fare to an amalgam of magical girl and mecha conventions. A clash of wills and destiny. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha’s true nature unfolds.
Episode 4 opens with a mysterious twin-tailed figure standing atop a rooftop in the dead of night. She speaks of an item called “Lost Logia” in the shape of a blue gem. On another rooftop, a giant orange wolf howls into the dreary, midnight sky.
Meanwhile at Nanoha’s house, she and her family are invited to a tea party at Suzuka’s mansion. Oh, how delightful. Where’s the mad hatter? Oh by the way, Nanoha’s friends Suzuka and Arisa are both rich. Because. There’s even maids. Anime maids! That’s got to be important, right? There’s a scene where Arisa and Suzuka notice Nanoha feeling down lately. Suzuka says if there’s something bothering her, she can tell them.
As it turns out, there’s a Jewel Seed hiding in the bushes. One of the house cats grabs a hold of it and…. becomes a giant kitty. This is silly. Yuuno sets up a magic barrier than can slow down time or something i don’t know, Nanoha gets ready to seal the seed within when out of nowhere the cat gets shot down by yellow laser blasts. Somebody call SPCA, stat. And who is this mysterious new rival?
Oh snap, here comes goth-loli batman. I’m kidding, this is Fate and she single-handedly changes the direction of the entire show. Her debut is really cool because now Fate is both the primary threat as well as a very important character in her own right. She seeks the Jewel Seeds just like Nanoha, but for a reason that isn’t clearly defined yet. As they fight, Yuuno notices she’s from the same world he is. We are still not sure what this world is. Also, while Nanoha and Fate are fighting, Nanoha would rather talk things out. She wants her feelings to reach out to Fate. Why? Because, and I’m not kidding:
They are around the same age and
She has pretty eyes and hair
You can’t get any less heterosexual than this, folks.
Nanoha loses the fight, and Fate seals the jewel seed. The morning after the battle, Nanoha wakes up injured, telling everyone a white lie, that she merely tripped and fell. The last scene involves Fate and her wolf companion sitting in an illuminated building. She wonders if Nanoha has some seeds (which she does) and looks at a nearby framed photograph.
“Wait for me, Mother”
Fate is not evil, but she does fit the antagonist role at this point. As we’ll learn later on, this story isn’t just Nanoha’s, but Fate’s as well. This is merely the tipping point of a rollercoaster that will soon rapidly descend, twist and turn. But what about the whole “mix of magical girl and mecha” I was talking about earlier? Okay. Nanoha’s color scheme resembles that of the original RX-78-2 Gundam. And Fate takes design cues from the Deathscythe in Gundam Wing. So the designers knew exactly who they’re aiming for.
This was the first 4 episodes. Nanoha is a show that takes a while to get it’s gears going. It doesn’t “wow” you right away, but when it does, it really does. As we get into later episodes, the writing and characterization truly begins to shine.