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 role 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. Even Vivio herself, the new title character (Vivid) has also turned into a supporting cast member. The last Five or so episodes were completely lacking in Vivio, she didn’t even have a single important scene in the finale!
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 the entire 12 episode run, 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. Of special note however would be how absolutely poorly the music in episode 11 was handled, the episodes starts right away with a blaring rock track that doesn’t fit the action on screen and is far too loud, with similar music coming in at terrible times all throughout, all too loud as well.
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. It’s also the only reason you should ever introduce a new character in the final episode with no buildup then act like they’re important only for the show to just END, the pace is that of the manga, which is ongoing and thus does not work for an anime.
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.
Edit: Upon further reevaluation, my enjoyment of the initial episodes the first time around was gone, and my score has updated to reflect this.
Nanoha’s really grown on me, from a series I didn't think much of the first time I saw it to one of my favorite franchises today. I was excited when they announced Vivid, because it's the first new Nanoha anime to come out since I really became a fan. So how does it stack up? For me it was a 7.5/10 series (rounded down to 7 for reasons I’ll get to) and mostly met my expectations, but it also had some issues that kept it from matching the heights of previous seasons. Here are a few of its biggest strengths, weaknesses, and things that could
go either way depending on your personal tastes. If you don’t want to read everything you can skip to the tl;dr section at the bottom for my quick take on whether or not you should watch Vivid.
+ Some of the new characters. Corona and especially Einhart are worthy additions to the Nanoha cast, with the latter’s personal growth driving much of the story. Rio has less to do in these 12 episodes but also shows some promise if there’s ever a second season. Several characters who played smaller roles in StrikerS also get more (and welcome) development.
+ Voice cast. Returning veterans like Nana Mizuki, Yukari Tamura, and Kana Ueda have been voicing these characters for a decade and don’t miss a beat here. The real star of Vivid to me, though, was Mamiko Noto as Einhart. She's a complex character who has to be played as confident and ambitious, but still likable and sympathetic, and Noto's performance has the right mix of noble-born grace and emotional vulnerability to make the character work. I also liked Yumi Uchiyama in a small but memorable role as a delinquent fighting in the tournament.
+ Lots of well-animated fight scenes. The switch from Seven Arcs to a higher-budget studio in A-1 is most noticeable in the fight choreography, which compared to earlier seasons has more dynamic motion and hand-to-hand combat, a much wider variety of combat styles, and a whole lot less of characters just standing in one place and beamspamming each other.
+ World Building. StrikerS gave us some of the history of Midchilda. Vivid goes further back in time, exploring some of the history of the Belkan home world and the Ancient Belkan empire. Anyone interested in learning more about the Nanohaverse will enjoy those parts.
* The entry barrier. This is NOT a series for first-time Nanoha watchers. Most returning characters get little or no introduction (and a lot of them are walking spoilers for past seasons). Some, like Ixy, never even appeared in the anime before, only the audio drama CDs, but Vivid still expects you to know who they are too. The show doesn’t review old concepts like intelligent devices or the differences between Belkan and Midchildan magic, either. Veteran Nanoha fans will appreciate not hearing all that again, but anyone coming into this series without watching the first three seasons is going to have lots of unanswered questions.
* Missing old favorites. This is basically a spinoff series focusing on Vivio and her new friends, and the returning cast with the biggest roles all come from StrikerS. Except for one arc, even Nanoha and Fate are rarely seen outside their homes, while other fan favorites from seasons one and two only make brief cameos or don’t appear at all.
* Genre switch. Even though it has transformation scenes and a few other magical girl trappings, Vivid isn't a true magical girl series. It’s really a shounen tournament battle series with all the staples of that genre: training scenes, monologues about getting stronger, rivals-turned-friends, new characters who are abruptly introduced and given backstory two minutes before their first big fight, etc. If you like that kind of anime, great. If you don’t, Vivid’s not going to change your mind.
* Fanservice. Nanoha’s no stranger to fanservice anyway, but compared to previous seasons Vivid ups the stakes with lots more panty shots, ripped clothes, girls bathing together, and so on. A-1 also updated the old character designs to look "cuter" than before. As usual, some fans will welcome these changes, and some won’t.
- The Stakes. The first three seasons of Nanoha all involved major threats, with deadly consequences if Nanoha and her friends failed. Vivid’s stakes are so much lower that it practically feels like a slice-of-life show compared to its predecessors, and the dramatic tension that powered the climaxes of earlier seasons just isn’t there.
- Vivio. While I applauded Mamiko Noto earlier for the way she balances Einhart's personality, Vivio's a much more straightforward "cheerful child" type, and Kaori Mizuhashi doesn’t have to stretch herself much in the role. Unfortunately, it also makes Vivio a rather one-note character, and not nearly as interesting or as developed as her rival Einhart. That may change if we get a second season, but saying that also brings us to one of the biggest problems with this series.
- The Ending. As in, there isn’t one. It just adapts 12 episodes worth of material from the manga and stops. Now this isn't an issue if A-1 announces another season, but right now Vivid is glaringly incomplete. That's also the biggest reason I’m only giving it a 7, at least so far.
Watch It: if you liked all three prior seasons of Nanoha and you’re just happy to spend more time in its universe, even if it’s mostly with a new set of characters.
You May Be Disappointed: if you really just want more of the classic season 1 and 2 characters (none of them have large roles in this series), or if you aren’t a fan of shounen tournament battle anime, since that’s Vivid's main genre.
Don’t Watch It: if you’ve never watched Nanoha before, because you'll only get confused and spoiled. Go start with the first season instead. You can always come back to Vivid later.
It's time to look at Seven Arcs' incredibly Sapphic Nanoha franchise once more. Although, this one was handed over to A-1 Pictures. Which isn't that odd when you consider that Seven Arcs is more into the business end of animation these days and less into actually animating. Let's start with a quick recap of the prior series. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, our young heroine gained magical powers and developed a serious crush on young Fate. Their budding relationship was adorable. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A's, the two teamed up against a sympathetic threat. In the process their first love started blossoming into a
deeper and more meaningful relationship, which was adorable. In Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, the two were fully grown, living as a couple and adopted a child together. Eventually rescuing their young daughter from the machinations of a nutter and his elite force of female cyborgs. Their relationship continued to be adorable. If there are two things I can predict based on the other series they're that Nanoha and Fate will have an adorable relationship and the transformation sequences are going to be awful. Let's see if those patterns continue to hold up with Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha Vivid.
Vivid takes place four years after Strikers and follows ten year old Vivio as she practices her martial arts under the tutelage of Nove, one of the reformed cyborgs, alongside her two best friends, Corona and Rio. The three are quickly joined by a fourth student, Einhald Stratos, whom Nove invites in order to guide. Vivio is instantly enamoured with Einhald in a way that's somewhat reminiscent of how her moms were when they met. The four participate in a mock battle with most of the main cast from Strikers, minus Hayate and her guardian knights. Lutecia and Nove use the opportunity to tell Einhald about the Inter-Middle tournament for young mages. She agrees to enter, encouraged by Vivio. The rest of the series is about Vivio, Corona, Rio and Einhald preparing themselves for and facing the first few rounds of the tournament.
The biggest issue with this one is that it has no real stakes. In the prior three series, there was something major and important that the characters were fighting for. Including Vivio's life in the last series. In this one, we're primarily following four kids who are competing in a tournament. Even if they lose they can compete again next year and lose nothing important. There's no real tension from the plot as a result. About the most tension we get is over whether or not Vivio will confess her feelings to Einhald. The plot itself is also one we've seen before, a lot, usually as part of a bigger work but sometimes by itself like this. At this point, it's quite a banal spectacle. The series also suffers from some gratuitous fan-service scenes because when your main characters are ten you really need those. Way to keep it classy, A-1 and/or manga writer Tsuzuki Masaki.
That being said, the story does flow from one narrative point to another really effectively and, even though it is a standard plot, it's well told. There are lots of good slice of life moments. Both with the Takamachi family and with Vivio and her friends and it is interesting to see what became of the reformed combat cyborgs. I also appreciate that they didn't try to force a more serious situation and have Nanoha and Fate inexplicably absent or beaten in order to let Vivio take the lead.
The characters are still a strength of the series. We don't see as much of a focus on Nanoha, Fate and their comrades but they're still strong characters. The new characters we get are fleshed out well and get some development. Even their major opponents in the tournament have enough to them to give them a good level of verisimilitude. The interactions are Vivid's biggest strength. The dynamics amongst these characters are really well done whether the mentor relationship between Nove and the girls, the familial stuff between Vivio and her moms, the sapphic tension or just the friendly relationships. They're all really good.
Well, I was right about the transformation sequences. They're still terrible, lovingly outlining all the contours. The artwork also suffers from gratuitous fan-service, some of which involves ten year old girls. Even some of the designs suffer from being fan-service based. Like Sister Chantez and her battle habit complete with under-boob. She's fourteen, by the way. Far too young to be showing under-boob. That being said, most of the character designs are really good and don't do that. The action scenes are almost really good, except that the crass fan-service rears its ugly head and a lot of the action sequences result in the girls getting their clothes torn in a way that's supposed to be sexy. Remember last series where they fought for their lives and, somehow, kept their clothes largely intact? Why exactly is it that they can't manage that when having sparring matches? I get the feeling that the answer involves despicable art direction.
The performances remain stellar. Saito Chiwa gives a really strong one as Nove, also as Subaru but Subaru has less of a role in this series. Mizuhashi Kaori, Noto Mamiko, Fukuen Misato and Kitamura Eri all do excellent vocal work as our main four. The music is also really good, suiting the series perfectly.
There's a lot. In addition to our NanoFate moments, Subaru and Teana still appear to be an item but the main focus is on Vivio and Einhald. The two of them aren't really as adorable as Nanoha and Fate were in prior series, but they get a lot of good moments and their blossoming love is really cute. There's also an episode where Sein does something that's completely uncool, but still homo-erotic.
Vivid is the weakest instalment in this franchise yet. That isn't to say it's bad, it has a lot of strong moments, excellent characters and great sound, but the narrative itself is a lot weaker than prior instalments and it really suffers from the crass and gratuitous fan-service. So, while still a good series, it's not a superb one. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Next week I'll end the year with a look at Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru.
The 'Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha' franchise, is one I've liked for a while so I was very excited that Nanoha ViViD released as an anime, however it is too short which makes the story quite undeveloped. I do feel like this anime was to get viewers interested in the original manga itself, however they still should of focused on the anime's story and it's main characters progress.
I like how they kept the previous voice actors for majority of the characters, it bodes well.
Maybe they should make a second season (I think it would be pretty good for all those characters that didn't fight in this
season, to appear clearly in the next one).
This series is quite different from the previous three, it's not as climatic (in a life or death manner), this involves more slice of life/competition within itself kind of anime; it's good however not intense.
Overall, I do like where this anime is coming from, but it lacks in a lot of ways. So hopefully, there is a second season that has more episodes (preferably 24).
For all those out there who are interested in this anime;
- If you've watched the previous three seasons: go ahead, it's a whole new experience though might be disappointing for few. It's still a pretty good watch.
- If you haven't watched the previous three seasons: this might pose a problem, since it's different completely different to the previous three, but if you intend to, watch the three seasons first. :)
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