Nanaoha – The Movie 1st

I’ll state up front – it’s been a long time since I had any connection to the Nanoha franchise. I watched the first season and mildly enjoyed it, got through most of the second season and never was able to get past a couple episodes of “A’s”. But make no mistake, this ia s big property – a veritable cash cow for Seven Arcs Studio and one of the most successful Mahou Shoujo series ever. So given the chance to dip my toes back into the pool for two hours rather than twelve, I thought I’d give this a look.

The movie came out quite a while back (an “A’s” movie is on the way) but was only recently subbed and sat in my inbox for a few weeks, but with the New Year’s lull it was a good time to revisit some old friends. Basically, this one is a retelling of the first season, only bigger and prettier. For anyone who doesn’t know, Nanoha is a third-grader who gets introduced to her latent magical ability by an alien ferret-boy named Yuuno. Magical transformations ensue, a premise is hatched (jewel shards seeds scattered throughout the galaxy must be retreived before bad things happen) and the rest is history.

If you like the property, there’s really no reason why you won’t like the film – it’s lovely to look at and deftly recaptures the feel of the first season. Admittedly, these events are somewhat more ponderous and severe when not viewed through the lens of first-season director Akiyuki Shinbo, who managed to inject a little off-center quirkiness into the material. But the more literal style suits the format and visual look just fine. This is actually a relatively serious story in some ways, as the real center of the drama is not Nanoha but Yami Fate. She’s got serious mother issues and provides a nice foil/rival for Nanoha, and eventually something more.

All of the core characters are introduced in good order – Arf, Chrono, etc. – and all are consistent with what we know and love from the TV series. To be honest, there’s something slightly unsavory to me in this show – the extended Nanoha transformation sequences with full detail, the way the camera lingers just a little too long on Fate’s midsection or the clothes hanging off her afrer a particularly vicious magical battle. I’m not naive – I know that’s part of the appeal for some fans, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong here – it just makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the most popular couple among the fans is Nanoha and Fate. While there’s no overt stuff happening in this timeframe – these are 8 year-old girls after all – their relationship is certainly the deepest and most complex in the movie along with that between Fate and her abusive “mother” Precia.

From here, of course, things change quite a bit – time-jumps, etc. By the time of A’s Nanoha and Fate and 18 or so and veritable elder statesment to a new generation of magical chibis, including a mahou shounen. Relationships – in the TV, anyway, or the portions that I made it through – continue to be hinted at but never overtly pursued (other than Chrono and Amy, if I remember right). Yuuno is shunted off to the galactic library and largely forgotten but for a plaintive ferret-cry of “Nanoha!” every few episodes. In theory this should have made the series more interesting – a chance to deal with more mature themes without it being inapprpriate to the characters – but somehow Nanoha largely lost its magic for me after the first season. I’ll certainly check out the next movie, as a convenient digest verion of A’s. Maybe it’ll appeal to me more than the first several eps of the TV did, and if so I’ll certainly go back and give that season a watch.

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