Why was my first impression of this series “typical mahou shoujo formula”? Even before the really complex stuff kicks in, the first episode ends in the middle of a battle, rather than after Our Heroine’s First Victory. And the third episode begins with “okay, so, you know those 21 macguffins? We’ve already collected 5 of them.”
Nanoha is really proactive about seeking out the macguffins. I love that, in this series, magical-girling too hard is exhausting, and they show it. Her family and friends get worried about her!
I had forgotten that, in the beginning, Nanoha has to use a super-long passphrase to unlock Raging Heart. Then she makes the apparently subconscious decision that this isn’t gonna fly, and starts transforming via a couple of words — if not by thought alone.
All the technomagic stuff is great. Look at this hardcore weapons action.
We don’t want a mecha series, they said. You need to make a mahou-shoujo series, they said. Okay, fine, but I’m giving my magical girls all the firepower of giant robots, and you can’t stop me.
Biggest drawback of this show: the unnecessary amount of focus on 9-year-olds in their underwear. I mean, it’s just when the character is changing and/or transforming, they’re not making the kid spend whole scenes in a camisole or slamming you over the head with fetishy stuff in every other scene…but it’s definitely A Thing.
And yeah, the main characters are all about 9 years old. This is insane. There’s no getting around how insane it is. You just have to try to forget about it, and suspend your disbelief like mad whenever the show reminds you. (In terms of agency and self-awareness they’re written more like teenagers, which makes it a little easier.)
One of the first impressions Nanoha has of Fate is “She has such beautiful hair and eyes.” Foreshadowing!
Nanoha and Fate have such intense fights.
This one starts with a giant kitten as the monster-of-the-week, trying to trick you into thinking it’s a cutsey filler episode. Spoiler alert: it is not.
And switching into a more serious gear: the abuse in this is brutal.
Fate and Rue (of Princess Tutu) need to start a “dark magical girls manipulated by their evil parent figures” support group. Tomoe Hotaru can come too. Even though her dad was possessed, not naturally evil, it was still pretty traumatizing.
Only a few moments of Fate being hurt are explicitly on-screen, and that’s more than enough. It isn’t exactly less wrenching when what you’re seeing instead is Fate’s loyal dog listening at the door and crying about it.
So let’s talk about Arf for a second. She’s a familiar that Fate created — does that mean she has Fate-based emotions? Is her anger and grief at the abuse a sign that Fate recognizes on some level how wrong this is, even if she can’t express it herself? Or is Arf able to get upset because her emotions are distinct from Fate’s?
Either way, I’m pretty sure the reason Fate went to all the trouble of making Arf wasn’t for the spying potential or the combat support, but because she desperately needed someone in her life who genuinely loves her.
What a good dog.
It’s around this point that we get our next formula-smashing twist: the Time-Space Administration Bureau shows up, and announces “look, you kids are both civilians and this is a serious interdimensional danger, so we’re taking over the macguffin search now.”
Note that the TSAB also has a 9-year-old as a commissioned officer, so “you’re stupidly young for this” is not one of their objections.
And they end up recruiting Nanoha anyway, because Fate is determined to keep working for her mother’s interests, and Nanoha is the best choice in the multiverse to be their official Fate-catcher.
Nanoha tells her mom part of the truth, and explains that she has to leave home to go on a dangerous trip. Mom is totally cool with this. Setting aside the “she’s nine frickin years old” issue, I could see this working if Nanoha showed off some of her technomage powers. That would answer the question of “why do you personally have to handle this issue, why can’t your role be filled by someone else, maybe a trained adult?” And it would demonstrate that she’s capable of self-defense — so incredibly capable that her parents can let her go with limited guilt, because their presence wouldn’t make her any safer.
I do appreciate that a serious-looking adult from the TSAB drops by the house eventually.
Special agent Nanoha at work: “And once I’ve completely smacked you down in one-on-one combat, then we can finally be best friends.”
Arf trying to punch out Fate’s mom, oh my heart.
I mean, she knows this high-level ancient mage will be able to wipe the floor with her. That is not a surprise. But she goes for it anyway.
…and then Precia turns around and “comforts” Fate about her beloved familiar “deserting her.” “Never forget…the person who’s always truly on your side is your mother.” She and Mother Gothel could start a band.
I really appreciate how it’s the TSAB, not Nanoha, that ultimately goes after Precia. Nanoha isn’t an exponentially-overpowered Chosen One; she isn’t here to outstrip the flimsy and useless bureaucracy that came before her. The TSAB is a serious and competent organization — such that Nanoha’s ridiculous level of talent means that she can grow into a role there.
Talent. (Nanoha is the speck near the top of the image.)
And, like…this world has due process for dealing with interdimensional supervillains! Think about, say, Sailor Moon: any minibosses who get redemption arcs are given human identities and basically released into the wild. Which is understandable — the heroes are a bunch of teenagers, and none of their (formidable) skills include “setting up and administrating a fair trial.” Nanoha herself couldn’t pull that off either…but her multiverse has an existing legal system that can.
Happy endings for tiny lesbians. (At least, until the sequels. Which I will rewatch some other time.)
I mean, they don’t get specific about their exact identity labels, but, y’know. Tiny queer girls who want to hold hands and gaze into each other’s deep and beautiful eyes, is the point.