- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Nanoha's Greatest Enemy : Numbers
And by "Numbers", I don't mean Jail Scaglietti's illustrious harem of artificially engineered girls, as much as I respect the good Doctor's inordinate skill at making attractive females by the dozen. ;)
No, I'm instead referring to something a bit more fundamental than that.
It is not an enemy that Nanoha can bust and break with divinely inspired starlite blasts, and nor is it an enemy that Fate can cut with a sword so massive that it leaves Cloud of Final Fantasy fame in blushing jealousy.
This enemy is, frankly, simple math. It's numbers, in the most basic sense of the term. Specifically, its numbers arising from an exponential growth curve that made Striker S hard to follow at times, and which is definitely the biggest (and in fairness, perhaps only) weakness of the manga Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid (which I've read the first three 20-something page chapters of).
Let me try to explain to my faithful readers what I mean by this, by looking briefly at the three Nanoha animes (all currently in my top 10 anime list of all-time, though Bakemonogatari may eventually knock one of them out).
The original Nanoha anime was charming in its sweet simplicity. I first heard it described as "a magical girl show for guys", and sexist though that way of putting it may seem, I have to admit that the description works. The original Nanoha anime had each and every one of the typical Magical Girl anime elements - the cute side-kick mascot (Yuuno), the close female friends at school (Arisa and Suzuka), the "dark magical girl" enemy (Fate), largely impersonal monsters of the week, sweet girlish voices, an enemy familiar (Arf), ambiguous yuri overtones, an admirably saccharine family, and a (albeit quick) maturation story for our leading Mahou Shoujo heroine.
Oh, and there was also a slight twist on the age old magical girl theme of "Love Conquers All!".
So you took all the prototype goodness of magical girl anime, and made it "for guys" by making the fighting girls' outfits sleeker and more stylish, by scripting for their combat to be more close quarters and breathtakingly explosive and stunning, and by tweaking the old theme of "Love Conquers All!" to "Friendship Through Superior Firepower!". Nanoha is, basically, the bad ass of the magical girls... though still with a heart of gold to compete with the Man of Steel himself, as I argued a couple blog entries ago.
However, when you combine a heart of gold with "Friendship Through Superior Firepower!" with an extremely well-fleshed-out in-canon universe that shows a story unfolding over several years... you may very well reach an arguably inevitable problem. Let me put this chronologically, and numerically, for you.
1 Main protagonist (with 1 supporter) vs. 1 Main antagonist (with 1 supporter)
This is, of course, Nanoha (Yuuno) vs. Fate (Arf)
2 vs. 2 - both main antagonist and her supporter switch sides near the end, leading to a...
4 vs. 1 situation against the real big bad (Precia Testarossa) and her villainous well guarded fortress.
So, you start off with 1 major hero (1 supporter), and you end off with 2 major heroes (2 supporters). On top of that, you have Chrono in "emergency call in" mode. So, your protagonist count doubles. Still, 4 (or 5 if you count Chrono) isn't that big of a deal. It's manageable at least.
Than we come to Nanoha As... :
2 Main protagonist (with 3 supporters) vs. 2 Main antagonists (with 3 supporters)
Nanoha & Fate (Arf, Chrono, and Yuuno) vs. Vita & Signum (with rest of the Wolkenritter)
Really nice evenly matched groups here, and it plays out beautifully through out the anime.
Eventually, though, the entire antagonist team ends up reformed by "The Power of Love! tm", which means that at the end of Nanoha A's, we now have a total of 10 protagonists.
Ten protagonists... whew, that's a lot to balance. Thankfully, though, only four (Nanoha, Fate, Vita, and Signum) are pure fighters, with the rest being mostly support mages (by choice in Chrono's case).
So, with ten protagonists we then come to...
Nanoha Striker S:
In addition to the 10 carry-overs, we add 4 brand new fighting protagonists - Subaru, Teana, Caro and Erio. So we're up to 8 fighting protagonists, 6 supporting protagonists, and... various TSAB staff, assorted Arc-en-ciel officers, and more secondary characters from the Saint Church than you could shake a Nicean Council at (he he! ;) ).
It's rather ironic, yet fitting, that the enemies for this protagonist group that you'd have a hard time finding a bus that could hold all of, are collectively called... Numbers. :D
Oh, Jail, you comedian you! Ha ha!
Now, in fairness, some characters pretty much just suffer Takahashi Death - a term referring to characters that don't actually die, but might as well have, given how often you actually see them or hear them referenced. In the case of Striker S, Arf and Yuuno have become cameo appearance characters that, if you blink, you will miss them! The less offensively powerful Wolkenritter are nigh invisible as well.
Still, the fact remains, the protagonist cast has bulged to sizes that aphrodisiac makers can only dream of! 12 inches, you say? No, more like 12 active protagonists! That's what Enanoha, the natural cast enhancement tablet, can do for you! ;D
Not surprisingly, Jail was not able to withstand such enhancement coming full throttle at him, and was defeated a bit overly easily for my liking.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Nanoha Striker S was a blast in most respects... just not in the life-and-death drama department. At no point did I feel like Nanoha and/or Fate were truly in danger, or even very much on the ropes, so to speak. Only Teana and Vita struck me as being in truly tight squeezes and/or in death-defying situations. If not for them, suspense would have been almost completely lacking for Striker S.
So, anyway, Striker S ends, and the Numbers are captured, adding yet more numbers to the protagonist ranks, which leads us to...
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid!
So... what do I make of ViVid? Well, it has gorgeous artwork (particularly the colored sections), it has an immensely likable cast (though if Vivio gets any more spunky and self-confident she risks becoming another Wesley Crusher... *shudder*), the dialogue is smooth and easy to follow, and the plot makes sense with important background information released at well-timed points.
ViVid certainly does a great job of capturing the lovable mood and themes of the original Nanoha.
I also adore the look of the new main antagonist, especially in her "Chapter 3 (?)" cliff-hanger scene. She makes me think a little bit of Rider (featured below) from Fate/Stay Night, only bulkier and more powerful looking...
Overall, this manga is excellent... with only two flaws. One flaw is fairly minor, and I'll address that in a swift fashion in order to honor Rider here. ;) That flaw is that one scene in the manga involves Vivio leading a naked Nanoha into the shower along with herself (naked) to wash (I hope ;) ) alongside a naked Fate. Now, I like Nanoha/Fate; it's one of the better yuri pairings in all of anime, I think; but involving Vivio like this... I have to admit that it seemed more than a bit sketchy to me. It didn't help that Vivio's words and facial expressions during the scene walked the fine line between innocent playfulness and sexual playfulness. For any young kid to try to get his or her parents to have sex with each other in the shower, and to then also actually join them in the shower... feels a bit wrong to me. ^_^;
But... perhaps Vivio's thinking was cleaner than that. One can hope, anyway.
But now the major flaw...
There's just so many protagonists here, and I find it impossible to keep track of them all; especially in a visually black and white medium where many distinguishing features (like hair color, eye color, typical color of attire, etc...) are of no help.
I admire Nanoha.
Reforming is better than capturing for the cops is better than killing, in my opinion... and Nanoha, first and foremost, reforms. On the other hand, after you've been reforming for so long, you get a protagonist cast that you'd need a cosmic-level villain in order to create a suspenseful and truly threatening enemy for. And Heaven help us if Nanoha reforms the cosmic-level villain as well. ^_^;;
Basically, I give ViVid a 8.5/10 - rounding up to a 9 when I give Vivio the benefit of the doubt, and rounding down to a 8 when I think that occasionally turning into a buxom butt-busting babe has made her perverted before her time, lol.
But what definitely hurts the manga a bit is the sheer size of the protagonist cast. So... here's what I think the people behind Nanoha should do (beyond making the Nanoha the 1st movie - a smart move in that it gets around the numbers problem):
Break up the protagonist cast into three parts - a part lead by Nanoha, a part lead by Fate, and a part focusing on Vivio being groomed and raised by the Saint Church (while her parents are away on missions).
Put Nanoha's five or six-man team up against new, unique enemies; and maybe make them crazy Joker-esque villains to really put an ideological challenge to Nanoha's idealism.
Pur Fate's five or six-man team up against new, unique enemies; and have those enemies lead by a Lex Luthor-esque guy who Fate has to discover a way to legally bring down, but finds that hard to do due to his mastery of legal loopholes. So, like Nanoha, now Fate's idealism is also brought to the test; in this case, Fate's idealistic "lawful good" beliefs.
And led Vivio have her own unique adventures, largely cut off from the established fighting protagonist cast. If Nanoha-mama, and Fate-mama, are around, then...
Where's the danger?
No, for Vivio to truly grow, she needs to go through what Nanoha did, imo, and that means strictly limited outside help, and standing on her own two feet... just like Nanoha-mama always encourages her to do.
Don't get me wrong; I like the ViVid manga a fair bit; but going forward, the people behind the wonderful Nanoha franchise are going to need to start breaking down the protagonist cast into totally separate parties; probably separate inter-linking animes/mangas; in order to keep any sort of serious drama and intrigue and even cast follow-ability here. The only other effective alternative that I can see to this, is to throw out a villain like this for every signal future Nanoha sequel or spin-off...
And while I get a laugh over how this guy is Haruhi Suzumiya's ultimate wet dream - a timeless alien god that devours "ordinary" worlds for sustenance and who has cosmic senses beyond what Haruhi could currently perceive - I'd rather not see anime have to resort to pulling a Galactus every time a new Nanoha anime/manga comes out.
So, let me finish, by saying... "I HUNGER... for a smaller cast!" ;)
As always, all comments and feedback is welcomed.