Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (魔法少女リリカルなのは) is a 2004 13-episode magical girl (duh) show, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s (魔法少女リリカルなのはＡ’ｓ) is a 2005 13-episode magical girl (again, duh) show. While separate seasons with their own self-contained stories, they do also form two halves of a greater whole so we’ll look at them together1– both were made by Seven Arcs studio and are a spin-off from the visual novel/anime Triangle Hearts2.
Nanoha Takemachi is an ordinary school girl who one day finds an injured ferret, who turns out to be a mage from another world who was looking for some lost artifacts and is in an animal form to heal after getting his ass kicked. Agreeing to help Yuuno out she takes on his role as a mage to begin searching for the Jewel Seeds, and shortly after runs into another magical girl also looking for them with decidedly more hostile intentions in mind. After thats all sorted out in A’s Nanoha continues her training as a mage now effectively working part time for the Time-Space Bureau of Mages and gets dragged into another case of a group of renegades trying to revive an ancient artifact known as the Book of Destruction.
Whats up with it then?
Were going to do things a tad differently as Nanoha has one major issue with it we need to get out of the way first, specifically because it colors a lot of the things the show does do well: Nanoha is eight. She may be the youngest magical girl Ive ever seen coming in even under Cardcaptor Sakura and there’s no way of getting around that. There’s no real reason to keep her this young except because of the Triangle Hearts connection so you can do what I do and just pretend shes even a few years older, something Chris Hansen just loves to hear. Now the show doesn’t sexualize her per se, but it is perhaps a smidge more risque than standard magical girl fare which just is all the more glaring when were this low down.
So youve come to grips with being on a FBI watch-list, what does this show do to make it worth it? ACTION. While the first few episodes are kinda standard monster of the week stuff, once rival Fate Testarossa shows up in episode 4 the series amps up its action scenes, and then when A’s rolls around it vastly expands the cast and ratchets things up yet again giving you an incredibly dynamic magical combat show. The mages use a sort of technoarcana which is somewhat unique for the genre and gives them tools with a sort of robotic personality on top of a magic system which lays the ground work for some interesting world building3. This all culminates in a pretty big 10 vs 1 absolute slugfest to end A’s on with a host of mages just slinging magical artillery; it may be more shonen oriented than the genres usual shoujo leanings but damn if it doesnt look cool.
The other strong point the show pulls off is a rather deep look at loneliness and aimlessness in life. Despite having multiple friends and a large family Nanoha laments she doesn’t feel particularly close to anyone with everyone only knowing the surface her, while further troubled by not being really sure what she wants to do in life and being afraid of not having a plan. Similarily early on she has a moment where a fight causes some collateral damage to the town and she laments not being able to contain it better even though no one was hurt, a solid idea to explore in a genre which traditionally just ignores everything happening as a result of their fights. Which… shes eight show, for the love of god why didn’t you make her like 12 and all of these really good points would actually land a little better, as is she should just be happy running around with her friends or surviving some of these encounters.
Outside of her age the other hitch to the show is in its art style. Thanks to its origins it looks very much like a turn of the century visual novel and thats not a good thing in any context, its not something thats exactly appealing to look at so much as cheap. The actual action scenes are fairly strong and dynamic, its just the moments of characters talking when the stiffness and blandness of the designs really get in the way of things.
Weeb Level: Between the art style and the content were pretty deep into weeb territory here, the magical combat can only do so much to pull it back.
Content: Some violence and small amounts of blood, though it keeps things mostly to people being knocked around rather than gore in its action. Fanservice is mostly not there considering her age, but her transformation sequence is perhaps a slight bit more revealing than normal and just highlights how something like Sailor Moon making their bodies all glowly goes a long way to alleviating these concerns.
Worth Watching: Seek it out if you like magical action or really like magical girl shows. Watch it if you want a slightly non-standard magical girl show hewing more shonen and dealing with deeper issues than most. You’ll know if you want to skip this.
Where to watch: Nanoha is a bit of a victim of bad timing. Both seasons were licensed by Geneon right before it collapsed, while Funimation did eventually buy the rights and release DVD box sets of both of them they have since allowed the rights to expire so there is no valid streaming service with it. Oddly back when Amazon Strike was a thing one of their exclusive shows was Vivid Strike which still remains on Prime Video now, but thats a spin-off of the 4th season in the franchise and absolutely not the place to start.