Magical girls, ferrets and the Time-Space Administration Bureau make up this hodgepodge of a show that doesn’t seem to really find its own voice.
What They Say:
An archeologist from another world had discovered 21 magical jewels that have the power to grant anyone their heart's desire. However, without the proper focus, these jewels could also bring about some very destructive forces. Due to an accident, the jewels hav ebeen scattered and it's up to one young fledgling mage and her familiar to recollect these jewels before someone gets hurt. To make matters worse, an unknown magical girl appears to collect the stones for her own mysterious purposes...
What We Say:
The bilingual presentation for this series is decent and about as expected with a standard pair of stereo audio mixes encoded at 192kbps. Nanoha doesn’t have any really big moments to it when it comes to the audio but it’s a solid enough piece overall that the forward soundstage presentation is good and it’s problem free. It doesn’t really explore anything in the audio department such as significant depth or placement of dialogue, but it conveys the action cleanly and everything has a strong feel to it even if it doesn’t really sing in its own way. The music is often the part where it feels the fullest, but that’s standard for stereo shows in general.
Originally airing in late 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full screen aspect ratio. The thirteen episode series is spread out across three discs in a 5/4/4 format which gives each episode enough breathing room. With the full frame aspect of it, there’s plenty of space on each disc to give it a solid presentation. Nanoha has a lot of strong vibrant colors to it and some very active moments and all of it comes across very well here. When it comes to exteriors, the skies look great with the shades of blue and the green in the trees while the interior colors are generally strong without being overly done. There’s some noise to be had in various areas, but nothing that was really distracting or took away from the show. It’s a very clean looking show overall that’s very appealing.
Nanoha is done up as a single box set release with three regular sized keepcases in it. The heavy chipboard box is nice, bright and colorful as each of the two main sides presents a very appealing piece of artwork. The front panel has a cute picture of Nanoha in her bright white and blueoutfit with a smile as she extends her wand, all of which is set against a deep blue sky background with a few clouds in it. The logo is cute and girly as is the framing around it that uses elements for it. The back panel is laid out the same but it uses a picture of Fate for it along with the large image of Aruf beside her. The background for this has a darker set of clouds to it to mirror Fate’s personality and mood during the set.
Within the set, we get a lot of really great goodness here from Geneon. Each of the keepcases has a very busy and active piece of artwork as it features the main characters in action poses with magic runes flying about them. They’re all vibrant and very busy, which could be bad, but they really do get you to pay closer attention to them. The back covers are all laid out the same with bright blues and soft whites to them. The top has the logo and then a large font rundown of the premise of the show. That’s followed up by the episode numbers and titles for their respective volumes and then a shot from each of the shows with the episode number associated with it. The remainder is given over to the always solid technical grids that we find on Geneon releases that break down everything alongside the basic production information. Each keepcase has an insert that covers various pieces of artwork that isn’t on the covers, such as the box artwork, and each keepcase has a reversible cover with one side featuring the logos and other associated pieces while the other is strictly character artwork alongside the episode numbers and listings.
Like a lot of Geneon releases from before their shutdown in 2007, the menus for Nanoha are pretty basic but serviceable. Each menu has a bright blue sky background to it which is very appealing and each menu is different for the three volumes. The menus use artwork from the reverse side covers of each of the discs and there’s a strip through the lower portion that provides the navigation. Each strip has a play all function as well as individual episode selection which is a plus. Submenus load quickly and access times are nice and fast. The menus are simple but functional, appealing but not flashy, and they get the job done well.
The only extras included on this release are a clean version of the opening sequence on the first disc and a clean ending on the second disc. The third disc contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a thirteen episode series that’s something of a rarity in that it’s a spin-off of an adult video game. That in itself isn’t odd, but it is odd that it’s the third entry in the Triangle Heart series where the spin-off comes from, and that it doesn’t spend its time with the main character and hero of that series, but rather shifts its focus down to the youngest sister of the family. This shift works well in making it kid friendly to be sure, but there’s that tinge of knowing there’s something more to the show when you see those family members moving about.
The series revolves around third grader Nanoha, a cute and outgoing happy young girl who is enjoying life and her friends and even school. She’s not wanting for anything and seems to live a well balanced life with her two older siblings, her brother Kyoya and her sister Miyuki, as well as both parents. Unlike a lot of magical girl series, there are no missing parents here nor does there seem to be any real family trauma or tragedy that’s openly shown or even hinted at. The most we get is that Kyoya is getting serious with the older sister of one of Nanoha’s friends and everyone is really happy about that because they look so happy together.
Into every life a little coincidence and change must fall though, and this comes in the form of a ferret. Said ferret is named Yuuno and he’s arrived on earth in search of the twenty-one Jewel Seeds that have ended up here because of a mistake he made. These seeds need to be captured and brought back because they can act as catalysts for strong emotions or desires by people and can cause all sorts of trouble. From oceans coming alive to massive trees sprouting in the city, they aren’t pleasant things to have around and Yuuno is suffering from strong guilt over letting them loose into this world. Thankfully, he’s come across Nanoha and she’s surprisingly adept at handling magic and taking on the task of working with him to capture them.
The pairing of the two, with Yuuno taking on something of the wise familiar role, is done rather seamlessly and without issue. Nanoha seems born for the role and doesn’t offer up much in the way of resistance or serious questioning to what’s going on. She understands Yuuno’s need to make things right and she sees the danger in the Jewel Seeds being here and agrees to work hard to acquire them. She works hard indeed by capturing several of them within the first couple of episodes with relative ease. At the same time, she’s growing increasingly adept at handling the wand/staff device that she has and is coming up with some strong magical approaches to dealing with the problems at hand. Yuuno is quickly impressed and even realizes that he has little to actually teach her in short order.
Naturally, there has to be something more to the show than just capturing gems that are scattered about that even a kitten can pick up. And that comes in the form of another young woman of about the same age who has arrived to capture the Jewel Seeds herself, except she’s calling them the Lost Logia. Named Fate Testarossa, she’s hunting down these items for her mysterious mother who has a lot of issues of her own as she abuses Fate when things don’t go exactly as she wants. Fate works with her own familiar, a lioness like creature that transforms into a woman named Aruf who is highly defensive and caring of young Fate. Unlike Nanoha who dresses in bright white and blues, Fate’s mood is clearly reflected in the dark reds and blacks of her transformation outfit and the way she handles herself. And try as she might, Nanoha can’t quite connect with her, though she puts in a good effort as she insists that they should talk before actually fighting.
The first half of the series runs through some of the basics of the Jewel Seeds being hunted down, figuring out the basics of magic and relationships and introducing Fate as the initial foe for Nanoha to face. It’s all by the book in its way, but it also runs through a lot of things fairly quickly which keeps you from connecting well with Nanoha. It’s the second half of the series where things go in a very different direction as it’s revealed that the Jewel Seeds are part of a larger problem that’s causing dimensional ruptures to happen, particularly when these two girls are fighting and activating them. Enter the Time-Space Administration Bureau which is set up to make sure that disasters don’t happen, though they don’t always succeed. Patrolling time and space from between dimensions, the plucky crew has now intervened between these two girls to make sure that everything doesn’t end. And to discover what the real reason that Fate’s mother is searching for the Lost Logia.
Magical Lyrical Nanoha is a really nicely design show with its visuals and character designs. The real world setting material is solid, if unexceptional, but there are some fun things to the show when it deals with the Jewel Seed incidents and what they bring about as well as when it shifts to the inter-dimensional aspect and the ship and crew there. The character designs are also really nicely done, though I think Nanoha’s family comes off better than she does. When she actually lets her hair down, particularly at the end, Nanoha is a far more interesting looking character I think. Fate falls into a similar problem in that she looks decent throughout, with her hair done up and all, but when she does the same at the end it provides the character from a better point of view.
If there’s something that was somewhat problematic with the show, it’s the age of the characters. Magical girl shows and stories centering around this age group is nothing new, but sometimes it doesn’t feel right. This story centers around girls in the third grade, and having some third graders in my life now, it’s harder to suspend disbelief over it. It’s just a story, so I’m fully aware of the separation and all, but they all act far above their age for most of this. There’s a certain maturity to all of them that feels out of place. On the plus side, the girls are designed in a way that does make them feel like third graders. A fact you can attest to by the completely naked transformation sequence that’s regularly available for Nanoha.
On the downside, there are some technical problems with this release. The series was worked on while Geneon was in shutdown mode and one has to wonder how much of an impact that had. The series being spread across three volumes isn’t bad, but the way it was authored shows some awkward choices. On a normal disc, four or five episodes are kept in one “title”. For this release, it really varies where you get two episodes to a title, three on another and so forth spread across the volumes. The haphazard(?) authoring side of it is what has likely led to the lack of time codes that are available, something that will affect certain players more than others. We had no issues with it as the PS3 handles it without an issue.
Though not a DVD technical issue, there are a couple of other things that come across poorly with the set in what Geneon has done. The first is that there is a complete and utter lack of translated credits in here. This is simply unacceptable really for a professional release, especially for one that’s very much a fan show. Whether it’s replacing the original, added as a separate scroll at the end or included as a text screen in the extras section, it needs to be there. The other issue is more one that we’ve learned is related to a request by the licensor. During the first several episodes of the show, Nanoha’s gem is called Raging Heart when she invokes it. This changes afterwards, per request of the Japanese (presumably to make it sound less violent) to Raising Heart. Unfortunately, not everything was changed so the Raging Heart makes several appearances at the start and it feels really off to have it change like that midstream.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a fun little series that feels like it’s a bit too rushed in what it’s trying to do. If it was a twenty-six episode series that spent more time fleshing out its cast and settings in the first half before shifting to the larger inter-dimensional story for the second half, I likely would have found it to be more engaging and fun. As it stands, there are some nice ideas here but the execution didn’t work well and the characters never felt like they were ones that I could really connect with. With more material out there, hopefully the next season of the series will work and flow better for me, but this season didn’t seem like it really found a good voice to work with. It’s got some good ideas, but comes across as rushed and could use some tightening.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.