Nanoha – The new shounen?
May 21, 2006
Not shounen as in being a boy, of course, but shounen as in ongoing battle oriented anime with stupid technique names, often in badly pronounced foreign languages. The archetypal shounen anime: Dragonball Z, for example had battles waged over distances of many miles and multiple episodes were spent waging wars of insults and challenges, and then, when the battle finally started, whole episodes would be spent charging a particular move, or in “internal mental battles” with themselves.
The modern shounen anime, in contrast, for example, Yakitate!! Japan or Hikaru no Go, have the same features, only that battles are waged on a different battleground (namely bread in the former and Go in the latter), but the general formula remained the same. There are even stupid technique names in Yakitate!! for heaven’s sake.
How does this contrast with a mahou shoujo anime, such as Nanoha claims to be? In this category, the most genre defining anime I can think of is Card Captor Sakura. In this kind of anime, a girl, usually of high or elementary school age who discovers some kind of magical creature or book etc. on her way home from school and unwittingly gains magical powers. Now of course gaining magical powers comes at a price and so she has to go off and collect something ad infinitum, be it 52 cards, 21 jewel seeds, or anything to give different circumstances in each episode.
The girl inevitably starts off a bit incompetent, but grows to accept her magic and become good. Then there’s a final showdown of sorts against the big bad, which inevitably she wins cause there’s always that last bit of strength to draw on to win a battle (since that’s on the job description for magical girl).
And this brings me to the topic for discussion: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha. On the surface, it appears as any other mahou shoujo anime: Elementary school girl? Check. Creature granting magical powers? Check. Number of things to capture at approximate rate of one per episode? Check. Rival mage who starts off better than Nanoha but ends up beaten by her? Check. Oops, I should haven mentioned that there would be spoilers ^_^
But Nanoha is so much more than a shoujo anime…oh so much more. Now let me tell you why I adore the series so much:
1 – She (Nanoha) is not incompetent. To put it simply, the fact that all magical girls seem generally incompetant and always needing assistance from aforementioned magical creature is exceedingly annoying to me. After a bumpy start in episode 1, Nanoha shows that she has innate, magical, monster-owning skills, and Yuuno barely gets a word in edgeways past episode 2.
2 – The “Character development of “evil” characters” is prevalent in both the first and second seasons, and the viewer is drawn in by sympathising with Fate suffering at the hands of her mother and the 4 knights fighting to protect the one they love the most, even at the expense of themselves. Although this also occurs in Card Captor Sakura, character development is far more prevalent in Nanoha and is far more satisfying than a faceless boring evil such as in Futari wa Pretty Cure, or other such long running anime.
3 – Story Support: Though lacking in some departments (as it was not developed from a game or manga), The background of Nanoha is explained in numerous drama CDs (Sound Stages) and a post-production manga (behind the scenes of the second season), as well as the original material for the series (The OVA Triangle Hearts), meaning that the viewer does not go away with questions unanswered.
4 – Shoujo ai potential (Do I really have to explain this?) Nanoha/Fate relationships would be easy to write from the basic story arc of the anime, as would any Hayate/Guardian Knight stories. I myself rather favour Fate/Arf, as there is a lot more subtext there to work with ^_^.
5 – “Closed”, “Look into the future” ending. I like feeling that a series has wrapped up properly. (For example Mahoromatic). The ending to Nanoha leaves no loose ends that will never be resolved.
6 – Most importantly: SHOUNEN BATTLES WITHOUT MENTAL RESOLUTIONS
None of this “Extra bit of strength from trying a bit harder” bullshit. Fate even loses in the first series after trying this, therefore proving that magical girl reserve tanks are FAIL.
Nanoha battles are far superior to both Shoujo (boring battles mainly dictated by emotion and a single battle turning event) and Shounen (technique shouting battles mainly dictated by volume of screaming and a single battle turning event). For a start, they are high paced and unpredictable, usually with clear winners (not always Nanoha) and BIG EXPLOSIONS.
Also, rather controversially, I actually love the Engrish technique names (Mostly Bardische, Donna Burke’s Raging Heart annoys me mightily, possibly because I am English and prefer UK accent to US.), and don’t get me started on the German in series 2! I still suppress a shiver of joy when Levantine shouts “Schlange-form” ^_^. Thank god they used real German and English speakers.
Weaknesses? Well, like any other shoujo anime, Nanoha shares a weak male cast, the viewer not really bonding with either Yuuno or Chrono as they lack much character development.
Where should Nanoha go in the future? Personally, I would love to see a Nanoha RPG (NOT ero-game) or 3D game, as I think the magic system would work amazingly in either a turn based or 3D platform setting. I would be unsurprised if a doujin group brought out a fighting game with Nanoha characters, but for now I am going to hope that the creators capitalise on a great series.
So thats it. In conclusion, Nanoha has emerged from a rather bog standard OVA (Triangle Hearts) and become the benchmark for both Shoujo and Shounen anime to live up to. Its fast paced battles and great character development are a lesson to all anime developers and I hope that in the future, lessons will be learned and better anime produced.