Making a sequel is always a difficult undertaking. You need to identify what people enjoyed about the original and what you can do to improve upon those aspects while simultaneously bringing in some level of fresh and original ideas and weeding out the issues the original might have had. It’s why people often end up feeling the original work in a franchise is objectively the best, because so much can go wrong with a sequel that the odds of making something that surpasses the success of the original grow higher the more the original work was loved. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was a success and is still beloved today as a classic, but how does the second series fair?
Turns out, even a masterpiece like Nanoha could be much improved upon, because Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s not only surpasses the original, it compliments it in such a way that the original actually becomes even better in retrospect. Once again I hadn’t watched the series since its initial 2005 run, and just like the original series I feel that was a grave mistake. So let’s talk about everything Nanoha A’s does different and better and why it’s one of the best magical girl series to ever have existed…
If the original series’ writing was summed up as deceptive, Nanoha A’s should be summed up as shocking. From the very first episode the series start throwing established rules out the window and doesn’t stop until the final credits roll. We’re introduced to Yagami Hayate, played by Ueda Kana, who serves as the central character to the new plot. Hayate is paralyzed from the waist down and is confined to a wheelchair wherever she goes. She also lives on her own, her family being mysteriously absent. Despite this, she’s a strong and outgoing girl who is nothing short of inspiring to watch.
Hayate has an old magical tome in her room known as the Book of Darkness. One night the seal breaks and the tome claims Hayate as its new mistress, bestowing upon her four knights, the Wolkenritter. The task of the tome’s mistress is to fill each page with magic until it can supposedly grant unspeakable power, but Hayate seeks no such thing so instead she treat the Wolkenritter as family, taking care of them and having them get used to human life on Earth.
And yet, the Wolkenritter are out at night, filling the pages of the Book of Darkness with all magic sources they can find. Which leads us to Takamachi Nanoha and Fate Testarossa. Fate is just about to be cleared of her charges from the end of the original series, preparing to meet Nanoha again. They’ve exchanged videos to keep in touch over the months and Fate have even been given a temporary officer title with the Time-Space Administrative Buraeu (TSAB).
But one night Nanoha is suddenly attacked out of nowhere by a mysterious mage, Vita of the Wolkenritter. Not even being given time to transform before the fight begins, Nanoha keep on taking hits and can’t seem to get the upper hand no matter how much she tries. Not even her Divine Buster is enough to knock out Vita and it doesn’t take long before she’s defeated and Raising Heart is shattered.
This is where viewers of the original Nanoha series will likely be quite shocked at what happened. While Nanoha did lose a fight or two to Fate in the original series, she was never outclassed on this level and she always kept the upper hand when it came to the goal of collecting jewel seeds. Here, for the first time, we see Nanoha be defeated without a chance at victory and we don’t even know the reason why she’s attacked yet. It’s a well-played twist that it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the series going forward.
Though Nanoha is defeated, Fate, Arf and Yuuno Scria come to her rescue. Fate rushes out into battle while Yuuno begin healing Nanoha’s wounds and in a battle that in total takes up more than an entire episode the heroes fail to ever get the upper hand. Fate and Arf goes head-to-head with two other Wolkenritter Signum and Zafira, though they fair better than Nanoha did, Fate’s attempt at defending herself causes Bardiche to be sliced in two and before they know it Nanoha is attacked again, from afar, by the fourth and final Wolkenritter Shamal, and have all of her magic drained from her linker core.
The second episode closes with Nanoha collapsed, Raising Heart and Bardiche broken to pieces and all without them having learned how or why the Wolkenritter attacked in the first place. It’s a surprisingly grim moment that merely highlights the prelude to the narrative and yet completely breaks every rule that viewers thought they knew. As the series continue we learn that the Wolkenritter are using the Book of Darkness to try to save Hayate’s life, as the tome is quickly eating away at her body. It’s here where the story of Nanoha A’s takes a significant turn from the original by not only having the villains be acting in good intention, but having them be sympathetic as well.
The Wolkenritter have lived for thousands of years, taking form whenever the Book of Darkness found a new master or mistress. They’ve been defined by TSAB as emotionless knights acting only on orders without any doubt or question. Of course, Nanoha quickly points out that the Wolkenritter they fought were anything but emotionless. This is because Hayate’s disinterest in becoming powerful and using the Wolkenritter as her tools allows them for the first time to live as people and find their own purposes.
The most obvious example of this is Vita, who appears as the youngest of the Wolkenritter. Vita becomes completely dependant on Hayate, to the point where they’re near inseparable if they’re in the same room. She obviously cares a lot of Hayate, but more importantly she feels appreciated by Hayate. It’s somewhat implied that Vita have suffered a lot of scorn from previous masters and that Hayate’s kindness is the therapy she needed. The two sleep together and whenever Vita talks or thinks, it’s almost always about Hayate. I’m not sure I’d call it romantic affection, though many do read it as such, but it’s certainly a very strong affection that turns Vita into one of the most interesting antagonists in the series.
But it’s hard to call the Wolkenritter antagonists, it’s even harder to call them villains. Whenever the series present scenes from their perspective, we’re essentially watching the heroes of another series more so than the villains. Leaving out the fight with Nanoha, which wasn’t exactly part of their plan, they mainly go after monsters on other worlds to fill the book. They refuse to kill, Vita stating that spilling blood would be disrespectful to Hayate. They’re desperate and their desperation leads them into eventually doing the wrong judgment calls, but even then those judgments are done from a simple wish to save an innocent child’s life.
No, the real villain of the series turns out to be admiral Gil Graham. An Englishman and TSAB officer who was saw the Book of Darkness’ true power several years before the series, he sends out the Liese twins, Lotte and Alia, to help the Wolkenritter finish the tome and make Hayate use it. He hopes that this time her can seal the tome away and stop it from restoring itself over and over. While his goal is still technically honorable, wanting to seal away a dangerous weapon that have taken countless lives already, his methods are cruel and downright evil in the end.
Because of this Graham manages to become the opposite of what the Wolkenritter are. His willingness to forever curse Hayate, an innocent nine-year old child. and seal her away for all time while simultaneously risking the lives of Nanoha and Fate by making them the target of the Book of Darkness’ powerful defense program is reckless and wrong to say the least. Compared to the Wolkenritter who are deliberately avoiding taking lives and merely trying to save the innocent girl from a horrible fate, it clearly shows the contrasts in their actions.
And since most of Nanoha A’s is set around the conflict between Nanoha, Fate and the Wolkenritter there was certainly a risk that the fight would come off as futile as a result. Watching two sides fight when both have understandable stakes can just as easily be infuriating as it can be exciting. Nanoha A’s delivers upon it however, giving us some truly interesting exchanges and development between the two sides as the truth slowly is unveiled.
As for our heroes, I called Nanoha in the original series an embodiment of childlike hope. While she hasn’t changed much for Nanoha A’s, still being the same confident and outgoing girl as before, she has grown. Our reintroduction this series is her practicing her magic powers, juggling a can in the air for one hundred hits. It’s a cute and simple way to show that she’s improved her abilities over the time that has passed without needing a fight scene, and makes the loss against Vita later in the same episode all the more shocking.
She also have an elevated level of pride to her this time, which makes the loss stick harder to her than it otherwise would. While what she wants the most is to find out why the Wolkenritter are doing what they’re doing, but she also wants to best Vita in a head-to-head fight without needing Fate or anyone else helping her. This is a general theme for the main cast this series, with rivalry growing between several characters throughout their encounters.
Most importantly, Nanoha have fully taken in the weight of the life she’s now living. She’s calm and quick to learn whenever something new is introduced to her and she just generally feel like she’s gotten more responsible as a person. When you place Nanoha and Nanoha A’s together you can truly feel just how much that one mistake in episode three of the original series set off her character to a much stronger nature as a result.
And then there’s Fate who have gone through a complete change in character from when we last saw her. What used to be a confused and unsure girl who suffered in more ways than one is now a steadfast heroine with a clear head and rather impressive social skills. Of course, this is all due to Nanoha coming through to her in the original series and being with her on her way through her trials. It’s a big change from the Fate we knew, but it’s a natural change that’s very much welcome.
Fate has also been offered to be adopted into the Harlaown family by commander Lindy, something she’s not entirely sure on by the start. While stationed on Earth, she lives with Lindy and Chrono as family and find it comfortable enough to eventually accept Lindy’s offer. She also start attending school in the same class as Nanoha, taking on the classic magical girl transfer-student role. I’d roll my eyes, but the fact that it’s done after she’s stopped being Nanoha’s rival kind of makes it fresh in a way.
Fate is also dealing with accepting the truth behind her creation. When she’s briefly consumed by the Book of Darkness we see her traverse a dream where she’s allowed to live happily together with Precia and Alicia. She knows it’s a dream, it’s one she’s had many times before, and that makes the sequence all the more interesting. In the dream, Alicia asks Fate if a dream wouldn’t be good enough if it meant staying happy. Fate ultimately rejects the dream and breaks free from the Book of Darkness, knowing that no matter how much she wishes her past was different, she has moved on.
The only thing about Nanoha and Fate that I was somewhat disappointed with going back to Nanoha A’s was their lack of interaction with each other. It makes sense, since the focus is on Hayate’s story and the Wolkenritter, but as a result the reunion between the two is brief and not exactly what one would have in mind based on the first series’ ending. Of course, this is deliberate as Nanoha herself points out that she wished they could have had a more calm and normal chance for their long-awaited reunion and it still works spectacularly from a writing standpoint.
The concept behind the Book of Darkness is also a fairly interesting one. Originally conceived as the Tome of the Night Sky, a journal meant to chronicle all spells for the sake of archiving them, it was twisted into the magic-draining weapon of mass destruction known as the Book of Darkness. The tome has a consciousness and will of its own, which takes the form of an adult woman serving as the tome’s defensive system. When Hayate speaks to the tome, she realizes that it too never had a chance to be treated as anything but a tool for horrible things and decides to give her a name and position in her family, that name being Reinforce.
Reinforce is named and given a clear personality only in the penultimate episode of the series and by the final episode her sacrifice is needed to truly save Hayate and stop the tome from ever returning. As such it would have been easy for Reinforce to feel like a wasted character, created only for a quick conclusion to the story, but because of the back story of the Tome of the Night Sky and the connection to Hayate and her family it becomes so much more.
I don’t outright cry much, but I do tear up a lot. But during the scene of Reinforce’s farewell I could not hold back my tears. Despite knowing it would happen, despite only seeing her character for two episodes, I was crying my eyes out. It helps that it’s the first time we see a good character in the series leave and that it’s done through a consensual sacrifice to save others, but what makes it truly work is the conversation between Reinforce and Hayate. It’s impossible to not feel the pain Hayate is feeling as Reinforce tells her that she must go for the better of everyone else.
Hayate once again bestows Reinforce’s name onto the consciousness inside the last remnant of the Tome of the Night Sky, the Schwertkreuz, which also becomes Hayate’s intelligent device going forward. Her full name is Reinforce II, pronounced Reinforce Zwei because of the Wolkenritter’s language being based on German, much like how the language on Midchilde, the home-world of most non-Earth characters in the cast, is based on English. Reinforce II only briefly appear in the epilogue of Nanoha A’s, not joining the cast proper until Nanoha StrikerS, the next series.
I thought it was interesting how much more developed Chrono Harlaown felt as a character this time around. I can’t say I cared much for him in the original series, but his interactions with admiral Graham and becoming Fate’s brother made him a lot more enjoyable to be around. On the other hand, Yuuno have devolved from already being a minor character outside of his life as a pet ferret to feeling like scenery for most of the series. This leads to what’s no doubt the most out-of-place scene in the series when during the epilogue they start pushing for him getting together with Nanoha, something not even mildly hinted at being a possibility prior to that moment.
Considering how Yuuno’s role only got even smaller in Nanoha StrikerS and he’s completely missing from Nanoha ViVid, I think it’s fair to say the writers gave up on that concept. Which is good as Nanoha never seemed interested in Yuuno as anything more than a friend in the first place, to give him any sort of romantic influence over someone like Fate which Nanoha couldn’t stop referring to as beautiful and special constantly throughout the original series is just a classic example of needing to push a boy/girl relationship in every story ever, which I’m very glad ended after Nanoha and Fate started living together.
The epilogue to Nanoha A’s in itself is an interesting decision. We jump six years forward in time to when Nanoha, Fate and Hayate are considerably more grown up and still working together under TSAB. While it would eventually be a clear tease for Nanoha StrikerS, on its own it feels very much like a conclusion to their stories. We saw them struggle, we saw them grow and now we see that after all they went through they’re still together and doing what they do best. While I’m very thankful the series is still alive and well, I think that had it all ended after Nanoha A’s it would have been remembered fondly as a very strong conclusion nonetheless.
While the original series had a theme of self-reflection I feel that Nanoha A’s respective theme is self-worth. None of the characters really need to reflect upon themselves much outside of specific moments, instead the focus comes to finding just what one exists for. The Wolkenritter go from thinking of themselves as tools to finding out how much they mean to Hayate and how much Hayate means to them. Hayate understands from the start that her importance to the Wolkenritter is beyond all measure, and does her best to use that in a positive manner.
Fate is finding her own place in the world, no longer a pawn of Precia. She’s Nanoha’s precious friend and she’ll do anything to protect their friendship and now she’s becoming part of the Harlaown family as well, learning just how much she means to the people around her. Nanoha knew that she meant a lot to others but gets to experience that worth firsthand for the first time when she falls in combat and is saved by Fate and Yuuno.
It’s not just the human characters either. After Raising Heart and Bardiche shatter, they both feel like they’ve not been good enough to Nanoha and Fate and demand to be given a chance to improve further. They’re upgraded with the Belka-style cartridge system and given entirely new forms to let their mistresses fully utelize them in combat to new heights. When Reinforce makes her departure, it’s the importance of her being to Hayate that makes her request for Hayate to bestow the name Reinforce to another being one day. Nanoha A’s is almost entirely about how much a single being can matter to those around them, and that’s beautiful.
I suffer from depression and anxiety to a pretty high degree and I’ve been seeing professional help for several years as a result. One of the most constant feelings I have due to this is that I’m worthless. Rarely does a week go by where I’m not breaking down and feeling like not a single person in the world would care if I disappeared. Watching Nanoha A’s made me feel like there are people that care, because everyone has some worth. I know it won’t be a permanent feeling for me, but it nonetheless helped. Nanoha A’s helped make my winter holiday weekend feel less joyless, quite fitting for a series which has its final moment set during Christmas.
Speaking of that final moment. The last five episodes of the series take place on Christmas Eve and four of those five episodes take up the final fight. From the midway point of episode nine to the final seconds of episode twelve the series just goes full-out with a several phases long fight against the Book of Darkness and what could easily have been a dragged out and dull sequence as a result is instead an amazing rollercoaster of great actions and emotions.
The final phase strikes me as especially impressive, as it’s not presented as a fight at all. The final form of the Book of Darkness is this giant monster with four barriers that the characters must teleport into space for destruction. Rather than having another choreographed fight scene after having spent almost an hour on just that they simply chain every character’s strongest ability into one long combo attack ending with the destruction of the Book of Darkness.
While some people view this as a weak ending to the fight due to the Book of Darkness not being able to fight back, I thought it was brilliant. We’ve seen these characters at each other’s throats since episode one and now we finally get to see them all unite as a team and deliver one masterful “fuck you” to the thing that have caused them all so much pain throughout the series. It’s just a great final move to what was already a long intense and truly jaw-dropping battle to begin with.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s is such an amazing sequel to the original series that not only surpasses its predecessor but manages to make it look even better in retrospect. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was great on its own, but when you see it lead into this series it fits even better as a result. It’s rare for a series to deliver such high quality masterpieces twice in a row. Now the question remains, will lightning strike thrice?
Next up is a series with a very divided reception, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. Personally, I’m really excited to rewatch it.
And once again, thank you to Kelira Telian for watching this wonderful series with me.
- Part 0: Triangle Heart and Lyrical Toy Box
- Part 1: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
- Part 2: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s
- Part 3: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS
- Part 4: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st
- Part 5: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 2nd A’s
- Part 6: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid
- Part 7: ViVid Strike! (Coming Soon… I hope!)