Having finished up Nanoha StrikerS, it was finally time to watch a piece of the Nanoha series that I had yet seen. In 2010 Seven Arcs released the first ever feature film based on the series in theaters. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st is a retelling of the first Nanoha series with a lot of changes made to fit a two-hour film instead of a five-hour TV anime. While I don’t watch many feature-length anime films any more, for reasons I won’t go into here, I was certainly excited to check out this one as I had heard some rather neat things. Spoiler alert, I did not like this film.
But let’s begin by putting credit where credit is due. The way they’ve made the film fit into series canon despite having a myriad of changes is beyond clever. Both The MOVIE 1st and its sequel are actual in-universe productions, this film in particular being produced by the Time-Space Administrative Bureau (TSAB) as both a documentary of the events as well as an educational film for mages first learning about magic. Now, there are issues with this, as the film is pretty awful on both being a documentary of events and as an educational video, but it’s the thought that counts here and I really do appreciate it a ton.
The movie is gorgeous as well, with the aerial fight scenes being a clear focus with good reason. Every fight has been tuned up to eleven even if they contextually don’t really make sense that way, but I can forgive all of that for the sake of an exciting action scene. Hell, I don’t mind most changes since they’re not overwriting canon anyway, so even if the changes end up feeling worse, no harm is done in the long run. With these things in mind I thought it’d be hard to actually make me not enjoy the film and I’ll fully admit that I was having a blast at the start of it.
It starts fairly identical to the TV anime with Takamachi Nanoha having a dream about Yuuno Scrya being attacked by a powerful jewel seed monster. This time around the monster carries three seeds instead of just one, since they’ll be speeding up and cutting out about half of the series anyway. One neat thing they’ve done is give Raising Heart, Nanoha’s device for magic and partner, a much larger role as a character. While she have always had a mind of her own and spoken in important moments, the movie adds to this by having Raising Heart teach Nanoha about magic directly.
On one hand, it does remove the magic of Nanoha just sort of grasping everything naturally, but it also makes a bit more sense. And if this film is produced by the TSAB to teach mages, I suppose these scenes would be a logical addition. I ended up enjoying them mainly because it lets you understand why Raising Heart is so dear to Nanoha, as she is just as much of a friend to her as the rest of the cast. So far so good, nothing major to complain about, but we’re merely twenty minutes into the film at this point.
The film actually focuses very little on Nanoha, less so than the TV anime did in the first place which was already quite low considering she’s the titular character. Instead the focus is on Fate Testarossa, Nanoha’s initial rival in collecting jewel seeds. The biggest addition to the narrative in the film is Fate’s backstory being expanded upon greatly. In fact, they’ve completely rewritten her reveal to make her more sympathetic, which makes sense when you learn that in-universe the film was written by Fate herself, but it’s not a change I appreciated.
In the TV anime, a kitten found a jewel seed and unleashed its power. Because the kitten had no ill intentions, it only wanted to be big, all that actually happened was a large innocent kitty the size of a tree. Fate is revealed as she starts firing at the kitten to retrieve its jewel seed, making a rather memorable scene of her attacking something cute and innocent without question. In the film however, the kitten turns into a violent monster cat that grows demon wings and starts attacking Fate, changing the dynamic entirely.
When Nanoha and Fate fight over the jewel seed at this point we also see Fate’s regret in having to attack Nanoha immediately, rather than have it show later. While this isn’t a bad change, it takes away a lot of the fact that, at this point in time, Fate was presented as the only villain the original narrative. This is where the fact that it’s more a film about Fate than it is about Nanoha or even the original series comes into play. After this scene, most scenes either have Fate in them or are about Fate in some way.
This becomes both a blessing and a curse upon the film, as it breaks apart the initial pacing and tone in a very unnatural and strange way, unlike the smooth transitions or intentional surprises the TV anime would do this through. When we first see Fate get tortured by her mother, we’ve barely been able to register who she is because of how much the film rushes forward. These scenes of Fate getting her “punishment” are also severely less detailed, which hurts the tone a lot since the severity and visceral moments of her torture in the TV anime were deliberately unsettling and had to be in order to not understate what went on.
It’s like the film wants us to care more about Fate than we did in the TV anime, which was a lot, but their method of doing so is to not give time to any of her moments to settle in. We don’t see her sitting in the dark with scars over her body before we’ve even heard about her mother, we don’t see Arf trying to argue with Fate over her mother until just before they go see her, there’s so much missing in a film that still tries to focus on her side of the story that everything starts falling apart.
Then we get to Fate’s mother’s backstory. Precia Testarossa in the original TV anime was a monster, she was absolutely horrifying and a perfect villain for the story. A once brilliant scientist whose emotions got torn to shreds after the death of her daughter who had now lost all humanity in trying to resurrect her, to the point where she was willing to torture the girl made in the spitting image of her own child because she wasn’t “accurate” enough. She was practically perfect in how she was presented, abusive to the point of extremity, gaslighting and physically breaking Fate over and over.
Never once did the series try to justify her actions or ask us to feel sympathy for her. There was a reason for her fall, there was a reason for her losing her humanity, but it was kept brief because it didn’t matter in the end. No matter her story, no matter the influences, the blame was still on her. She made the choices she made and became the living monster that we saw in the TV anime.
So how does the film handle Precia? Well, in The MOVIE 1st we go into much further detail on her backstory, showing far more scenes of her being a kind but overworked mother to her first daughter Alicia. We learn that the reason the experiment that killed Precia’s daughter went wrong was because of higher up bureaucrats rushing things along causing everything to fall to bits. We see her trying to accept Fate, the artificial mage cloned from Alicia, as her daughter. We see all of this and I hated it.
There’s a term I like to use, it’s called “Slasher Remake Syndrome”. It’s a term I mainly use to describe hollywood remakes of old slasher films where they feel the need to take the horrible killer and give them a more detailed tragic backstory to try to make us ask “who is the real monster?”. It essentially never works and was one of the major problems with every single slasher film in the last two decades if you ask me. The MOVIE 1st suffers from this exact thing, it wants to give us Precia’s backstory, but it also wants to make sure we feel sad for her and find a way to start shifting the blame away to a different place.
Sure, the film never says Precia didn’t do anything wrong, but it puts a bigger focus on what she did right and how other things influenced her change than it does her own unforgivable actions. By the end of the initial major flashback for Precia I felt like the film was blaming me for not understanding that Precia was just a flawed human who couldn’t help but fall from grace and that’s not how I want an avatar of abuse like her to be presented as. It actively disgusted me, to be perfectly honest.
At the risk of getting into TMI territory, I’ve faced my own share of abuse in the past. I’ve had encounters with abusive people in my life trying to literally murder me in my sleep. I know the stories of these people, I know the shit they went through to put them where they were during those days. Yes, they were most certainly influenced by unfair and horrible shit around them leading down a path towards these things, but that’s not and excuse or justification. I’m not going to suddenly decide that these things were understandable due to their past, and the same goes for fiction.
If you want to make me feel like bad actions were understandable or sympathetic, you need to earn it. And there are certain actions that you can’t ever earn that from, in my opinion, this includes the act of torturing and gaslighting an innocent child. There’s never a point where I can consider any single possible backstory as an acceptable justification to make me “understand” why they’re doing what they’re doing. Precia didn’t need humanizing, because she gave up her humanity long ago. She was a monster.
That’s honestly my biggest problem with the film, its fucked up presentation of Precia Testarossa ruined all the good stuff from early in the film and tainted enough of the good stuff in the second half for the film to be irredeemable for me. The film actually does good backstory for Fate after this, showing us the creation of Lilith (Ryrith, Ririsu, whatever you want to call her) and how she trains Fate to become a powerful mage, being the parental figure that Fate needed only to be lost after her training was over.
The scenes with Lilith and Fate are great and would have made for a really solid OVA on their own, but unfortunately they came attached to the rest of the flashbacks. We even get to see how Fate meets Bardiche and how she learns combat tactics, it was something I had wanted to see for a long time and I got to see it. The last two fights between Nanoha and Fate are solid as well, though they do start to feel a little repetitive since any fights that aren’t Nanoha and Fate have basically been cut out from the story to save time, making it a lot of repeated shots including a little too many chase-cam flight moments.
There’s a problem with pacing in the last half of the film though, as the first half rushes along things and the second slows down to what’s basically an identical pacing to the last few episodes of the TV anime. After you’ve gotten used to the shorter fights and the rapid scene transitions, this sudden lack of tempo just feels off as a result. And considering they still cut scenes in that last half, it makes you wonder just how they decided what to keep and what to remove.
For example, almost every thought Nanoha have about Fate have been removed from the film. There’s no moment of self-reflection, despite being the theme throughout the first season, or even a moment of Nanoha talking about Fate’s beauty or pretty eyes until the very last moments of the film. But perhaps even worse, the dramatic moment of Nanoha flying in to save Fate, with Fate finally reaching for and grabbing Nanoha’s hand after Precia’s fall is removed entirely, which doesn’t even make sense for time reasons as the scene is still the same length.
They also added a line just as Precia falls to her death where she remembers that Alicia wished for a little sister, to add irony to the fact that she never treated Fate as her real daughter despite that being what Alicia would have wanted. I rolled my eyes hard at this, though I suppose I can accept it as something Fate wrote into the script because of her dream in Nanoha A’s or something.
The final scene with the ribbon exchange and hug is kept mostly identical to the TV anime, with the only real change being that Nanoha’s ribbons are now white instead of pink. I guess they felt it made for a better contrast to Fate’s black ribbons, but I personally feel pink suited Fate’s blonde hair a lot more. But that’s a minor nitpick, nothing that actually hurt the film in any sense of course. But I know if I didn’t mention it I would regret it later.
I don’t like this film, it has its moments and it’s really pretty to look at. But it misses the point of the TV anime by a mile and adds more bad things than it does good, the changes range from superficial to awful, with no real change feeling like a major improvement in the end. It does have enough positive sides to keep it from outright being a bad film, but it’s certainly not above mediocrity. Gotta say, it hurts for this to be the big disappointment moment in this retrospective.
But hey, nothing can be perfect and I’m sure many will disagree with me on the film in the long run, next up is Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 2nd A’s and despite my thoughts on Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st being pretty negative, I’ll give you another spoiler… I love the next one.
Oh yeah, one more thing… WHY DID THEY ADD NIPPLES TO NANOHA’S TRANSFORMATION SCENE? THAT WAS JUST AWKWARD.
- 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!)