Review: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection

In September of last year I was lucky enough to see a screening of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection in Copenhagen, Denmark, courtesy of Wakanim Nordic. The movie is the third theatrical entry in the franchise, which I’ve written about at length in my Lyrical Retrospective blog series, and the first to not be based on a previous season of the TV anime. It’s also about to premiere in North America in just a few weeks, so I figured it was time to write about my thoughts on the movie itself.

Nanoha Reflection is set two years after the second season (or movie) and follows two sisters, Amitie and Kyrie Florian, from the planet of Eltria. Struck with the realization that their father is dying from an incurable decease, the younger sister Kyrie sets out to find the Tome of the Night Sky, a magical artifact belonging to Yagami Hayate on Earth, together with her mysterious partner Iris. Her older sister Amitie follows her in an attempt to stop Kyrie from making a major mistake.

The story itself is a loose adaptation of the second Nanoha PSP game, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s Portable: Gears of Destiny, which is considered a fan favourite entry in the series’ expanded media. The movie differs from the game by replacing its The Terminator inspired time-travel plot, moving it two years forward and involving other fan favourite elements like the strike cannon from Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force among many other fan service moments.

In fact, the entire movie could probably be described as a massive fan service moment from start to finish. We get to see Takamachi Nanoha fight at her most reckless due to the movie taking place before a certain plot point mentioned the third season, Nanoha StrikerS. Meanwhile, Fate T. Harlaown has become an official member of the Harlaown family, leading to a lot of never before-seen mid-season development for her character. A bunch of characters that may have long seemed forgotten by the franchise in recent years get to make a comeback, from Nanoha’s friends Arisa and Suzuka to other more surprising choices that I don’t want to spoil in this review.

Where the first two movies cut down on the length of action scenes when compared to their TV series counterparts, Nanoha Reflection does not. Fight scenes sometimes go on for over 40 minutes straight and it’s absolutely glorious. While there are important moments of downtime, the focus to keep the characters in constant movement was a good decision that reminded me of why the pacing in the TV series version of Nanoha A’s is so very captivating. If you were to splice this movie into 24 minute segments, it would feel like half a missing season between Nanoha A’s and Nanoha StrikerS.

And the reason it would feel like half a missing season is that Nanoha Reflection is half a movie, sort of. Originally announced with clear chapter numbers, the story of Nanoha Reflection is split into two movies releasing a year apart, Nanoha Reflection and Nanoha Detonation. I went into the movie knowing this beforehand, but I met people in the theater who were not aware of this and they were rather disappointed when the movie stops in the middle of everything for a “to be continued” moment. Perhaps it’d been best to leave chapter numbers in the title somehow after all?

The art direction is solid and despite the series being 14 years old it manages to stay familiar while still looking modern enough to work as a 2017 (2018 in North America) release. While there is some rather uninspired lack of detail put into the calmer scenes, the high-octane action scenes with their gorgeous choreography and animation well makes up for it. I also appreciate that while the girls are still very young, they managed to make them look slightly more mature than their nine-year-old counterparts.

The performances need no introduction. Tamura Yuki as Nanoha is as lovely sounding as ever, with Mizuki Nana and Ueda Kana still selling Fate and Hayate as children so good you’d think this was recorded a decade ago. Sato Satoroi and Tomatsu Haruka as the Florian siblings do a great job as well, especially when it comes to selling the conflict between the two in the movie’s later half. If I had to pick favourites however, I have to talk about how much I love Yukana as Reinforce Zwei. She absolutely steals any scene she’s in and it’s beautiful.

Speaking of the voice actresses, Nanoha Reflection comes with new vocal tracks of course. Mizuki Nana performs two songs, Destiny’s Prelude and Invisible Heat, both of which are great on their own and even better in context of the movie itself. Tamura Yukari also performs a new song, Manatsu no Honey Days, which is used as an insert song instead of as an end credits song like most of her songs for the series. The soundtrack itself is solid, though not the most memorable in the series. It does its job of keeping you pumped throughout the action scenes, but not much more than that.

You might have noticed I’ve not talked about three certain characters prevalent in the movie’s marketing. Namely Dearche, Stern and Levi. This is because they actually don’t play much of a role in the movie, appearing rather late to set up the next movie, Nanoha Detonation, more than doing much in this particular entry. They’re all entertaining and solid characters for their small bit of screentime, Levi in particular having one of the best fight scenes in the movie, but I think I will leave what I have to say about them at large for the next movie’s review.

After being very negative on the first Nanoha movie, and very positive on the second, I’m happy to say that Nanoha Reflection surpassed my expectations greatly and is easily my favourite of the three movies so far. While you can watch it without having seen Nanoha before, I highly recommend watching, or rewatching, the original two seasons of the TV anime before watching Nanoha Reflection for the full experience. Specifically the TV anime, by the way, as Nanoha’s characterization is far more consistent between that and this movie than if you were to watch the first two movies in their stead.

It’s nearly two hours of pure action and fan service, but frankly, I think that’s exactly what the Nanoha series needed right now and judging by the fan reception in Japan and how Nanoha has risen back from the ashes in the last year, I think I’m not alone in thinking that. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection is an absolute delight that I highly recommed watching either in theaters next month (for North America) or on Bluray when it releases in April, as the Japanese Bluray release will have English subtitles.

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