Lyrical Retrospective, Part 6: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid

After Nanoha StrikerS came to an end it wasn’t entirely clear where the series was heading. The first three seasons were clearly planned from early on, flowing into each other with each season setting up characters and events for the upcoming ones. But when 2007 closed out there was so much to the Nanoha series that finding one clear path to follow through with wasn’t easy. As such, we got three direct sequels to Nanoha StrikerS across different mediums out of which one was eventually adapted into an anime series …twelve years after Nanoha StrikerS.

So now that Lyrical Retrospective have taken a rather fitting break in-between entries itself, let’s look at the first Nanoha anime that was an adaptation rather than an original story. Well, the first one not counting Triangle Heart: Sweet Songs Forever, but let’s just leave that in the long forgotten past.

Let’s talk about Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid‘s TV anime from 2015.

Nanoha ViVid was the first Nanoha anime not animated in-house at Seven Arcs, instead the series was outsourced to A-1 Pictures which would be the first of many ways the series differed from its predecessors. The more obvious difference is the fact that the series isn’t really about Takamachi Nanoha at all, and not in the “Nanoha’s first season is really about Fate Testarossa” sense either. No, the story is about Nanoha and Fate’s daughter, Vivio, and her friends and rivals.

It’s also different in that it takes place in a time of peace with no incident or oncoming global danger existing whatsoever. Instead the conflicts are on a smaller scale, focusing on Vivio training to be come a martial artist on Midchilda and the people she clash with on her path. It’s often closer to a slice-of-life or sports anime than the big scale action adventures we’ve seen before. Of course, being different is neither a label of quality or lack thereof.

We pick up four years after the events of Nanoha StrikerS with Vivio now starting her fourth year of school. Her two best friends, Corona and Rio, are training martial arts under Nove Nakajima, one of Subaru’s new sisters after the Jail Scaglietti Incident ended. Though things have been peaceful for some time, Nove eventually runs into a street fighter causing trouble around Midchilda. This street fighter turns out to be a girl named Einhard Stratos and she serves as the Fate to Vivio’s Nanoha to the point of very much taking a more major role in the story’s development than Vivio herself.

Einhard is a descendant of Claus Ingvalt, a prince of Ancient Belka, who knew Olivie Engelbrecht, the St. Kaiser figure Vivio was cloned from. The two’s ancestry bring them closer and soon enough Einhard is training under Nove as well, aiming to become the strongest martial artist to live up the her ancestor’s dream he could never achieve. You see, Einhard doesn’t just know her heritage, she remembers it. Thanks to a plot contrivance the series never actually tries to detail too much, Einhard has inherited memories from her bloodline and as such remembers and feels things Claus did in the past.

When we first meet Einhard she’s a lost child unable to do anything but try to fight for a dream someone else had. Through befriending Vivio and coming to like martial arts she starts to learn how to act more social as well as discovering her own path and personality instead of just following her inherited memories. It’s a simple but solid bit of development that …we don’t actually get to see much of in the anime.

Let’s just stop beating around the bush and make something very clear. Pretty much any Nanoha fan will tell you this series is the weakest of the five TV anime series the franchise has spawned so far and I won’t deny that. It’s not that it’s bad, far from it, but it suffers from being an adaptation of a much larger work. Nanoha ViVid is twelve episodes long and covers about six volumes of a twenty volume manga series. It adapts it fairly straight with very little changed, added or removed, leading to a series that sets up a bunch of things without payoff.

I’ve read the entire manga series and I’ll get into its details later, but for now, let’s just say that the anime ends just before the first major plot development in the series and the lack of a continuation hurts it all the more. You know how I mentioned earlier that the first three seasons of Nanoha clearly led into each other and set things up? Well, Nanoha ViVid does the same but doesn’t actually lead into anything, it just stops in the middle of what feels like a really long prologue to a story.

What makes it even stranger is that it didn’t have to be this way. A few scenes are deliberately rearranged in a way that it deliberately sets up things earlier than the manga did but without following through on the payoff. Had they instead tried to find a good stopping point, such as the end of the first Intermiddle tournament rather than the middle of it, the series would have been able to stand fine on its own. Instead it’s like a lone puzzle piece that just can’t make a full picture without the connecting pieces.

For example, the anime starts with a flashback to the war that fell Ancient Belka and led to the death of Olivie. The manga opens with a recounting of Nanoha StrikerS. The anime’s set up doesn’t make sense because they don’t start exploring the details of the war until after the anime series has ended, where as the manga’s opening actually ties into the stuff the anime adapts. It’s a kind of confusing mess and I wonder if they were just certain they’d get to adapt the rest of the series so they didn’t think to make it work as a single cour series in the first place.

There’s other oddities with the anime as well, like how the character designs often feel like imitations of the characters they’re supposed to represent. Nanoha’s eye colour is vastly different from any other work she’s been seen in, anime or not, Hayate’s design looks younger than her Nanoha StrikerS coutnerpart and a friend of mine couldn’t even recognize Teana in the series until I mentioned who she was due to her palette also being off from her previous incarnation.

All of this makes you want to point fingers at A-1 Pictures, after all, they’re the big difference production wise to previous series as well as the movies. But why was the series in different hands in the first place? A common though unconfirmed rumour at the time was that there had been major disagreements between those representing Tamura Yukari, the voice of Nanoha, at King Records and Seven Arcs. Many saw the fact that Nanoha herself was missing from 2016’s anime ViVid Strike! as confirmation of this, but considering that she’s back for Nanoha Reflection and its sequel I’m not sure I buy it.

Whatever the reason, Nanoha ViVid is a clear mess of a production. That’s not to say it doesn’t have great animation cuts at times or that it’s a bad watch, on the contrary, I loved it enough to rewatch it four times inbetween the last Lyrical Retrospective entry and this one on top of reading all twenty volumes of the manga. It’s good, just very different and very messy. Sadly Nanoha ViVid‘s TV anime is the only Nanoha TV anime currently not available digitally or in English, which is a bit strange but somehow fitting for this series since it incists on being the odd one out on everything.

So let’s talk about the manga it adapted. But since there’s no complete English translation of the manga yet I’ll be light on spoilers.

The manga, written by series creator Tsuzuki Masaki and illustrated by Takuya Fujima, ran from May 2009 to October 2017 making it the longest running entry in the Nanoha series at 20 volumes consisting of 102 chapters total. The story itself spans a little over a year on Midchilda and features so many characters you need a spreadsheet to make a decent summary of everything going on. Trust me, I have one.

What’s interesting about the manga is that it’s divided into two kind of arcs which I will refer to as “adventure arcs” and “tournament arcs” for the sake of simplicity. The anime technically adapted one adventure arc and most but not all of the first tournament arc, both of which are sadly the least interesting arcs in the series. For reference, the entire series consist of three of each arc so if you wanted to adapt the manga into an anime at the pacing A-1 Pictures were using we’d need about thirty-six episodes.

The first chapter of Nanoha ViVid is about Vivio starting fourth grade as well as receiving her intelligent device, which leads to the first of many callbacks in the series. Her device, Sacred Heart or Chris for short, is fitted into a replica of the plush bunny Nanoha gave to Vivio when they first met in Nanoha StrikerS. A very cute detail that makes seeing the plush burn to pieces in Nanoha StrikerS even harder in retrospect.

With her device we see the first common use of magic in the series, Adult Mode. Vivio is given an adult body, like her St. Kaiser form in Nanoha StrikerS, for her transformation. While this is basically an excuse to have Takuya draw boobs, it’s explained as something younger martial artists do to basically have their bodies be safe enough for their magic violent sports. Every girl in the main cast have an Adult Mode that they use during tournaments. It reminds me of how a lot of 80s magical girl series would also have little girls transform into adults, like Creamy Mami.

While both Nanoha and Fate are in the series, they’re very much minor characters for the most part. Nanoha plays a major role in the very last arc of the series but Fate is basically a background character as she’s most often out on missions or just hanging out with her wife Nanoha rather than following Vivio around. This being Vivio’s series this isn’t a problem, but it does take time getting used to at first for sure. Especially since previous minor characters like Nove get main cast status in their place.

And as such we return to Einhard, who I previously called Vivio’s Fate. This is not just me being gay about them either, that’s actually a major plot point. Everyone on Midchilda knows of the tragic romantic story of Claus and Olivie, torn apart during the war that fell Ancient Belka, but now they’re both here, in spirit, in the form of Einhard and Vivio. The two are linked from before they first meet and while that alone is interesting, what they actually do with them is beyond what I would have expected.

Despite befriending Vivio and the other girls, Einhard still end up focusing on becoming the strongest fighter to the point of eventually having a major breakdown over losing, big-time, to another fighter. Vivio, tired of Einhard not listening to her, decides to take her mother’s approach and just try to beat some friendship into her in a magic duel. She dons her Nanoha StrikerS St. Kaiser form and breaks every rule taught to her by Nove to just go all out on Einhard to the point of actually beating her in combat for the first time after two losses.

Seeing Vivio’s growth of strength and determination finally pushes Einhard out of her mindset that she’s failed her ancestor and begins her development as her own person. On top of that, we see Vivio overcome a rival for the first time, which becomes intergral to her own narrative. Both Vivio and Einhard are fighters, good fighters, but it took them both losing to each other for them to be able to start growing, much like how Nanoha had to see defeat at the hands of Fate in Nanoha‘s first season to grow the strength to defeat Fate and save her from her destructive path.

The series isn’t exactly subtle about how it frames Vivio and Einhard as Nanoha and Fate: The Next Generation, with there even being plenty of official promo art of the two of them dressed as Vivio’s moms together. But it’s nice to see a series go all out on framing two girls as this destined couple as decided by fate, as that’s generally something only reserved for boy and girl couples. It shows that even with its second generation, Nanoha is all about strong girls and the relationships they share with other girls, which to me is one of the franchise’s strongest assets.

However, one of the problems with the manga is how much it expects you to know about the Nanoha series before reading. It constantly follows up on or references events not only from the original three TV anime series but even more obscure content. One example is how one character, Ixveria, is a key component to the narrative despite only previously appearing in 2008’s Drama CD StrikerS Sound Stage X. We’ll be covering that CD at a later date, don’t worry.

Ixveria, like Einhard and Vivio, is tied to the war that fell Ancient Belka. Dubbed the Flame Queen of Hades, Ixveria involuntarily led an army of biological weapons called Mariage before falling into a deep slumber out of which no one knows when she’ll wake up. Vivio visist the sleeping Ixveria a lot, as does Nove and Subaru. Sure enough, the series eventually does go into her waking from her sleep and it’s a vital part of the story. Ixveria is kept in the anime adaptation as well, which really does make you wonder if A-1 Pictures shouldn’t have adapted StrikerS Sound Stage X instead considering how important it is.

While Ixveria is the obvious example, there’s other details that a viewer jumping from Nanoha StrikerS might have missed out on. For example, Reinforce Zwei and Agito both appear in large regular-human sized forms that we never saw in the Nanoha StrikerS anime, but did see in some of the expanded material. For as self-contained as most of Nanoha ViVid‘s story is and how most of its characters are new to the series entirely it’s really surprising just how much it relies on more intimite knowledge of the franchise. Because despite what the title might suggest, Nanoha ViVid is not really Nanoha Season 4, not in its anime or manga form.

With that said, my personal biggest problem with Nanoha ViVid is not what it expects me to know, after all, I have read the tie-in manga, listened to the Drama CDs and more at this point. I got the info I need. No, my biggest problem is that much like Nanoha The Movie 1st it returns to my least favourite thing from the very original Nanoha season, and Triangle Heart for that matter. The creepy fan-service.

I don’t mind some sexual shots and such in my series, but one of the things I hate the most about recommending Nanoha to new people is having to warn people of all the upskirt shots of nine-year-olds the original series had. The first movie also had that issue and unfortunately Nanoha ViVid kind of takes it to a new level. Now, thankfully the really outrageous fan service shots are saved for the adult characters, including bare tits with nipples and all. The problem is that there’s still some really skeevy stuff with our main cast as well, whose ages range from eleven to thirteen.

Thankfully, much like how the Nanoha TV anime series grew out of its unnecessary fan service after the first season, the manga does cool down on the fan service after the first few volumes. Doesn’t make it less awkward and out-of-place, but there’s at least some light at the end of the tunnel. And I realize that this is to be expected in a series written by a former eroge writer and illustrated by a person specializing in cheesecake art, but frankly it does not fit the tone of the work they’re clearly going for with Nanoha ViVid in my opinion.

With all that said, I really enjoyed reading Nanoha ViVid and out of the many Nanoha manga series I’ve read it’s definitely my favourite. The characters are rich and well-developed, the fight scenes are satisfying and paced well, it’s a really solid piece of work. It’s just a shame it’s really only for the hardcore Nanoha fans. But then again, it can also serve as a window into becoming one. I’m just hoping the anime gets a continuation at some point so that its puzzle can be finished.

Let me end this post by apologizing. I was originally planning for this post to release last spring and delayed it because I kind of fell out of writing and then decided I wanted to wait until the manga was finished so I could cover both the anime and manga at once. I got the last volume in December and really should have had this written shortly thereafter, but it just didn’t work out as planned. I hope the next post doesn’t take over a year to get out like this one did.

After all, the next post is about the series that got me back into Nanoha in the first place.


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