We previously reviewed Welcome to the NHK, an anime about college dropouts who never leave the house. There’s a running joke about Puru Puru Pururin, a (fictional) television show that stars a cat-eared girl who rides around on a magic vacuum cleaner. While the show is obviously cute and simple enough for the pre-teen set, Puru only airs from midnight to 4 am, when only unemployed lonely shut-ins would be awake. It’s all part of a conspiracy, you see! The show’s not really for young girls, it’s mind-numbing entertainment to keep the shut-ins staring at soft-core porn so they can’t join the rest of society!

Now we’re reviewing Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which stars a cute anime girl who attends elementary school by day. One day she meets a talking ferret, who gives her a magical gem that unlocks her inner power of the “Raging Heart”. It’s up to our heroine to collect the twenty “Jewel Seeds” and contain the evil before bad things happen to good people!

The show opens with lazy production values that are typical for Japanese television. The colors are typical paint-and-trace, which can look very flat and lifeless by modern, digital standards. There are lots of slow panoramas over stills, while characters engage in voice-over or telepathy – so, yeah, it’s scenes of people standing around and not moving anything, not even their mouths.

The “magic” that Nanoha uses is styled as “computer technology” with science-fictiony sound effects. Basically, she waves her wand, and a computer-generated voice says “Protection” or “Stand by – ready!” Otherwise, though, it’s more of the typical weird shapes, shiny lights, and glowing circle type stuff. The critter design isn’t as imaginative as other monster-of-the-week shows, and the battle sequences don’t do them any favors. As happens all too often with anime series, there’s different production crews on different episodes; the artistic style can change jarringly from one episode to the next.

Oh, and yeah, there’s repeated sequences of Nanoha the nine-year-old girl spinning around while her clothes magically dissolve, so she can be left standing stark naked for a second or two before donning her magical clothes. That’s when you start wondering who this anime is really for.

You wonder even more when you get to episode 4. You finally get to meet Fate, the yellow-haired, black-dressed magical girl who will serve as the bad guy foil to our red-haired, white-dressed heroine as they both compete to collect Jewel Seeds. Fate is so yang to Nanoha’s yin that Fate’s magic wand actually says, “Yes sir,” after fulfilling a request. And all is revealed when you get to episode 5: the token hot-springs episode … where you get to see elementary-school and high-school girls naked. And yes, even though they’re prepubescent, they’re all strangely voluptuous. Episode 5 also introduces Arf, a well-endowed fox woman who wears her short-pants with the fly open to expose her thong underwear.

Nanoha owes a lot to its roots: the eroge video game where a thick storyline is laid out, and a player makes choices to follow their favorite character … to eventually be rewarded by seeing them naked. Later episodes of Nanoha indulge the bad habit of anime by packing on even more characters packed with pre-teen girls (and the occasional pre-teen boy!) in tight outfits with flapping ribbons, capes, and scarves. The universe is in danger, but for some reason, the only people who show up to fight are all children? Even No Need for Tenchi had adults in their space-time police squad.

Bottom Line: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha starts off very cut and dried, then drowns in heavy fan service, and finally saturates into histrionic melodrama (interspersed with light fan service). It’s the kind of anime that cognoscenti make fun of – marble-eyed characters in elaborate costumes doing everything but actual sex, as energy bolts burst forth from fist-clenched wands with an intensity that would make Freud put away his cigar.

Recommendation: If you like to stare at the breasts and the panties of cartoon girls, but you want at least some kind of story to let you keep an iota of self-respect, you could do worse than Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

Norman Rafferty is a tomboyish, courageous character who both subverts and conforms to the stereotypes of noble warrior and naïve magical girl.

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