Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha – Episode 5


Today we’re continuing our journey through Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha! I’ll admit, I still haven’t made much sense of the “lyrical” part of that title, but we’ve certainly had plenty of magical girl. In fact, last episode introduced our second magical girl, a mysterious stranger from Yuuna’s home planet who introduced herself by electrocuting a kitten half to death. She also knocked Nanoha the fuck out, and generally made an intimidating spectacle of herself in the course of nabbing a Jewel Seed. Rough day for the home team all around.

Beyond its actual narrative beats, last episode also did some work in solidifying Nanoha’s tone, themes, and visual storytelling. Not only did the introduction of this new girl give the show’s family focus more context, but the emphasis on her black and yellow aesthetic also returned us to the evocative art embellishments of the first episode. Episode four wasn’t terrific on the whole, and the show’s slice of life elements in particular could really use some tuning, but it was a solid step up for the series, and seemed to indicate we’re finally getting to this show’s core conflict. Let’s see what shenanigans these girls get up to in number five!

Episode 5

“Different feelings and words that don’t connect… is fighting the only thing we can do to make them connect?” Lousy subtitles aside, it seems like we’ll be immediately reuniting with Nanoha’s rival, and working to gain her trust rather than fight. I wonder how common this setup was prior to Nanoha, given it’s so prevalent in shows like Madoka and Symphogear these days. Even regrettable also-rans like Magical Girl Raising Project seem indebted to this focus on magical girl rivalry

“I’m sure that meeting was just a coincidence. But if you lay a million coincidences on top of each other, I’m sure people pick one at random, and that’s the path they take.” A very insightful thought from Nanoha, reflecting on how fate and coincidence can each describe the same situation, depending on your perspective. We impart meaning on events that became meaningful in retrospect, but in truth, many potential routes through life can feel like fate in hindsight. Once again, “how we choose our paths in life” presents itself as a key theme, and one I’m eager to see the show explore further

“My life seems to have recently started with a coincidence like that. That’s why I feel that I want to keep going like this, believing I’ve made no mistakes.” Another very sharp thought from Nanoha, reflecting a belief that the validity of our life paths is entirely a construction of our own minds. There are so many diverse, coincidental paths available to us, we’d go mad if we sought the “correct” route – instead, Nanoha seems content to take action according to her beliefs, and never regret those actions. It’s a very self-aware path to self-confidence

And she even acknowledges that this is a way of believing you have free will. Damn, Nanoha, two minutes in and we’re questioning how personal agency could exist in a deterministic universe

And then the title drop announces this is a hot springs episode, presenting one of the most classically anime one-two punches imaginable

They’re going on vacation for what’s presumably golden week, and not only Nanoha’s friends, but even the maids from the previous episode are coming. That makes last episode’s lengthy introductions much more understandable – they’re not just one-offs we’re revisiting from the visual novel, they’re actually meaningful characters

Some nice backgrounds for the inn they’re staying at. This show’s backgrounds can at times hew too closely to geometric simplicity in the city, but the forest scenes are livened through strong lighting and inviting hand-painted detail

This show really likes creating depth in its composition through layers of foreground and background objects. It’s a very effective trick that more shows could probably stand to abuse

Wow, we sure are getting some seriously fanservicey shots in the changing room here. They’re at least emphasizing the older girls over the actual children, but this is not Nanoha’s proudest moment

“You and the kids don’t have to worry about me anymore. From now on, I’ll only be the Midoriya’s owner.” So I guess Nanoha’s father used to live a double life of some kind? As is often the case, I can’t tell if this is a callback to the visual novel or the seeding of a future conflict. Hurraaay for media mixes

They are really slumming it animation-wise this episode. We get a series of freeze frames that are essentially a “montage” of the girls exploring the hot springs, ending on one of those awkward “we move the character cells around to simulate walking” cuts. Oh good, here’s a villain

Oh man, this is absolutely Fate’s familiar. The hair and forehead jewel are a giveaway

She’s got a distinctive and imposing style that’s kinda gone out of fashion among anime women. Basically the style of Ryoko from Tenchi

Alisa getting pissed for Nanoha’s sake is pretty charming. I wish this show had slightly better expression work – too many of its jokes lean on reaction faces that aren’t quite strong enough to sell themselves

Haha, the dog girl’s name is just “Arf.” Amazing

“She doesn’t seem like a worthy enemy to me.” It’s very good that we’ve already got someone for Fate to regularly talk to. Both Fate and Arf are strengthened as characters for having an ally to bounce off

In spite of her intimidating intro, both her conversation with Fate and this goofy eyecatch seem intended to undercut Arf’s menace. She’s already more silly than serious

Fate makes her move when everyone’s asleep. Once again, we start with fifteen minutes of fairly lukewarm slice of life before getting to the action

I can certainly see why portraying the gentle happiness of Nanoha’s daily life is important in a thematic sense, since “the natural joy of time with family and friends” seems to be what a key motif in this series, and likely what Nanoha will eventually introduce to Fate. That said, these sequences just aren’t strong enough as slice of life vignettes to really be entertaining. The show needs either better comedy or more well-observed incidental moments to sell Nanoha’s daily life

Nanoha’s incredibly specific cuts of weirdly fluid animation strike again, this time animating the hell of Nanoha rising in bed into the view of an imagined fisheye lense. Congratulations to Nanoha for consistently choosing the most strangely incidental cuts to animate all to hell

I suppose the combination of fluidity and fisheye perspective emphasize Nanoha’s sense of disorientation and panic as she rises in the night? Yeah, we’re going with that

We finally see Arf in her actual, extremely horny costume

Fate seeks these gems because her mother wants them, but her mother has not told her why

Wonderfully intimidating shots for Fate’s casting rituals. They really make the most of her lightning motif to give her a grand sense of presence during all these encounters

This transformation sequence for her staff is fantastic. It’s not the graceful, fluid, rapid moments of Nanoha’s staff – it’s a very slow and consequential series of heavy movements, complemented by a crack of thunder accompanying each one

Arf gleefully embraces the smug villain role, but we already have the context to know she’s just doing this because it’s fun. Very efficient characterization of Fate’s familiar

Some more nice cuts as Arf changes into her persona form. Alright, I guess this show saved some of the fluid animation for the right moments

Yuuno uses movement magic to send Arf flying. That feels pretty inherently clever to me – “I can’t beat you and all I have are utility spells, so I’ll just use rapid movement magic to make you go very far away”

We get the classic exchange. “Can’t we talk this through?” “Nothing can be solved through words alone.” Fate seems more like a direct Homura predecessor every episode

Nice new music track for their duel here

From her enemies to her own magical staff, Nanoha treats everyone as a potential friend, and believes earnest communication is key. That’s a reflection of her upbringing, as I’m sure Fate’s demeanor is a reflection of hers

Arf jumps the camera butt-first before making her goodbyes

Ooh, another nice closing composition

And Done

Alright, that was pretty darn exciting! This episode’s last act was genuinely very good, building off established character dynamics to elevate a fight that was already easily the most visually impressive so far. From its fluid animation to its dynamic compositions and energetic contrast of Yuuno and Nanoha’s battles, this episode’s finale was a real highlight, and went a long way towards justifying the much less compelling earlier stuff. Nanoha is still pretty much floundering when it comes to the slice of life material, but if the action-oriented stuff starts to dominate the narrative, that won’t actually be a problem at all. Bring on the battles!

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

Bobduh , 2018-10-12 13:38:57

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