Although I will invoke the wrath of a million fanboys, the first two seasons of Nanoha were not particularly good. Oh, they were enjoyable enough in their own way, and I certainly do not regret watching them, but let’s face it- outside the boundaries of that deadly category known as light entertainment, they could hardly aspire to being picks of the year or all-time classics. Even so, they managed to get right what StrikerS has so far got horribly wrong- but just where did it all fall apart?
In order to answer that, we first need to back to seasons one and two, and see just what appeal they had for anyone who didn’t have an unhealthy interest in watching nine year old girls undergo naked transformations. Even for such viewers, the series was most likely a guilty pleasure- the story was so predictable that it was almost comforting, but the brightly coloured character designs, superb animation (you can save a lot of budget by having all the characters speak telepathically) and delightfully over-the-top battles all contributed to its charm. It didn’t matter that the girls were effectively standing there and letting their weapon AI’s do all the work, or that the better designed enemies would ultimately become friends in the end- it was all good fun, and it was never too demanding on the brain.
Nonetheless, I knew I could live quite happily without any more Nanoha, and so it was that I was largely indifferent to news of a third season- I didn’t really need it, but it would be nice if it invested some time into much needed character development for a cast that was already getting quite extensive. The news that it would be set a decade in the future was also welcome- no longer would the loli level be so insanely high. It would, as jpmeyer put it, surely be “Nanoha: The College Years”.
As always seems to be the case, however, any degree of anticipation of a series only seems to make the end product worse, and so it was that StrikerS was not only worse than predicted, but could be best likened as being to the first two seasons what Mai-Otome was to Mai-HiME. The focus shifted to new characters, the cast expanded immeasurably to include numerous insipid personalities destined to have some 2-3 seconds of airtime, whilst the original characters were shoved to the sideline (although naturally the promise of cameos from them was intended to pull in the viewers). It was still called Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, but it may as well have been Magical Girls and Shota Extensive Ensemble.
Arguably worse than this shift in focus, however, was the pacing of the new series, which seemed to have taken the idea that “slow and steady wins the race but bores the audience along the way” to heart; in the old days, to be a magical girl all you need was a transformation, a mascot and enemies of the week, but now the whole thing is regulated by a Bureau of Magic that imposes all sorts of rules, regulations and power limiters on everyone. Red tape and fun are not known to mix, and indeed this extensive bureaucracy of mages could only ensure that the light entertainment factor totally vanished in a sea of paperwork and shades of dull grey. In these new times, four minutes per episode could be spent ensuring that every single character underwent a transformation sequence, but it would take some thirteen minutes for any fighting to actually occur- and even when it did, it seemed oddly lacking. And as if that wasn’t enough, the once brilliant animation was now clearly being taxed by having to stretch the animation across twenty-six episodes- and when Nanoha stops looking good, you start to notice all the other things that are wrong with it.
There is still plenty of time for it to improve, but with so many other spring series I want to follow, Nanoha StrikerS has already been consigned to the drop list. The pain of Mai-Otome will not easily be forgotten, and thus sequel series of this type cannot afford to open with six episodes of bland and forgettable content if they wish to retain their audience.