Anime Review: ViVid Series

I think I know why they called it ViVid

 

English: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid,  ViVid Strike!
Japanese: 魔法少女リリカルなのはViVid, ViVid Strike!
Season(s): Spring 2015, Fall 2016
Length: 12 ep. x 24 min. + 12 ep. x 24 min. + 2 ep. x 14 min. + 1 ep. x 24 min.
Studio: A-1 Pictures (Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid), Seven Arcs Pictures (ViVid Strike!)

I wasn’t into anime yet back when the first three Nanoha seasons aired, but having seen them recently I can guess at why they have a dedicated fan base. For a magical girl series, Nanoha was like a precursor to the whole dark magical girl thing. Being meguka is suffering, and Nanoha series has plenty of examples of that. So how well does the ViVid series, the sequel to the Nanoha series, fare in comparison?

[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]

Unfortunately, not very well. With each season, ViVid drifts further and further away from the themes in the original Nanoha series.

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid

While the original Nanoha series was an anime original affair, it was popular enough to spawn various mediums after it ended, including Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid (Nanoha ViVid), a manga drawn by the renowned loli artist Fujima Takuya, which was adapted into an anime of the same name. Set after the last of the three Nanoha seasons, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerSNanoha ViVid bridges the gap by including some of the same characters, including the two lead characters from previous shows, Takamachi Nanoha and Fate Testarossa.

To someone new to Nanoha in general, the abundance of females (and a lack of important males) in the non-harem show is perhaps surprising. I have to give props to StrikerS especially for normalizing lesbian relationships. Both Nanoha and Fate have been friends since the end of the very first Nanoha season, and they ended up living together as they grew older and joined society. While the relationship is not hinted to be sexual, they adopted Vivio at the end of StrikerS and raised her together.

Sadly, Nanoha ViVid doesn’t explore the relationship between Vivio and her two mothers, as Nanoha and Fate take the backseat in favor of the next generation of magical fighters.

Yes, Nanoha is fundamentally a magic show, with lots of magic and transformation scenes. However, the ViVid series leans more on hand-to-hand combat than blasting magic beams. In that respect, Nanoha ViVid in particular bridges between the magic-heavy Nanoha series and the punch-heavy ViVid Strike!.

The first half of Nanoha ViVid introduces a brand new character, Einhald Stratos, who was a street magic martial artist looking to beat some specific opponents. Vivio and her friends encounter Einhald and takes her into their gym to train her/channel her fighting energy into more upright ways.

Yesterday’s adversary is today’s friend

The gang has a practice session on another planet (oh yeah, Nanoha eventually moves  the setting away from Earth to another planet), where everyone (including the moms, Nanoha and Fate) gets a moment to shine in battle.

How many moms out there can kick ass with giant magical beams, eh

At the end of the practice session, we are introduced to the theme of the second half: a tournament of mages.

At this point, I was slightly disappointed because it signaled that Nanoha ViVid wasn’t going to cover any serious plot about some suffering magical girl (Einhald would’ve been that girl, but her story didn’t last that long, nor did it involve an all-out magic battle characteristic of the original Nanoha seasons). On the upside though, this could turn into a good sports anime with interesting rivalries…

Magical blades vs. magical fists? This ought to be good

…if only they could have dedicated more time to the tournament. The second half covered about three to four fights in length, with a bunch of other shorter, unimportant fights against unimportant characters. It’s hardly enough time dedicated to each important character, made more aggravating because they didn’t actually get that far in the tournament (I think they covered up to the finals of the city-wide group stage, never mind regional or national).

Given how Nanoha ViVid didn’t end conclusively, it definitely felt more like much of contemporary anime that serve as advertisement to ongoing source material than a complete story like its predecessors.

ViVid Strike!

A year after Nanoha ViVid, Seven Arcs Pictures took back the series from A-1 Pictures and came out with ViVid Strike!, an original story in the ViVid timeline. It’s a sequel/alternative to Nanoha ViVid: it takes place after Vivio and Einhald became friends, but the story is unconnected with Nanoha ViVid‘s aside from the returning cast.

While keeping the ViVid name, ViVid Strike! is actually about the relationship between two new girls, Rinne Berlinetta and Fuuka Reventon. (I didn’t realize it at first, but Nanoha names a lot of its characters after cars.) Rinne and Fuuka grew up in the same orphanage; Rinne was shy, and Fuuka was the tomboy.

Fast forward to the present. Rinne is now a ruthless and famous fighter, and Fuuka is a street brawler (re: street talent) found by Einhald who convinces Fuuka to join her gym. Fuuka hones her skills at the gym, hoping to fight Rinne one day and change her heartless ways.

Admittedly, the backstory between Rinne and Fuuka isn’t bad, but it heavily favors Rinne in terms of character depth. We see how Rinne was adopted by a rich, loving family but through some tragic circumstances ended up becoming a ruthless fighter, while we see little of Fuuka’s past after her time together with Rinne at the orphanage.

Big bad bullies can turn nice girls into not so nice girls

Conflict resolution in ViVid Strike! is settled in the ring. This is where ViVid Strike! contrasts with Nanoha ViVid. Whereas the fights in Nanoha ViVid are mixed magic and martial arts, the fights in ViVid Strike! are purely a martial arts affair (with minimal magic enhancements). Whereas the ring in Nanoha ViVid is more like a sumo ring, the ring in ViVid Strike! is more like a boxing ring. ViVid Strike! even has world ranking for fighters and championship belts, just like boxing.

To be frank, it’s a little disheartening to see the Nanoha franchise turning into a sports show that revels in young girls punching and hurting each other (and showing plenty of mob characters enjoying it), but hey, someone somewhere out there loves to watch little girls punch each other silly for entertainment, and who am I to judge about other people’s tastes.

But even allowing for such Spartan tastes, how does the actual fighting fare in ViVid Strike!? Sadly, it’s worse when compared with Nanoha ViVid‘s. While in Nanoha ViVid the action sequences are adequately fluid and, well, animated, in Nanoha Strike! the punches and kicks are often simply slow motion static frames.

Rinne gets whooped by Vivio. In slow motion.

Punch delivery often last for seconds, and might otherwise be slideshows but for the panning motion. At least they look good though.

Anyways, near the end of the season Rinne and Fuuka has their big fight, an unsanctioned fight unrestricted by the rules of the sport.

Again, it’s pretty to look at, but by then I was already bored from the sub-par fight animation.

In addition to the main season, ViVid Strike! has a total of three specials, two of which are slotted between episode five and six and the last set after the last episode. The specials actually reference the mixed magic and martial arts fights; in that sense, they serve as the bridge between the fighting styles in ViVid Strike! and Nanoha ViVid. The last special spares a few scenes to show the results of all the important fights after episode twelve (the fights that we didn’t get to watch at all…) and then goes straight to a beach episode for the fans.

The Acting

Two voice actresses stood out to me. First, it was nice to hear Noto Mamiko again, who I often mistake for Hayami Saori. I’ll always remember Noto’s voice in Maria Watches Over Us, which makes her upper-class dainty voice all the more interesting as the strong fighter Einhald in ViVid.

Second, I’ve always remembered Ogura Yui’s voice as a high-pitched loli’s (a la HenNeko), but she’s surprisingly not as annoyingly high-pitched in her role as Rinne (except in flashbacks as the younger Rinne). I was glad that her voice didn’t standout to me immediately for once.

TL;DR

The ViVid series can be best summarized as an attempt to ride off the popularity of the Nanoha series (they are still selling surprisingly well even now). For fans of the Nanoha series, it’s an OK watch as the new characters and fighting styles aren’t all that bad. But for someone new to the world of Nanoha, don’t start with the ViVid series. Start with the first three Nanoha seasons; the franchise doesn’t get any better than those.

 

Put more yuri into it next time. You hear that, Seven Arcs?

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