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Zenryoku Zenkai

Congratulations! You have just gotten the green light to write and produce a cartoon series for kids. It's an idea you've been kicking about for years and you finally find a studio willing to give you a chance. The idea you have is one geared toward girls in the 8-12 range and will involve an ordinary elementary school student who finds a cute and lovable magical mascott one day and gains magical powers. With the power of friendship and love, she will fight a waterdowned form of evil like something out of the Care Bears and there will be plenty of heartwarming tales.

So you produce the show and halfway through the season the first Nelson reports come in. You eagerly snap up the breakdown sheet to check out the demographic and see that as predicted, you show is very popular with pre-teen girls. The numbers drop off as the girls age but even pull pulls some audience among the tween and early teen sect. As you continue to scan the sheet you notice something strange. There's also a large spike in audience among males in the 28-32 age group.

Now, at this point you have a decision to make. The choice probably depends a lot on where you are. If you're an American, you quietly bury this fact and never mention it, hoping that it never comes to light. After all, if it got out that there were creepy old men slavering over your pretty magical princess show, there would be hell to pay in negative publicity and general squick. If you're Japanese however you realize there is mad bank to pay by appealing to both audiences. It's a weird and deft form of dual programming which frankly I still can't completely unravel myself. It goes something like this....that transformation scene where the girl heroine twirls around and her normal clothes disappear only to be reappear with a magical girl outfit with ribbons and spangles appear to both sects on completely different levels. The same with generally cutesy girls doing anything.

This has been known in Japanese anime for decades now and they've grown quite adept at walking the line and appealing to both little girls and older men. I should make a note here that the men who enjoy these shows are not perverts per se. Well, not all perverts anyway. There's something very appealing about the sort of magical powers and adventure genre, as you can see throughout most boys anime in shows like Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh or whatever. It's just in this case there are also cutesy girls in it which a particular class of guy just finds adorable, much the way you might look at a pair of penguins holding hands. Anyway, this odd juxtaposition has eventually lead to the creation of certain Magical Girl anime which doesn't just straddle the line but actually caters to the male demographic. Welcome to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.



I had actually meant to watch Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha for a while now. It's incredibly iconic among anime and has spawned a lot of tropes and references. The first time I tried I just wasn't able to get through the first series. It was just too cutesy and saccharine it made me want to bash my head against a wall. Being a unlettered gaijin my cuteness bladder isn't developed as fully as our Japanese brethren and so it's much easier for me to overdose on the stuff and need a lie down.

The basic story is that Nanoha Takamachi, who is voiced by Tamura Yukari, the basic epitome of cutesy, is a third grader who one day receives a telepathic call from help from an alien boy mage, Yuno Scrya, who just happens to have transformed himself into the shape of a ferret. She goes to his rescue and in the midst of being attacked by a monster discovers she has a high magic potential and can use magical devices, in this case the staff the mage had with him, Raising Heart. With Raising Heart she manages to give the monster a righteous smackdown and it transforms back into a gem the mage tells her is a Jewel Seed. It turns out that 20-some odd of these Jewel Seeds have been scattered on earth and he needs help to capture and contain them all before they all get accidentally activated and turn into rampaging monsters. And that pretty much sums up the general plot for the first series. Add in the fact that there's another dark magical girl, Fate Testarossa, who is also after the Jewel Seeds and cue the major conflict of the series.

Now, I don't know if this is apocryphal or not, but the way the story goes is one of the people working on the anime looked at a picture of Nanoha (that's her on the left btw) and made a comment that she looked like a Gundam in her outfit's design and coloring. For those who aren't aware, Gundam are giant robotic mecha which basically fly around kicking the every-loving crap out of one another with huge wave motion guns in galactic space battles. Think Voltron but kicked up to 11. Thus produced a decade-long effort to mix a cute little girl with the destructive beam-spamming, asskicking potential of a death star on crack.



Yeah that picture pretty much sums it up. Nanoha is a walking weapons platform, all the while being sweet and having the most cutesy voice you could ever imagine. Her epic badassness has reached memetic proportions. Just like in most shounen anime, especially early on in the series, any 'bad guy' the hero kicks the crap out of has a very high liklihood of turning over a new leaf and joining his team. It's just the way it goes and spawned the trope of Defeat Means Friendship. Nanoha takes this idea and doesn't take it to 11 as much as to 15. So much so that the word 'befriend' has come to be synonymous with beat the ever-loving crap out of in the anime community. As in, don't make me befriend your ass, loser. Someone even came up with a quasi official definition of the term.

befriend (v.): to use mecha-class beam weaponry to inflict grievous bodily harm on a target in the process of proving the validity of your belief system.

This tendency for Nanoha to annihilate friend and foe alike when faced with adversity grew more over the top with each series and probably culminated when her adopted 6 year old daughter was taken over by an evil artifact and aged/powered up.


Nanoha ends up hitting her with 5 Starlight Breakers where we had just seen that a single one was able to blow a hole all the way through a city-sized battleship with anti-magic fields all over it. >Oh, and in case you're wondering, she's telling her daughter that 'this might hurt a little bit' right before she unleashes Armageddon on her.


Just for fun, here's the previous shot through the battleship. Oh, and her little catch phrase there? 'Zenryoku Zenkai' means Full Power. It also is a homonym for and thus sounds exactly like two other Japanese words which mean 'Total Annihilation'. I'm not sure if it just makes it extra creepy that outside of lighting people on fire, she's totally sweet and loving. I'm just not sure you really want her catching you with your hand in the cookie jar. Sure, she probably won't turn you incandescent with a magical beam brighter than the sun, but you never know for sure.

So those two clips were actually from the third anime series, StrikerS. There were three in total: the origina, A's, and StrikerS. In each one the transformation from cutesy magical girl into kickass weapons platform takes another step. By the third series Nanoha is around 19 and not only the Ace of Aces in the intergalactic air force but basically the lead instructor in their equivalent of Top Gun. A movie was just released earlier this year summarizing the first series in one compact 2 hour chunk and there will be two more movies, each condensing an entire anime series.

In each series more characters are introduced as you might expect. Many of them begin as enemies but then are 'befriended' half to death and eventually sign up with the good guys. All in all, I really like the series, though more so once it got more series and left the fluffy magical girl stuff behind. If you're interested at all in seeing the series but don't want to slog through dozens of episodes, I really recommend watching the movie version. It's only a couple hours out of your life and sums things up pretty completely IMO. If you need to know where to find a subbed copy, just drop me a line and I can point you in the right direction.

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