I never properly reviewed the Nanoha franchise, because I powered through most of it long ago before the first iteration of this blog, hence placing this post in Rants and not Classic Reviews. I do intend to do proper reviews of those shows, rest assured. But I want to address a series of tweets I made recently after completing a rewatch of Nanoha StrikerS.
So why Vivio? Well let me break this down in a sort of way people justified The Machete Order in Star Wars.
In Star Wars: Machete Order, Episode I is cut completely from the view list. The order goes IV-V-II-III-VI. The short version as to why is that almost nothing in the first prequel movie was absolutely necessary to understand the basic story of the franchise. After watching Skywalker confront Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, you slide neatly into Episodes II and III where it tells you the backstories of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi with enough detail that once you come back to The Return of the Jedi knowing the full story, you fully appreciate Anakin’s redemption arc and Luke conquering his demons to liberate his father from the dark side.
Prior to StrikerS, Nanoha was the everyperson, a third-grade student thrust into an impossibly ridiculous situation of magic and might against unknown odds while learning how it functioned along the way. She had a family, only known to eroge fans in Triangle Hearts, and friends who only served to frame specific scenes throughout the first and second seasons. When Fate enters the fray at the mid-point, she is framed as the villain, but is quickly shifted to mid-boss to her final boss mother. Nanoha quickly mastered mage abilities not only for Yunno’s mission, but to save Fate. But establishing the wider universe came at the end when Admiral Lindy, Chrono, and the TSAB arrived to inform Nanoha that not only do mages exist, but she exists within an impossibly-large universe of like-minded people.
The second season expanded upon the wider dimensional universe by introducing a complicated Lost Logia that bound itself to its master and gave them four knights wielding powerful ancient devices seeking to absorb magic for the book to grant its user whatever they desire. Even though the show focused a lot on Hayate and her guardians, once again the story kept focusing on the title character, using a more clever lore trick to run her through her first failure and “power-up” arc in the series. By adopting the Bekin-style cartridge system, Nanoha and Fate together set out to Nanoha-ize the competition and ultimately defeated not only The Book of Darkness, but restoring it to its original Tome of the Night Sky and Book of the Azure Sky. It was a sort-of Luke liberating Vader moment for Nanoha, and demonstrated to viewers that even if other characters were up-front fighting, they could always expect Nanoha to step back in and show them what for.
When you’re constructing a next-generation story using existing characters, you have to be careful not to overplay them so that they overshadow the new cast, or else you get Gundam SEED Destiny where Kira Yamato just dethrones Shinn Asuka and completely derails the show. Oddly enough, Strikers both avoids this, and addresses it explicitly at the same time. It avoids this in the most purely military-orthodox way possible by forming Riot Squad Six, and putting the new cast under the command and tutelage of our established heroes. It then goes a step further and addresses “elite status” through Tia, being the everyperson entry to a team of aces, specials, and unique device users. All together, the first half of this show exemplified all of the character traits and qualities that Nanoha had built over two seasons, the sort of girl who doesn’t just teach people how to use magic and blow shit up, but how to use it intelligently and for the direct benefit of friends, teammates, and the everyperson she came from, like Luke, and even Anakin.
And then came Vivio.
Now let’s get one thing down now, I am not seeking to remove Vivio entirely from this show. That is because her existence is important to a number of characters, as explained towards the end. Project F, mentioned in Nanoha A’s, was the codename for the project that ultimately resulted in Fate’s birth as a clone, as well as Erio also as a clone. Being that Jail was the co-creator of the project, his work went into further developing The Numbers (which includes Suburu and Ginga), and reviving Zest and Megane Alpine (not conscious by the end of the series). Once you understand that Zest, Quint Nakajima, and Megane, all TSAB agents involved in the first combat cyborg incident were killed/captured/modified, you understand both how Vivio came to be, and how the entire story of StrikerS unfolded the way it did with the people who did. Nanoha got her Skywalker-esque redemption in the last show. This one was Fate’s to have, and the producers decided to stick a random-ass character in the middle that not only disrupted Nanoha, it robbed Fate of the full force of her redemption.
Not the Mama
Early on, Nanoha insisted that she was not the sort of person to take on Vivio. For one, she enjoyed her role as an instructor and mentor, but for another she enjoyed the freedom of aerial superiority and her role as an air mage. She was a career woman focused on her career. It’s not that she wasn’t interested in children, she wasn’t interested in having one right this moment. She knew she wasn’t cut out for that role, but it was a role suited to Fate because she already helped take care of Erio and Caro, as well as others in the Harlaown family. Fate’s core character is helping children in that motherly sort of fashion because of her own mother’s misgivings and past. Nanoha’s strength is also helping people, but she tends to be on the receiving end of an upward battle to get there. Certainly, that proves true in the end in saving Saint Vivio, but the point of this entire piece is to tell you why we did not need Saint Vivio at all.
The Key to the Goddamn Ship
One of the key reasons I think the writers had to go back and shoehorn Nanoha into this relationship is how boarding the ship towards the end went. Nanoha and Vita both enter the ship and split ways, one going after Saint Vivio, the key to moving the ship, and the other to the engine room. Now on its face, having two ways to stop the ship is a prudent plan. However that implies that one will fail, and for the most part, both succeeded, Vita first, Nanoha second. It’s a bit incredulous to Vita to entrust her with smashing the ship’s engines but then have Nanoha swoop in and save the day. Only, she really didn’t. All Nanoha did was Blaster-3 Divine Buster Quattro, which did help nullify the bots outside, but did nothing to change the ship itself.
So in my proposed re-write of this entire scenario, let’s assume some things:
- Vivio still remains a Project Fate-created clone of Saint Kaiser, but has no link to the Cradle
- After she is found in the sewer, she is remanded into the church’s custody
- Instead of RF6 being targeted and destroyed to kidnap Vivio, Jail targets and destroys the church to kidnap Vivio. This advances the Zest-Gaiz arc as Gaiz’s objective in funding Jail’s work was eliminating their influence.
- Jail still implants the relic that gives Vivid her adult form and powers as it relates to her having the DNA of an ancient Belkia Saint. Realizing this power, Quattro takes Vivio with her to the ship as insurance.
This sets up the final battle on the Cradle, where instead of Nanoha going to save Vivio, Nanoha goes to save Suburu and Tia from their battle with The Numbers. Fate moves from Jail’s underground lair after capturing him with to rescue Vivio and confront Quattro. After resolving Lutecia, Erio and Caro come to help Fate defeat Quattro as Vita destroys the engine, and the they rescue Vivio. This helps push Fate to formally adopting the three at the end as she intended to.
Suburu’s Redemption Arc
So given all that, what does Nanoha do if she is not rescuing Vivio? Well she can be setting herself up for a battle with The Numbers, a fight she could or should win, but becomes overwhelmed in the process as Tia was in the fight. Because the show opened with Nanoha saving Suburu from the airport fire, it only makes sense that the show should close giving Suburu her chance at a redemption arc, both in saving her mentor, and becoming her mentor by overpowring (and overfriending) the Numbers in the fight.
Now, I know, Ginga got in the way of some good storylines, and a lot of people enjoyed the Suburu-Ginga fight because it allowed Suburu to dual-wield at the end to generate an endless stream of HEAVEN OR HELL GaoGaiGar references for the next decade. I don’t think anything would fundamentally change with this fight given all the above changes. Ginga’s story is absolutely needed in order to frame Suburu’s story and the entire overarching plot that Zest lays out to the audience that ties everyone together. If Nanoha’s defeat and power-up arc came with Raising Heart adopting the Belkin cartridge system in A’s, Suburu’s defeat and power-up arc comes with being beaten by the numbers, her device requesting new parts that exceed limits, saving her sister, using both devices, rescuing her mentor, and becoming her mentor. The end of this show should have always been about Suburu. Certainly, Tia should be there as well, representing the everyperson part of the duo, but this was Suburu’s time to shine and they kind of muddled it with, sorry, Vivio.
So Why Vivio?
Again, I have nothing wrong with Vivio as a character, and in fact, using her as a backdoor pilot to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid was itself perfectly fine. A show that introduces a bunch of new characters and devices whose primary purpose is tournament-style mock battles makes for excellent filler material in the Nanoha universe. The only problem is, just like how Nanoha took on a life of its own, Vivio ended up overshadowing Nanoha in manga and anime, to the point where Force has been on hiatus for six years now. I can’t really speculate what Masaki Tsuzuki’s intentions are to this franchise, but even if you look into the heaps of side-material to StrikerS and the overall universe, Vivio has no presence even there. It’s almost as if she was there, but they had no real purpose for her until the very last rewrite where they decided she was going to become the key to the ship, but they also needed to get the viewer to connect with her on some emotional level, especially for that backdoor pilot to her own show. The result was potentially dragging down the entire Nanoha franchise in one fell swoop, something she didn’t even want in the show, in canon. Some might call this the r-word but I won’t be that forward.
Ultimately, StrikerS was a passable show, but it just lacked that extra layer of juicy goodness that the first two seasons of Nanoha afforded back when the franchise was just a simple girl blasting the fuck out of stuff. They tried building the crazy treehouse plans the inept sales team sold the customer without consulting the development or support teams. That sort of thing is all too prevalent in my regular day job. You figure out how to make it work in the end, but you’ll always look back with disappointment as to what could have been.