Having just watched the last episode of the StrikerS series, thus ending my marathon of the series as a whole, I just felt inclined to start a thread. Anybody else here seen it? As a whole, the execution seems kinda...schizophrenic, in a way. I mean, if you had to summarize the series in two words, it would have to be "adorably badass". Take the standard magical-girl anime set up of cute young girls being ridiculously cute, while juggling a second life of magical superheroics, but splice in a heavy dose of Gundam/Dragonball-level action, and a pinch of some very dark subthemes, and you have the general basis for the series. But the final execution, at least for me, left me smiling ear-to-ear the whole way through. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha (13 episodes) marks the beginning of the franchise, first airing in Japan late 2004. It begins with a very generic Magical Girl set up, with 9 year-old Nanoha Takamachi first being introduced to her latent magical powers, and then going on a quest to collect a series of magical objects with potentially disastrous powers should they fall into the wrong hands. Not so standard, though, is how quickly that element is pushed aside. The "collect them all" subplot is all but scrapped by episode 4, and there's nary a training sequence in sight. We are quickly introduced to a second magical girl, Fate Testarossa, with whom Nanoha shares an intense rivalry, and the series henceforth becomes a magical slugfest between the two girls, culminating in an awesome duel in Episode 11. Strong character-driven drama is what ties the story together, bringing to light some very dark realities about Fate's existence. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A's (13 episodes) is the second season of the series, airing late 2005. It starts six months after the ending of the first season, with the conclusion of Fate's legal proceedings due to her criminal actions. The two girls, now very close friends, are excited about their long overdue reunion, only to be rudely interrupted by the appearance of the mysterious "Wolkenritter" (German for "Cloud Knights") who viciously attack Nanoha out of the blue. Similar to the first season, though, not all is what it seems, and the Wolkenritter's path is one steeped in tears. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS (26 episodes) is the third, and as of yet final, season of the series, airing in the 2007 season. Taking place ten years after the events of A's (four years after the A's epilogue), it marks the biggest change of pace for the series. Now full-fledged members of the Time-Space Administration Bureau (the interdimensional military police force seen in varying degrees in the first two seasons), Nanoha and Fate, as well as their new friend, Hayate Yagami, have quickly advanced in ranks within the bureau as Commanders, and deal in high-level magical artifact retrieval, dealing with events similar to the ones in the first two seasons. Nanoha also serves as a licensed Combat Instructor, training inductees in the bureau to be front-line officers. This is where the season starts out, with the three girls setting out to craft their own team of skilled operatives, the creation of their "Mobile Division 6". Ironically enough, despite this season being more military-themed, due to the longer series length and greatly expanded cast size, the pacing of this season is a lot more laid-back, taking more time to flesh out the characters and touch on the inner politics of the TSAB. The rookies see their fare share of action, though, chasing a villain who seems to have ties to some of the darker elements of Nanoha and Fate's histories... Synopses aside, as I said earlier, it's an execution which somehow doesn't fail to make me smile. It flip-flops from being almost ridiculously girly, in having the third-grader Nanoha go to tea parties and other such childish antics, to equally badass on the level of "blast your opponent through mountains and skyscrapers" action. The cuteness factor is especially bolstered by the fact that throughout, it's essentially a character-based drama through and through, with the external plots general being pretty weak (although serviceable). So there's lots of little girls pouring their emotions out, in that "moe" sort of way that doesn't feel like angst-ridden quagmire, just...cute. And cute makes me happy. And so do awesome action sequences. So, grinning like a madman here . Some things that particularly stood out to me about the series: One thing that I thought was handled particularly well is how the characters were all fleshed out, particularly in their motivations, and especially with the antagonists. Most times, villains just wind up being sadistic bastards for the heck of it. Here, the villains are not all clear-cut, with strong personal reasons for doing the things they're doing, sometimes even with a strong sense of morals themselves. They're people like us, just caught in a position where doing harm is the only path left to them. Which seems to be something of a running theme for the series, is a sense of moral ambiguity. Good people doing wrong things for the right reasons, stuff like that. Makes you question whether you might not do the same thing, given the same situation. I applaud the series for its use of tactical combat. Very rarely does "strategy" ever seem to factor into anime fights. It's seen a bit in Naruto, but only as a fallback when rushing in doesn't work. Even in Gundam, the heroes just wind up rushing into the battlefield with nary an actual attack plan, despite being a military-themed series as a whole. Even in her early stages, though, Nanoha displays an almost uncanny ability to plan ahead, accounting for her spectacular performance in Episode 11 of the original series. And in StrikerS, since it deals heavily on the team dynamic, you'll often see the newbies formulating complex plans in the heat of battle, accommodating for their lack of experience and raw power. The treatment of Magic in this series is also something I found quite good. Especially in magical girl series, you see Magic used more like personalized special attacks, used in generally formulaic ways. Magic in Nanoha is more like Magic you'd see in a console RPG. While different characters have their own specialities, you'll see specific subsets of magic for different circumstances (attack magic, movement magic, and support magic are the common types), and you'll actually see some spell "bleed", with characters appropriating attacks previously seen exclusively by another (most notably, in StrikerS, Subaru using "Divine Buster" in homage to her idol, Nanoha). And just to make absolutely sure that you don't draw any Sailor Moon comparisons at all, there's no "lovey-dovey" attack naming conventions here. Instead, we get RPG-worthy death-dealers like "Thunder Rage", "Diabolic Emission", and "Eternal Coffin". Badass. On a slightly related note, was the surprisingly heavy English (and later, German) dialogue. With the series' unique technology/magic hybrid system, each of the characters are equipped with a weapon known as an "Intelligent Device", replacing the typical wands and staves common in Magical Girl anime. As the name suggests, each weapon is equipped with a powerful combat AI such that it can assist its owner. All of the weapons of Midchilda origin speak English, and all weapons of Velka origin speak German. And while I can't speak for the German performances, the English is surprisingly well done here. Minor Engrish bleeds through, but 95% of the time, the English is fluent and understandable, with good grammar. Call me impressed. Also well presented is the theme of "consequences". Too often are the consequences of heroics glossed over. Anime generally glorifies the hero that risks his own life, or the hero that pushes himself to his absolute limits. But it can't all be good, and at certain points in the series, the tragedies of putting one's life on the line are also brought to the forefront. Particularly of note is Nanoha's character growth. While generally kind and cheerful, you quickly see how frontline action has hardened her spirit. The one scene that stands out in my mind occurs in the second half of A's; after getting absolutely firebombed, Nanoha walks solemnly out of the flames, now in her combat uniform. While still silhouetted in the blaze, we hear: In typical anime fashion, especially in this genre, the response you'd generally expect of your altruistic, plucky heroine would be one of outrage. A champion of justice, compared to a devil!? How could they!? But instead, the 9 year-old Nanoha's reply as she steps fully away from the flames, and we see the saddened look in her eyes: Chills down my spine *shiver* Of the three seasons, A's is definitely my favourite. The first season is solid, but it's the series at its most basic, and the early "collect them all" episodes are really weak, with laughable "monster of the week" plots (a giant kitten, and an immobile tree? C'mon!). StrikerS, as I said earlier, winds up with a more laid-back pace, and a more stretched-out budget. Strong character building here, and with more magical diversity and thus more varied fighting styles, but fights seem sparser, and the villain's schemes were somewhat nebulous and unclear for much of the series, leading to a confused sense of tension. A's was awesome, though. With Nanoha and Fate's introductions out of the way, it gave more time for the antagonists to come through as actual characters, giving some real gravity to their side of the story, and the series as a whole is pretty much wall-to-wall action.