No anime genre is quite as slavishly devoted to its cliches as ‘Magical Girl.’ It begins with the ridiculously long title, like Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, or Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.
We then meet our young girl protagonist. This girl is kind and gentle, though she has some flaw that makes her highly unsuited to be a superhero; she’s either meek, frail, dumb, or some combination of all of the three.
This girl has a prophetic dream in which she sees a magical girl battle (her future self may or may not be a part of said battle). She wakes up, confused, and goes down to breakfast, where we meet her impossibly perfect parents. She then goes to school where we meet her impossibly perfect friends (all of them devoid of personality).
At some point during the day, she will meet a talking animal (either a real animal, like a cat; or a fantasy one (though they’re always furry). The talking animal will recruit the girl as a ‘magical girl.’ He will give her some charm, and a magical phrase that will trigger her transformation.
She transforms, a process that involves the camera spinning around her as her clothes are torn off, leaving her a brightly-colored silhouette. They are replaced by her magical girl uniform (usually an ornate version of her school uniform).
The newly-minted magical girl then begins her fight against an assortment of monsters, using a series of attacks that are activated when the girl calls out their name (i.e. ‘super flower love-love blaster, shoot!’)
She meets other magical girls; either friends or foes. These girls have different, though very shallow, personalities (they may be cold, smart, athletic, etc.; but only one of those things).
And the battles continue, somehow never having the slightest effect on her daily life, as neither her parents nor school seem to notice.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha does not deviate from this formula. But it is very well executed. Nicely animated, with a good soundtrack and solid story. If someone asked you to show them the best, iconic example of the magical girl genre, you could do much worse than Nanoha. Sailor Moon is more famous, but it’s badly written and ugly looking (there, I said it).
Its one claim to fame, the thing that sets it apart from the others, is its villain(s). They are still (as is typical of the genre) dominated by a single trait, but that trait is more interesting than normal. Without giving too much away, there’s an emotional trauma that drives the ‘queen.’ There’s not a lot of depth to it, the bad thing made her into a cartoonish super villain, but at least they tried.
So, there’s nothing new here; but if you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll likely like this film. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The Movie 1st is available only as an import from Japan, though the Blu Ray contains English subtitles (and an English menu so you can easily find them).