Spoiler Level: Minor – Character related evaluation
ViVid Strike might carry the spirit of the Nanoha franchise, but I really wish it had been it’s own thing. Since it’s billed as “ViVid” and not “Nanoha”, I’m not too annoyed but if you didn’t want to associate with your more popular predecessor, why bring back its characters?
Suffering for your loved ones has always been a theme with Nanoha. But unlike Fate trying to please her mother, or Vita trying to save Hayate, this show’s suffering is about self loathing and punishment.
My first real exposure to ViVid Strike was an infamous scene at the end of episode four. If you’ve seen ViVid Strike already, you can guess what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I would ask if you can stomach watching an emotionally broken girl break another girl’s arm physically. Their skull too, with audible squishing. That scene was too brutal for me to rewatch, and it gave me a distaste for the series before I’d given it a fair shot.
The original had character and plot reasons for some of the cruelty that built up, but the cruelty that comes from ViVid is literally the result of kids being assholes to orphans. The first episode demonstrates this when Fuuka and Rinne have juice poured over their heads by some older boys. Fuuka isn’t having any of that, threatening to wallop them while Rinne is cowers behind her friend.
Flash forward to episode four, and Rinne’s been adopted into a happy life by a wealthy family. Unfortunately, orphans in this universe aren’t allowed to have nice things. Three of her classmates start bullying her to an extreme. Rinne’s notebooks are slashed apart, her lunch is squished and shoved into her desk (I swear, she must’ve had soup or something because it was dripping), and they toss water on Rinne while she’s using a bathroom stall.
It’s cruelty for the sake of garnering sympathy for Rinne. Weirdly enough, this helps her feel like a protagonist which *is* characteristic of a Nanoha series. Throughout the series, Rinne gets fleshed out and further development as she strives to become strong enough to protect herself and fend off anyone who tries to make her life hell.
Fate Testarossa is probably the closest mirror I can think of for Rinne’s development, but it feels off. Fate’s suffering is entirely external. Fate’s mother, Precia, abuses her physically, emotionally, and still demands that Fate gather the mcguffin seeds on top of everything else.
Fate puts up with it because she “remembers” how happy life used to be with Precia. Fate wants her mother to love her like old times, justifies the abuse because Fate’s been a “poor daughter”, and carries on.
While Rinne’s initial suffering comes from complete dick wads, her primary suffering is self-inflicted. The bullies are the ones who destroy Rinne’s family heirloom, her cellphone, and kick her while she’s down. While they’re beating the shit out of Rinne, Rinne’s mother is trying to call her on the aforementioned busted phone. Because she was held up, Rinne misses her last chance to be with her beloved grandfather before he passes away. But as I said before, Rinne gets even with the bullies by beating them within an inch of their lives.
There’s some continuation when Rinne runs away from home and the bully’s brother abducts Rinne. The bully’s family has elected to settle things out of court, so there’s no actual lawsuit. But the brother demands “an eye for an eye” because his sister claimed she was “just teasing a friend”.
This is how Rinne meets her coach, who shows up, beats the goons, and is prepared to rescue her. But once Rinne hears the lies the bully’s been telling her own family, Rinne displays her amazing strength on the brother and easily puts him in his place.
From that point on, Rinne decides that she’s going to be stronger, strong enough to protect the things precious to her. She won’t accept being a target any longer. She starts pushing herself through her coach’s hellish training, regardless of how often she pukes or passes out.
Although Rinne thinks she’s doing this to be stronger, she’s still carrying the grief of losing her grandfather. At this point, though, she’s come to blame herself for his death. She couldn’t be there for him, because she was too weak to get away from her bullies. She wasn’t brave enough to tell someone that there was a problem. She didn’t take care of her precious heirloom. She’s the reason her family has to worry about a lawsuit. Rinne learns to bottle up her feelings so her parents don’t worry.
It all festers as self-punishment that builds on itself. If she can’t be stronger, she loses everything. She deserves to be put through this because she was too weak. It’s a desire for strength born out of desperation.
With that being said, the character conflict is still incredibly compelling. Rinne is built up as Fuuka’s rival rather than the protagonist, but you end up rooting for her anyway. Rinne’s fight with Vivio is a rush because you want both girls to win, and the writing keeps you as off balance as the fighters themselves.
Rinne carries the entirety of the series on her back, and is the single biggest reason why I’m okay with ViVid Strike being a part of the Nanoha franchise.
Unfortunately, there’s a huge difference between ViVid Strike and Nanoha that kills it for me: the lack of magic, military, and fantasy.
When I fell in love with Nanoha, it wasn’t just because I wanted to hold and comfort a small blonde girl who’d been disowned by her mother. I fell in love with magical girls whose powers came from magi-tech. I fell in love with amazing battles where the girls flew through the air firing enormous magical cannons at each other. I fell in love with the military system that was in place to regulate mages, and the background politics that the officers had to navigate. Nanoha StrikerS had terrible execution, but I adored all of the ideas and setup it had. If StrikerS had performed better, it could’ve been a contender for my all-time favorite series.
ViVid Strike features none of those things. The military mission structure is absent entirely. We focus around a single team of fighters, and that’s it. There’s nothing larger going on beyond what’s in the octagon ring. No doomsday, no family members in peril, and no mcguffins to collect. The larger world is still okay, regardless of how the fight between Rinne and Fuuka ends. Those fights won’t be grand open-sky battles, but rather quick fist fights or slug fests.
Even though the girls still transform (albeit into older versions of themselves), the transformation doesn’t serve any real purpose to set up the narrative. The girls could have very easily just been older than they are to start with, cut out the transformations, and it’s the exact same show. The fighters can “power up” their strikes, but there’s no actual magic being used. No healing wind, no sonic speed, and no starlight breaker cannons (although Vivio does name her final strike after her mother’s, which I do appreciate).
The trimmings of the aesthetic feel like they’re there, but it just doesn’t feel like Nanoha without any of those elements. It’s a shame because if ViVid had been a magical girl show in the vein of it’s predecessors, I think it would’ve been the unquestioned best entry in the franchise. The pacing is tight, Rinne’s development is great, and the fights are very well choreographed.
I just can’t get away from the feeling that everything was carried over from the main series partly to cut out some exposition and hook in people who were already Nanoha fans. There are unconfirmed reasons why ViVid was made (such as a conflict with Nanoha’s original seiyuu), but it doesn’t change what I have to say. So although I do recommend watching ViVid Strike when you get the chance, I can’t recommend this as a Nanoha title.