Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Number 1: Nanoha Takamachi!


A long time ago, I was in the process of doing write-ups for each character on my Top 10 Anime Characters of All-Time list. I had only one left to do, but sadly, I did not feel up to finishing off my Top 10 list.

Until now.

My last two entries in that list spoke a bit on fiction in general, and also on the role that conflict plays in fiction.

It spoke of the three types of conflict:

Man vs. Nature

Man vs. Himself

Man vs. Man


In a Man vs. Man conflict, we see two personable forces locked in a struggle, be it a purely physical confrontation or a battle of wits or a challenge of ideas or some combination thereof. This can truly draw in the viewer, and force him or her to view the conflict from multiple perspectives.

One such perspective is the perspective of the villain, and my most recent entry in my Top 10 list was an intelligent intensely ideal example of such a villain.

While the perspective of the villain is often important, it is usually not quite as important as the perspective of...




The Hero


The hero strikingly soars swiftly through tumultuous tornadoes to confront chilling choruses of troubled souls, horrid situations, and fearsome foes.

The hero... many a good hero, in any event... simultaneously leaves you in astounded admiring awe, but yet also innervates you, with her steely resolve reinforced by a cause that is worthy of cheer.

And Nanoha Takamachi, my favorite anime hero and character of all time, is no exception.

Nanoha's willingness, if not excited energized enthusiasm, to risk life and limb to both defeat Fate Testarossa and reach out to her, makes for questionable strategy... but it does also constitute cool clamorous conflict...


The above is a scene of one of the most compellingly captivating conflicts in all of anime. Unlike many such conflicts, it is not rooted in animosity, antagonism, or arrogance. Nanoha and Fate simply had mutually exclusive goals, as neither can lay claim to all of the jewel seeds. Both truly believed that their goal was right and just. But there is one key difference between the two, and its a difference that contributes to why I like Nanoha ever slightly more than I do Fate, though I do like both characters a lot.

And that difference is that even in the midst of bitter baleful battles, conjuring forth a magical melancholic malestrom of destruction, Nanoha never loses sight of the core humanity and decency of her foe, and hence Nanoha strenuously seeks solace through persuading Fate with words in place of weapons. Yet, Nanoha knows when the time for words has passed, and when the time of befriending through superior firepower is called for. ;)


This is one of the core elements of Nanoha's character that I very much like. Nanoha is a character with an excellent judge of character, as well as timing. She knows when diplomacy is called for, and when brute force is called for.

Unlike heroes that try to rely almost solely on the imposition of justice through violent action, and unlike heroes who rely on diplomacy even when the enemy is one that can not be negotiated with, Nanoha takes a much more pragmatic approach. She adjusts her tactics on the basis of her assessment of her enemy. She does not rush heedlessly into battle like a brainless bludgeoning blitzkrieg, but she does not avoid it even when it genuinely is the wisest course of action.

And so, Nanoha tries to reason with Fate, with the Wolkenritter, and with a mind-altered Vivio that has been made a proverbial puppet on strings... and she tries to overcome Precia, the Book of Darkness' Defense Program, Jail Scaglietti and his Numbers, through sheer force of arms. Some enemies can indeed be reasoned with, and Nanoha realizes that, but she also realizes that not all enemies can be reasoned with. To quote Alfred Pennyworth from the most recent Dark Knight movies, "...some men just want to watch the world burn". And it doesn't take Nanoha a long time to recognize enemies that have freely and knowingly chosen to walk paths of evil and/or chaos.

The above is a core feature in just how beautifully bountifully balanced Nanoha is as a character, and as a human being. She has her ideals, but she pursues them pragmatically. She believes in friendship, and overcoming boundaries caused by regrettable or even tragic circumstances. But she also realizes that reality is not the same as fantasy, and that perfect solutions are not always available, and some people will simply not listen to reason or be won over by words alone.

So, Nanoha is idealistic enough to be a real hero, but is pragmatic enough to be an extremely effective hero.


This feature of Nanoha's character pours forth from a tremendously terrific tapestry, that finds its initial strands in a magical girl that is actually an anti-magical girl of sorts.

I've long liked magical girl animes in general, having watched Sailor Moon, Magical Knight Rayearth, Card Captor Sakura, Magical Project S, Pretty Sammy, Puni Puni Poemi, Pretty Cure, and, of course, the Nanoha series. There are likely countless other magical girl animes that I've seen at least some of, but have come to forget. In any event, I have found that magical girls have this amazingly aggravatingly annoying tendency to hate the fact that they have come to have super powers.

Now, I could understand this if magical girls were akin to the mutants of Marvel Comics; if their powers would render them outcasts to much of society and members of a constantly hunted breed. However, magical girls tend to enjoy all the comforts of having super powers with relatively few of the hardships thereof. Who in their right mind wouldn't love to be able to fly? And who in their right mind wouldn't love to be able to have weird and wondrous powers like Sakura's, or explosive brilliantly powerful discharges like what Pretty Sammy wields?

And yet, these magical girls are so frequently entirely negative over their new found abilities and powers. Many even whine as incessantly about them as your most angst-ridden teenage male lead whines about whatever is bothering him. And this frequently leads to magical girls being very incompetent and ineffectual at using their powers, as well as greatly lacking coordination in combat.

And it is into this world of completely clutzy clueless magical girls that walks Nanoha Takamachi.


The word "refreshing" does not do justice to Nanoha's impact on the world of mahou shoujo. Suffice it to say that Nanoha's impact is similar to that word, only at a much higher degree.

However, some critics of the character of Nanoha have suggested that her level of competency, and how quickly she adapts to her powers, are actually negatives for her character. These critics suggest that this is bizarrely unrealistic for an eight year old girl, of all people. Well, Nanoha has a short and sweet response for those critics...


And with that exquisite euphoric explosion out of the way, I will give my response to those critics:

Balderdash

There's likely not an eight year old alive that wouldn't love to suddenly find themselves with magical powers, including the ability to fly. The normal human response to such an eventuality, I would argue, is for the person to be fantastically overjoyed at having these new extraordinary powers and abilities, and hence to embrace them. It is the magical girl that bemoans her powers that is unrealistic, not Nanoha Takamachi.

Furthermore, Nanoha has an unique family background that helps mold her into the person that she is.


Nanoha's dad is clearly Yuichi from Kanon 2006, now all grown up. The same Yuichi that fought demons with a sword, and does a great Bruce Wayne impersonation. So of course Nanoha is one of the most competent and courageous eight year old girls of all-time. ;)


In all seriousness, though, Nanoha's family is a fairly idyllic one... but also a very busy one. This has two key effects. From having great parents, and genuinely loving and supportive siblings, Nanoha is nurtured into a good person with good, basic moral values herself. However, from how often she is left to her own devices, Nanoha also becomes a very strong and independent young girl; one that has learned how to stand on her own two feet and overcome her worries and fears.

So, in short, Nanoha's family background logically and believably leads her into being a very strong and quick to adapt eight year old girl. And that comes in very handy for her first encounters with Fate.

I've mentioned this many times before, but I think it bears repeating again for the purposes of this write-up on Nanoha: the Nanoha animes do a splendid job of fusing together many of the core elements of mahou shoujo anime and mecha anime. In this technomagical welding procedure, I would argue that the best elements of both are kept, while the more disagreeable aspects of each are discarded. And so, the female lead is like neither the frequently emo male leads of mecha anime, nor like the the often shrinking violet female leads of mahou shoujo. Instead, the hot-blooded nature of an ace mecha pilot is tempered with the sweet and caring heart of a magical girl, arriving at one of the Aces of TSAB


Speaking of which, I love how the Nanoha chronology allows us to follow our chief heroine from innocent childhood to early but experienced adulthood. It is a rare joy to see a major anime character actually age and develop over in-canon time. I also love how Nanoha's costume retains much of its original feminine charm, but has been streamlined and adapted into a fitting outfit for an adult heroine.

There's no question that Striker S Nanoha is a major factor behind why Nanoha Takamachi is my favorite anime character of all-time. Many of Nanoha's finest and most visually stunning moments can be found in Striker S, and Striker S also makes the fictional world of Nanoha Takamachi seem that much more vast, rich, memorable, and perhaps even epic.

Nonetheless, I will not deny that the basic moetastic appeal of Nanoha was a great initial hook for me.


How could someone not love an adorable face like Nanoha's? And when you factor in how strong and efficient a heroine she is, she also becomes a superb answer against the frequent criticisms of moe in general. Nanoha shows, beyond a shadow of Fate's cape, how a moe character design does not in any way necessitate an airheaded, or foolishly silly and simplistic character.

Just as meek and mild Clark Kent can become Superman, so too can a moe and cute Nanoha Takamachi become a Super Magical Girl!


Nanoha is hence a blending; a mixture; a carefully concocted combination of a wide array of character elements that are not usually placed together in quite the same way that they are in Nanoha. And hence, I would argue that it is this blending that makes Nanoha the finest of heroines and even a character that could, under the right circumstances, bridge gaps between east and west as it pertains to anime fandoms.

Nanoha's costume is not that far from the superheroine costumes of Marvel and DC comics, and hence Nanoha would not feel out of place whatsoever in either of their two core universes. Her personality and ethics is also not unlike that of the great comic book superheroes of those two comic book companies. My sense is that Nanoha would be slightly more willing to kill an enemy than either Superman or Batman would, but would treat it as the last resort that it probably should be treated as. Nanoha puts rehabilitation first, lengthy imprisonment second, and execution last, just as our real life justice system should, in my view.

At the same time, though, Nanoha is true to her anime origins. Like almost all other anime characters, her main costume is colorful but not so beyond the norm that it would turn heads and result in bulging eyes everywhere that she walked with it on. Nanoha personifies as well as any other anime character how anime action protagonists tend to have stylized versions of regular clothes. This makes their attire perhaps easier to swallow than colored spandex, but also distinctive and flamboyant enough that the protagonist maintains a powerful punchy presence in the scenes that they're featured in.


So, Nanoha is a great heroine, and I think that has been well-established. She is also an outstanding friend.


I very much like how Nanoha always stays close to the people that she befriends and reforms, and how she doesn't just forget about them after they've ceased to provide antagonistic problems to be dealt with. Nanoha truly gets how great power brings with it, great responsibility.


At this point, I'm thoroughly happy with Nanoha's character, and love her for the heroine that she is. However, there is another element to Nanoha's character that adds to my appreciation for her. Not so much since I desire it personally, but because it prevents Nanoha from being attacked for being "too much of a goody two shoes". It is this element that saves Nanoha from the sorts of criticisms that Superman sadly tends to receive from some quarters.

What is this element, you ask?

Why, it is Nanoha's "White Devil" side.


Simply put, Nanoha is quite capable of being an utter bad ass, especially if she feels that the need for one has arisen. Nanoha is terrifyingly ruthless when the situation arguably calls for her to be that way. I'm sure that Quattro can attest to this. ;)

So can Teana...

As much as I loved all of the awesomely accelerating action scenes that lead up to, and climaxed in, the anime scene which inspired the image above, I also felt that this might have been a rare case of Nanoha crossing the line. Did she have to go so far as to KO a now defenseless Teana, and leave her unconscious for several hours thereafter?

And yet, while this is morally questionable (and arouses pity for Teana), it nonetheless showed how Nanoha has a real edge to her. There's a toughness to her that many fans, including myself, simply can't help but to admire. Nanoha is patient and usually kind and even sweet... but she also takes no crap from anyone. She is anything but pretentious, and she shows it in her more fearsome actions. And from that we learn that her kinder and gentler moments are, thankfully, sincere ones.


So... what more can be said about my favorite anime character of all-time, and why I like her so much? She simply combines the best of many worlds; the best of anime and the best of western comics; the best of mahou shoujo and the best of Mecha; the best of idealistic heroine and the best of pragmatic anti-hero; the best of a willingness to reason with the best of a willingness to fight.

And by being the best of so many worlds, she transcends either one of those worlds on its own.

And yet, for me, the core of Nanoha is a smart, loving, caring eight year old girl, that values her family and friends, and offers and feels real hope for the future. That was where her initial appeal was found for me, and it is in such a life-affirming heroine that all other appeals find an incorruptible essence worth being added on to, but never replacing. Nanoha's consistency and strength is found in a figure and character that so many would be likely to pass over or not take seriously. And yet, that is a big reason why she is such a colorfully hopeful and endearing character to me.




This concludes my Top 10 List. I may, however, do one more post going over the full slate of all ten characters.

But for now, I bid adieu to the Top 10 list at last, and I bid kudos to Nanoha Takamachi, a heroine that has made great waves in the world of anime.

6 comments:

  1. I have to say, this is officially the number one thing on the internet I agree with. You have summed up everything that I have ever thought about this character perfectly.
    Except... Nanoha is actually nine years old, not eight.

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  2. Well, well... where should I start? There's so much that can be said about Nanoha that I don't think I could even do her any justice... though I'd say you did a pretty good job of that. Did someone get "befriended" over the weekend? ;)

    But in seriousness, I really liked this write-up. This was certainly worthy of someone you'd consider the number one anime character of all time, and I absolutely LOVE this selection of images. ^^



    However... while I don't think I can outdo you, I'm certainly going to do my best to talk about one of my personal favorite magical girls, and the main heroine of my favorite magical girl -series-. But I'll "start" with a bit of a history lesson.

    My introduction to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha --and thus, the lyrical magical girl herself-- was a bit of an unusual one. I had read people talking about how awesome the series is, and it was from people I normally wouldn't expect to be saying that about a magical girl series. Naturally, my curiousity led me to searching for and eventually finding it. I watched the first three episodes and... couldn't really figure out what was going on. Don't get me wrong, I like magical girl anime, and I genuinely enjoyed the episodes... but they didn't fit the praise I had seen. Then we get into Fate's introduction, and we see a bit more of a PvP combat scenario going, but... it still didn't really fit. After about 9 or 10 episodes, my computer completely died on me, and I slowly forgot about the series...

    Fast forward a few months and someone suggested I at least finish off the first series after finding out that I stopped there. So, I went ahead and looked for the series again. Then I saw episode 11, the climactic battle between Nanoha and Fate. I think it goes without saying, but I was completely hooked after that. Congratulations, Nanoha. Your "befriending" is so powerful, you don't even need to HIT someone to convert them. ;)

    Now, I could continue going on about this, but it focuses less and less on Nanoha herself, so I'd rather not include it here.


    To make up for that, I think I'll go ahead and talk about the magical girl herself, and "magical" is certainly a word I'd use to describe -this- girl. ;)


    Nanoha is a lot of things to me: The little sister I wish I had, the white knight who I could count on to swoop in and save the day, and, most importantly, someone I'd just love to be friends with... though I'd hope that she'd befriend me in a -normal- manner. ;)

    Her love of her friends is almost unmatched in just about anything, and the only thing that could possibly top that is her love of Vivio. In addition, the sheer confidence she shows in nearly everything is quite impressive, and her desire to never give up on someone, even when most people would throw in the towel, is something truly admirable.

    Her appearance is truly magnificent, as the images you've displayed clearly show, and "white with blue trim" is one of my personal favorite combinations(others being "black with red" and "pink with black"). Though I will make one minor complaint... I actually prefer her with a full-length skirt than the miniskirt combo she has throughout most of StrikerS. Of course, that's just me being a little picky.

    In terms of combat abilities, she's hard to top(as Fate, Vita and even Vivio can attest to), as while her more famous attacks are best suited to long(and REALLY long) range combat, she's just as formidable an opponent in close quarters. This is definitely one "Devil" I wouldn't want to upset. =p


    It really isn't hard for me to see why she'd top your list of ten. Frankly, I don't think you could've finished this off any other way. Again, truly, this is a great post, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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  3. One of the greatest things ever written about one's favorite character! It perfectly showcases Nanoha in all of her divine (buster) glory. Though I'm more of a Fate person myself...ALL HAIL NANOHA!

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  4. Nanoha looks gorgeous in the last pic =p TY for this post, and I responded in the AS thread.

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  5. While I adore nanoha, ny favorite mahou shojo is sakura kinomoto because she is handed very realistically what i mean by this is her home life and personality are very akin to how a real ten year old girl would act: just genuingly being happy around others and having a sunshiny deposition. now i don't disagree with you on anything related to nanoha what so ever i just like sakura a little more. if sakura and nanoha battled who do you think would win?

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  6. the audience knows nothing about her as a person what are her likes
    or dislikes, what's her dynamic with her family? the show never answers these questions

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