Review-Roundup: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid 03, Hibike! Euphonium 03

vivid 03.mp4 - 00003Nanoha ViVid teaching us all about how relationships work: If you don’t understand why some other person does this or that, you simply beat them long enough until their motivation becomes clear to you.

This time I review:

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid 03: Einhart and Vivio fight two times. Both times Vivio loses – but Einhart learns to respect Vivio. That’s why’s everyone fine with Einhart carrying the unconscious Vivio away on her own…

Hibike! Euphonium 03: Kumiko has found out that she has joined an ensemble fraught with corruption. A few students’ commitment-issues destroy the integrity of the ensemble as an institution of decency and ambition. Reina meanwhile does the only thing she knows to do in this situation: She goes rogue and does her duty as ensemble-member without the consent of her superiors.

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha 03 Review:

vivid 03.mp4 - 00006That’s a ludicrous moment! Why the hell is it Einhart who has to carry Vivio away on her back?! She’s still exhausted from the battle and all these adults just stand around smiling without offering their help. And why does this scene actually end with Einhart carrying Vivio away while the rest of the present characters does NOTHING. How is that a good moment to end the episode…?

Where are the stakes?! After three episodes this series was very close to being pointless. This is, of course, a harsh judgment but it makes sense when you watch this third episode. Whatever drama this series manages to have at the moment doesn’t even amount to a simplistic good-vs-evil-conflict. There simply haven’t been any entertaining conflicts in this series so far. And it isn’t like the series tries to be a slice-of-life-series either. There are conflicts here that don’t amount to anything, neither in how they are introduced nor in how they are ended.

The Nanoha-franchise always relied on some shounen-tropes with its focus on action and battles but at the start of the series this was just something that this franchise added to the familiar mahou-shoujo-formula. In ViVid however we’ve reached a point where mahou-shoujo-abilities get compared to martial arts and what the mahou-shoujo-characters do is either getting a desk-job or spent their time fighting. The quiet tones still try to be these fluffy pieces of tranquility but everything else might as well be a shounen-series.

Sometimes it feels like you’re watching Rocky or some other kind of sensationalized kind of sports-narrative where you get montages of characters training and plots dominated by said training and the confrontations it leads to. In addition to that, battles become the usual plot-device for meaningful dialogues between two characters. Most shounen-series do that and this series even gets kinda close to mimicking sports-anime with how it talks about Kaiser-Arts, Striker-Arts and whatnot.

The plot of this series, though, lacks any sort of referential framework to give it a direction. What connects the events of these last three episodes seems almost random. The “shared past” between Einhart and Vivio doesn’t really amount to anything in these three episodes. There’s some drama attached to this topic but it’s laughable in how insubstantial it ends up being here. Einhart has this past life urging her to excel in martial arts to prove her worth and be allowed to protect some queen her ancestor had failed to protect. And the person said ancestor failed to protect was Vivio in a previous life (where she looked exactly the same). Let’s not forget here: The series started with news reporting how Einhart attacked innocent people by challenging them to illegal duels where she always ended up beating her opponents. She was a criminal! The transition from her being a criminal to everyone saying “Oh poor you! You should become our friend, you know.” happens so fast that the series doesn’t even have time to offer any consequences for what had made Einhart a criminal.

But the story of this episode is this friction between Vivio and Einhart as the latter tries to be the strongest and doesn’t acknowledge Vivio until she had proven her strength. The series hasn’t played around a lot with the past-life-stuff and it seems kinda strange how Einhart’s complicated relationship with Vivio gets reduced to some superficial lines about “clinging to the past” and “moving on”. This third episode ends up resolving a problem that is far smaller than you’d expect.

With so little substance the very tranquil, general tone of this series simply becomes bizarre. The series just has NO self-awareness sometimes when it tries to maintain this monotony of happiness. In the setting of this series everyone’s a well-meaning person at heart and it just takes a ton of empathy to really understand how evil people mean well as well actually. And all it needs to turn bad people into good ones is to give them a beating. The first and second season of this franchise have created some good excuses for why fighting was necessary despite the fluffy tone of those story-arcs but here you don’t get anything of that sort. Einhart presents a dramatic obstacle (… of sorts) but even her confrontational tendencies are turned into something sympathetic and pitiful. Watching these three episodes feels like experiencing a post-world-peace-setting.

Right now the series sits between two chairs. On one of them sits the genre of shounen-sports-anime and on the other sits the genre of antics-filled slice-of-life. This series doesn’t do either side justice so far. More importantly it isn’t even clear what exactly this series thinks is important in its story. These past three episodes have just been this meandering overdose of sugar that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Nothing’s at stake in this series, no character seems to have a dramatic arc and the plot can only be described as superficial. I have no idea what this series is doing because it’s barely doing anything!

Episode-Rating: 5.0/10

Hibike! Euphonium 03 Review:

_C12__Hibike__Euphonium_-_03.mp4 - 00004It’s a little bit on-the-nose how the episode supports this speech about how the ensemble should behave as a group by showing this soccer-team being a… well, a team, I guess. But it certainly offers poignant imagery for how this series will treat the main-characters’ ambition to reach the Nationals.

When I look at series like this one, you wonder whether the creators actually love kids. Hibike Euphonium is VERY serious and VERY dramatic. The series has some funny and/or cute moments in each episode but that’s either comic relief or just a coat of paint given to serious stuff. It isn’t supposed to be fun to watch this series, it’s about conflict, hardship and conflicting emotions.

And that’s where you start to wonder what this series thinks about children. After all, a bunch of teenagers are the protagonists of the story. The way you’re supposed to raise kids has considerably changed during human history, of course. You’ve got a lot of little ideas ranging from that kids are just little adults and therefore should be taught to be mature as soon as possible or being a kid is the age of freedom where you fuck up a lot but you become an adult by learning from your mistakes. In fiction, of course, this age-old discussion transforms into what children should or shouldn’t be like. I mean, you have the entire coming-of-age-genre which focuses on leaving behind childhood. And often that becomes the reason for why the protagonist is able to do the right thing. But it’s portrayed as a process. Hibike Euphonium isn’t interested in portraying a process.

Growing up isn’t some tumultuous development everyone has to go through in this series to become a better person. The obstacles aren’t immaturity and inexperience, it’s bad kids. This series makes it very clear that those kids who don’t take playing music serious are a disturbance to the life of the good kids. More than that, the good kids actually fight for uniformity in purpose. You can see how serious this series takes the main-characters’ ambition to become a good band. There’s a particular scene where Hazuki complains about not being able to practice like usual and that if she wants to play in an ensemble she wants to do it properly. And while she says that you see a soccer-team huddling around their teamcaptain. THAT is what this series thinks is proper. This isn’t a series about the magic or fun of playing music, this is about reaching excellence driven by high ambitions.

Hibike Euphonium borrows a lot from shounen-sports-series in this regard. When Reina stays around playing her trumpet defiantly, it’s the same as some overeager dude staying around after practice to keep getting better despite the baseball/basketball/whatever-team not being very good. When Noboru, the teacher, bluntly tells the students that they suck, he might as well be some harsh coach in a sports-series hoping to find those precious students that will help him to fulfill that dream which he couldn’t reach on his own. Characters talking about music, its terminology and instruments are technical in the same way characters talk about boxing-techniques in Hajime no Ippo for example. And the talk of competitions quickly has become one of the main-topics of the series in the same way a sports-series might deal with that. You can say that this series treats music as a competitive sport.

Where the series differentiates itself from an average shounen-sports-series is its sentimentality. Where a shounen-series would focus on how talented the protagonists are and how ambitious they are, this series focuses on how frustrated the characters are. In shounen-series the characters’ ambitions and “proper” state-of-mind help them push forward but here it leads to self-doubt. Right now a lot of the drama isn’t about the good characters saying “We need to do this! Because that’s the right thing to do!”, it’s about characters being depressed and thinking “Am I really doing the right thing?”. The usual shounen-sports-series uses emotions to jumpstart glorious adventures but here the same emotions make the characters feel like they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe it will change… actually it will definitely change. But it’s unusual for a sports-series to linger on this situation for so long.

No matter what you think about how this series portrays its characters or its story, there’s no way around it other than to say that the direction and script-writing are pretty good. There’s a very nice flow to these episodes. It’s little stuff like using Sapphire’s need to get a toy-figure to mark the passage of time that show a certain amount of directorial control that really helps this series to solidify its goals and stay consistent.

The story also has some complexity to it. This series has multiple balls in the air in terms of storylines and does a decent job of juggling them all at the same time. There’s the relationship-drama between Reina and Kumiko, there’s the drama between the students of the ensemble from the previous year (which is treated as a mystery in this episode) and then there are relationships like between Kumiko and her two friends, Kumiko and her childhood-friend Shuichi and then there are the various 3rd-year-students. That’s a pretty big cast. But this series does a good job of paying attention to them all. This adds another few layers of story to this series by focusing on so many characters.

What currently worries me is that this series will constantly get so caught up in dealing with the minutiae of lengthy sentimental arcs that it never manages to gain any sort of momentum. This series would simply develop into a petty doku-soap if its natural state is someone’s emotional troubles fucking up the ensemble-performance in each episode and then the series had to stop in order to resolve these issues. As long as the series manages to keep its pacing fluid where you can perceive progress even when emotional conflicts appear, then this series will be fine. If the series doesn’t do that, it does so because it will take itself TOO serious and forget that this is a series about kids trying their best to win a competition. There should be more to this than just misery and drama. Well, let’s hope this series keeps that in mind.

On a side-note… Isn’t it incredible that they’ve actually recorded music for when the ensemble fucks up? And in general, the background-art of this series is really great.

Episode-Rating: 7.5/10

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on April 22, 2015, in Anime, Hibike! Euphonium, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Nothing’s at stake in this series, no character seems to have a dramatic arc and the plot can only be described as superficial”

    TLDR: Nanoha Vivid ought to be judged by the genre of SoL or Sports anime.

    Nanoha Vivid has as much stake… as your regular sports anime or Slice of Life show. Set your expectations to that of a Slice of Life show (which usually have almost no dramatic arcs) or a Sports Anime show. Because it never really goes far beyond that level. If you hate the SoL genre for it’s lack of Drama and sheer character driven nothingness, then yes,Nanoha Vivid is not for you. I think, rather than pointing the lack of narrative tensions, it might be more interesting to analyze, if you think so, why Nanoha Vivid fails by the standards of the SoL or Sports Anime genre – this was a very interesting claim you made in your review.

    However, Nanoha Vivid turns (rather rapidly by manga standards) towards the Sports genre – more specifically, the idea of Magical Girl Combat as a popular, formal Sport (which even teenagers participate in) within the setting – with it’s own tournaments and stars. It’s narrative tensions are ultimately grounded in that genre. That’s where the story starts acquiring focus – but at the rate the adaptation is going, I give it either end of Episode 4 or start of 5.

    The lack of drama in Nanoha Vivid (although there is tension, quite similar to a Sports anime in many respects, down the line) was deliberate. After Striker S, the creators experimented with two directions: first, up the Slice of Life , more lighthearted and positive aspect of the show – Nanoha Vivid manga. Secondly, up the dramatic aspect, erase the Slice of Life aspect completely away, and go to outright grimdarkness – that’s Nanoha Force manga. Nanoha Vivid outsold Force – and this is why we are getting Nanoha Vivid as the effective Season 4, rather Nanoha Force.

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    • “I think, rather than pointing the lack of narrative tensions, it might be more interesting to analyze, if you think so, why Nanoha Vivid fails by the standards of the SoL or Sports Anime genre – this was a very interesting claim you made in your review.”

      That’s why I said Nanoha Vivid is practically sitting between two chairs with its ambitions. You have the slice-of-life-stuff (of the very non-dramatic variant) on one side and the sports-stuff on the other. It has elements from both sides which don’t work properly. The tone of the series is amicable to the extreme, as you would expect in a slice-of-life-series but stuff like the fighting and the past-life SHOULD create tension and drama. As soon as that stuff pops up, though, it simply disappears again as if it had never been there. So, is it a good sports-series? No, it definitely isn’t. Sports-series usually define themselves by goal-oriented tense confrontations. Maybe it’s about winning, maybe it’s about finding friends, maybe it’s about enjoying life but it’s always a struggle carried out in whatever particular sport the series practices.

      In this third episode Einhart’s fight with Vivio does have some stakes: One is the question who’s stronger and the other is the question whether the two can become friends. But without a dramatic arc the answer to these questions doesn’t really have an impact on the story. I mean, we can go through all the variations of Vivio winning but not earning Einhart’s friendship, her winning and earning that friendship and her losing and not earning that friendship. The series already has gone through that last scenario once, so it’s unlikely the series would do that again. But in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. There was no dramatic need for the audience to get invested in what would happen. Even if Vivio wouldn’t have earned Einhart’s friendship even the second time around, you can just say “So what? They don’t have to be friends, right?”. That’s what happens when you cling to the monotony of slice-of-life punctuated by little humorous bits. Normally this would serve as comic relief but this series barely builds up any tension that needs to be relieved.

      Now as a slice-of-life-series this seres is kinda absurd. After all, you need a framework for how said life works you want to portray in these character/atmosphere-driven little stories. Stuff like Adult-Transformation, Einhart appearing, the reincarnation-thingy, the whole life of the main-characters revolving around martial arts and then little stuff like how one of the characters could reserve some military-training-ground, so that Einhart and Vivio could have that fight. The baseline of a slice-of-life-series is normalcy (or at least normalcy by the standards of the series’ particular setting) which then gets punctuated by the funny stuff and character-antics. But here’s the series behaving like a sports-series again and rushes right into these martial-arts-confrontations. A slice-of-life-series wouldn’t try to find entertainment in focusing on tense confrontations. It would take its time establishing Einhart’s character, Vivio’s daily life and so on. Then it would gently build up to some character-stuff like Einhart sort-of knowing Vivio from a previous life, her being the one who goes around at night to beat up people and so on. And after that misunderstandings would be cleared up.

      A slice-of-life-series wouldn’t rush into potentially tense scenes like this episode did but a sports-series would, of course. Then again, a sports-series would never engage in a confrontational scene without having some meaningful stakes in play. A sports-series wants confrontations you can say enthusiastically about “This is it!”. What this episode did in this regard isn’t that.

      Liked by 1 person

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