Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection
A pair of researchers stay behind on their dying planet of Eltria with their two daughters, Amitie and Kirie, in the hopes of finding a way to revive the planet. But when the husband Granz falls ill, it seems their dream of reviving the planet will die. Against her older sister's wishes, Kirie sets off with her childhood friend Iris to seek help from a distant alternate world. They arrive in Japan on Earth to search for the key to their planet's regeneration, where they meet Nanoha Takamachi, Fate T. Harlaown, and Hayate Yagami.
Before I dive into this review, I should give a bit of context about this movie and where it fits into the Nanoha timeline. Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Reflection is the third Nanoha film, but it's the first to feature an original story. The first two films were recaps/rewrites of the TV anime's first two seasons. The films aren't different enough from the TV series that you'd need to watch them specifically to follow Reflection, but this is definitely intended as a sequel rather than as a standalone story. Don't watch this if you're not invested in the Nanoha franchise.
Actually, you might not want to watch this even if you are a fan, because it's the weakest Nanoha film so far.
The plot of Reflection isn't terrible, but it drags as a movie. The film has a slow start, dwelling far too long on mundane conversations, but it somehow gets even slower when the action finally starts. The battles are non-stop for the most part, which ended up making me feel fatigued rather than pumped up. Despite the apparent simplicity of the storyline (it's far more straightforward than the first movie), the plot did not conclude even after two hours. The film simply ends on a cliffhanger, and it's not even an intriguing plot twist. This definitely felt more like one over-long film split into two parts than a cohesive film experience.
It's extra disappointing because there are so many appealing surface elements of Reflection . The story is set two years after the events in the second season, when Nanoha and her friends are in fifth grade. It promises to bridge the gap between Nanoha’s child and adult arcs, putting the focus squarely on Nanoha and Fate once more. It also incorporates elements of the spinoff PSP game The Gears of Destiny into an original story that fits into the main Nanoha timeline. This film is pure fanservice for people who are nostalgic for Nanoha's childhood arc and want to see Nanoha struggle in a huge-scale battle.
This is probably why the film succeeds best at the little details. The magical girl transformations are re-animated in probably their best rendition yet. The camera's leering gaze on nude underage girls has been replaced by a greater emphasis on the true main appeal of Nanoha—the mechanized weapons. The storyboarding in particular is great, depicting the mechanical parts with striking angles that emphasize their majesty. It's also neat that Nanoha is shown using the strike cannon from the Nanoha Force manga (don't worry about how this fits into the continuity—just roll with it). These weapons ooze with “cool”, and the entire film is structured around showing them in action.
Unfortunately, structuring a movie entirely around flashy action set pieces is also Reflection's biggest flaw. At one point in the film, Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate split up to take on three different enemies, but all their battles play out identically. It quickly becomes apparent that these battles serve no real dramatic purpose besides showcasing the girls’ new weapons, which completely undercuts the scene's tension. After the initial thrill of seeing a powerful attack get launched, the battles become tedious, especially when there's little break between one battle and the next.
It's also worth noting that the plot itself is… thin, to say the least. The broad strokes are lifted from the Gears of Destiny game, which didn't have a particularly innovative story either. Most worryingly, it follows the exact same pattern as the first two movies: a small renegade group fights against Nanoha and friends with noble intentions in mind, and our heroes have to talk them out of it as they battle in exceedingly over-the-top fashion. The opponents' motivations this time aren't even explored as well as in the previous films, with almost no screen time dedicated to the dying world of Eltria that the antagonists are trying to save.
There are glimpses of an interesting character arc here. In the opening minutes of the film, Kyrie attacks her sister, showing that she will stop at nothing to save her planet. Later, she herself is betrayed by someone with self-serving interests, but she cannot argue about her own hypocrisy. Reflection feels like it handles its well-intentioned villains with a more critical eye than previous Nanoha stories, which skirted on the edge of outright justifying the extreme actions taken by the antagonists. There's nuance to the morality here, which makes it all the more disappointing that the plot is drowned out by endless battles and poor pacing.
At least the action animation is consistently strong. I can't say that I'm a big fan of the character designs and overall aesthetic—after all these years, Nanoha still hasn't lost its “cookie-cutter mid-00's anime” look—but the effects animation is impressive. There are multiple scenes with complex cuts involving swirling water; these stand out to me as the best examples of animation in a film that otherwise involves a lot of characters floating the air and shooting beams at each other.
Peculiarly, the character animation is weaker in Reflection than it was in the second film. In the non-action scenes, the characters will just stand around blankly, with no care put into their mannerisms to express their personalities. They feel more “wooden” than they did in the second film. This probably contributed to why the early parts of the film depicting the daily lives of the characters felt low-key to the extent of banality.
I'd only recommend the Reflection films to hardcore fans, the people who will fully appreciate the love and care put into animating those new mechanical designs for combat. The film feels bloated partly because even the side characters like Arf get their chance to shine in battle, and there are absolutely people who will appreciate these details. But overall, the first original Nanoha film did not work for me. It felt like judicious editing was needed to compress an entire season's worth of story into a two-hour-long film. Nanoha has succeeded before in making its long and complex stories shine in theatrical form. It's just a pity that the original films haven't accomplished that so far.
Overall : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Great attention to detail for battles and weaponry, nuanced antagonists, good Nana Mizuki songs
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