Remember the kinds of fantasy books you read as a kid? The ones with incredibly intricate lore that’s ultimately structured to make the protagonist as cool as possible? The type where self-inserting into the main character, and feeling powerful because of it, is clearly the intended reaction, but where the systems at play are complex enough that you could easily make your own OC? For many, books like Harry Potter or Hunger Games fulfilled those needs and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy them myself. But once I reached high-school age, my strongest power fantasy came in the form of Nanoha.
Let me be clear here: I have no interest in disparaging young adult novels. I read plenty of them and given how close they are to the average light novel, I could hardly act as if I’m somehow above their common storytelling methods. In fact, I’m plainly not; I still consider Nanoha an excellent work today, to the point I plan to write a novel-length fanfic with my own characters set in its world once I get the time to do so. No, when I call it a YA novel I say so with nothing but love. Seeing all the various types of magic in the show when I first watched it, during the spring of 2014, was absolutely amazing. The main characters have various unique powers that create a real interplay with one another, approximating something of a real system. The lore was arcane but consistent in its intricacy, clearly indicating that the writer, Masaki Tsuzuki, had planned almost everything out from the very beginning, as elements from the first series clearly serve as foreshadowing for events written years later. All of this was glorious to me. Shameful though it may be in certain spheres nowadays, I love me some lore, and becoming a living wiki for the franchises I care about is something I’ve always enjoyed a great deal. Nanoha enabled that in a way no other anime really did at the time, bar the Nasuverse which had and has a similar appeal.
However, the effect Nanoha had on me was not due to its lore. That’s much of what drew me to the series and kept me invested but it wouldn’t really be a show worthy of a 12 days video if it simply fulfilled the same desires already satisfied by something like Fallout. No, the things that made it matter most to me were the characters and themes.
Now, let’s get this out of the way. Nanoha’s magic system is cool as shit. There’s clearly delineated power levels, a massive degree of variability, the influence of multiple fallen civilizations which all have systems of their own, an entirely different form of magic called witchcraft that we basically know nothing about, and to top it off, it’s all based on oddly scientific principles, with strong math skills being a requirement to become a mage. I gotta tell you, as someone who was considered pretty damn good at math in school, this obviously felt somewhat empowering. Furthermore, all the strongest mages in the series are female. It really wasn’t hard to self-insert into the show, giving me a small sense of power at a time where I felt none, as well as providing yet another opportunity to deal with my at-the-time still weird gender feelings.
But it was Nanoha herself that kept me around. The girl spends the entire franchise dedicated to one particular philosophy: everyone deserves saving, all problems can be dealt with through talking things out, but if they refuse to talk, they need to be beaten down until they’re willing to do so. This uncommonly aggressive principle struck a real chord with me. For as much as I do and did think that conversation can be useful to helping people, the idea that everything could be solved through that alone has never sat right with me. Nanoha helped to vindicate this, proving through her actions that great good could come from beating someone half to death and then helping them pick themselves back up right afterward. Her doctrine of seeking to empathize with people while still being willing to change them was a key stepping stone for me at a time where my understanding of how I should relate to others was undergoing rapid changes.
More important, though, was her relationship with Fate. Look, I’ve made a video on this before; it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Nanofate is my favorite couple of all time. After Yuru Yuri and Madoka reactivated by latent shipper gene, Nanoha arrived to make use of it, truly having me fall in love for the first time. That might be a bit extreme to say about a fictional couple, but their impact was enormous. For all the hardships they endure, they never suffer any serious difficulties as a couple — their love is truly pure, not in the fetishistic sense but in the sense that it’s lacking imperfections. My love of yuri was solidified by them and I couldn’t help but desire a relationship as strong as theirs. For the first time in my life, I believe, I was somewhat cognizant of my desire to be a wife. Of course, this didn’t cause me to actually figure out my gender stuff but I can’t say it didn’t support things. After all, I truly can’t determine if I would’ve ever realized I was trans were it not for my adoration of girls’ love, so Nanoha played a massive role in allowing for that down the line.
And lastly, it just plunged me further into the otaku hole. It helped dig back up my desire to write fanfic, and while I wouldn’t actually write one for the series until this year, it was an important step in shedding some harmful ideas about fandom that 4chan had implanted. If Hidamari definitively created a path to becoming a writer, Nanoha provided me with a stronger motivation to actually get going down that road. As I continued to grow more empathetic and more curious about my supposedly “weird” interest in yuri stories, self-actualization grew nearer and nearer still.