It's the second Lyrical Nanoha series. My limited googling had given me the impression that it was the best-regarded, but alas I thought it demonstrated that Masaki Tsuzuki can't write. He can build story-shaped things. I'll go that far. I see he hasn't done much beyond Nanoha, incidentally, which doesn't surprise me in the least. It's just this and Dog Days, which is worrying since I'd been planning to watch Dog Days too.
The first problem is Nanoha. She's the heroine. She's a nine-year-old magical girl, in a show that's pumped up the power levels to the point where the combatants could flatten cities. Most magical girls get a wand. Nanoha uses a voice-configured blaster cannon that's bigger than she is and has multiple attack modes. I'm happy with all that. What I don't like is the fact that Nanoha is underwritten and a bit dull. I should love Nanoha! She's a little girl who keeps trying to befriend supervillains even as they're trying to kill her! How could anyone write a version of this show where you didn't love Nanoha? I have boundless affection for many anime characters. I love Usagi in Sailor Moon, Cutey Honey, Card Captor Sakura, Jubei-chan, Sasami in the Tenchi Muyo magical girl spin-offs, etc.
Nanoha, though, never sees her work and home lives intersect and never has a meaningful personal stake in what's going on. She's a nice girl. That's more or less the entirety of her characterisation. She only has one trait (wanting to talk with her enemies rather than fight) and the show only ever pays lip service to it, with Nanoha this year tending to say she's going to fight you to make you let her listen. She'll then start shooting at you.
She dumps her friends and family. Well, nearly. She's certainly stonewalling them. (This season, she's also started dumping the new friends she made in Season 1, i.e. Yuuno. She and Fate are inseparable, mind you. She seems to get on best with her old enemies.) Furthermore, not only has she never told her friends the whole truth, but when eventually she does at last tell them something (i.e. about Fate), the scene happens offscreen! We learn about it after the fact in ep.2. I boggled. How can we not see that scene? In fairness, at the end of this second season she does at last tell all to everyone (having been seen flying in her magical girl outfit during a battle)... but even then we don't hear the dialogue. All we hear is music.
The biggest giveaway, for me, is in ep.13. Nanoha has to be an executioner. This is a brave use of the character and I was impressed by the story giving her that role... but then the episode forgets she's there. The scene ends in magical twinkles, with Nanoha having done nothing. She's been like wallpaper.
The all-action ep.12 is just as hollow, incidentally. Lots of danger. World-threatening power levels. It looks impressive. However it's an easy decision for everyone, with no realistic alternative choices. Our heroes have nothing to think about; no pain or regret they're being forced to face up to (although in fairness that's not the case in ep.13). There's not even any human drama from the Big Bad, which is a computer program running on automatic.
That's the show all over. You could remove Nanoha from the plot and it wouldn't change much. The script's far more interested in the Tragic Villains, although they are admittedly very good. As a result, the show's famous fights are basically empty. The one in ep.2 is boring and made me wish I'd started watching from ep.3. In fairness though the show gradually accumulates dramatic weight as we spend time with the Tragic Villains, getting good somewhere around ep.9. By that point, the storytelling's become powerful. The fights at last make you care. Shocking things happen. Ep.9 is a stonker and makes it easy to see why so many people rate this series.
Other stuff... the English is bad in the early episodes. I wouldn't normally mind, but those are native speakers doing the voices of Raising Heart and Bardiche. This makes it more jarring to get ambiguously phrased sentences like "don't mind, my master" or clumsy, unnatural ones like "it comes" or "it approaches at high speed". (The tense in both of those should have been the present continuous.) I stopped noticing such issues in later episodes, though, so maybe the showrunners got feedback and fixed it?
The Tragic Villains are good, though. No complaints there. Wheelchair Girl is hardly an original way to evoke audience sympathy, but it works. She's thoroughly nice and you do indeed come to feel for her and her friends. This is arguably the villains' show, in fact, with occasional guest appearances from the heroes who oppose them. (The material might have been stronger, mind you, if they'd actually been doing bad things. Their objective is to bring about a catastrophe, although they don't see it that way, but I think they're trying not to hurt anyone en route and we see two of their victims get better.)
There's also a 2012 film adaptation of this series, just as happened in 2010 for the first one. I hope they change a lot.
Did I like this series? No. I think it's a mix of good and bad, making only wooden, uninspired use of its protagonists. (Fate comes off better than Nanoha, especially given ep.11.) However its antagonists are given lots of development and dramatic weight. They're excellent. When people praise this series, they're the reason why. (Thinking about it, these richly explored villains are probably the reason why the 2010 movie version of the 2004 TV series rewrote its final act to put far more stress on Precia. In fairness, this series is much more distinctive dramatically than the first Nanoha season, which stuck fairly closely to the magical girl series template. I'm sure it redefined people's ideas of what this franchise meant.)
I'm looking forward to the third season, though. I've disagreed with conventional Nanoha wisdom so far, so maybe StrikerS's unpopularity means I'll think the franchise is improving?