One of the first things one notices about the Nanoha universe is how young many of the characters are. Nanoha and Fate are around nine when they join the TSAB, and they're far from the only ones. No one really seems to give it a second glance - and the jobs these children do are not precisely what you would call safe. In actually, almost all of the character's ages are absurdly low... though I don't mind this simply because it's so self-evidently ludicrous - it gives Signum's age as seventeen. After an error like that, I barely feel guilty for throwing the whole thing out and bumping up some of the older characters to something recognizable as adulthood...
Anyways, back to the task at hand.
One could simply assume the TSAB has no problem with child soldiers... and this exact assumption is probably a lot of what contributes to the 'evil Bureau' theories that can be found floating around the internet. While there's an interesting idea there, it's not my thing. More to the point, most of the 'child' characters don't really behave like children - they make decisions too maturely, behave too competently, and generally seem more intelligent than people their age have any right to. So... maybe they aren't entirely normal children. And they all have something in common...
(And before you start with the [Citation Needed], note that I'm basically making this up... I'm not interested in cleaving to canon one-hundred percent. I do think it's plausible and interesting - if I wanted absolute purity, I'd just watch the show over and over again.
The term itself is a Mid-Childan word that can be roughly translated as 'prodigy', or literally 'Moon Child', though there are some important distinctions - a normal 'prodigy' could be someone who simply has an early talent for a particular skill. A Shentel, on the other hand, has their entire mental development accelerated - by the age of 10 to 12, they are effectively a mental adult, not merely a child with great aptitude in a particular skill.
One thing all Shentel have in common, however, is a very high natural Magical Point Value - potentially in the millions. There is a vigorous debate about whether the high natural MPV causes the precociousness, or precociousness leads to an elevated MPV - it is true that Shentel-level precociousness without high MPVs is only rumored, but there are also known causes of increased MPV that do not affect maturity - but extensive data is not available. Many people also credit Shentel with extreme MPV's in adulthood, but this is not neccessarily true. Their natural MPV, combined with the opportunity to practice from an early age, does lead to a typically high talent, however. That said, among high-ranking Mages, Shentel are still the exception, rather than the rule.
Similar to Shetnel are Dariatel ('Sky Child'). The difference is more one of magnitude than of kind - a Darietel is remarkably precocious, and has an elevated MPV, but in both instances, the differences are less pronounced. A Dariatel reaches 'mental maturity' at around the age of 15, with MPV of around 300-500 thousand - which may not seem like all that much, but at that age, it's quite a bit. At one time, Dariatel were consider to be qualitatively different from Shentel, but modern thought considers it simply a 'smaller dose' of the same phenomenon that causes Shentel - as far as technical definitions go, anyone who passes the WME before 12 is a Shentel, anyone who passes after that, but before 18, is a Dariatel.
Being a Shentel does not automatically imbue one with knowledge, but enhanced maturity and congnitive function at a young age can lead to accelerated learning, as the individual has the ability to comprehend more advanced concepts - a 10-year-old Shentel is perfectly capable of understanding calculus, and could learn it.
Shentel are rare, but not vanishingly so - roughly one in 750 children with magical abilities. Dariatel are less rare, about one in 60 children (with magical abilities) - and in both cases, their existence has considerable sociological consequences. Though a comprehensive analysis of even modern mindsets would fill a great many volumes, the basic concept is that, in most cases, Shentel have been considered, if not a case apart from all humanity, than at least more adult than normal children. This continues the official policies of the TSAB and the general cultural mindset, where an apparent child performing in a professional capacity is considered merely unusual.
The existence of the Shentel phenomenon (and others that can cause chronological/mental age disparities) means that the TSAB has been required to implement a system to accommodate for it. The Bureau does not have a hard-and-fast 'age of majority' - instead, it utilizes a battery of tests, the Majority Aptitude Examination administered by a division of the Department of Education and Family Services. The MAE consists of a fairly compex battery of psychological, cognitive, and information-recall (primarily civics-related) tests. Upon successful completion of this test, that individual is considered an 'adult' for all legal purposes (they also get a nice certificate!)- at least as far as the TSAB itself is concerned. Local laws may grant few rights in that particular area, but this means relatively little in practice. The test itself is free, although it can only be taken once every six months (and it is designed to be scheduled around school or whatever other obligations a minor might have). Majority is also automatically granted at the age of 25 (barring obvious legal incompetence) if it has not been earned previously (most 'average' people recieve theirs around the age of 19-21).
Socially speaking, Shentel occupy a curious space, alienated from both their physiological peers - they often find themselves in the unpleasant position of having to 'talk down' to their friends, who can seldom understand their thought processes and quite often do not no longer share their interests. Meanwhile, they are also not entirely at home among adults, who apart from sheer physical differences, may find them slightly uncanny and out-of-place (to say nothing of the potential embarassment of working with someone potentially an order of magnitude under your age)- while not everyone acts on this, the aggregate of subtle cues and a need to prove one's competence can lead to a feeling that they are not accepted or respected. Of course, this is profoundly increased on those worlds without commonplace magical talent, or that otherwise have little or no knowledge of the Shentel phenomenon. For these reasons, Shentel often seek their own company (or that of prior Shentel)... this is one of the reasons that in the TSAB it isn't unheard of to see, for instance, an entire military unit with no one over 20.
There's probably more to write about this, but it's already been bouncing around for three days. I may come back to it later, but for now, posting as it. And for my next post...
I'm thinking either an overview of the 'problematic' aspects of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, or an analysis of space combat ranges.
* Attempted to cut. Cut Failed.
* Attempted to cut. Cut Failed.