Strike Witches Anime

February 12th, 2009

Once more, my sincere thanks to a guest reviewer, this time a guy I only know as Bob. (Sounds like I buy reviews on the street, doesn’t it? “Hey, ya wanna buy a review, I got some in the trunk, right here…” lol) Bob is filling in for an Erica who is halfway out the door to go teach martial arts again for the first time in eight years. Can’t wait. Take it away, Bob!

(I would like to preface this by saying that this would normally be a loser fanboy review, but I’m not a fan of the material covered and so it’s just a loser boy review.)

Sex and violence, as the old saying has it, are reliable sellers. Without that expression, the lasting popularity of Strike Witches would be one of life’s great mysteries, up there with Fermat’s last theorem, Fermi’s paradox and why people can’t believe it’s not butter. I don’t clearly remember why I picked this series up, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time – maybe I was just desperate for something that seemed likely to be high-yuri in content and wasn’t another season of Ikki Tousen.

The year is 1944 and Strike Witches is all about an international crew of magical mecha-shoujo moe cat-lolis with guns fighting Borg-Angels week after week in a world where Manchukuo, Katyn and Auschwitz-Birkenau never happened. You see, in the world of Strike Witches – hereafter shortened to SW – 1939 saw, not the invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II, but an invasion of the entire planet by mysterious beings called Neuroi, whose way of life is to hit things with death rays and make more Neuroi out of the charred remains. Having discovered that fighter aircraft et cetera are useless, humanity falls back on Plan B: the magical girl.

Enter our young hero Yoshika Miyafuji, yanked out of her happy pants-free school life by a woman with a disturbing laugh and a patch-covered demonic eye who wants her to join an elite squad of underage witches on the frontline of the war against the Neuroi. Witches, that is, who confront the enemy not with wands and broomsticks but with machine guns and Striker Units – the latter being a miraculous invention of Yoshika’s MIA father, whose stroke of brilliance was to combine the essentials of a piston-engine monoplane with a magical boot. Yoshika, who of course wants to find said father, is badgered into accepting. When the baddies attack en route to England, still holding out against Neuroi-occupied mainland Europe, she establishes herself as the heroine of the series by hijacking a spare set of Strikers and growing furry ears and a tail before taking to the sky. Once in the UK proper, she finds herself inducted into the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, which suffers from a chronic shortage of actual fighters and whose other members hail from thinly-veiled analogues of Japan, Canada, France, Russia, Finland, Italy, Germany and the United States. The rest of this mercifully short series follows a generic monster-of-the-week format with comic interludes as Yoshika uses the power of naïve affection to win over her comrades one by one.

Some, if not all, of the above will sound familiar to those who have consumed a fair volume of entertainment material, because there isn’t a shred of originality in SW from start to end. Yoshika is textbook love-and-peace magical girl material. The other characters are equally stock – which is particularly disappointing because I’d heard over and over that they were based on actual historical figures – though not so much that they can’t be endearing now and then. And of the plot itself? If you’ve seen Star Trek‘s Borg episodes and the first half of Evangelion, you’ll know what the Neuroi are. If you’ve seen the last few episodes of Blue Drop or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, you’ll see the backstabbing conspiracy coming from kilometers away. If you’ve seen Sakura Taisen: The Movie, you’ll not only know how SW ends but even what the final boss looks like. Like Evangelion, the series implies that the Neuroi are more than relentless, mysterious foes, but runs out of episodes before actually making anything of this development. I have no doubt that a second season is in the works somewhere out there.

To its credit, SW doesn’t waste much time pretending to be anything other than what it is: a light fanservice show that crams in enough tropes to make Kaishaku jealous, albeit in a more coherent fashion. Its particular forte, like Agent Aika and Najica Blitz Tactics, is panties. The viewer who makes it through all twelve episodes will be well and truly inundated with them, because the League of Nations apparently banned women’s pants in order to divert cloth supplies to frontline hospitals. There’s also fanservice of the swimsuit and breast-groping varieties, along with an episode of panty-swapping.

Where’s the Yuri, you ask? Also under the purview of the fanservice bureau, for the most part: the French teamster is blatantly intent on keeping the demon-eyed officer to herself, the Finn and Russian regularly sleep together – in an innocent fashion, of course – and Yoshika herself is heavily implied to have erotic dreams about her well-endowed Canadian partner. It rarely gets further than heavy subtext, but it’s more than some ‘Yuri’ series have offered.

On the technical side of things, the animation quality is decent: while there are occasional bouts of very obvious CGI and some pretty blatant corner-cuts, it didn’t make my eyes bleed. The sound likewise is generally unremarkable and unoffensive.

I started SW with rock-bottom expectations, which is good because it didn’t surpass them by any great measure. If you, unlike me, have a taste for magical girls, moe lolis, gratuitous panties or any of the other items mentioned above, there’s no harm in checking out this series. If you can tolerate said fetishes and are merely looking to watch something inconsequential and get a few laughs, there are probably worse choices – ditto if you just want the Yuri. Don’t watch it for the faux-WWII setting, which is pure gimmick, and fans of girls-with-guns can find far better material elsewhere. If Gonzo et al intend to add to this franchise without it becoming more stale than the bread I ate today, my hearty recommendation is to swap the airscrews for sea screws, bump the timeline forward to 1962 or thereabouts and give us a series called Strike Fishes.

Ratings:

Art – 6
Story – 2
Characters – 7
Yuri – 8 if you have a good imagination, 6 if you don’t
Service – 12

Overall – 7

Thanks Bob! No one told me there was a woman with an eyepatch. Now I guess I’ll *have* to watch it. Bleah.

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24 Responses

  1. ajshepherd says:

    The other characters are equally stock – which is particularly disappointing because I’d heard over and over that they were based on actual historical figures

    Most of whom are no longer around to sue, but I wonder what Chuck Yeager would think if he knew about his Strike Witch counterpart, especially given the episode where she breaks the sound barrier and all her clothes fall off…

  2. Mara says:

    The light novel apparently introduces a love triangle however I do not know if this is Yuri or not.

    I am frequently told that the light novel is better, I cannot tell the difference although the main character does have a random dog familiar.

  3. Winterbraid says:

    Heh, so we`ve got another proof that the best answer to any military threat is children squads. Sudden eruption of love between Finland and Russia… lol. Do the Russians get Stalin, by the way?
    @Mara:
    Well, I guess a random dog familiar is better than a random ferret familiar. ^-^;

  4. Anonymous says:

    you and your women with eyepatches…tsk tsk. whats sexy about a woman with one functional eye?

  5. jinstevens says:

    Strike Witches is a total enigma to me. It has one of the worst plots in anime history, it’s ridiculous on so many levels and the fact that it has 12-19 year olds fighting in pretty violent war situations is morally troubling.

    And yet, I can’t pull away from it. It’s like being drawn to a scene of an accident.

    Dog eared magical girls with no pants wearing airplane parts for legs. It’s so ridiculous, it’s amazing.

  6. @Anonymous – No idea. ;-)

    @jinstevens – Are you similarly troubled by Simoun? It’s the same story, from what I can tell, only executed with more skill.

  7. BruceMcF says:

    Erica, that’s just absurd. Strike Witches sounds like a retelling (*Note*) of Britain winning the Battle of Britain, while Simoun is Japan losing the War of the Pacific. Just because its the same era, claiming that its the same story is just not credible.

    (*Note* of dubious quality, it would seem from the review – not from direct experience, since as I previously noted, I missed the streaming of Strike Witches at Crunchyroll, and if its spending $36 for the series, there’s stuff I’d rather buy.)

    (*Note2*: P.S.)

  8. @Bruce McF – I meant in the most general sense, since jinstevens said, “12-19 year olds fighting in pretty violent war situations is morally troubling.” Simoun isn’t any different. Except that Rimone is younger than 12.

    On another topic, I wonder why Strike Witches is okay, but Hetalia is not? It’s okay to have one’s country anthropomophized as a pantless girl, but not as an attractive young man? This world is just plain weird.

  9. BruceMcF says:

    … OK … yes, Rimone is the most morally troubling aspect of Simoun …

    … on Hetalia, I believe it is the country anthropomophized that sparked the cancellation as much as anything.

  10. jaymiemizuno says:

    About that, ajsheperd….Thing is, someone posted up the image of the Alt-Yeager breaking the speed of sound in a bikini on General Yeager’s myspace page.

  11. Katherine says:

    you and your women with eyepatches…tsk tsk. whats sexy about a woman with one functional eye?

    If I were to hypothesize, I would guess that it’s because- at least in the anime world- eye patches indicate a certain level of badassery.

  12. Anonymous says:

    To get the most out of STRIKE WITCHES I think you need to be familiar with WWII aviation trivia, much like GENSHIKEN is far less amusing if you don’t know anime fandom.

    For example, if you’re familiar with Erich Hartmann’s career, you’ll know about the Hitler’s Hat story … and then grin when Erica Hartmann has a similar incident occur to her. Or why Charlotte Yeager wants to break the sound barrier. Playing Lili Marlene means more if you know what that song meant in WWII. Etc.

  13. jinstevens says:

    @Erica,

    I really enjoyed what I saw of Simoun. I wouldn’t say Simoun as ridiculous as Strike Witches. Simoun tries at least for some plausible explanations on why their world is like that. Strike Witches has no explanations whatsoever…there’s just magical girls running around fighting a war against an alien(?) race that just attacked.

    No explanations as to why none of the girls wear any pants, no explanations if women over say 20 wear them, no explanation as to why Yoshika wears a sailor suit instead of a military uniform, no explanations as to what the Neuroi are, or the link between them and Yoshika’s dead(?) father.

    Like I said, the anime is awful in that department. I’m not sure why the series appeals to me to be honest. I don’t go for the loli thing at all. I think it could be the same reason that some people are attracted to works of Ed Wood – so awful, it’s amazing.

  14. jinstevens says:

    Just to be clear, the war aspects of Simoun didn’t bother me as much because it was clearly a fantastic setting. I guess in animes where resemblances to the real world aren’t as strong, I’m not bothered as much by teenagers fighting in war.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Hetalia wasn’t okay because Korea was portrayed as a japan-fanboy whowanted to be japanaese secretly and owns a secret japanese flag.

    A ww2-era korea. Wanting to be japanese.

    No surprise it pissed people off majorly.

    Strike Witches? The only ones who’d complain are some old Nazis and stuff. It’s also so obviously garbage pedobait that nobody would bother anyway.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Amusingly, STRIKE WITCHES picked up a Judge’s Recommendation at the Japanese Media Arts Festival…

    The show is actually fairly decent quality…. Except for the silly uniform jacket-and-swimwear combo, which just look whacked. Get past that, and it was actually quite decent. Not a cheap production by any means … except it seemed to run out of plot. I strongly suspect an intended run length was chopped off.

    Other than that, the relations between the pilots were fun, the characterization was shallow but reasonably distinct given the pretty large cast, with each character having some bits where they could show off personality and the alternative history setting, while not explained much, had a good sense of period detail and place.

    The Yuri was certainly there (the bit with the heroine’s erotic dream was understated but cute) as *attraction* (or obsession for one character) but not a huge element.

    Starting the series, I found the costume designs ludicrous and the plot a bit stereotyped. Mid-way through, I was enjoying it as a simple fun magical girl show with characters with distinct personalities and even ongoing plot to keep me interested. After watching it, I was annoyed at the “this is all?” ending which resolved things tactically and emotionally but not strategically… but in retrospect, the trip was fun.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hetalia actually had offensive political content.

    Strike Witches ignored politics (Nazism, etc) completely.

    Also, I think this review seriously underrates Strike Witches. It may SEEM to be just about fanservice, but it has layers and layers of depth and sociological meaning.

  18. Anonymous says:

    BTW, shouldn’t this post have the “English Anime” tag since SW is available in legit legalsubs on CrunchyRoll and BOST?

  19. @Anonymous – That tag is used when we actually review a official English release. (It was originally for libraries, but digital relase is going to make it meaningless shortly.)

  20. Anonymous says:

    lynette bishop is british,i looked on the site n it said she was, best change that part so people dnt start getting confused:

    Minna: Firstly, the island country in north-western Europe that holds our base, Britannia.

    Lynette: It’s the country where I was born and raised.

    Yoshika: If it’s where Lynne grew up it must be a cool place!

    (i got this from the site)

  21. Anonymous says:

    I just read the review.
    I might be a little late, but i’d like to point out that Fermat’s Last Theorem was proven about 14 years ago.

  22. Finland and Russia?

    Wonder if this would be a case of Saaya Irie diplomacy.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know about anyone else but I really enjoyed this anime, the world is actually pretty cool when you think about it and the Neuroi were mysterious enigmatic antagonists, kind of made me think, “the hell are those things? Where are they from?’.

    Where this anime really shines is the, at times, surprisingly well coordinated action and the character designs were very solid in my opinion, and as someone else said if you’re a WWII geek it has some damn funny and memorable parts.

    All in all I believed it was an amusing romp of an anime, the kind that you just sit back, watch. laugh, and enjoy.

    Then again, I’m a huge fanboy for this series so I may be more than a bit biased.

    I-I’ve even made fan fiction and fan characters.

  24. Like anonymous above, I’ll cop to utterly adoring Strike Witches – in fact, it’s probably the nearest thing I have to religion. I adore it for all the reasons that everyone else hates it: the fanservice, the faux-WW2 setting, the yuri (it’s there, in spades), the neuroi, the sheer flat-out brilliant insanity of the entire concept. I’m not going to attempt to mount a sustained defence of the show – if you’re a hater, there’s no way I can change that. I would, however, like to pick up on a couple of points that have been raised in the discussion above.

    First, the characters bear no relation to their WW2 prototypes, other than in name. The key example is Sanya, who is shy and demure, whereas her inspiration, Lilya Litviak, was not only recklessly fearless in battle but a very forward flirt in her free time. Some of the historical details in SW are genius-level in-jokes: for example, speed-freak Shirley’s conventional flying mount is a Fairey Swordfish, one of the slowest aircraft of WW2.

    Secondly, the comparisons to Simoun (which I also love): these will only get you so far. As mentioned above, Simoun is partly a reflection on Japan’s defeat in the War, although it is much more a meditation on the fear of growing up and taking on the responsibilities of adulthood (there are lots of other themes, which I won’t go into here); Strike Witches is gung-ho us vs aliens with very little of the moral ambiguity. However, the key difference is that in Simoun, Chor Tempest never recovers from its initial defeat – its leader goes into profound depression, her deputy is incompetent, her eventual replacement more than slightly unhinged. By marked contrast, the 501stJFW is already a battle-hardened unit by the time Yoshika joins, and she only enhances its combat effectiveness as she blends in. The two shows may share a similar premise, but in terms of their basic philosophy they are poles apart.

    Anyway, Strike Witches is my all-time favourite anime, and I’m not ashamed to say it. And if that makes me seem weird, well heck, I can live with that…

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