Strike Witches Complete Series 1 (Cert 15)
2 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 278 minutes approx.
In 1939 Earth is being invaded by alien beings called Neuroi, which take the form of military aircraft. The human race has no such weaponry to combat the Neuroi so they turn to their last resort: magical girls. Equipped with Striker Units – mini airplane fuselages which attach to their legs and afford them the power of flight – these girls known as Witches utilise their magical powers to protect the earth. Oh and they don’t wear trousers either.
Originally a series of light novels and manga it befalls studio Gonzo to animate the exploits of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, the official name for this collective of anthropomorphic heroines and titular Strike Witches. If you thought Hetalia took liberties with World War I then prepare yourselves for the fantastic journey that waits this inventive retelling of what we once knew as the Second World War. Incorporating just about every anime cliché in the process – moe magical girls, gratuitous fan service, sci-fi, action, silly comedy, drama and every character troupe under the sun, Strike Witches aims to appeal to and fulfil just about every viewer fetish and cover every genre in the one show.
The central protagonist is one Yoshika Miyafuji, whose special power is healing, who is recruited to the 501st Squadron by Major Mio Sakamoto, possessor of a magic eye. Yoshika initially refuses until she receives a letter from her supposed dead father, the inventor of the Strike Unit, and accepts hoping to meet her estranged parent. Yoshika agrees to use her powers to help as much she can but is hesitant to use a gun, preferring to see the good in everyone, even invading aliens. Naturally this comes into play as the story progresses although Yoshika’s foolish tenacity initially causes her more trouble then it is worth when she dons a Striker Unit with no training to help the others, inadvertently proving to be as much as a help as a hindrance.
As for the rest of the main cast, all the favourite character traits are present: the snooty one, the cute one, the ditzy one, the annoying one, the studious one, the sleepy one etc. all coming in every shapes and bra size. Having such easily recognisable personalities might seem like a great way to save time for character development – since there are eleven Witches in the squadron – but this ultimately deprives the show of any real opportunity for the cast to connect with the audience. The nearest we get to this, aside from Yoshika’s journey from nervous newbie to sky high stormtrooper, is the hostility shown towards the newcomer by Perrine-H. Clostermann, the rich girl who harbours secret feelings for Mio, continually incensed by the Major’s apparent attachment to Yoshika – being as they are both Fuso girls (Fuso being the name give her for Japan). Of course by the time the final episode rolls, a mutual respect has bloomed but the green eyed monster isn’t buried too deeply beneath the soil of this begrudging truce.
While this show deserves kudos for its different approach to a well worn subject it lets itself down a little with the story telling. We know nothing of the Neuroi, where they come from or their motives for attacking the earth. They simply appear one day and start blasting away – no demands, declaration of a take over or anything. Leave it then to the naïve exuberance of Yoshika to score a breakthrough when confronted by a human shaped Neuroi, against which she refuses to open fire and is rewarded with a dreamlike trip to its mothership, unwittingly discovering a clue to a future military plot in the process which unveils itself a short time later. And little is mentioned of Yoshika’s missing father for the majority of the run, until you least expect it.
The polarising presence of fan service in a show like Strike Witches has this reviewer asking “Why”? The fact that the Witches are all young, cute, some ridiculously endowed, and sprout cat ears and tails when their magical powers are activated should be enough but for whatever reason, it was decided that they should all have an aversion to wearing trousers, presumably to deliver maximum panty exposure. And if that wasn’t enough there are the obligatory bath scenes to provide some additionally unnecessary nudity to boot. It is a shame that with a central premise that deserves greater exploration, this show feels the need to pander to the lowest common denominator, as we see with a pitiful episode revolving around missing panties and the girls all stealing from each other to ensure they are covered up! I kid thee not.
It’s just as well then that Gonzo has delivered a steady and well animated show to almost excuse the ribald distractions. The flying scenes and aerial punch ups are pretty spectacular and exhilarating, never missing a beat. The character designs are fairly generic whilst the Neuroi’s sleek black and red honeycomb veneer is in keeping modernistic twist on the time period and add a menacing touch to their faceless presence.
With so many irritating and flawed elements in its make-up, Strike Witches amazingly manages to avoid being a thumbs down show. Whether it is the top notch animation, the impressive battle scenes of the palpable earnestness of the project, there is something about this show that makes this a pleasant enough distraction. Hardly essential by any means but its heart is in the right place and, cringeworthy fan service aside, it has a way to draw the viewer in from the onset.
A second season appeared last year in Japan and a film is due next year so it would appear that the airborne antics of the 501st Squadron have struck a positive chord with anime fans in the East – something that may repeat itself here in the West with this release.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 2.0
Disc 2 Only:
Episode 12 Commentary
Ratings – ***
Man In Black