Girls And Panzer Collection (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 305 minutes approx.
All Miho Nishizumi wanted to do when she turns up for her first day at Ōarai Girls’ High School was to put the past behind her and start afresh but as, we know, the past has a funny way of catching up with people. Having settled in with the help of amiable duo Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu, the Student Council summon Miho to head a resurrection of the school’s Sensha-Dou programme – a club activity in which the girls compete against other schools using World War II tanks – due to Miho’s prior experience.
Miho refuses, citing a horrifying experience in a previous contest which continues to haunt her, explaining she chose to attend Ōarai because they had no Sensha-Dou programme. Miho stands firm in her refusal with Saori and Hana willing to stick by her against the Student Council, an act of loyalty that helps change Miho’s mind. Along with tank fanatic Yukari Akiyama, the quartet is tasked with rejuvenating the Ōarai Sensha-Dou squad ready for the annual inter-school competition.
You have to hand it to the Japanese – if they can’t sex it up they’ll moe it up and there are many of topics, themes and genres which don’t lend themselves to having cute and fluffy girls as their protagonists. Military tactics would be high among them but dag nabbit, our Asian friends have only gone and done it!
Actually they have dipped their toes in this genre before with Strike Witches and the vastly overlooked Sora no Woto (which actually received a UK release a few years back with zero publicity – and Beez wonder why they went out of business!) but they have excelled themselves with this show which could lazily be described as K-ON! with tanks but actually has a lot more to offer.
Beginning life as a Manga by Ryūichi Saitaniya, the setting for this series is unsurprisingly in a near future where entire communities exist on the surface of a massive carrier ship! Everything seems peaceful enough hence tanks and other weaponry is reserved for sports activities for the academies.
In the case of Ōarai High School, their tanks were literally dumped anywhere and everywhere around Ibaraki since their Sensha-Dou team was shelved after a poor success rate. But with the school’s fortunes suffering as a result the threat of closure hangs over their head, forcing excitable Student Council head Anzu Kadotani to restart the team to prevent the school from closing down.
Miho’s experience comes from her family lineage, the Nishizumi name being a prominent one in Sensha-Dou, but a tragic accident which cost her team in one contest left Miho wanting to distance herself from the sport. With her motley crew of friends and willing volunteers from the other school clubs, the few remaining tanks are sought out and refurbished ready for the contest, with each tank assigned a team and animal nickname – turtle, rabbit, anteater, hippo, duck and mallard!
Team Miho benefits from the driving skills of the near narcoleptic Mako Reizei, who’d rather stay in bed then get up at 5:00am for training but is a demon behind the steering wheel! Under Miho’s leadership the resurrected Ōarai High Sensha-Dou face off against the other more experienced and well practised teams.
While the bulk of the show, and indeed its main appeal, is the tank warfare – conducted with blank ammunition until the final – some time is put aside to flesh the character out a little although with such large cast we have to suffice with recognising the usual tropes which help define many of the supporting characters. And if you forget who is who, a recap episode is on the extras of disc one serve as a detailed reminder.
But this all about the tanks and thankfully it is a gimmick that, while prominent, doesn’t feel overplayed and is kept fresh by the differing tactics and strategies Miho and her counterparts have to employ during the contests. As a result a predictable outcome is not always guaranteed. Overlooking the fact that these battles are fought between teenage girls, they are contested with the force, vigour and strategic wit of a genuine war providing some very exciting set pieces which should appeal to action fans looking for something different.
Fledgling animation studio Actas have done a terrific job with the battle scenes in both terms of the manoeuvrability of the tanks and the intensely researched designs, complimenting the similarly in depth study by Saitaniya. The animation may be in CG but the blend with the 2D artwork is largely seamless, save for a POV sequence in episode one which looks like could have come from a video game. The military themed music adds also a lot to the drama of the presentation while creating a sense of triumphant fulfilment when a victory is achieved.
It’s probably fair to say that the main cast comprising of cute schoolgirls undermines the potential widespread appeal this show, while conversely this could also be seen as cheap tactic to attract the attention of those who might have otherwise avoided it. Some have even suggested the word “Panzer” was a deliberate pun on “pantsu”!
Despite the familiar looking designs and helium voices, the girls are quite a likeable bunch and are easy to root for. And aside from one very brief shot of a girl in her underwear this is a fan service free zone which is a pleasant respite from the usual tawdry sexualisation often associated with female led shows.
Girls And Panzer is a show that exceeds any low expectations the sum of its parts might suggest at first glance. Yes it is shamelessly moe and the plotline is standard high school fare but its commitment to creating credible battle scenes while offering a bite sized education about tanks makes this is a very pleasant and enjoyable experience. A film spin off is due this year in Japan which I think, after viewing this series, will be welcome news for many.
Japanese Language w/ English Subtitles
Episode 5.5 Introductions!
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animations
Episode 10.5 Introductions!
Clean Closing Animations
Japanese TV Spots
Rating – ****
Man In Black