Every year Reverse Thieves runs an Anime Secret Santa deal. You sign a contract
to become a magical girl and you’re anonymously given another blogger to recommend three shows to based on what you think they’d like (that they haven’t seen.) Everyone is paired up this way, and it’s a lot of fun both to recommend and to see what others send you. This year I recommended shows to Fightbait, who chose Now and Then, Here and There, a personal favorite of mine, and apparently a good choice since my other suggestions were shows he’d seen an episode of and hated. Go take a listen, it’s a podcast and everything! Last year I chose Simoun from the list of recommendations given to me, a great show, rich in world building, storytelling, with rich themes and characters. This year, I chose something else. Lvlln gave me three series to pick from, two of which are ones that I probably would have enjoyed. I purposefully chose the one that I would under no other circumstances watch. The one I knew I’d hate before I even pressed ‘play’ on the first episode. I chose the great chronicle of the War on Pants. I chose Strike Witches.
So, where does one start on a show like this? As a man of taste and with a sense of decency, where do I begin? I promise that there will be more to this post than me bashing on the show for the obvious and less than obvious problems I had with it. But first and foremost, the main point that I started with: I would subject myself to this in the hope of both ending the experience with laughs among the pain, and to test how much I could endure like some sort of anime Klingon Ascension Ceremony. I would venture into the pantsless Hades like heroic Aeneas to seize some greater wisdom from the horrors that lurk in the underworld of fanservice anime.
Even being forewarned, I was unprepared for the intensity of the horror that dwelt within…
Yeah, so the obvious out of the way first. Strike Witches features fanservice on a level I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced. The whole ‘no wearing pants’ thing is exploited from the first scene with lots of close up crotchshots from very close distances with very…ahem…anatomical levels of detail. You’d think I would have adjusted after the first few episodes, but it was facepalming and eye averting the whole way through. Many, many times I just had to look away, while laughing mind you, thinking “I can’t look at this!” Though moments like this are why I chose this show: that combination of pain and laughter that comes from watching something so wrong. The sort that makes you want to stop watching but gets you to laugh hysterically because you’re doing this to yourself. It’s a groan and a laugh at the same time.
I couldn’t even get into the yuri shipping, it was too lacking in shipping material. Or maybe I just didn’t take to the characters.
There were so many moments that were supposed to be serious exposition scenes about the war with the Neuroi or about the characters’ pasts that just had camera angles where panties were front and center of the scene. That pretty much destroyed any chance there was of me becoming interested in either. Look director/writer/staff, if you’re not going to take this seriously then neither am I. But that said, even when I just thought about the plot and characters after watching it there really wasn’t anything interesting about either to me. And the action didn’t excite me either. Some have said that that was the best part of the show, but maybe my inability to get into the setting or characters kept me from finding the action all that cool. But I did promise non-negative things in this review, so I’ll end the obvious part now and get to some observations that might be worth more than just a laugh at what I put myself through.
Strike Witches Does Stand For Something
I can say many things about this show, but it has consistency.
Strike Witches really does stand for something, aesthetically. It embraced a very coherent mecha musume style and centered pretty much its entire world around that. It provides fanservice, which was probably the founding idea behind it, but it’s kind of impressive how everything else revolves so well around that center. The girls wear gear and weapons modeled after WWII fighters, and they correspond to real-world aces in their names and elements of their backgrounds. The WWII era influences everything in terms of design, and brings with it the romantic notions of the ace pilots of that war. The romanticism that makes Spitfires and Mustangs and Bf-109s seem like the simple, almost living steeds of knights of the sky. The character design greatly emphasizes the stylized feminie form, and the equipment of war has a retro, more elegant look and sound to it. And this extends out in another circle to the antagonists. The Neuroi are dark and futuristic. They don’t show their faces (if they have them), they shoot lasers and move like they have anti-gravity or jet propulsion. Some of them are even modeled after jet aircraft, such as the SR-71 lookalike that Shirley chases down (and through the sound barrier like her namesake, Chuck Yeager.)
Then there is the regular military unit which shows up near the end utilizing captured Neuroi technology to create a transformable mecha of their own. This is what I would say defined the antithesis of the Strike Witches aesthetic. It’s jet-powered and has internal weapons, so it lacks the nostalgic piston-powered engine noises and industrial-era weaponry of the 501st striker units. It’s also unmanned, so it’s emotionless and impersonal, in contrast to the romantic notions of close range duels and seeing one’s enemy. The design itself, and those who wield it, also are very masculine, another contrast to the preferred aesthetic. Character design comes in here to add to this, as the witches are drawn to look as if they’re all around the same age (Mio is 20 but doesn’t look like she’s out of her mid-teens to me) but the men who control the machine seem more realistically drawn and older. For this, Strike Witches at least deserves some credit for internal consistency in its style. It strongly stands for the mecha musume style over the mecha that typically take center stage in the kinds of conflict shown in the show. Fanservicey, feminine, 1940′s retro, and romanticized, versus the modern, masculine, technology-oriented mecha of tradition.
Attention to Historical Detail
For those, such as myself, who are really into military history and technology, there is a lot of content in Strike Witches. Presentation again prevented me from being that impressed by it; I only wish such attention to detail was put into a series about historical events or an alternate history that doesn’t feature pantsless witches. But like the above point, credit where credit is due. The designs of the strike units and the weapons the witches carried were done very well, with the attention to detail becoming part of the series overall aesthetic. The staff were clearly as passionate about their military history as they were about their mecha musume.
The Akagi: even more useless than in real life! It didn’t even get off a surprise attack against an unsuspecting naval base before getting sunk.
A Comparison of Secret Santa 2010 and 2011
Somehow, it does work.
A completely unintended thing happened when I thought about what I did for last year’s secret santa. I loved Simoun to death, it’s still at number three of my top five anime, but you’d think that it couldn’t be more different from Strike Witches. But there is an odd resemblance between the two. Simoun is a much, MUCH, MUUUUCCCCCHHHHH better show, but it compares to Strike Witches in that they feel like equal-opposites in several ways. They both have a core aesthetic to their world and their character and mechanical designs, an aesthetic that defines everything else as the other elements radiate outward from it. They both feature fanservice via this aesthetic too. In Simoun it’s classy, it’s linked to genuine, rich romances and drama, and it’s in the best of the yuri romance tradition. Strike Witches has fanservice in abundance, but it never tries to be elegant. Where Simoun has style when the girls get close, Strike Witches feels like a combination of lots of individual shots of the girls in skimpy clothing and the sort of ‘hur hur, lesbians are hot’ faux-yuri baiting that hormonal teenage boys (and men yet to grow out of that stage) go on about. Fanservice in both shows, but equal and opposite in how it’s done.
You and I Simoun and Strike Witches are opposite sides of the same coin. There may be resemblance but we they never face the same direction.
Conclusion: Return From Hades
I emerge victorious!
So, was it worth it? I’d say so. I did this to subject myself to something I knew I’d hate, and I got some laughs out of it as well as looking into a subset of anime fandom that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And through the process of anime self-flagellation, similar to when I watched Macross 7, I came out of the process stronger, purer in my anime will to carry on, and maybe a little sharper in drawing connections between things that I would have assumed have none. Strike Witches is a terrible show in my opinion, according to my tastes. But after watching it, I can’t say that it was a badly made show. Even if I didn’t like all the fanservice inherent in its chosen aesthetic, I have to admire the consistency of it, in a way. And it spurred that comparison with Simoun, which enhanced my enjoyment of that show by seeing how something can have similarities but be so very, very different. It’s good every now and then to subject yourself to something terrible. Even if it’s just for the amusement of your Twitter followers as you complain in real time, heh. Now, will I watch season two of Strike Witches? Let’s see…