TV series recommendations are dangerous things unless you have a good measure of the person recommending them to you. Since most of my friends’ tastes lean towards the awesome or awesomely hilarious (the “so bad it’s good” or Terribad categories, usually) I didn’t know what to think when one of them recommended me Strike Witches. It’s one of those shows whose reputation precedes it, and not in a good way either.
It’s fair to say that I wasn’t sure if this little viewing experiment with the Skirtless Wonders of the 501st would even pay off, so I did the sensible thing and marathoned both seasons in the space of two evenings, accompanied by numerous bottles of real ale. Which turned out to be a wise move, since it’s actually really quite good.
In order to get through the whole thing I had to do that weird form of mind training that allows you to see past the pantsu to appreciate things like character development and plot. Although the underlying reasons for making it a fanservice-y show in the first place go without saying, I sort of wish the production team hadn’t taken the Fanboy Fetish Tickbox approach because it makes show look less clever than it actually is.
Strike Witches is pretty blatant about its ecchi intentions, but the up-front honesty endeared itself to me after a while. I really don’t want to dwell on that though. Firstly, the quality of the writing in regards to the characters is a good example of how this show goes from being forgettable otaku fodder to being a bit more memorable. They’re stereotypes up to a point, but beyond that point they’re actually really likeable and I grew quite sentimentally attached to them by the end. Gertrud was my favourite, in case you’re wondering.
The pic above is, I must say, one of the coolest anime-related infographics I’ve ever seen. It helpfully highlights a very different type of fanservice…namely, the fact that Strike Witches has a staggering amount of historical accuracy. As the episodes progressed I noticed more and more little references dropped in and eventually realised, after checking the Wikipedia page, that the writers of the show had gone to great lengths to get the details right.
I’m familiar with Hiroki Azuma’s infamous ‘database theory’, moe anthropomorphism and how all that applies to appealing to the target audience, but this is the first time I’ve seen real-life historical icons in an anime-centric context, and used so effectively. I’m not sure what sort of brainstorming meetings Studio Gonzo usually go through but I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when the scenario of Strike Witches was thrashed out. Presumably there was one faction who wanted to show a bit of imagination while the other wanted to add animal ears and tits to make sure the target audience paid attention to it, and lively discussion ensued.
I started to think of Strike Witches as one production that had a novel concept, fun characters and a thoughtfully-written plotline, but somehow came out of those boardroom meetings with those important parts intact. It could’ve been a recipe for disaster with writers and animators fighting with the sponsors and accountants for supremacy, but amazingly it wasn’t. Hooray for artistic integrity, eh?
Then there’s the world-building. Alternate history is a plot device that I enjoy but personally don’t see very often, and I must confess I’m a bit of a WW2 history nerd anyway. An AH WW2 story, with the recognisable equipment and fashions of the era coupled with a shaken-up political landscape thanks to an alien invasion, is a really cool idea that just clicked with me.
I don’t think I’m in too small a minority with that either. There’s even a hirschgeweih_antennas tag on Danbooru and if you don’t know what THAT is, they were the arrays on the early Lichtenstein radar fitted to German night patrol planes. Compare the antennae of, say, a Ju 88 or Bf-110 with Sanya’s magical headgear:
The cool thing is, there are LOADS of these little omake scattered around, and anyone who writes the show off as just moe girls flying around in their knickers and hilariously crash-landing into one another’s cleavage is missing out on that. It comes with the caveat of being a history nerd into the bargain, of course.
I think that this particular aspect of Strike Witches taps into the mecha musume concept that melds these two types of geekiness – military/history buffs with bishoujo anime otaku – in what I find to be a disturbingly imaginative way. I guess that this particular topic is best discussed on its own since it covers a lot of in-depth theory that I don’t think I’m qualified to tackle right now, but Strike Witches is a textbook example of how moe anthropomorphism takes the sting out of what would otherwise be very serious and downbeat. War is Hell, but if Lucifer’s a moe girl with lacy knickers you can at least get a laugh out of it.
From a personal point of view, Strike Witches feels like Gonzo’s apology for inflicting so much relentless tragedy onto us with She, The Ultimate Weapon. Both series examine the personal effects of warfare on the combatants – and rely on young females to do the fighting – but beyond certain obvious similarities it’s as though Strike Witches was deliberately made to be Saikano‘s polar opposite.
That is to say, it manages to be a war drama that’s vaguely optimistic…and anyone who’s seen Saikano will I’m sure understand why an optimistic war story is a sight for sore eyes. Sure, there were a few tearjerking moments and points where I expected something utterly tragic to happen, but Strike Witches cleverly skirted round them and put a more hopeful spin on things. The premise of the Neuroi’s arrival forms a common enemy and allows humanity to stand united for a change, so although it looks and feels like the early 1940s it doesn’t have that familiar black cloud of misery and conflict…it’s as though the story is rebooting history and providing us with a more hopeful timeline to enjoy.
And enjoy it I did. Consciously seeing past the crap aspects of a production in order to appreciate the good ones isn’t how most people watch something, and it isn’t something I’d routinely recommend either. That said, theres one heck of a lot to Strike Witches that’s original and fun, or if it’s not original it’s still damned cool, and I’m sure as hell not going to disregard all that over mere panty shots.