Never has the phrase “know your audience” meant more to me than while watching Strike Witches. There is literally a list as long as your arm of different anime tropes which the studio responsible for this series, Gonzo, employ to sell DVDs, Blu-Rays and merchandise, all of which are skilfully wound into something truly compelling and highly enjoyable. So, what is it about these pants-less young magical women with animal ears and tails as they fly across the skies on propeller driven shoes, killing a mysterious enemy responsible for destroying most of mankind?
For most people, that last sentence will have sold this anime right away without any further reading as that will have ticked at least one of your boxes. For those of you who are more discerning as to how to spend your hard earned cash, please continue reading and I shall persuade you further to open your wallet.
Strike Witches is set in 1944, in the land of Britannia (think Britain, only with less Churchill) via an alternative universe where the 18th Century witch hunts never happened. Instead of Hitler and the Nazis invading and pillaging all in their wake we have the Neuroi, a faceless mechanical enemy, origin unknown, whose mysterious power overwhelm all who stand in their way. Thankfully, humanity has a trump card to play, and thanks to the genius of some military boffins in a shed who have an unhealthy interest in aircraft these secret weapons, the witches, can finally play a part in combating the Neuroi.
The series follows the actions of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, aka the “Strike Witches”; the front line battle group based in a fortress located between Dover and Calais in the Dover Strait as they recruit their newest member, Yoshika Miyafuji from her school in Japan. In her defence, she wasn’t exactly recruited, more coerced by the husky sounding Mio Sakamoto using her supposedly dead father’s letter as bait. There isn’t a lot a fourteen year old can do when it comes to saying no to solving the mystery of her father’s death! Anyhow, I digress. The Strike Witches, including Yoshika, are a group of eleven young girls aged between twelve and twenty (their average age is sixteen, for those interested) whose sole responsibility is to don the Striker unit, best described as leggings in the shape of an aircraft, and fight the Neuroi using a variety of high calibre guns and shoulder mounted rocket launchers.
In their spare time, the girls like to hang out, train, bathe, eat and bicker in the way that young women do. Occasionally, there are copious amounts of groping involved in their relationships with each other.
The series initially has a “monster of the week” feel to it as the characters are being developed, with a couple of “filler” episodes about half way through - however when those episodes consist of many bath house scenes, a beach episode and a gratuitous “hunt the panties” episode, it’s hard to describe them as being just “filler”. Thankfully though, the series gets to the point and a plot develops towards the end leaving you with just enough of a feel-good ending, and a teaser for the second season to leave us longing for more.
While first watching the series I discovered something unexpected. The English dub, except for the overly husky voice of Mio, is extremely well done. Each of the girls are well matched with their voic actresses, matching the ages and personalities of the girls almost uncannily. Even the singing voice of Mina is well reproduced as her English voice actress, Anastasia Munoz, can hold a tune very well. For those who listen closely, they will recognise the voice of Erica is the same as Birdy in Birdy the Mighty Decode - you just have to love FUNimation sometimes. Seriously though, in this case I think they have done a jolly good job with the English dub, which is nothing less than this series deserves.
The same goes for the artistic style and character designs, with the former being consistently fluid and detailed and the latter being almost obsessive compulsive when it comes to the detailed drawing of the Striker units and weapons. Even reading a few fan sites as I write this reveals that every single Striker unit is unique and based on a real aeroplane, while each of the weapons wielded by the 501st is real and identifiable. Even the names of the girls resemble early 20th century pilots with Francesca Lucchini, for example, being based on Franco Lucchini, and this is true for almost all of the girls, their guns and their Striker units. This level of detail makes my inner nerd cream with sheer joy and obsessive compulsive glee.
This brings me onto my final points. The major issue I have with the series is the over-use of fanservice. Bearing in mind that the average age of the girls is sixteen, with the main character being fourteen, the series does not hold back on a single opportunity to make you aware that these girls never wear trousers, and only on very special occasions, wear anything that obscures the view of their underwear. While very entertaining at times (see episode seven), I find it actually rather testing at others, especially as in trying to achieve the perfect “panty shot” the producers could have actually made a better job of the scene if they showed off some of their excellent dog fight footage. It's a bit of a shame, as unfortunately this is the aspect of the show which makes this something I would show to friends into something I would show only to those who see it coming. But, hey, that’s Gonzo for you. On the topic of panties, I have a game for you to participate in while you are watching if you are interested; see below for details.
Strike Witches was produced to sell in large numbers and it achieved this by being produced to a high quality while pandering to the tastes of a wide fanbase. Never have I heard of a series attracting the moe-loving types, cat girl fanciers (yes, I know that only a couple of them could be strictly called cat girls) and those among us who dream in early 20th Century military hardware, but Strike Witches does that and does it well, albeit with a guilty taste in my mouth for enjoying it so much. Like those who came before me, this is another series to add to the shelf of “guilty pleasures”.
This review, for all intents and purposes, ends here. However, continue reading for my ramblings on the cultural background of the lack of trousers, and for the UK Anime Strike Witches Drinking Game.
The UK Anime Strike Witches Drinking Game
Uncharacteristically of me, I have decided to ramble further to try and figure out the mystery of the missing trousers, and while trying to do so I came up with a little game.
You will need the following equipment: Shot glass, a clear spirit, and a bucket. The rules are simple:
- Every time you see a lens flare off a pair of tight gym-shorts, down a shot.
- Every time you see a close up on camel toe, down a shot. (For those who don’t know what camel toe is, urbandictionary.com is your friend. This is a family friendly website).
- Every time Francesca Lucchini buries her head into the chest of Charlotte, down a shot, and clean yourself up with a tissue.
No additional shots are taken for pure panty shots, because if they were you would not last two minutes. (Is this a good moment to mention that UK Anime only encourages responsible drinking? No? Thought not. - Ed)
Oddly enough, while thinking about this series, I tried to fathom why in an alternative universe women would stop wearing trousers or skirts, but still wear dresses. Especially since every woman, not just the witches and not just the young girls, don’t wear clothes that obscure their undergarments.
I figure this has to be cultural, mostly by the way that the lack of modesty is so blasé. Nudity is clearly forbidden (see episode seven), but 24/7 visible panties are not. In fact they are a style statement! I am of the opinion that because even the older women (see the nurses in the first episode) and non-magical female persons don’t wear trousers, it cannot be simply accredited to trousers potentially disrupting the interface between the witches and the Striker units. Similarly, the “weapons of mass distraction” excuse doesn’t work as the enemy clearly doesn’t have any sexual urges. The climate is the same and isn’t any hotter than it is in our world (especially since characters regularly fly in the rain in their panties).
So, for lack of a better reason, it’s cultural for reasons that only a historian and an anthropologist will be able to give. This is sad really, because all the men have to wear trousers. I think that this is discriminatory and that the men in Strike Witches should be given the same freedom to (not) don trousers. I demand the right to not have to wear trousers in public! (Please, never let this come to pass! - Ed.)