Anime Review: Strike Witches (Season 1)

Okay, I guess I need to say a little more about this series than what I posted earlier

In a fictionalized World War II era world, Earth is being attacked by a mysterious alien race known as the Neuroi. When traditional military forces come up short in combating the threat, the world turns to the girls of the 501th Joint Fighter Wing, the Strike Witches, as their last hope for humanity.

The Witches are an ensemble team of young women from around the world with magical abilities, which periodically manifests itself in the form of animal ears and tails. By attaching the special machinery known as Striker Units to their legs, the girls’ magical powers are enhanced and they also gain the ability to fly. With the Striker Units in place, the girls take to the sky to do battle with the Neuroi in high altitudes.

The first season of the Strike Witches TV series centers around Japanese school girl Yoshika Miyafuji. Because of her magical healing ability, she is recruited by Mio Sakamoto to join the girls of the 501st. The pacifist Miyafuji is reluctant to become a fighter in the war, but when she discovers that her missing father is the inventor of the Striker Units, she goes along with Sakamoto in search of him.

It is no secret that I love Strike Witches. For the past few months, I have been heavily promoting the series on my twitter and blog as FUNimation has been embarking in their tongue-in-cheek “War on Pants” campaign. But my love for the show has been there since it first debuted in Japan nearly two years ago. I named it my #1 anime release of 2008 because it was the first commercially successful anime to be legally available online for a global audience.

However, there is a reason why this became such a big seller in Japan. In a market that has been overflowing with moé titles for years, Strike Witches manages to take the science of fan pandering and make a goddamn masterpiece out of it.

So where do I begin?

I think the most obvious thing that everyone will immediately notice about this show is the fan service. With the exception of maybe a see-through stocking or two, none of the female characters wear pants, skirts, or anything else to cover up their underwear. It is such a simple costume choice, yet it ends up being unbelievably sexy in execution.

The brilliant thing about these costumes is that as obviously embarrassing as walking around in just your panties is to the audience, the girls are completely oblivious to it. No one ever makes any references to pants of any kind, yet the camera is frequently being placed in close up crotch shots to show that this is what you are supposed to be looking at. I think this is best shown in a scene where a strong gust of wind suddenly blows through as the girls are working outside. The girls scream in embarrassment and go through all the motions as if they are keeping their skirts from flying up, however, they are not wearing any skirts in the first place!

And that is how this series succeeds in being original in its approach to fan service. It is absolutely fan pandering and completely paint-by-numbers, yet somehow puts enough spin to the formula as to never come off as being cliche. A filler episode in this genre would typically involve sending the girls to a beach or hot springs in order to showcase their bodies. However, there is never a need to do this because the girls are always showcasing their bodies. So instead, we get a filler episode that is a cute “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” skit about the girls stealing each others underwear.

Yet no matter how original and creative the fan service is, the overarching plot involving the girls fighting the Neuroi is absolutely weak. If you are looking for any good military action or deep symbolism with the WWII setting,  you are not going to find it. You can probably sum up every twist and turn within these 12 episodes in a single paragraph.

But the military aspect is not the point of the show. This is a moé title, so the primary focus of every episode is on the girls, their unique personalities, and their relationships to each other. And once again, Witches succeeds in creating absolutely lovable characters. With a cast of around a dozen girls, each one gets their chance to shine for at least one episode, which gives you more than enough time to pick your favorite from the group.

Strike Witches also manages to be visually pleasing even beyond its fan service. With their petite figures and childish faces, the bishop girls look adorable. They are exactly the type of characters needed in a show of this genre. A lot of the designs appear to have come out of a Ken Akamatsu manga title, which as an Akamatsu fanboy, I was completely fine with.

And I do have to give a lot of credit to the large female cast put together for this English dub. In the ever debate over “subs vs. dubs”, the only reason why I would ever chose Japanese over English is that Japanese language is able to pull off “cute” better than English can. Yet the English cast somehow manages to make these girls just as pleasing to the ear as they are to the eyes. Cherami Leigh holds her own in the lead role as the timid Miyafuji, and she is able to be cute without ever becoming annoying.

* * *

The Good: Originality, lovable characters, cute designs, decent voice acting and oh yeah, THE FAN SERVICE!

The Bad: Overarching militaristic plot is thinner than paper.

Final Verdict: In a market that has been flooded by moé, Strike Witches stands out as a masterpiece of fanboy pandering. If you are not into the genre, then you already hate it. But if you are into this type of stuff, then it is required that you watch it!

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment.

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