What’s that weird feeling when you get a series that is infamous for its teenage fanservice and have to confess it was a good series? Guilt? Shock? About to be mocked? Well, Strike Witches is definitely worth a try…if you can get past the obvious issues.
What They Say:
War is pants! These girls fight in theirs, so we can stay in ours.
In 1939, a great war began in the skies. Enigmatic and brutal, the alien Neuroi have devastated nation upon nation, crushing conventional military forces. To survive, desperate countries band together to field aerial combat units of young girls capable of using magic. Armed with new technology and weapons enhanced by their powers, these flying aces, called “Strike Witches,” form the best defence against the invaders.
I watched the first disc in Japanese, and the second in English – the Japanese in standard 2.0 stereo format with the English episode in 5.1 Dolby Surround, with 12 episodes as well this was a perfect balance. The audio in English as you’d expect is superior as you can immediately distinguish the sounds between several background sounds and it’s very clear, especially with the background effects considering the aerial battles that are done within the show. Japanese is also good and whilst not as clear, you are still able to differentiate everything which makes it solid. The audio has no sync problems with subtitles either so a good release overall.
The video I didn’t notice any problems regarding sync with subtitles, or with any slow rate when pausing – it was very clear and flowed through without any noticeable issues. The transition was good and the colour scheme makes it very vibrant and outstanding when watching on a big screen. No noticeable issues regarding watermarks and worked on both full screen and wide screen format so overall very solid again.
There was no packaging for this release.
The menu is standard, with the first disc having a picture of Yoshika and the second disc having a picture of Lynette both in their Strike Witches attire (i.e. a tad revealing), both armed and dangerous. All the selections are easily accessible, (PLAY ALL, EPISODES, SET UP AND EXTRAS FOR DISC TWO) Scene select is again not applicable as the episode select has pictures of the episode but no scene select option, making it a standard menu set up, no problems with accessibility.
We get a couple of extras on the second disc. We get the standard textless opening and ending which is always fun to watch (even better for people who like the fanservice) but the big extra is on the last episode which has a dub commentary with Scott Sieger(director), Kate Bristol(Lynette) and Cherami Leigh(Yoshika). They talk about quite a few things, from serious like the progression the show, how the two girls find their friendship and even commenting on the infamous ‘panty’ episode (there’s a fun bit where when casting, Scott mentions that they had a sign saying ‘IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY UNDERAGE NUDITY DO NOT AUDITION’) with Cherami saying how they wanted an uncut DVD with all the cast watching it at the same time. They do talk about their roles in between the jokes about nudity and phallic symbols, especially how Yoshika grows as a character yet still remains the same personality wise. It’s a surprisingly good informative commentary…which of course is also balanced out by the silliness.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Strike Witches was something I had thrust upon me, and truth be told, I’m not one for fanservice series. I don’t mind the occasional bit but when the whole series seems to use the motif that basically it’s all about showing the skin, always worried for my sanity. Yet once a year, a show which seems to do that catches you off guard because there is actually plot within it, and whilst the fanservice is there for obvious reasons, you get surprised at the story. I got that with Daphne and the Brilliant Blue, and I definitely got that with Strike Witches, making this a real surprise.
The series showcases to be a fanservice with a smile…then you get the year of 1939. This is obviously a retelling of WWII…and quite a different retelling to say the least…
We are told about the Neuroi, a supposed ‘alien’ race that have drove the world from their major cities, as this alternative Earth with alternative names for countries, and we get the first glimpse of our heroines heading out to battle in particular a stoic girl with an eye patch…all showcasing their legs and rears wearing some interesting technology. Cut to main character Yoshika Miyafuji, a girl from the Fuso(Japan) Empire who has some powers of her own, particular the power to heal(and for reasons not really explained, like a number of the girls, to sprout animal ears and a tail when she uses her powers). We cut to the eye-patch wearing girl who is now apparently scouting Yoshika for something. This is Mio Sakamoto, the Squadron Leaders of the Strike Witches, who seems to know about Yoshika’s father and how she has the potential to be a strike witch. Yoshika however refuses as she doesn’t want to fight and just wants to take over the families’ clinic.
Mio is persistent and uses the father angle to at least convince Yoshika to travel on the battle cruiser Akagi, to search for where her father may be. However, despite a bit of bonding between the two, disaster hits as Neuroi are spotted nearby. Mio goes over to try and stop them, whilst Yoshika tries to be as helpful as she can on board. Frustrated by being so helpless, knowing she has the gift, she finds a spare Witches unit and decides to go up there to help Sakamoto. And after a few mishaps, and a surprisingly good moral story about how afraid she is to use a gun but does so to protect, not to kill (yes, morals in what appears to be a fanservice anime, you could tell at this point I was slowly changing my opinion on my initial thoughts of the show) she comes good for Mio, and whilst what she learns about her father is not what she hoped for, she still decides it is what he would have wanted and becomes the latest member of the Strike Witches.
What happens next has to be easily one of the best examples of being able to do good character development in just a 12 episode anime. In 12 episodes, Strike Witches does what many 26 episode series cannot do, which is get a decent sized cast, manage to make them all well developed characters, and make us love each and every one of them. In episode 3, you get focus on a few girls, namely Lynette, Yoshika’s new roommate and best friend, a shy sniper who aces training but is afraid of the real thing, and Perrine, a talented flying officer who detest Yoshika because she is too close to Mio (yes, along with the fanservice, it is definitely a series that umps up the girls love-o-meter). Whilst they don’t get focus episodes later, they are always integral parts of Yoshika’s development. We get the trickster, Lucchini who is the comic relief fun character and plays an integral part of the infamous panty episode, and opposite her we get Charlotte, a tall busty Liberon(American) who is a speed demon who strives herself to be as good as she can be…as well as be the most fanservicy. Next we have Erica, a talented shooter who’s always smiling, calm…and also a panty thief. Accidentally of course in that same ep. There’s Barkhorn, who we see as a strict girl but in reality is more worried that she lets on because it reminds her of what happened to her sister, Sanya and Elia – two lovely girls whose girls love rates are off the scale but get a great episode together when one night duty with Yoshika, and lastly, they are lead by Commander Mina – who worries about her subordinates whilst following the rules, which comes as a major plot point as the series gets to the end.
With such a big cast in a short series, I’m amazed how well it keeps up. It’s fairly formulaic – once an episode a Neuroi is involved, the star of the day along with Yoshika usually is able to stop it, but in between we get moments with them interacting with what they do in their lives (mechanics for Shirley, cooking for Lynette) with of course, a fair bit of fanservice. The infamous panty episode has to be seen to be believed because of who is actually behind the panty thief (and actually based on a real life event – the fact that nearly all the witches are based on real life people as way shows the surprising amount of research done to this alternative war).
However amazingly, it does have a real plot – as it’s revealed as the girls get older their magic powers are weakened. This comes head to head in one battle where Mio’s shields break and Mina threatens/begs her to retire. At age 20, her powers are getting worse, whilst Mio tries to hide this. In the meantime, after years of seeing the Neuroi’s as nothing but zombie invaders, a humanoid shaped one makes contact with Yoshika. Mina refused to hear her side of the story and is locked under solitary confinement for breaking orders. The development of girls like Perrine is shown here (still jealous of Yoshika but accepts her because of her powers, pretty much begging her to save Mio) as all the girls wonder what happened to Yoshika. Tasting the truth, Yoshika goes against orders to try and make contact, and you realize when the Strike Witches are ordered TO KILL THEIR FRIEND means there is something higher up that meets the eye. It definitely comes to a head when Mina does retrieve her, but refuses to kill her as Yoshika’s contact with the humanoid Neuroi shows the real truth about them…
I won’t spoil any further as the ending is a real goodie, as the surprises and twists really hit. The grade I give below is the highest I felt I could give it, because like with Daphne, I felt that the fanservice was, on the whole, unneeded bar for selling reasons. There is no real reason bar easier movement that the girls have to go in these outfits, and it isn’t really well explained. However, the fact this is based on real fighter pilots now turned into 14-20 year old girls, I can’t fault that. The excellent development of the characters (Eila getting jealous when Yoshika admires Sanya, the Lynette/Yoshika friendship, Shirley as a big sister to the girls, Perrine’s slowly getting out of her holier than thou attitude, etc) in such a short series combined with an actual well developed plot (if it had been a few more episodes longer would have been perfect) With the possible exception of Lucchini, all the girls are developed as best as they can within the time frame and it’s a real joy to watch them grow and welcome their new recruit under the good and bad. I can’t even say it’s a guilty pleasure because a true guilty pleasure would be a series I know is bad…and yet still enjoy. This is not a bad series – it’s a good one. I’m sure many will dismiss it as being fanservice bait, but seriously – if you can avoid that and enjoy this very unique series, give it a shot. It’s got great action scenes, great characters, a sequel hook, some great comic moments as well, the fanservice is just an extra…a bonus or not? Up to your taste – for me? I’m gonna enjoy Yoshika kick some butt.
Strike Witches is one of those rare shows that catches you off guard. The painting is of teen girls not wearing much below the belt – and that can definitely put you off. The show itself however, shows it is just a coat of paint behind the art behind it. A well told story using real events and rewriting it into a form that basically will sell to people into fanservice…but also telling a story that is surprisingly good, with well in-depth characters, some nice touches of comedy, action and making you want more, whether Season 2 will get the nod here, we’ll see. It’s hard to recommend if you’re going to be put off by the service though, as that is still three quarters of the series, but if you can handle that, you’re gonna be surprised. Pleasantly surprised.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 12 Commentary, Textless Opening, Textless Ending
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 10th, 2011
Running Time: 278 minutes
Video Encoding: 480 i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.