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Strike Witches: Complete Season 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Magic, science, an alternate 1940’s setting and aliens. Toss in a big dose of fanservice and a lack of pants and how could it fail?

What They Say:
The year is 1944 and the world lives in fear of unidentified flying objects called Neuroi. With the old-boy old guard unable to thwart this deadly menace, humanity turns its desperate eyes to an aerial attack force with much nicer legs. Meet the girls of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, better known as the Strike Witches. These darlings of the great blue yonder may not have standard issue uniforms, but they do have all the right stuff. Where the average flyboy falters, these dolls blast aliens to bits in the bat of an eyelash. With a little magic and a whole lot of leg, the girls of the 501st are winning the war on pants, and aliens!

Contains episodes 1-12.

The Review:
The audio mix for this is pretty good though the English language track makes out better with the 5.1 mix it gets compared to the original Japanese in its stereo mix. Both tracks are encoded using Dolby TrueHD and there’s some good sound design to it, mostly when it comes to the action though. These scenes stand out well with the surround aspect of it in the English mix while the Japanese has a good forward soundstage design that keeps things moving and engaging. Both mixes have their strong suits and use them well and in some ways the English mix also makes out better because of it being louder, giving it more impact. The bulk of the show does revolve around dialogue and the like in general though and that comes across well with no problems during regular playback with dropouts or distortions.

Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series isn’t a native HD release but rather a standard definition remaster which was pretty much expected. The show is spread across two discs with eight episodes on the first and four on the second which is also where the extras reside. With this being an SD remaster, it pretty much met my expectations of taking those materials and giving it a much cleaner and more defined look. While I wasn’t disappointed with the DVD transfer, the colors look richer here overall, much more solid and with a bit of an increased vibrancy since it’s able to utilize the higher bit rates, often kept in the low twenties. There’s still that touch of softness to it but a lot of what we do get for that is just in the design of the series itself. It’s a very clean and problem free transfer overall. Losing the noisy backgrounds alone may be worth the upgrade for many while also gaining the high definition audio.

The packaging for this release is done with an O-Card that’s DVD sized which holds the single sized Blu-ray case inside. The case holds the four discs, two DVD and two Blu-ray, with a hinge for everything and nothing held against the back sides so you can see the artwork, albeit through the blue case. While the reverse side artwork doesn’t make out too well, the front cover artwork is nicely framed with the blue case as it gives us Miyafuji in her combat mode, weapon out, as she’s in mid air. Set against some dark blue skies with a lot of clouds, her serious expression works well for it as there’s some nice intensity to it. The back cover gives us the always lovely “Winning the war on pants!” tagline that I can’t get enough of while showing off the bulk of the girls flying together in a tight formation. As tight as those bloomers that Miyafuji wears. That takes up half of the space while the bottom does a top level view of the series concept, hits some shots from the show and provides all the technical information for both formats clearly and cleanly. The reverse side is pretty neat where the left panel shows off a more technical design of the strike units while the right side gives us a cute picture of three of the girls enjoying the fun that is flying. No show related inserts are included.

The menu design for the release doesn’t go as far as it could for giving it a good military feel, though it has some of the flavor. The menu is laid out with a simple strip near the bottom with the selections that has a bit of an almost military style feeling but not quite while it uses some good darker colors to bring it all together. This is set against clips from the show with a drumroll bit played as part of the music which works, except for the fact that it’s the lowest grade Dolby Digital audio possible, so it really lacks impact to draw you in. The menu is certainly functional and it looks decent as it shows off the big action and avoids much of the fanservice, but it feels like it could have done a lot more.

Similar to the previous releases, the only extras here are the clean opening and cloings as well as the commentary track by the English language team.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A few years prior to watching this when Gonzo streamed it, I was at a convention with a friend who came across a number of toys that looked just like the characters in this show. And I remember thinking it was an interesting idea, but one that was simply too centered around certain fetishes to really appeal too heavily to either myself or a mainstream audience. So when this series was announced and the general terms being thrown around to describe it was “moe anthropomorphizations of military planes,” I knew I was in trouble.

Strike Witches takes place in an alternate mid twentieth century setting in which the world is being invaded by aliens known only as the Neuroi. The Neuroi have appeared seemingly out of nowhere and the only form we see them in so far is in large black shaped propeller aircraft. The cruise about the world and cause quite a bit of trouble, enough so that apparently mainland Europe has been swallowed up by them and Britannia is now the current front line in the war against them. So naturally, the show starts off in Japan where we’re introduced to young Yoshika Miyafuji, the daughter of the man who went off to invent the “Strike Witch” devices that are currently the great hope of the world.

Yoshika isn’t interested in war however since her father died some time ago and the family never knew why. All she wants to do is to be like her mother and grandmother and utilize the magic that she’s capable of to help people in the clinic that the family has run for generations. Life won’t work that way though as she’s being scouted for the Strike Witch program by Mio Sakamoto, a young military officer who knew her father in Britannia. The possible chance that he’s alive is enough to have Yoshika drop everything and head there with Mio, though she does contend that she won’t fight because she doesn’t believe in war. Standing on her principles, she does at least help out on the naval ship she’s riding on by doing lots of laundry and helping with the cooking and cleaning. War is bad, cleaning is good.

Strike Witches doesn’t take too long to get Yoshika into the the action though and want to join up when she finally makes contact with her father’s last location where he may have died. After seeing battle and being somewhat useful in it in her application of her magic, she decides to join up in the 501st Joint Fighter Wing in order to do some good. But Yoshika tries to stick to her principles by not taking a weapon and being leery of some of the training exercises. But as she ends up in more combat situations, she starts to realize the benefit of it not in doling out destruction but in using her power and the weapons to protect people. It may mean causing destruction, but it’s done in a positive way in her mind. She tries to take the high road with things but as time goes on she does tend to fall more in line with doing what needs be done.

A good chunk of the series works along a traditional model for a short run show like this. Each episode focuses on one of the various members of the 501st and their back story while also having Yoshika get involved in some way. Some of the stories are better than others which is to be expected. Sanya has a good story where we see her use of radio signals that gets her closer to making substantial contact with the mysterious Neurois race. There’s some good time spent on night flying when the Neuroi start changing their pattern of attacks as they make more aggressive moves against Britannia. Each character has their own story and each of those stories helps to tell more of the overall tale of the world since they all come from different countries, most of which have been overrun by the Neuroi since Europe is heavily under their control. There aren’t too many ties that bind the girls together from their pasts, but they have a common goal together now and that even includes going bathing together as well. The individual stories are well done but none of them particularly drew me to any character where I wanted to see more of that story. In the end, they’re all pretty superficial.

While the show does focus on the individual stories heavily and Yoshika’s training, it also tries towards the end to go with a larger storyline. Dealing with the Neuroi is a regular focus throughout and there are little nods here and there to something larger. The military in general dislikes the Strike Witches since they take away the glory from them so they’ve finally managed to create an unmanned device, known as a Warlock, to handle the Neuroi threat. The Neuroi themselves aren’t given much depth until the end either, resulting in some of this feeling forced, but it offers up an intriguing ending to the season that does leave you at least curious as to where it will go next.

The alternate world design of the series is one that is admittedly fascinating, especially coming from reading a fair amount of Harry Turtledove novels over the years. The world at war with aliens during this time frame is certainly an interesting idea and seeing how humanity faces it can present some good stories. The technology looks appropriate for the time and the inclusion of magic is something that does a decent job of tying it all together. Where the show loses me is in its attempt to completely sexualize it by having the Strike Witches all be female and for them to apparently abhor pants. Or anything on their legs other than the flying devices. It’s such an obvious panty-fest that it’s… not insulting, but it induces a great deal of eye-rolling. With the military aspect of this series, there are some seriously wonderful ways you can sexualize it without making it so completely obvious. Having everyone in a variety of tops and then showcasing tons of panties below comes across as crass.

In Summary:
When I watched Strike Witches during its broadcast run, I felt it was mediocre at best, though it had some potential with the setting. Some parts of it seriously frustrated me. When I watched the DVD release previously, I had a lot of the same problems, but they were softened by the marathon session I went through when watching this. There’s a lot of the sloppy kind of writing you get with some series, such as when Yoshika learns something key about the Neuroi, even the 501st tries to silence her by not wanting to hear about it at all. The individual character stories add to the world but they don’t bind the cast much. And while I like that there are a number of members from different countries, it’s also too many members to give them enough focus beyond their core story. Strike Witches has a lot of potential but it opts more for the fanservice, which is very heavily used throughout, to draw you in. Sometimes it works but sometimes it’s just too forced. This is definitely a show where your mileage may vary. I liked parts of it but felt it just didn’t achieve its potential.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, English Commentary

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: July 31st, 2012
MSRP: $54.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1008p AVC SD Remaster
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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