Yoshika Miyafuji, a country bumpkin girl with singnificant magical powers, gets involved in a Neuroi attack off the coast of the Fuso empire. Initially unwilling to join the millitary due to not wanting to take lives, she eventually learns that some things just needs to be done if you want to protect the lives of those under direct fire. She becomes the part of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, a squad of witches tasked with the protection of the coastal region of Britannia, one of the core areas in the fight against the Neuroi.
Strike Witches and I have a rather strange relationship. I actually started watching it through the second season during my many synchro sessions with Tim Jones, a move that might not have been the best idea, but still lead me to purchasing the first and watching that out of curiosity. (Just in case you didn't catch me mentioning this in the review for the second season.) I can say this right off the bat, though; It's been an interesting experience.
And so, I set off on what was probably the most speculative of licenses: Putting cute girls in charge of carrying the main cast, regardless of what kind of show we're talking about. Which, in this case, means a millitary squadron in active duty. The show does give the creator an ingenious excuse for involving something I'd otherwise protest rather strongly against; putting what pretty much amounts to children in positions they shouldn't have to endure, namely their witch abilities, that supposedly leave them as they become adults. It's a bit of a disrephancy, because the beginning of the show feature Yoshika's parents using magical powers to heal the injured, but the only real ability they lose is their ability to create shields, which admittedly is VERY useful in the fight against Neuroi lasers. Maybe irreplacably so, as it kind of becomes a plot point near the end of the show. In that way, I can't really find anything in particular to pick apart when it comes to this show internal logic.
And, as Tim mentioned, the show's cast is a marvellously lovable bunch. I certainly don't blame people for liking it when they get to see these girls trying to make the best out of a rather dire situation. Yoshika Miyafuji might be one of the closer representation of the young, "genki" girl, and the remaining girls are as varied a bunch as you'd expect. Yoshika forms a particular strong bond with Lynette Bishop at first once she gets past her feelings of insecurity, and then later Perrine Cloistermann once she gets over her bouts of snobbery and jealousy. (Though in that case, I kind of cheated by starting the second season, which brings us to her homelands, and, as such, a little closer to her heart.) These small things are what costitutes the show at its best, really, which makes me suspect the show would have been better suited as a slice-of-life. Well, it kind of already is, I guess, even if that life is lived in an admittedly scenic outpost along the border of the enemy lands.
One thing I was not so prepared for, however, was just how much the "rays of light" mode of censorship could hide. But even had I watched the second season without those, the first season of Strike Witches would still end up having a lot more nudity and fanservice than the second one, and these are some pretty young girls the show asks us to gaze into... well, "into the unknown", so to speak. (Panties in the way or not.) In a way, I have more of a problem with the camera angles than the nudity itself. It reminded me of one of the problems I had with Uta Kata; the voyeuristic way the show is directed makes it a bit undigestable for me. On the flip side, the male characters in this show seems completely unphased by how the girls in it run around with their bottom halves almost completely bare, which is both odd and appreciated. Odd, because I don't think anyone would get completely used to this sort of thing in real life, but appreciated because Strike Witches doesn't play the "males are perverts" card like far too many other shows I could mention, or even the "males are all useless goofballs" card for that matter. Instead, the men you see in this show mostly act like I imagine most would do in their situations. At least when you consider the fact that most of the men depend on these girls for their -- and the world's -- continued wellbeing.
And they really spent the lion's share of the budget on this show too. Character designs might not be particularly special or original, even if the girls are easily recognisable in any situation, but the background art is marvellous, particularly during the many flight sequences. The battles with the Neuroi are also fast-paced and excellently executed, so I have absolutely no complaint in that regard. This is where the opening episodes shine in particular, but also the one Tim mentioned; episode 6 in all its nighttime sky glory, even in the wake of terrible destruction wrought against the dead silence of the night. If the show had fully featured this and not wasted its time with episodes like the infamous panty chase one, it would have been much better off for it.
My last complaint against this show is with how it handled its ending. One concern I had was that the Neuroi seemed like a rather... inhumane enemy, mostly coming in the shape of various crafts seemingly made up of some kind of black crystalline material with a red core inside, making up its vulnerability, which turns them into fairly guilt-less kills. Not without a certain sense of gallows humor, though; during a transport flight in the middle of the show, Minna comments that if not for the Neuroi, each country's leader would probably put their nations' respective witches up against each other instead, so the inhumane appearance of the Neuroi gives the audience the emotional distance they need not to feel bad when they're taken out in the line of service. This notion eventually gets challenged by the show near the end, where we learn a little more about the Neuroi and their potential dealings with the earthlings, which may or may not have lead to the current situation; I.E. the war against these alien beings. But instead of letting the show have its chance to shine, the ending we get instead is largely unsatisfying, later to be fully and completely abandoned by the second season.
To sum up, Strike Witches's strongest aspects is its characters and the relationships between each and every of them, not to mention the excellent visuals. The weak parts is the way it handles the comedy for the most part, plus its rather weak ending, which is made worse by having potential, but squandering it. The worst part is that Strike Witches is primarly known for being a pandering show and little else, which I feel is a little bit uncalled for. Not that it's a terribly deep show, but when you compare it to shows that really do dedicate themselves to pandering and little else, like Dog Days, Strike Witches is going to end up looking a little more substantial, if also somewhat squandering as potentials go.
Rising above the two-star rating due to the things it does well, but losing the fourth due to its own cowardice. Even if the second season had done as well as the first, this show and its sequel could still have been better. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Even though the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs deemed this series as "wholesome family entertainment", this is not a kids' show! There's quite a bit of violence, as well as lots of fan service (since the grand majority of the cast don't wear pants). The nudity is edited on T.V. and FUNimation's website stream, but uncut on the DVDs. Parental discretion advised.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Strike Witches © 2008 501st JOINT FIGHTER WING
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