Strike Witches: Road to Berlin
Following the Neuroi's defeat in Britannia and Gallia, the Witches are now free to turn their gaze towards Karlsland and its capital Berlin. However, time is running out for Minna now that she's 20 and will have to reckon with slowly losing her ability to fight as a Witch. Yoshika is also facing her own problems; her recovered powers in Europe came with a cost of not being as stable as they used to be. This puts the 501 in a rather tight pinch as they race to fulfill Minna's dream of liberating Berlin while she can still fight.
Stig: The Strike Witches were in a bit of a weird place when I first watched this. Sure, the two original TV shows had been - mid-range rating aside - pleasant surprises, and there was also a movie that basically served as the best of the whole franchise, a certain ending event notwithstanding. But between then and now, we also had Brave Witches, a general by the numbers side story that was a bit disappointing on quite a few levels. I had hopes, of course, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried too.
Tim: Brave Witches kind of, um, to be frank, sucked to me. It didn't help it would be another four years before a proper third season of Strike Witches would finally come out, and that was over eight years after the excellent Strike Witches the Movie blew me away with its surprisingly high quality. Being a Strike Witches fan requires you to have zen-like patience.
So how does Road to Berlin measure up? Let us start off the review by saying this: rest easy. The show is pretty much on the level of the first two seasons, for both good and bad.
In fact, Road to Berlin seems a little bit too familiar with what its fans want to see. While Brave Witches was a bit of a departure, Road to Berlin once again goes through the motion of having us meet up with Yoshika. She visits a friend, calms down an angry bear (polar bear this time, and no, Yoshika isn't saving her friend from its deadly puns), and heads off to save a battleship from a Neuroi attack, where she is eventually rejoined by the other girls in the 501. Well trodden ground by the Strike Witches franchise as a whole.
Mio is back, too. While she isn't a part of the 501 anymore, it's actually kind of nice to see that her millitary career isn't over just because she doesn't have her Witch powers anymore. Now that Gallia is free and the allied forces are turning their gaze towards Karlsland, it puts a nice progress frame on the whole show. It makes it the most focused Strike Witches has ever been.
Which is not to say the show doesn't follow up on one of its other traditions. Neither of us were very fond of "that one episode" in the first two seasons, the infamous "episode seven" of each of them. Season one's was about a panty theft, while season two's was about a miniscule Neuroi bug who was eventually defeated by, of all things, Minna's butt. (No, really.) Road to Berlin continues the fine tradition of throwaway filler fanservice in episode seven when Lucchini carelessly yet accidentally activates a curse where a stone idol of sorts possesses the girls and gives them huge boobs (yes, even the 13 year-old Luccini), where the episode devolves into some kind of grabby zombie horror thing, complete with ominous red/green lights. I guess you could charitably call this episode the best of the episode sevens in this regard, if only because it playing around with lightning and horror tropes makes it a bit more fun than it otherwise would be. It even gets a wee bit intense at the end when it's just down to a couple of girls. But it's still a bit jarring in an otherwise more action-focused season than the show usually is.
Unfortunately, it also has that one episode where part of the cast not only gets, but decides to eat, the idiot ball for some reason. Granted, the first season's case was mostly Yoshika's dealings with the humanoid Neuroi, and the only aggravating part of that particular leave of someone's sense is that neither season two, the movie, or this season ever followed up on this. Yoshika choosing to run away during her house arrest was a really stupid decision, but still an understandable one given her character. Season two had a much worse episode centered around Sanya and Eila, when they had to ascend to heights unreachable by regular striker units. Coupled with Eila's terrible shield skills versus Yoshika's ridiculously amazing ones, we were forced to watch Eila's jealousy trump common sense hard, and nobody having to pay the price for their terrible decision making. Road to Berlin's episode is also about Sanya and Eila, and its dumbness stems from Sanya - who should know Eila and her abilities better than anyone - suddenly for no reason at all doubting them just for the sake of creating drama and looking like a total jerkass. We won't say more about it, but be prepared to stare at the screen dumbfoundedly as you see the episode plays out. Considering that Sanya is both of our favorite character in the show, this is especially frustrating to watch the usually sweet girl basically turn into season one Perrine or Brave Witches's Kanno, albeit a significantly more soft-spoken one. (Which just makes the whole thing even more ludicrous.)
With Mio retired from the Strike Witches, Shizuka takes her place in the 501, much to her delight over being able to work alongside her idol Yoshika. Those who remember her in the movie might not be too happy about that, but thankfully she's more or less completely free of that huge stick up her butt by the time Road to Berlin starts. She's still a bit of a fangirl for Yoshika, but she does channel that fangirlishness a bit better this time around, and surprisingly enough she's also better at following orders when it's important to do so. Going from the movie, it's also nice to see Perrine continue to be her proper lady self, though a side mission for the Queen of Nederland show us all that she isn't entirely free of her childish streak.
You'll be happy to know that the main storyline thankfully keeps up the pace. Regulars can probably see how some of the tension might be jeopardized by the fact that none of the Witches lose their lives at any point - most of the casualties tend to be limited to the poor redshirt soldiers serving in the army, be that on ship or on land. But with both Minna and Barkhorn reaching the ripe ol' age of 20, the two of them also know very well that their tenure as Strike Witches are coming to an end. Minna in particular really, really wants to free Berlin for her last act as a Witch, meaning any hindrances, however benign, cost her valuable time. Delays become the enemy of the day, and Neuroi are both willing and able to throw whatever hurdles they like in the Witches' way. Even worse, while the Neuroi have apparently stopped using moving cores, they have started developing different types of crafts, some of which should probably look quite familar not only to aircraft nerds, but also those who remember the research aircraft from season one. Some even travel on the ground now, not unlike that one episode of Brave Witches.
Strike Witches fans might remember the ridiculous asspull the movie unleashed on the audience to bring Yoshika back into action. While we couldn't say for sure exactly how Mio's sword ate up all of Yoshika's magic, Road to Berlin didn't entirely forget this, or even let Yoshika off completely scott free from it. As it turns out, Yoshika's magic is still present, but her ability to channel it has been lessened as a result. And to make things even more difficult, her magic doesn't regenerate nearly as quickly as it otherwise would. This is actually a pretty nice compromise to make her already god-like powers a bit less god-like, while showing us that she did make some sacrifices for the sake of the world she fought to protect, which is in line with her character. We wish we could say this was the path the show took all the way to the end, but nope. Because this happy ending was bought with yet another asspull, and you better be ready for that if you thought the first one was kind of ridiculous.
One thing we're happy to report is that Road to Berlin seems to be back to form when it comes to animation. Unlike the frustrating shaking camera in Brave Witches, Road to Berlin once again has nicely animated battle scenes with a good mixture of CG for the distant shots and cel animation for the closeups, both being directed in a way that makes them easy to follow as well as exciting to watch. It also follows the pattern of Brave Witches of being a lot less fanservicey (episode seven aside), for better or worse. Yoshika's perverted streak is toned waaaay down, and skirt shots in combat have subsided quite a bit. Even bath scenes are rarer, with a couple even used as major plot point scenes in episodes! And the scenery is, once again, simply lovely. There is still a sense of immense scale to the Neuroi nest you see forming at the start of the show, but seeing planes or any of the witches fly can still be quite breathtaking, even if they're just travelling somewhere rather than outright fighting.
Also like Brave Witches, Road to Berlin always has a lot more interaction with men than the first two seasons of Strike Witches. While there were a few here and there in season one and two, here near every episode has them directly working with men in the military, one part of an episode with Yoshika in a tank that would make even the tanks in Girls und Panzer blush in envy at its sheer size. It makes the girls feel more like part of the military instead of just a side team, which we liked. They might be the aces in this world, and appreciated as such, but everyone's out there doing their part, as it were. (Except maybe one guy who really should be relieved of duty on grounds of being kind of terrible at it.)
It's also a noticeably more violent this season, too. Quite a few people get hurt or die, and even one of the Witches gets gravely hurt in a pool of blood not unlike Yoshika did in the movie. The Neuroi are far faster and more compentent this season, and even strike at cities and towns now as well. This is why we didn't mind the toned down fanservice too much; Road to Berlin knows when there's a time to be serious and a time to be goofy, and luckily the show typically doesn't try to throw in dumb jokes during its action scenes.
Stig: By and large, I'm relieved that Road to Berlin mostly keeps up the pace and the quality of earlier seasons. The movie is, perhaps arguably, the best offering of the Strike Witches franchise as of yet, but if you can stomach the reprise of the movie ender asspull for the second time, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy Road to Berlin as well.
Tim: Road to Berlin is a return to form for the series after the rather clunky Brave Witches. It's more focused, not as reliant on stupid gags during its action scenes, and the few standalone episode stories that are there (like Shirley and Perrine's) feel like character progression for their characters and not just filler stories like season two's did (episode seven aside).
An absolute fair continuation of the Strike Witches franchise. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Panties are still often on display, though more in line with what was going on in Brave Witches. In addition, the show doesn't have the same amount of rampant nudity as the first two seasons had, though episode seven contains Senran Kagura-level boobage. (Unless, of course, the physical release gets an extra OAV episode with full frontal nudity like Brave Witches did.) It's also noticeably more violent than the last two seasons, though, so, um, yeah there's that to look out for.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Strike Witches: Road to Berlin © 2020 Humikane Shimada / KADOKAWA / 501st Integrated Combat Wing
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