In an alternate reality version of our world in 1944, a wave of enemies called the Neuroi have shown up. The only ones who can stop them are a team of girls known as the Strike Witches, who use a combination of weaponry and magic to fight them. The series revolves around the Witches' newest recruit, Yoshika Miyafuji, and her slowly becoming accepted as one of the team.
Sometimes first impressions aren't always the best ones. I've seen this happen both in real life and in anime, and nothing hurts a potential series more than a weak beginning. One example for me was the comedy anime Pani Poni Dash, which I greatly disliked the first three episodes of but loved the rest. Princess Lover!, which I expected to be a tasteless, annoying ordeal, also turned out to be a somewhat decent harem series as well, with a fairly likable cast and some good animation. And now I add Strike Witches to that list.
I still had to buy a lot to fully enjoy this series, though. Yes, those are propellers on their legs. Yes, they gain animal ears and tails when they go into combat. And yes, this is nowhere near as asinine in action as it is on paper.
I think part of the reason Strike Witches is enjoyable is because of the things it does right. For one, the character designs, though fairly simple, are cute without being excessively so, and most of the cast are easy to tell apart. The dogfights themselves are well-animated and at times even involve actual strategy. And the art and animation is miles beyond most of GONZO's other series.
One thing both interesting and confusing about Strike Witches is the girls' nationalities. Instead of calling the countries by their real name, all the girls hail from countries made-up for the series. For example, British girl Lynette is from Brittania, while the Japanese heroine of our story, Yoshika, is from the Fuso Empire. It gets a little confusing to comprehend for a while to say the least, and I had to use the Wikipedia entry for this series to tell where some of the girls came from.
Speaking of the girls, let's talk about them. Our main heroine, like earlier mentioned, is Yoshika Miyafuji, a 14 year-old middle schooler with healing abilities (which also grants her dog ears and a tail when she uses them). The grand majority of the series focuses on her and her relationships with the other ten girls in the 501st Joint Fighter Wing. She is early on recruited by Mio Sakamoto, the tough-as-nails sub-commander of the unit. The next few episodes then focus on Yoshika being accepted by the other girls and learning more about them. This is actually an effective way to slowly introduce the cast - we get to learn about the characters as Yoshika does. It also helps that she's quite perky and likable.
Speaking of the cast, it is very big. In addition to Yoshika and Mio, we have nine other girls. I'll list them below through the wonder of bullet points:
- Lynette Bishop, a shy girl who quickly befriends Yoshika and the middle child of eight siblings.
- Perrine-H. Clostermann, a stuck-up girl with a very obvious crush on Mio. She's none too friendly towards Yoshika.
- Charlotte E. Yeager, a tall, busty girl who likes to go fast.
- Francesca Lucchini, the youngest girl in the squadron. Usually found sleeping or playing around. She and Charlotte are best friends.
- Sanya V. Litvjak, a quiet girl who does night patrol, leaving her incredibly sleepy during the day, as well as limiting her relationship with the other girls.
- Eila Ilmatar Juutilainen, Sanya's friend who's a fortune-teller with tarot cards (although her accuracy is questionable).
- Erica Hartman, an accomplished ace in battle (over 200 victories), but sloppy when it comes to everyday routines.
- Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke, Mio's cautious comrade who shows great concern for her later in the series.
- Gertrud Barkhorn, a fairly old Witch who supports Minna and Erica in battle (mainly Minna). She gets off to a rocky start with Yoshika, in no small part due to her looking much like her little sister.
So yeah, the cast of Strike Witches is big. (And almost all of them are named after World War II pilots.) The problem lies in that it's too big, since the series spends a third of its run just introducing characters! Fellow THEM reviewer Bradley Meek told me that the series should've condensed its cast by at least three girls or so, and I agree with him. The only continuously active characters in the series are Yoshika, Mio, Perrine, Minna, and maybe Lynette. The other girls, although they do add to the show at times, are not important much until the final episodes. It almost feels like a dating sim line-up at times. Like quiet, sleep girls? There's Sanya. Like your girls tall and curvy? Charlotte is the girl you're interested in. It gets a little ridiculous after a while.
In fact, the series seem to show more concern for shenanigans involving the girls than it does actual combat at times. For example, one entire episode revolves around a girl's panties being stolen and finding out who stole them. Another has Perrine getting so jealous of Yoshika "taking" Mio away from her she fights her in the air for that reason! And quite often the series will throw the girls into situations that show off their bodies. (Most notably episode 7, the panties episode earlier described.)
However, there were quite a few moments I enjoyed as well. Episode 6, which is about Yoshika working with night patrol girls Sanya and Eila, was my favorite episode in the series. The girls flying in the night sky is actually kind of relaxing, plus it involves my favorite girl in the series, Sanya. Very low-key, quiet, and talented for her age, she kind of reminded me somewhat of Alice Carroll from Aria, who was also young and talented at what she did for her young age. The episode before it revolves around Charlotte trying to break the sound barrier, thrilled by the sensation of speed...which almost gets her in trouble when the Neuroi attack. These were among my favorite episodes of Strike Witches.
On the audio side of things, Strike Witches's background music holds up well, mainly the battles which use orchestral music. The opening theme, sung by Yoko Ishida, is lacking to say the least, considering the usual quality of her songs. The ending theme is no better, despite the gimmick of using different voice actress duos to sing it. The voice acting ranges from adequate to high-pitch annoyance, and features a fairly all-star cast as far as Japanese voice actresses go (Ami Koshimizu, Misato Fukuen, Rie Tanaka, Miyuki Sawashiro, Mai Kadowaki).
It's hard for me to recommend Strike Witches. Although the show has glossy production values and a few very likable characters, the very concept of the series is still stupid, and the fan service is pushed hard fairly often. The juxtaposition of cute girls and World War II-era weaponry is a strange one indeed, and more than a few scenes made me roll my eyes. However, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this series for the most part, despite its flaws.
It still doesn't make it a good anime, unfortunately.
A strong two star, but two stars nonetheless. Those who can overlook the stupid premise can add another star or two. — Tim Jones
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: FUNimation.com stream
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Strike Witches © 2008 501st JOINT FIGHTER WING
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