Review for Strike Witches (Season 1) Collection
Sales spur the double dip in me. I may not pay $50 dollars for a title, but once it gets down to $10, I’m inspired to open my wallet. That’s Australian dollars by the way, which has a far more attractive exchange rate than the US. My last care package from Oz contained 10 titles, five on Blu, five on DVD, average price including postage and customs, around £7 per item. I’m already beginning to wonder if I needed to go on a Strike Witches buying frenzy though. Certainly I’ve long had Season 2 down for an upgrade, as that was one of the dreaded Manga locally authored releases in the UK, and fixing the basics like the chaptering and the subtitles makes the HD upgrade on BD seem like a bonus. Throwing in the feature film sequel which never got a UK release is simple common sense, but it was only the consistency of format that prompted me to get this first season on Blu-ray as well. The first thing is that Manga used Funimation’s DVDs for the UK release, but more importantly, the first season on Blu-ray is an SD up-scale.
In 1939, the Neurois appeared, enigmatic alien creatures that attacked without warning, initiating a world war that drove humanity back, pushing mankind into ever-smaller enclaves. It was the work of one scientist that discovered a defence against the Neurois where no conventional weapon had effect, magic. Those skilled in magic, inheritors of the gift, in other words witches could stand against these creatures and defeat them. The scientist developed technologically advanced ‘brooms’, Striker Units that the witches wore as mechanical legs with propellers on, that they could ride through the sky at great speed.
Yoshika Miyafuji of the Fuso Empire is strongly talented in magic, having inherited the skill from her mother and grandmother, although she lacks skill and experience. But she doesn’t want to fight in the war, and hates violence. For her father was the scientist who found the Neurois’ weakness, and after leaving her, promising to return, her tenth birthday present was a letter informing her of his death. Yoshika’s talent is one for healing, and that has brought Major Mio Sakamoto all the way to Fuso to recruit her. A desire to protect the ones she loves, and the sudden possibility that her father may still be alive, convinces Yoshika to go with Mio back to Britannia. For Britannia is the front line in the battle against the Neurois. If Yoshika is to fulfil her ambition to protect, she’ll have to join the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, an assorted selection of young girls who have come together from all over the world to battle the Neuroi menace, the Strike Witches.
All 12 episodes of the first Strike Witches Series are presented across two discs.
1. Magical Girl
2. That Which I Can Do
3. You’re Not Alone
5. Fast, Big, Soft
6. We’re the Same
7. Nice and Breezy
8. I Won’t Forget You
9. What I Want to Protect
10. I Want You To Believe
11. Into the Sky…
12. Strike Witches
Strike Witches 1080p widescreen 1.78:1 transfer is indeed an SD up-scale. It takes the original animation created for NTSC broadcast, at 480 lines of resolution, and scales it up to 1080p, so what you’re looking at here is little better than the DVD. When it comes to softness, when it comes to lack of detail, and when it comes to lack of colour fidelity, there’s barely an iota of difference. It’s as if they worked from the DVD master rather than the original animation. What you do benefit from is a progressive transfer, and an absence of compression artefacts, especially during the more frenetic, action packed scenes. For a Gonzo animation, the character designs are surprisingly robust and consistent, while the actual animation remains at their usual standard. Some of the dogfight sequences are really well accomplished. Of course there is the requisite fan service, and panty shots, intrusive camera angles, and pudenda and booby bounce abounds. There is also that slight bright haze that is typical of Gonzo anime, which is something of their trademark style. It’s all pleasant and watchable enough though.
You have the choice of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the Japanese as always, and found it to be acceptable if unremarkable. The characters are voiced to their particular clichés, while the action sequences make use of the stereo to good effect. I gave the English dub a spin, and I have to admit that the 5.1 does work wonders with the airborne action sequences. The dub actresses do avoid the potential Hetalia situation of comedy accents for the multinational characters, but they are still the adult actresses playing a shopping mall full of high-pitched teenaged girls, which can be a little annoying.
Strike Witches is one of the shows that suffers from licensing issues, namely Funimation couldn’t get the rights to Lili Marleen, an insert song in episode 8. Another song from the Strike Witches game soundtrack CD by the same voice actress is substituted, and you won’t notice the change unless you’re specifically aware of it beforehand.
You get 2 discs in a BD Amaray style case, with one disc on a central hinged panel. There’s some nice inner sleeve art to peer at through blue plastic. The discs boot to animated menus.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Cat Planet Cuties.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Shakugan no Shana Season 1.
In terms of extras you get the textless credit sequences, although the textless end credits for episode 12 aren’t here.
What is here is the episode 12 commentary, where ADR director Scott Sager gathers cast members Kate Bristol (Lynette Bishop), and Cherami Leigh (Yoshika Miyafuji) for a chat about the show.
Strike Witches is a fan service aficionado’s dream, ticking every box on the checklist. You have your extensive cast of girls, all of them hitting the correct personality traits. You have the shy, awkward one, the mischievous scamp, the tsundere (abrasive with a soft centre), the sisterly/motherly one, the brash, large breasted one (breasts are a character trait), the cold, hurt one that needs healing, the moe (well, they’re all have to be moe) and so on and so forth. The heroine is an eager young go-getter, who is instantly likeable, and makes friends with everyone, and changes their lives for the better through sheer force of likeability.
Whereas the harem shows of old required an everyman wimpy teen male character for the girls to fixate upon, and fans to get vicarious about, modern harems have ditched the male completely, and the girls pair up and nurse platonic crushes on each other. No actual lesbianism occurs, but the overtones are so thickly laid on, that fans may actually suffer a comedy anime nosebleed, in real life. And furry fans are catered for too. When magic occurs, the girls sprout animal ears, and a little furry tail, giving them the aspect of a cute pet. And before you start talking to me about those crazy Japanese, explain the Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny.
And yes, random nudity does occur, all within the confines of an MA15+ rating. Communal bath scenes abound, boobs are grabbed, fondled, compared, and nuzzled. There is an obligatory swimsuit episode, but this is trumped by the episode where one of the witches’ knickers goes missing. Another fan service checklist item, anime logic applies to the girls’ wardrobes. No skirts exist, no uniform pants, they have to go to battle in just their knickers. And the anime cameraman gets awfully creative with his angles.
Here’s some more inconsistency. I loved Strike Witches. My initial misgivings aside, I quickly grew fond of this predictable, fan service filled, girls with guns action show, and wound up glued to the screen over the nights that I spent watching it. Because, once you take a peek beneath all those tropes and clichés that Gonzo adhered to so closely to sate their fanbase, you’ll find a cast of very likeable characters, and an interesting story. It’s proof again that once you have the basics right, it doesn’t matter too much what the fripperies are. If you are into your fan service and cute girls, Strike Witches is just what you are looking for. If like me, you’re beginning to tire of the fan service because you see it in everything in modern anime, then the story in Strike Witches is strong enough, the character development well thought out enough, to actually make you ignore the fan service. There are very few shows of this nature that can do that.
The alternate history presented in Strike Witches is an interesting one, if not exactly original. World War II is forestalled by an alien invasion, and the nations of the world have to unite in fighting them. This is a parallel world though, where names and places are different, Japan becomes the Fuso Empire, France becomes Gallia, the UK Britannia, The US Liberion and so on and so forth. There are also plenty of nods to real world history that will tantalise any anime loving history buff, not least of which is Charlotte Yeager (the booby brash one) breaking the sound barrier. It’s also a world where magic exists, although only certain girls can use it, and then only usefully up to the age of twenty or so. Which is how we get a squadron full of teenaged girls riding techno-brooms (more like robotic socks) into battle against the enigmatic aliens.
Yoshika Miyafuji is a schoolgirl from Fuso, although the war against the Neuroi has a personal meaning for her. Her father left her family to join the war effort when the invasion began, is in fact responsible for the tactics being used against the alien, but he apparently died for his efforts. This has engendered a strong pacifistic streak in Yoshika, and although she has magical talent, she would rather use it to heal rather than to fight. It’s the coincidental arrival of Major Mio Sakamoto who is looking to recruit her, and the belated delivery of her father’s final letter that changes her mind. From then on, she becomes determined to protect those she cares for, and becoming one of the Strike Witches would do that, but it also conflicts with her reluctance to fight. The show follows her as she tries and reconciles her feelings and her wishes. We also get to meet the rest of the Strike Witches, ten of them in total, and the show takes the time to develop their characters as well, usually for comic and fan service effect, but some, like Commander Mina, Trude, Mio, Lynne and Sanya get interesting back stories as well, and we can see their characters affected by Yoshika’s influence, growing and developing as a result. Twelve episodes isn’t exactly a lot in which to introduce and develop eleven discrete characters, build an elaborate world and back story, as well as develop the overarching story as well, but Strike Witches manages it effortlessly.
The first half of the series is very much devoted to female bonding of the sort that the male otaku demographic hope would happen in a schoolgirl dormitory, but with the additional depth to the characters and the story growing in the background it appeals to the broader audience as well. The fan service elements are treated with a light and comedic touch, so that even with the most egregious of such episodes, the panty theft infused Nice and Breezy, is one I enjoyed and laughed at as much as I did when I watched Love Hina, back when I actively sought out and devoured fan service.
The final few episodes, where the story comes to a head, and the comedy naughtiness subsides sees Yoshika’s pacifistic nature come to the forefront, when she realises that the Neuroi may not be just the faceless demonic enemy that they have been made out as. That is complicated when the military’s newest anti-Neuroi weapon, designed to make the Strike Witches obsolete is revealed, and as is the nature of these stories, it turns out to be more of a menace than the enemies that it is designed to fight. Despite everything, Strike Witches turns out to be really quite good. The one problem might be re-watch value. The more you return to Strike Witches, the less the story has impact, and the more that the fan service and the clichés seem prominent. It also becomes noticeable just how many other shows there have been like Strike Witches in terms of tone and characterisation, especially since it was first streamed. It feels less and less special with each passing year. This Blu-ray is only essential if you’ve got the rest of the franchise on Blu-ray and you want the spines of your cases to match. But it’s not really enough of an upgrade over the DVD in terms of AV.