Review for Strike Witches: The Movie
I wake up this morning, and flip open the tablet to take a look at the headlines, to see that there is a move to make ‘upskirting’ an offence. Quite right too, I thought; it’s a horrendous invasion of privacy bordering on sexual assault. No one should be a victim of such prurient predators. And then I turn my attention to reviewing Strike Witches: The Movie. Strike Witches, as elaborate a contrivance to look at young girls in their underwear as any that anime has produced in its long history. I begin to think that there are two ‘mes’, the me that lives in the everyday world, and the me that watches anime.
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.
When Yoshika Miyafuji of the Fuso Empire joined the 501st Joint Fighter Wing to defend Britannia, she had the hope of finding some clue as to what happened to her father. But with the witches of the Wing, she managed to succeed against the alien Neuroi, and even establish a basis for communication between the two opposing sides. She then returned to Fuso and civilian life to continue the family tradition and become a healer, before being called up again to liberate Romagna from a new breed of hostile Neuroi that had overwhelmed the first wave. At the end of the second season following a desperate battle to defeat the Neuroi hive over Venezia, Yoshika Miyafuji expended all of her magic to rescue her mentor, Mio Sakamoto.
As the film begins she’s back at the family practice in Fuso continuing her training to become a doctor, hoping to enter medical school. When a witch named Hattori Shizuka arrives with an invitation to study at a prestigious medical school in Helvetia, Yoshika jumps at the chance, even though it means a long trip to Europe. It’s a long trip during which Hattori has plenty of opportunity to become disillusioned with the hero of the war against the Neuroi. But there’s more danger when they reach Europe and begin their journey to Helvetia. There is a new kind of Neuroi attacking Europe; a transforming Neuroi that can jam radio transmissions and appear anywhere without warning. Even if the 501st Joint Fighter Wing can reunite, it might not be enough.
You get a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. It’s clear and sharp throughout, with strong, consistent colours. There are no problems with compression, aliasing or digital banding to my eyes. For what it’s worth, the fan service has actually been toned down for the movie. The camera angles may still be prurient, but there’s no room in the narrative for communal bathing or fun at the beach. You only get the pudenda during the action sequences, of which there are many, and which have the full, theatrical budget and effort put in to make them even more spectacular than before. The film is also more atmospheric than the TV series, more thoughtful in its lighting and mood, while the world design is richer and more varied.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and Japanese with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate audio. For once I get to hear Strike Witches with a surround audio track, and given the story and the action, you realise just how much a Japanese surround track is missed in the TV series. The soundstage is put to excellent use conveying the action, and the various engine notes to the girls’ Striker Units really resonate with the upgrade of an LFE track. The dialogue is clear, and the subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos. This time I stuck with the Japanese throughout, and didn’t even try the English.
Madman Entertainment have essentially just changed the region coding on Funimation’s disc from A to B. You get one disc in a BD Amaray style case. The disc autoplays a trailer for Funimation Now before booting up a slightly animated menu. The film is followed by translated English credits.
In the extras you’ll find three flavours of trailer for the film, as well as Funimation trailers for Code Geass, Maria the Virgin Witch, Seraph of the End, Harmony, and Escaflowne.
The Strike Witches movie is wish fulfilment for fans of the series, or rather witch fulfilment. The first series ended on such a definitive note that the second season required a reset to work, bringing protagonist Yoshika Miyafuji out of retirement to fight a new breed of Neuroi. The movie has to do it all again. We have yet another, new breed of Neuroi, one more powerful, adaptable and malicious than ever before, and on top of that we have both Yoshika Miyafuji and Mio Sakamoto out of the fight, due to having lost their magical powers at the end of the second series.
This story then is all about Yoshika travelling to Europe again, this time to attend a medical school in order to become a doctor, albeit without healing magic. At the same time the Neuroi menace is back in Europe, and we encounter several members of the 501st, now split up and repatriated closer to their home nations, as they meet this new threat. Lynne and Perrine are in Gallia, Mina, Trude and Erica are in Belgique, Shirley and Francesca are in Romagna, while Sanya and Eila are in Eastern Europe, serving with their respective defence forces as the Neuroi threat arises once more.
This time it looks as if the story is grooming a new heroine, Hattori Shizuka, the young witch who escorts Yoshika to Europe. When she first meets Yoshika, it’s with a heavy dose of hero worship for the girl who twice defeated the Neuroi, but that quickly turns to disapproval when she sees Yoshika’s happy go lucky attitude, and her inability to follow orders. As the story unfolds, Yoshika starts to have more of an influence over Hattori by her example, her refusal ever to accept. By the time they reach Europe and encounter the new Neuroi menace, Yoshika’s ready to fight even if she lacks her magic, while Hattori is just as committed. Of course they get into trouble, but it’s Yoshika’s presence that once more draws the 501st back together again.
Strike Witches isn’t about the panties, no matter what the cameraman would have you think, and the battle against the Neuroi, the aerial action sequences are actually only the icing on the cake (although I love it every time Shirley breaks the sound barrier). Strike Witches is all about the characters, and despite them being separated at the start of the film, they’re at least separated in their correct groupings. We meet Shirley and Francesca having fun together in Venezia, racing gondolas. Sanya and Eila just have to be together through natural law. Trude and Erica are the perfect antagonistic pair, and when Yoshika first arrives in Europe, she pays a visit to Perrine and Lynne, reforming the trio from the series. The movie is all about getting the ‘band’ back together again, seeing all of the 501st in the sky, working together against the Neuroi, and if it means blatantly contrived, Witch Fulfilment to get Yoshika back in the squad, then so be it. The feel-good factor is the only thing that is important in the Strike Witches movie, and in that respect it’s a bull’s-eye.
The Strike Witches movie distils all that was fun about the series into an economical 90 minute runtime. It’s the pure, panty-focussed drug, and if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love the movie. Annoyingly however, it ends on a ‘to be continued’, a promise that is yet to be fulfilled.