Girls und Panzer – Review
March 28, 2013 6 Comments
Girls und Panzer is absolutely brilliant and sits as a perfect example of how even the most innocuous series can be turned into a veritable masterpiece with the right direction, writing and a truly engrossing story that has been created by a group of people who truly love classic war films and all they entail. I, like many others on twitter, was quick to laughingly and quite ironically proclaim this series to be the best of the season and perhaps the year just before it premiered. However, having sat through the gripping action, wonderful character development, and truly superb soundtrack it is safe to say that I can now, entirely un-ironically proclaim it to be a spectacular success. I have never really had any problems with the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ aspect of many anime, finding the ordinary, if rather romanticized portrayal of Japanese school life often charming and entertaining. What we find in Girls und Panzer however is an entirely different take on this well warn aspect of anime, and while it still has cute girls doing cute things, the constant presence of tanks and the important part that they play in life helps to subtly change the way this anime portrays the lives of school girls.
The very notion of a ‘martial art’ involving tanks at first seemed ludicrous and I was almost convinced that it could not be used in an anime without coming across as both ludicrous and plain silly. However, the very existence of Sensha-do really surprised me, not least in the very accurate, and powerful portrayals of tank combat as shown from the viewpoint of teenage girls. The central premise of Sensha-do also intrigued me since to me as with most people, tanks are largely associated with WWII (or later periods) films involving lots of men fighting for their lives, a place where women are almost entirely absent. Tanks are perhaps inherently masculine in terms of appearance, those who used them and when and where they were used, so the very notion of Sensha-do being the domain of girls and women fascinated me. It effectively turns everything on its heads, and fascinatingly enough, tanks, and the ability to drive tanks somehow managed to become entirely feminine, as if the war films involving big, gruff men never existed. By comparing Sensha-do to Ka-do (flower arranging/the way of the flowers), Sa-do (Tea Ceremony), and even Sho-do (Calligraphy) it is given a place within the great aesthetic Japanese traditions, and more specifically those that many Japanese women are expected to master as a part of bridal training.
What surprised me most about this comparison is how little it took for me to believe that Sensha-do was as feminine as Sa-do or Ka-do, in fact, after a couple of episodes it seemed perfectly normal for high school girls to be operating tanks. The excellent characters in the series helped this, with the story of Nishizumi Miho at its center driving the narrative along at a steady pace. While there were numerous other brilliant characters, it was ultimately the story of Miho and her fear or perhaps distrust of tanks that formed the center of Girls und Panzer. By presenting a character who is both an exceptional commander, tactical thinker and also fearless, but who nonetheless has a fear or distrust of tanks at its center, Girls und Panzer helped to create a truly wonderful story about the growth of a group of people and a school who had never thought of the sheer joys of tan warfare until this point. It is the story of Miho’s quest to find what she had lost and learn to enjoy Sensha-do once again that drives the series, with the other characters helping to support and follow her in her quest. That is not to say she is alone, in fact, without Yukari, Hana, Mako and Saori, along with the rest of the supporting cast it is arguable that this series may never have been as enjoyable as it truly is. They become Miho’s emotional support, while also being fascinating and entertaining characters in their own rights, so, while Miho is the central character the series ends up being about the growth of an entire club and the fight against adversity.
None of this may have worked quite as well as it did without the presence of tank warfare the trials and tribulations of Oorai Academy in their quest to win at all costs. While it was nice to see the interactions between the main characters the series truly came alive when tanks were involved, creating some of the most intense and thrilling battle scenes I have seen in an anime in quite some time. They weren’t just mere scuffles or mutually assured destruction however, and these tank battles took on another level of skill and difficulty when tank tactics were taken into account. Girls und Panzer really excelled in creating nail biting tension and keeping the result of a match right until the final few seconds of the episode. Furthermore, as the series progressed we saw Oorai Academy steadily grow as a unit, becoming more in tune with their machines and with Miho’s tactics with each battle. The action was also helped by excellent use of perspective and ‘camera’ angles that really brought the tank battles to life and made them truly amazing to watch. The matches were fluid, energetic and full of enthusiasm, something that was further improved by a truly outstanding soundtrack. There are loads of exceptional moments in the series with an excellent use of well known war songs such as Katyusha, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The British Grenadiers and Panzerlied, along with snatches of music from classic WWII films such as Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare really helped to create a truly brilliant atmosphere and sense of occasion.
You can tell that this series has been created by people who love WWII films and are fascinated by the hardware of the time – hardly surprising when Shimada Humikane of Strike Witches origin was behind the original character designs. The script by Yoshida Reiko also helps since it involves drama but never goes over into the realms of melodrama or angst, and I am amazed that I have never payed attention to her until now, despite Yoshida working on series like Aria, Eikoku Koi Monogatari Emma and School Rumble (amongst others). It is a series full of references to classic WWII films (chief among them Kelly’s Heroes with the excellent ‘Operation Kelly’s Heroes’ carried out by the Usagi Team in Episode 12), although references to Anzio, The Battle of the Bulge and numerous other well known films and actual battles in WWII can be found throughout. The detail of the tanks, including the way each school represented a specific nation, including the sort of tanks thy used further helped to create a really fascinating, funny and entertaining series.
I also firmly believe that it is a series that proves moe can also be entertaining, and isn’t quite as vapid or meaningless as its detractors might otherwise suggest. Although there will always be those who simply dismiss any series involving any amount of ‘moe’ (whatever that means since moe doesn’t really have any firm description), but in this case I truly feel that the ‘moe’ elements of the series helped it. I am by no means a moe fanatic, and like different kinds and directions for anime, but neither do I completely dislike or dismiss anime that employ moe in one form or another. I do however admit that there are many series where the use of ‘moe’ designs and character traits gets far too much and overrides everything else about the series that could be good, but in this case there is a nice balance to be found. We still have the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ aspect, but it is nicely balanced by the presence of Sensha-do and tank warfare. What most struck me about the series however is how little needs explaining – we are introduced to a world where tank warfare is both widespread, but also inherently feminine, and schools/academies exist on giant aircraft carriers. None of this is ever explained, especially the giant carriers, but it doesn’t need to be, and actually, as the series progressed it mattered less and less. Above all else, Girls und Panzer is an entertaining series, but also one that cleverly and creatively uses WWII film and battle references in what is a simple story and personal growth through the realm of Sensha-do. A truly exceptional and highly entertaining series, easily one of the best from 2012, and perhaps one of the best series made in the last few years.