Twelve Days of Anime 2013 – The final confrontation in Girls und Panzer
December 17, 2013 Leave a comment
I , like many others on twitter was quick to laughingly and quite ironically proclaim Girls und Panzer to be the best of the season and perhaps the year just before it started. 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, where they were used, and the periods tanks are associated with, so the very notion of Sensha-do being the domain of girls and women fascinated me. It effectively turns everything on its heads, and in this series tanks and the girls 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 centre 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 centre, 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 tank 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.
The finale of Girls und Panzer served to conclude this story of Miho and how much she, and Ooarai have grown since those early episodes. We are presented with an exceptionally animated and choreographed battle, one that includes great action set pieces coupled with excellent use of tactical thinking, along with a little luck. The final clash between Miho and Maho, sisters with very different attitudes with regards to the proper practice of Sensha-do produced a thrilling end to the final battle, tank drifting and all. These final two episodes may have been delayed by almost three months, but the end result was worth the wait, and I feel that if it had been rushed the end to Girls und Panzer wouldn’t have had the same impact it had.