Twelve Days of Anime – The Brilliance of Girls und Panzer
December 22, 2014 Leave a comment
Girls und Panzer was one of those series that I initially looked at as something silly, which I might enjoy in an ironic fashion. However, it quickly became one of my favourite anime of that year, and is now one of my favourite anime ever made. There is an intangible quality to this series, one set in a universe that seems utterly ludicrous at first, and yet works so well it is hard to find any real faults with it. By positioning the operation of tanks, and engaging in tank warfare as something only done by women the series is able to overturn particular attitudes and assumptions regarding tanks, and warfare. For a significant period of our history warfare has arguably been the domain of men, not because they were superior, but because that is what society proscribed. Tank warfare is similarly portrayed as inherently masculine – we just have to look at WWII films that involve tanks (Kelly’s Hero’s, Battle of the Bulge, and so on) to see lots of gruff men driving tanks and blowing each other up. While the realities of war have always been different from those portrayed in popular culture – men, women, and children are all affected, and take part in war in different ways – it is the popular perception of warfare, and particularly tanks that has remained within the public consciousness.
By presenting Sensha-do as something for women, an essential part of becoming a mature member of society, Girls und Panzer helps to overturn the American image of tanks, and tank warfare. 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. Furthermore, series such as Girls und Panzer provide us with a glimpse of a club system that incorporates strong moral principles, and promotes group work and collaborative effort, everything that is normal in sports anime, but this time involving tanks.
Sensha-do is the binding force for the main characters, a space where they not only learn group work and cooperation, but also the ability to work individually without having to rely on the group for all decisions and ideas. It is the freedom that Sensha-do brings to the individual characters lives that allows them to grow and change, rather than a regime of study and examinations. Girls und Panzer is firmly situated within the Japanese school system (albeit one where schools exist on giant aircraft carriers), through its use of school clubs and sports contests, but, the series narrative suggests that the process of participating in these activities is as, or perhaps, more important than a formal education. Furthermore, instead of adhering to a rigid set of principles and teaching methods, the characters in Girls und Panzer learn through experience and experimentation. Rather than an absolute focusing on studying and entrance exams, with the importance of going to a good university drilled into them throughout their time in high school, these characters live life in the moment. They learn team-skills, self-reliance, and enjoying their time as teenagers, whilst also participating in a prestigious activity.is is this freedom that is important, and also where the school environment in anime differs from real life. Such freedom breaks the rigidly structures of Japanese life, suggesting to its viewers that there is the possibility to change ones circumstances, and return to a time when things appeared simpler and more straightforward.
Girls und Panzer: Kore ga Hontou no Anzio-sen Desu takes all of these themes and adds a further layer of comedy over the top. Girls und Panzer is funny, even when it is being serious, but the introduction of characters like Anchovy, Carpaccio, and Pepperoni enhances those qualities. I love the way the whole Girls und Panzer universe incorporates numerous influences and names from the main nations of WWII, often presenting them in stereotypical fashion to create a series of unique, ridiculous, but also memorable schools and characters. In many ways I am a little sad that this special was not part of the original series, and yet, I am also happy that it was produced separately. The production quality is superb, with beautifully choreographed fight sequences, with vivid, and enthralling action. Characters like Anchovy are larger than life, and by producing this special we are able to see what happened to her school, even though anyone who saw the original series knows that they were invariably defeated. Ultimately Girls und Panzer: Kore ga Hontou no Anzio-sen Desu, along with the entire Girls und Panzer series remains one of those rare cases when everything comes together in perfect harmony. The animation, script, characters, story, voice acting, and directing all help to produce a simple special episode that is both beautiful and a sheer delight to watch.