Strike Witches is an anime series set in an alternate 1940s, where Earth has been at war with the alien Neuroi for years. Young Yoshika Miyafuji (Misato Fukuen) lost her father to the war and has vowed never to take part, instead using her magical powers of healing for good. This all changes when she receives a letter he sent before his death, and she journeys to Britannia to see the work he was doing for the war effort. Here she discovers the Strike Witches, girls her age who are part of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing and fly into battle wearing ‘strike units’ which her father helped develop.
What are these strike units? Well, try to imagine propeller-powered rocket boots that basically look like the back half of a World War II fighter plane. Then imagine a bunch of teenage girls zooming into battle, equipped with enormous anti-aircraft guns. There’s a bit of nekomimi (catgirl) going on here, too, so when these girls get their magic on, they sprout cat ears and tails. Got that image in your mind? Now imagine that none of them are wearing any pants. That’s right, for some unexplained reason, none of the women in this show wear pants… or shorts… or skirts.
It’s difficult to get past the perv factor in this series. I’ve never seen anime that goes so out of its way to show us underage nudity and/or panty shots. Having sexy characters in provocative outfits is one thing (and Western comics do this ad nauseum) but it feels like Strike Witches takes it one step too far. Having them doing aerial acrobatics of course ensures that the animators have lots of excuses for crotch shots, and they certainly don’t hold back.
There are a lot of characters in Strike Witches. In fact, I had trouble keeping up and was constantly the victim of ‘which witch is which?’ moments. Mio Sakamoto (Saeko Chiba) is squadron leader and has a no-nonsense approach to leading her girls into battle. Perrine Clostermann (Miyuki Sawashiro) is one of the few characters that actually wears pants, though I get the awkward feeling that this has to do with the fact that she’s the token lesbian character. She has a crush on Sakamoto and is jealous when the squadron leader starts to appreciate Yoshika’s newfound abilities.
Sanya Litvyak is rather nocturnal and usually returns to her dorm room to collapse into bed after patrolling the night skies on her own. Those are the standouts amongst a regular cast of close to a dozen.
The series has a lot in common with Evangelion. We have a bunch of teens who are apparently the only ones able to pilot the strike units, and we have enemy Neuroi that periodically attack (in fact, the characters are regularly commenting on ‘scheduled attacks’, something which I never really understood). Unlike Evangelion, this is of course a period piece and is concerned with the airforce’s duties on the home front. This part of the narrative is the most interesting but, disappointingly, it’s never explored with much depth. Instead we have regular exploitative panty shots and an ENTIRE EPISODE devoted to a character’s missing undies.
All that being said, I did eventually warm to Strike Witches. There’s a kind of charm to the show and the aerial dogfights are masterfully handled. Frustratingly, this first series leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Once we get to the final five episodes, which are really quite gripping, the plot goes into (comparative) overdrive, leading to an awe-inspiring epic final battle. The mixture of CG elements and 2D animation is superbly handled.
The DVD set includes an audio commentary by the English-speaking cast and director, and it’s interesting to hear an American take on a series that is so quintessentially Japanese.
There are better original video animations out there but Strike Witches is entertaining for the most part, both in its audacity and its willingness to spend time with the various characters in favour of advancing the series arc.
Strike Witches is available now on DVD from Madman.Rating: