I have been dreading reviewing this release ever since I started to watch it. Over time, I grew to see the charm in season 1 of ‘Strike Witches’, despite the creepy voyeuristic nature of a show featuring teenage girls who don’t wear pants. So I felt prepared for season 2, and ready to look past the disturbing soft-core porn aspects of the show.
Turns out I wasn’t prepared enough. Season 2 of Strike Witches ups the ante when it comes to the panty-diversions, turning the dial right up to 11 from the get go and almost completely forgetting the science fiction/World War II plot in the interests of lowbrow sex comedy antics, à la classic Carry On films.
It’s such a pity too, because there’s so damn much lingering beneath the surface of this show. For those who came in late, Strike Witches takes place in a kind of alternate Earth version of World War II, focussing on the 501st Joint Fighter Wing and their attempts to thwart the alien/robotic threat of the Neuroi. These Strike Witches go into battle with propeller powered flight boots attached to their legs and for some reason, as I’ve already mentioned, a complete lack of pants. The Neuroi are much like the Angels of ‘Evangelion’: they appear in a multitude of forms whenever it is demanded by the plot. Most disappointingly, one of the cliffhanger plot points from season 1 – namely that a Neuroi was trying to communicate with one of the witches – is never taken up again throughout this season.
In fact, out of the 13 episodes, the overarching plot is only mentioned several times throughout the run, whilst the final two focus on it specifically. The remainder of the episodes deal with an array of mini plots – many of which give the previously absurd ‘panty capers’ episode of season 1 a run for its money in terms of shameless distraction – and interesting yet inconsequential ideas.
That being said, there are some great episodes. ‘Higher than the Sky’ features a Neuroi tower high enough that it reaches the stratosphere, and focuses primarily Eila’s (Ayuru Ōhashi) devotion to her friend, Sanya (Mai Kadowaki). The climactic scene of this episode can easily be counted amongst the series’ best moments, with a surprisingly emotional tug at the heart strings. Another great episode is the Perrine-focussed (Miyuki Sawashiro) ‘The Bridge to Tomorrow’, which sees the witches in search of buried treasure, concerned primarily on the comedic aspect of the show.
In fact, the comedy is something that Strike Witches often gets right. All too often, of course, such moments are concerned with getting the camera up close and personal with the witches’ bits. All this would be okay if such moments focussed on the characters’ sexuality, but this is almost entirely absent. The depiction is entirely voyeuristic and not about the characters’ own desires at all. There is a line, of course, when it comes to appreciating the art of other cultures. On the one hand, I try not to be ethnocentric, but on the other we have basic human rights. Strike Witches is firmly ensconced in the exploitation category, though as I’ve said it isn’t entirely devoid of merit.
The quality of the animation is superb – this is easily the best looking anime TV series I’ve seen – and the Blu-ray presentation is wondrous to behold. The occasional 3D elements blend perfectly with the 2D images and audio is great. The subtitles have a drop shadow so they are only difficult to read once or twice when they’re laid over the top of other writing embedded in the image and the Japanese voice cast is great. As usual, I didn’t listen to the English dub, though one episode has an audio commentary by a couple of the English voice actors which is good value.
If you’re new to anime then I wouldn’t suggest this be your first port of call. There are certain things you may wish to familiarise yourself with before watching something like Strike Witches. For those, like me, who enjoyed season 1 for all its flaws and hoped season 2 would build upon this foundation, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are many moments and a handful of episodes to appreciate, and despite its simplicity, some of the slapstick humour is well-executed. I hope that, when released on disc in Australia, the final feature film will wrap the narrative up in a more satisfying manner.
Strike Witches 2 Collection is available now from Madman on DVD and Blu-ray.Rating: