Vice Pit guest Alexei [See him in action here] steps in to offer his take on this... tricky alt-history anime. Go give him a good welcome in the talkback, and let him know if you agree about STRIKE WITCHES.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: A series of gargantuan aliens are attacking the planet, one after another. A shy youngster is called on to join a secret organization developed to fight these intruders off with special technology developed by none other than that very youngster’s own father.
Rather than spend too much time outlining the ways in which STRIKE WITCHES is derivative of the many great anime series that came before it, let’s just chalk these similarities up to homage and move along. After all, they went ahead and named the episode in which the lead character, school girl Yoshika Miyafuji, meets the rest of Earth’s anti-alien defense team “You’re not alone.” So we know that the show’s creators had some great influences.
If only they had paid closer attention to them.
Taking a cue from the show’s introductory episode, let’s get the plot out of the way as quickly as possible. It’s 1939, and some big bad monsters named Neurois have begun to step out of portals in the sky, tearing up the planet with their terrific red lasers for no apparent reason. Devastated, the nations of Earth have banded together to fight back.
Humans develop Striker Units, mechanical leggings that look similar to the bodies of classic biplanes and provide the wearer with the power of flight. However, a normal person can’t control a Striker Unit, which needs its operator to have an inherent magic ability to help them fly and fight with power and precision. And wouldn’t you know, young women are the most likely to possess the kind of magic that makes a good Striker Unit pilot.
Put a bunch of magical teen girls together and strap them into military-grade flying machines and you have the Strike Witches (AKA mankind’s only hope.) But more importantly, put a bunch of magical teen girls together and strap them into military-grade flying machines and you have ample opportunities for middle-school drama, the likes of which can only be resolved by squeaky-voiced pep talks and long squishy hugs.
If this sounds like the kind of drama you’ve come to know and love through years of magical girl anime watching, you’ve come to the right place. But if this isn’t already your scene, I can’t imagine that this is the show that will convert you to the cause.
Right out of the gate, the alien invasion that has set this series in motion becomes little more than set dressing for predictable the girl-group dynamic to play out around. The action is never complicated; the Neurois look like shiny plastic toys, rendered in 3D and slid across flat paintings of cloudy skies or choppy waters, depending on where the camera is. And that camera... oh that poor, misguided camera.
In my opinion - - though you’re welcome to disagree - - it’s almost always in the wrong place. I know this because the place it’s in is typically squarely between a young animated girl’s pantsless legs.
Oh, right, the whole pants thing: in the alternate version of 1939 that STRIKE WITCHES takes place in, women don’t wear pants. The story never attempts to wrestle with this odd twist, but it’s easy to imagine that it’s merely a product of character design preceding every other aspect of a show’s conception; once you’ve drawn a pantsless pre-teen with biplanes strapped to her legs, there’s no turning back. The only turn, it would seem, is upward from ground level, to gaze upon the crotch of your creation as she takes off and flies through the air, legs spread wide to avoid her rotors from colliding. At least, I assume that’s why they’re always spread.
It seems silly to get bent out of shape over the over-exaggerated curves of a cartoon character’s nether-regions, even when they’re as oddly shaped as in STRIKE WITCHES. If you wade just a few episodes in, you’ll find the entire cast baring all as they lounge naked in the bath and make small talk. But, unfortunately, there’s not a ton else to obsess over.
The show plays out so incredibly slowly, and the look of the aerial combat is so bare, there’s no other place to focus your attention besides the amazing frequency of exposed underwear bulges. The mythology behind the girls’ magical powers and the origin of the Neurois should be ripe for exploration, but too often take a back seat behind, well, the Strike Witches’ back seats.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.