The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Luminous Witches ?
Community score: 3.2
What is this?
The war against invading aliens can't be won by missiles alone. Team morale matters just as much as launching a counterassault, and that's where Ginny and her friends come in. Instead of standing on the front lines with the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, the Luminous Witches of the League of Nations Air Force bring smiles to civilians displaced in the human-Neuroi war world with thrilling song and dance — not to mention aerial displays the likes of which the music world has never seen. While they might be non-combatants, these performers know the value of preserving the people's smiles, and they'll fight in their unique way to make sure those smiles never fade.
Luminous Witches is a spinoff of the Strike Witches franchise and streams on HIDIVE on Sundays.
How was the first episode?
I've tended to stay away from the Strike Witches franchise—after all, its most infamous aspect is the copious amount of pants-less, underage girls and a camera all-to-eager to show off that fact. So heading into Luminous Witches, I was exasperatedly counting the seconds until we got that first up-close-and-personal teenage panty shot. But to my surprise, it never came.
From what I gather, Strike Witches (and therefore Luminous Witches) takes place in a World War II-ish setting, but instead of the Nazis, they're fighting some alien-looking black abominations. But Luminous Witches takes us to the British homefront and shows the creation of what is basically this world's equivalent of the USO tour.
Luminous Witches does this by asking the question: “What happens to the screw-ups in the Strike Witches universe?” Sure, these girls may have been granted magical powers that can be devastating on the battlefield, but not everyone is suited for warfare—some people are just going to be useless on the battlefield at best and a danger to their squadmates at worst. The same question can be extended to the Witches who age out and become normal and magic-less—do they rejoin the army as normal soldiers, or are they cast aside and expected to somehow transition into civilian lives despite the ongoing war?
Thus, we get a story of the creation of a military department aimed at using retired Witches and those who are otherwise unsuited for warfare to boost the morale of those on the homefront. It's truly interesting to watch Grace Steward, a military hero during her time as a Witch, try to figure out how to pitch a singing group to the top brass who would rather she just disappear. But the fact of the matter is that morale is an important element to any functioning army, and if she is able to prove that her plan can improve it, she might just be able to build a place for those Witches who don't have a place in the army proper.
So, while many of the common idol anime tropes are there, what Grace is trying to do gives this show some real and tangible stakes. And, all in all, Luminous Witches seems to be a great example of how to take years of well-established setting and lore and turn it into a further world-expanding side-story.
I go into this knowing how fully ridiculous it makes me sound when discussing a show about teenage girls who strap jet engines to their legs and pair with familiars to serve in the Air Force: would it have been so hard to have the girls perform something that looks and sounds like it came from the 1940s rather than a modern idol number? Honestly, that would have given this episode a lot more plausibility for me, especially when paired with some excellent little details about how “everyone owns a radio these days” and relatively decent period dress. (Better than I expected, at any rate.) But maybe that just shows how unsuited this episode is to me – because it's clearly intended to be adorable escapism set against the backdrop of WWII in an alternate version of our world, and here I am distracted by the fact that it flashed “1944” on the screen.
I daresay that it will have appeal for fans of the Strike Witches franchise or girl idol shows, however, and it certainly isn't without its charms. One of those is definitely Moffy, Ginny's familiar who looks like the unholy spawn of a dust bunny and the chick from Gakuen Alice. Not even Ginny can quite figure out what Moffy is, although Okoge, Inori's cat familiar, is clearly thinking he's a chicken dinner, and Moffy's ugly cuteness stands out among the more polished look of the show in a fun way. It's also nice that when there's (human) action, it looks pretty good; the way the hair is animated in the opening minutes of the episode is beautiful, and the way Ginny's skirt and Lyudmilla's braids move are also just really nice to watch.
The main problem is that there isn't much action to speak of. The only battle we see is right in the beginning, and then mostly the episode is keen on introducing us to far too many characters and highlighting the goofy innocence of Ginny, Lyudmilla, and Inori. It's not terrible, and certainly there's a value to wartime shows that don't harp on the horrors of war, but it is a little dull. That said, I do really like the angle that this will apparently be about helping to let those horrors recede for a while, something that a relative of mine who served as a hospital corpsman in the Navy during WWII remembered with both fondness and enthusiasm. This may still be too reliant on the CGCT formula to stand out without the silly flying apparatuses, but if you're invested in the franchise, this could be a good twist on it.
I'm a total newb when it comes to this franchise. All I really know about Strike Witches is that every time a new project gets announced for it, I think “Oh cool, a new witch anime?” only to be disappointed by the image of these propeller-legged chumps. But while I'm aware I'm missing a lot of context and worldbuilding around this particular spinoff, the first episode gave me enough to go off to understand what's going on here. AU WWII with anime girls fighting aliens or robots or something. They all have magic powers that require them to not wear pants during battle. And since this series is about a bunch of rejects forming an idol group, that's about all you really need to know.
Granted, just because I could follow all of this stuff doesn't mean it was particularly engaging. We get some level of introduction to all of our future idols, but none of them seem particularly interesting or entertaining. The most enjoyment I got out of this premiere was watching the girls' familiar get into Tom & Jerry antics on the sidelines. Please give me a whole show about these weird little Daemons getting into slapstick fights on the sidelines. Everything else was just stock anime girl-isms packaged between exposition to get neophytes like me up to speed.
This episode does mostly focus on just three of our eventual nine cast members, but that focus doesn't really make them much more compelling. You've got the shy one, the Russian one, and the main character who likes music in an extremely vague sense that will presumably make her perfect as an idol. Sprinkled around them are talks about “Night Witches” and the like that I assume are in-jokes for folks familiar with the franchise. None of it's bad, but overall I finished the episode feeling no real urge to learn more about any of these girls or see more of their interactions. They weren't charming or funny enough to leave an impact, and the only thing that stuck with me was the odd choice to have Ginny singing a song to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” I assume that's some reference or in-joke I'm missing.
While the writing doesn't really do anything to separate this from any other Idol/Cute Girls show, I do at least appreciate the novelty of its setting. Seeing these girls faff about in 1940s London is certainly unique, though it seems like The Blitz never happened in this version of the war. And part of me appreciates how goofy it is to have the girls power up by fusing with their familiars and getting animal ears. But overall this premiere doesn't do much to make me want more, be it of this show or the larger Strike Witches continuity. Diehard fans are likely to get a kick out of it, but that's about it.
There comes a point where a completely misguided premise fully circles back around into actually being somewhat entertaining, in a ridiculous sort of way. I will fully admit that the whole “Turn the machinery of warfare into hot-pants clad anime girls” has always been a bridge too far for me, and I have thus never been able to appreciate the likes of Strike Witches. I've discovered that I have a genuine love for studying certain aspects of wartime history and culture, so to see it transmogrified into such a patently pandering mush of moe fetishization has never, and likely will never, appeal to my sensibilities.
That said, I'm willing to give most anything a fair shot. I was greatly discouraged by the opening scenes of League of Nations Air Force Aviation Magic Band Luminous Witches (aka Luminous Witches, for the love of all that is holy). The alternate history glimpse at the battle of Dunkirk would have looked awfully gray and lifeless even if it weren't for the fact that a bunch of girls with propeller legs were zipping around and shooting at stuff. It was once the “Magic Band” part of the premise kicked in, though, that I started turning around ever so slightly on this bizarre little show.
You see, I may not be able to get behind the whole “magical airplane girls fight in a cutesy version of WWII”, but Luminous Witches is really more about “magical pop-idol girls who use cutesy animal familiars to bolster the morale of said airplane girls with the supernatural power of song”. That, my friends, is a setup that is so completely off the charts of rational thought that I can't help but admire it a little bit. It is a sign that the Witches franchise is finally cooking with gas, as the saying goes.
I don't want to oversell the quality of Luminous Witches' premiere. This is still one of those roll-call episodes that throws out the notion of having a conventional plot in place of tossing out as many character introductions and expositions dumps as possible. It is not, strictly speaking, good television. But, given the quality production values and the show's overall commitment to the bit, Luminous Witches may at least end up making for some halfway decent brain-rotting junk food. It's not my cup of tea, but idol fans and Magical Moe Warfare afficionados will likely find a lot to like here.
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