Reviewby Theron Martin,
Girls und Panzer
Blu-Ray - Complete TV Series
Miho Nishizumi lives in a world where some schools are located on giant aircraft carrier-like ships and “tankery” (i.e., “the way of the tank”) conducted using WWII-era tanks has long been considered a proper feminine activity, to the point that it is a staple club activity in some schools and many cannot imagine guys actually working with tanks. Despite being from a family with a strong tankery tradition, Miho has specifically chosen her new school, Ooarai Girls High School, because it has not had tankery in two decades and she wants to get away from that life due to past bad experiences. She quickly makes good friends who have other interests, but she is unable to stay away from tankery when the Student Council announces that they are restarting their defunct tankery program and want her to be a key part of it – and even though her friends fiercely defend her desire to stay out of it, she knows that they are interested, too. Thus begins her trek to help locate and assemble the motley array of tanks the school once fielded and lead a club that eventually expands to nearly three dozen girls into mock battles and a national tankery tournament. But while the exercise does ultimately prove to be fun, there are family complications along the way for certain key members and the stakes are far higher than Miho first realizes.
Prior to this fall 2012 series anime had seen titles which featured cute girls piloting mecha (many series), flying combat aircraft (Simoun and probably others), serving as anthropomorphic equivalents of WWII-era fighter planes (Strike Witches), being the embodiments of various guns (Upotte!!), and even being soldiers and operating a tank (Valkyria Chronicles and Sound of the Sky). So why not a series which focuses completely on cute high school girls who operate tanks as their club activity?
By anime standards that's really not so absurd, and it certainly does not hold a candle to the series' crowning achievement in absurdity: the notion that something as masculine-seeming as working with tanks is – or ever was – regarded as a purely feminine interest and activity. The practical illogic behind the existence of school ships is also mind-boggling, and the brief explanation that the series offers for their existence is thin at best. Even though anime is known for its crazy concepts regarding schools, this one requires more of a suspension of disbelief than most. But that is the biggest barrier to enjoying what turns out to be a surprisingly fun and entertaining series, and if one can get by that then this original anime production (a couple of manga versions have run concurrently, but the anime is the original project) offers a lot to like.
Some of the credit for that goes to a broad cast of characters who may not be well-developed but are nonetheless likable and have enjoyable interactions, especially the way Miho's initial friends Saori and Hana bond with her so quickly. Some of the themes for the tank teams get more than a little silly: one of Ooarai's core teams is the former Volleyball Club, who all dress in volleyball uniforms and put everything in volleyball terms, and another is a team of military history otaku who couch every situation in terms of famous battles. Teams introduced later include the Auto Club members, the school monitors, and fujoshi who all know each other from an online tank game, and opponents include schools that are British, American, and Russian-themed. Ooarai's Student Council team is a bit more individually-defined, and most of Miho's own Team Anglerfish members even have a bit of development beyond that, but it never goes far and the series functions well enough on surface associations. Depth is definitely not the series' forte.
The real stars of the series are, of course, the historical tanks, and in this realm the series has no anime equal. A wide variety of WWII-era tanks pop up over the course of the series to delight tank enthusiasts and WWII military history buffs, from various versions of Shermans to various versions of Panzers to Russian, British, Italian, and even French models. Possibly the star attraction is the Panzer VIII Maus which appears in the late episodes, a prototype German super-heavy tank that (thankfully for the Allies!) never made it to the production line at the end of WWII; even to this day its 200 ton weight makes it the heaviest armored vehicle ever built. All are depicted in loving detail and the quirks, strengths, and weaknesses of each one are explored with great devotion.
The tanks shine even more when put into the mock battles, which are surprisingly thrilling affairs which use live ammunition that is fully capable of doing a lot of damage but has been restrained just enough that it will not penetrate armor; sensors apparently determine when a hit would have been a fatal one with full-powered ammunition and raise a white flag, but that does not prevent things like tracks being destroyed, smoke clouds arising from impacts, weapons or engines from being damaged, or tanks even being flipped over by explosions. In fact, the only bit of realism that the battles lack is that no one is actually shown getting significantly hurt. (One would think that the occasional scratches, bruises, or even broken bones might result from some of what happens to the tanks, but the series goes very easy on its female cast.) Intricate tactics and a good sense of timing and pacing also contribute to the thrill factor of the battles, which take up at least half of the series' screen time.
And director Tsutomu Mizushima, whose eclectic résumé includes titles as diverse as Another, Genshiken, Haré + Guu, and xxxHOLiC, wisely keeps the focus there, as beyond the battles and some cute girl interactions there is not much to the content. The plot is standard sports anime underdog fare, complete with fully predictable developments. No explanation of how tankery came to be a purely feminine discipline is ever provided, nor is anything else about the setting ever explored. The series even mostly ignores the traditional training sequences, leaving viewers to just accept that the Ooarai girls suddenly got amazingly proficient at operating tanks and largely wasting the trainer character the school brought in; in fact, only one of the teams ever shows any signs of struggling early on. Only in the battle scenes, which can sometimes take a full two episodes or more, is the pacing more leisurely, which sometimes gives the impression that the series is just speeding through the non-battle parts to leave more time for the battles. While many series would be better if they trimmed 2-3 episodes of fat, this one could have used a couple more episodes of beef.
The series more than makes up for that with a sterling animation effort courtesy of studio Actas. The action scenes do not take a single shortcut, instead putting great emphasis on how the tanks move and how the characters interact with them. Some neat perspective shots further bolster the animation quality, its heavy use of CG integrates well with its 2D animation, and even its character animation looks crisper and more fluid than normal. Character designs are nothing exceptional, as most conform to standard anime aesthetics for cuteness, but they are nonetheless well and consistently-drawn. The notable lack of serious bodily harm and only one brief fan service scene of any significance also make this a tame series overall.
The military themes of the series are also prevalent in the musical score, which uses appropriate military songs for each of Ooarai's opponents (the American-themed team uses “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the British-themed team uses “The British Grenadiers,” and so forth) and more generic military ditties for Ooarai. The score keeps the tone light overall, as even in the occasional serious moment it does not opt for heavier numbers. Opener “DreamRiser” is very ordinary, while closer “Enter Enter MISSION!” is more noteworthy for its rotating chibi depictions of the various Ooarai tank teams.
One's appreciation for the English dub may largely depend on how much one values a cutesy sound from the characters, as the English dub is distinctly inferior to the Japanese dub in that regard. The actual performance quality is not bad, and some key performances are cast and done quite well, but the voice selections take some getting used to in a couple of cases, especially if one has watched the series subbed first. The only performance flaws are a handful of places where certain actresses go just a little off-rhythm in order to match up better with mouth flaps, but this is balanced out by the handy reference notes included on-screen in several places.
Sentai Filmworks is releasing the title in both DVD and Blu-Ray format. Not included is a set of six OVAs totaling roughly 75 minutes (presumably complementary pieces to the original Japanese releases?), which, in an unusual move, are being peddled separately. The release does, however, include the two Introductions episodes (sometimes numbered 5.5 and 10.5) which aired during the series' original run and were essentially mixes of recaps with specific character introductions. These are not dubbed. Other Extras include Japanese promo clips and clean opener and closer. Blu-Ray quality is sharp and has no readily-noticeable flaws, although, annoyingly, it locks the subtitles to only being on when the Japanese dub is playing.
Overall, the mix of consistently light-hearted tone, likable girls, sportsmanship, and gloriously-tactical tank battles carry the series past its faults, to the point that this was one of 2012's biggest TV series hits in Japan. Although its story reaches a definite stopping point at the series' end, a follow-up movie has supposedly been green-lit and is expected out sometime in 2014 and an OVA detailing Ooarai's tournament battle with Anzio (which was glossed over in the series) is due out in the spring. Thus the adventures in tankery may not be over yet.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Detailed tank designs, highly tactical tank battles, likable cast.
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