Reviewby Theron Martin,
Strike Witches 2
BD+DVD - Complete Collection [Limited Edition]
After the Battle of Britain (as detailed in the first series), some of the members of the 501st Joint Strike Wing returned to civilian life. The failure of efforts to make peaceable contact with the Neuroi and the appearance of a new, larger, and even less agreeable Neuroi hive over Venezia leads former members to either being called or compelled by circumstances to join up again to combat the new threat. In the latter case is Yoshika Miyafuji, who is prompted by yet another mysterious letter appearing from her deceased father, this time with notes on the next generation of Striker Units. She, Lynne, and Perrine have been out of action long enough that they need another round of training to get back up to speed, but soon they get in the swing of things and pick up alternately battling Neuroi and getting into various mischiefs with the other ongoing 501st members. One of the Strike Witches must face the reality that she is aging out of her combat-level magical power, though, and that even adaptations will not hold that off for long. Also, the top brass has yet to learn their lesson about finding alternate ways to fight the Neuroi that sidestep the need for Strike Witches.
The first season of Strike Witches succeeded largely by framing playfully fun character interactions, exciting combat sequences, and generous doses of fan service within a cool (if rather ridiculous) gimmick. The second season sticks rigidly to that formula and achieves about the same degree of success, though its balance of strengths and weaknesses are a little different.
The venue of the action changes for this season (and to a setting that much less closely reconstructs an historical equivalent), but that has virtually no fundamental impact on the story; the same kind of combats and shenanigans that happened in the first series happen here, too. The most significant difference is the general thrust of the plot. While the first series had some character focus episodes inserted within a couple of basic overall plot threads, the second series mostly eschews any concept of an overall plot in favor of episode-length vignettes. In fact, the only ongoing narrative thread is one which carries over from last season: the gradually advancing reality that Major Sakamoto is starting to “age out” of her ability to use combat-level magic and her battle to remain capable and relevant despite that. The major thread left unresolved after the first series – that the Neuroi might actually be attempting to communicate with humans – is summarily dispensed with early in the first episode and only barely touched upon again later, implying that it was dumped because it would have forced the series in a less fun direction. No other concrete sign of an ongoing plot comes up until the business with the regular military (rather than the Witches) leading the attack against the Venezian Neuroi hive arises in the last two episodes, a story-capping mini-arc which has a similar feel to the trite conclusion of the first arc but is less rushed and, consequently, plays out more smoothly and with more effective drama.
In fact, “trite” is a term which could be applied to much of the series' content, as most of the individual episodes are just rehashes of the first season or common anime scenarios set into this setting's context. The episode where Luccini escorts another girl around Rome is a direct rip-off of Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday, but equivalent sequences with equivalent gimmicks (i.e., the escort doesn't realize that the person he/she is escorting around is a VIP) have been done in Code Geass and other anime series. Another episode involves a talented rival arriving to challenge one of the heroines, another involves a not-so-vaguely libidinous take on the common “you have to go back to basic training even though you're an established heroine” story gimmick, another involved a heroine having to overcome an apparent mental hang-up that's limiting her powers, and so forth. Even the episode where a tiny Neuroi infiltrates the base has been done a few times before in other forms, though probably never with such an amusingly ridiculous resolution or such an edgy fan service angle. (For a somewhat similar approach which is still done with a fan service angle, see My-HiME.) Some of the sentiment gets through better, as a mid-series episode focusing on Perrine gives her some nice development and the relationship between Eila and Sanya is strengthened.
And of course there are the antics, which continue to be the series' biggest and most entertaining draw. The battle scenes are every bit as dynamic and sharply-executed as those in the first series – as silly as the concept is, the series does make effective use of it – and the fan service even upgrades a notch from what the first series did, with numerous opportunities for nudity or cavorting only in swimsuits or skivvies; a few scenes even requires some blatant censoring of girls' nether regions, while two different episodes significantly involve things rubbing against or infiltrating the girls' crotches. The series also has fun with the girls' playfulness and basic personality quirks, such as how Hartmann is a complete slob or Yeager is a dangerously adventuresome driver. Lost are some of the other characterizations, as Major Sakamoto seems to lack some of the bluster she had in the first season, but that is balanced by seeing her get drunk in one episode and how crazy she acts in that state.
The in-depth historical references also continue. The one new named Strike Witch who appears in a couple of episodes, Hanna-Justina Marseille, is named after Hans-Joachim Marseille, a WWII German ace who really was known as the “Star of Africa” and really did know and previously work with Barkhorn's namesake. (It is unlikely that the Marseille-Hartmann rivalry depicted in the series has any historical basis, however, as Erich Hartmann did not fly his first combat mission until two weeks after the historical Marseille's death.) The emblems used by some of the Witches are based on the emblems of their namesakes, and many of the ships, places, trucks, and other equipment used by the Witches have historical counterparts, including the battleship Yamato (which, in a possible tribute to Space Battleship Yamato, does even fly at one point).
Although Gonzo animated the first series, AIC takes over for production on this one. Despite that, the look and feel of the series stays essentially the same, probably because director Kazuhiro Takamura again helms the project. While the character designs and general artistic quality remain constant, the animation and CG effects are a bit crisper this time around. The musical score provides the most distinct difference, as this series shies away from the original's heavy emphasis on military-themed numbers in favor of a more bland symphonic sound. While it does its job, it is definitely not an improvement. The new opener is more notable for some fairly sharp CG visuals than its song, while the otherwise-ordinary closer rotates through a varying mix of seiyuu singers over the course of the series.
Funimation's English dub returns the cast from the first season and adds Colleen Clinkenbeard as Marseille. As with the first season, dub performances are hit-or-miss, with Luci Christian's Hartmann and Jad Saxton's Perrine being among the best performances and Trina Nishimura's strained-sounding Luccini and Kira Vincent-Davis's Mio (she seems uncertain what tone she wants to use at times) being amongst the weakest. The English dub is, overall, not quite as cutesy as the Japanese dub; mileage will vary on whether or not that's a plus. The English script rephrases things smoothly for English but does not make any major changes.
For this season Funimation is releasing the series in one of its DVD/Blu-Ray combo packs from the start, with all four discs included in a single case that comes with an artbox suitable for handling the combo packs for both seasons. The sound effort on the Blu-Ray, which uses Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for the English track and Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the Japanese track, is top-notch, which some great work done on bringing out the sound effects on a surround-sound system. The Blu-Ray visuals improve some compared to both the DVD version and the first season's Blu-Ray, likely primarily because this series (unlike the first) was done in native HD. This is still not among the sharper-looking Blu-Rays out there, though. Extras on both versions include a clean opener, a complete set of clean closers, and a pair of English audio commentaries: one for episode 5 which features ADR director Scott Sager with Jamie Marchi (aka Shirley) and Trina and one for episode 9 which features Scott with Jad and Anastasia Munoz (aka Mina). The most interesting revelation from either? One of these ladies is a middle school teacher for her day job.
Funimation advertises the series with the tag line, “Still winning the war on pants!” It's still an apt description for the series. Most who liked or at least tolerated the first season should ultimately have a similar reaction to this one.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Improved animation, great aerial action scenes, can be a lot of fun.
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