Reviewby Theron Martin,
Strike Witches: 501st JOINT FIGHTER WING Take Off!
The witches of the 501st Joint Strike Wing (aka the Strike Witches) face great danger in their recurring battles against the alien Neuroi. However, they also have a lot of downtime in between missions. Whether it's avoiding Commander Mina's cooking at all costs, avoiding Shirley's driving at all costs, cleaning Hartmann's landfill of a room, or engaging in twisted misinterpretations of traditional holidays, the girls always find something to keep themselves busy – when they're not actively avoiding work, of course.
The Strike Witches mixed media franchise began in the mid-2000s with a series of magazine illustrations, a three-chapter manga, and an OVA, but it really took off with the first anime TV season in 2008. Over the dozen years since then its has maintained its popularity through a second TV season, a spin-off TV series, a movie, and various light novels, manga, OVAs, and video games. The franchise is hardly done, as a third core TV series (Strike Witches: Road to Berlin) and second spinoff series (Luminous Witches) are forthcoming later in 2020 and in 2021, respectively. This entry, from the Spring 2019 season, is a series of half-episode comedy asides which purports to fill in the gaps between scenes in the first TV season, but the whole thing is really just an excuse for the characters to revel in abject silliness.
I do not intend that as a criticism, as despite the franchise sometimes having some heavier content, the core concept – series which Funimation gleefully advertised as a “war on pants,” and that cheeky description is not far off the mark. The core series even occasionally devolved into bouts of ridiculous behavior (see the entire episode centered around chain-reaction panty thefts), so a whole side series devoted purely to comedy bits actually seems quite appropriate. Most importantly, the humor in it works more often than not.
While the setting for the series is the Britannia base, and events at least vaguely follow the course of the first season, the content freely mixes in details from the second season. For instance, the way Barkhorn and Hartmann are sharing a room comes from the Romagna base, Charlotte's wild driving was a second season gimmick, and the emphasis on the quality of Yoshika's cooking was more a second season thing, as was the deepening relationship of Eila and Sanya. All of these and a few other standard character quirks get played up tremendously. The one frequently-recurring gimmick whose original source I could not pin down is Commander Mina's horrifically bad cooking.
The series also uses numerous other new recurring jokes, such as characters scrawling random words in blood after being beaten into unconsciousness over various stupidities or having to get healed by Yoshika after literally getting their faces pounded in. (Usually some combination of Charlotte, Francesca, and Hartmann are involved.) Each episode additionally has either one or two core themes. These are typically basic ones, such as beating the heat (Harmann gets used as an air conditioner because of her wind powers), cleaning up Hartmann's room, or Charlotte and Francesca showing Yoshiwaka a really twisted take on trick-or-treating for Halloween, and always produce a steady stream of jokes. While the effectiveness of the humor can be hit-or-miss, a lot of it is quite funny, with most episodes eliciting at least one or two laugh out loud moments; the trick-or-treating sequence and some of the stuff about a training dummy were personal favorites.
The series does not entirely eschew the heavy fan service focus of the two TV series, though it figures in much less pervasively here. These episodes distinctly increase the ratio of boob jokes and references, including scenes implying that Yoshika can recharge her powers by coming into contact with ample bosoms. (She did seem entranced by large chests during the TV series, so this is, again, just exaggerating an established quirk.) However, visual fan service is drastically reduced; nudity and the constant crotch shots are both casualties, and the bulk of what's left is just jiggling bosoms, occasionally copping feels, and the ever-present lack of pants or a skirt. Basically, if you could handle the fan service in the originals, this will seem tame by comparison. Given that the series focuses more on being funny than sexy, this is not at all a problem.
Also present on Funimation's Blu-Ray release of the series is a 30-minute movie of the same name, which screened in Japan in October 2019 (i.e., about three months after the series ended). It clearly references the Strike Witches movie and the events and situations from the movie, including Yoshika's loss of her magic and her scholarship to study overseas. It also adds in Shizuka Hattori, a new witch introduced in the movie. That a short movie was used to parody the actual movie, just like a series of shorts was used to parody the TV series, is a clever bit of continuity. However, the movie is not as funny as the series content, and that crimps its entertainment value.
Both the series and the movie are helmed by first-time director Fumio Ito, who also did the storyboards; she generally makes the most of the content. Music director Seikou Nagaoka carries over from other franchise installments, providing a sound in line with that of other franchise titles. Its opening theme is wholly unremarkable, while its closing them is distinguished more by it being sung by a different one of the witch's seiyuu for each episode, with her character features in the visuals. (Episode 12 and the movie are sung by the whole cast and feature all of the witches). The artistry and animation, which are a collaborative effort of multiple companies, maintain franchise designs for the opener but use simplifications on everything but background art for episode content. As a result, the animation quality is not good, but it is sufficient to convey the visual gags and that's all that really matters.
Funimation's English dub returns almost the entire cast from earlier franchise installments, which according to the included audio commentary was quite the feat since the actresses have scattered over the years. The only replacement beyond one minor role might be for Sanya, but numerous factors suggest that original English VA Jennifer Forrester and new VA Jessica Foster are the same person. Funimation has almost always handled comedy dubs well, and this one is no exception, with each actress making the most of their material. Other features on the release include clean opener, clean versions of all closer variants, the English commentary track for episode 12, and all installments of “Yamakawa Michiko's Strike Witches Classroom,” where Yoshika's friend Michiko goes through and profiles each of the witches in turn.
If you're a fan of the franchise in general, Strike Witches: 501st JOINT FIGHTER WING Take Off! is must-view content. It is funny enough that I might recommend it even for those who have only passing familiarity with the franchise, though dedicated fans will appreciate it more.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Can be very funny, clever interpretations of character quirks, jokes don't overstay their welcom
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