Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Apr 14th 2014
Strike Witches: Maidens in the Sky
There's a war being fought, but not between Axis and Allies – this war is between humanity and alien creatures known as Neuroi. Since these are beings of a supernatural nature, it only makes sense to wage war with similar tactics. Some women, it turns out, have magical powers and they can use those abilities to strap on special legware that allows them to become human warplanes. Called “Strike Witches,” these girls have become the best line of defense against the Neuroi. Miyafuji Yoshika knows that she has powers, but she'd rather use them healing the sick than fighting the aliens. But when the Strike Witches discover her potential, it looks like she's the kind of asset that they can't leave alone...
Yes, this is that series where they don't wear pants. Part of a mixed-media franchise, Strike Witches: Maidens in the Sky is the second of seven manga series published about the flying girl fighters (one of which lasted only one chapter before cancellation), and specifically follows Miyafuji Yoshika as she discovers her powers and is enlisted in the elite battle unit. Those who have seen the anime will likely notice some differences, but this first volume at least stands on its own for those unfamiliar with the Strike Witches franchise in general.
During the mid-twentieth century (something we know from the back of the book rather than the story itself), humans are engaged in fighting not each other, but aliens known as Neuroi. Where they came from isn't clear, but that they are hostile is more than evident. Because of the nature of these invaders, plus a world that includes the presence of magic, the most effective way to fight the aliens is with flying teen girls. Known as “Strike Witches,” these girls are an elite air force squadron that uses specialized leg gear to fly closer to the aliens than regular planes would allow. Armed with innate magical abilities that protect them from the physical rigors of flying and also power their leg-planes, the Witches are widely admired as heroic figures bravely standing as humanity's best hope.
Yes, there are a lot of problems with this scenario, but before you snort in derision, remember the substantial number of series where the best way to win a war is with teen boys in robots. While this may seem sillier, it is still using the basic premise of using children as soldiers and adding in some fanservice. Because of the nature of their leg-planes, the girls cannot wear pants, and skirts would really just make the situation worse. (At one point we do see that Yoshika is wearing her bathing suit under her sailor shirt, which makes me at least feel a little better.) Interestingly enough, the manga shies away from too many cheesecake shots, choosing instead to focus on “cute” scenes or moments of danger. While the volume is hardly devoid of fanservice, it is also not something that usurps or even really distracts from the rest of the story, making this a good way for those curious about the series but leery of the premise to experience it.
The main character of this version is Miyafuji Yoshika. (Seven Seas keeps names in Japanese order.) Yoshika aspires to be a doctor, and even when recruited into the Air Force states repeatedly that she wants to use her powers healing, not fighting. This does not stop her from diving into the fray when disaster strikes, however, although it is worth noting that her first action in battle is to heal and protect. This makes her not only an interesting heroine, but also gives the story the potential to really go places that tales about soldiers don't often look – the support staff, those whose business isn't using the weapons, but dealing with the aftermath. It isn't clear if the story will go there, given that the series is only two volumes long, but it certainly is food for thought.
Yoshika unfortunately is the only character who remotely gets development, although her recruiter Takei Junko is more developed than the other girls. Yoshika's cute little familiar (the reason behind the ears and tails the girls get when flying) is quite huggable and sadly has a bit more personality than some of the human extras, but we definitely get the feeling that this is plot based rather than character based. Yuuki Tanaka's art is pleasant to look at for the most part, with characters distinguishable and yet somehow all looking a lot alike, and when fanservice is used, it is for the most part passable. Legs are a bigger strength than other parts of the female body, and in this case that's just fine. There is only one particularly awkward image, where Yoshika looks as if she has broken in half and her torso is resting behind her legs.
Strike Witches: Maidens in the Sky is in fact about girls with no pants, but if you can get past that conceit, it's an enjoyable book. It's more of a fun diversion than a series to sink your teeth into, which is too bad, but it is also a good way into the franchise. Seven Seas' translation is very readable and Tanaka's artwork is mostly attractive, so if you want to know what's up with the series or are a fan who wants to see a different take on it, this is a harmless, fairly fun way to do so.
Overall : B-
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Yoshika's determination to be a healer is a nice angle, that puppy is awfully cute. Easy to read, not drenched in fanservice.
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