Reviewby Theron Martin,
Strike Witches: Road to Berlin
episodes 1-12 streaming
In the wake of the Strike Witches movie, Yoshika Miyafuji has finally made it to the Helvetian medical school and settled in, while Mio has been forced to retire and move on in her career due to aging out of her magic. Meanwhile, the rest of the 501st are still scattered while awaiting the orders to reform. That may come sooner than later, as Yoshika's investigation of a military ship in trouble leads to an encounter with a new type of Neuroi hidden in an iceberg. That leads to the reformation of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, with one ultimate goal: to head out on the long-awaited push to Berlin. If they and the Allied forces can reach and destroy the nest designated Wolf, they can free all of northern Karlsland. But the path to get there will not be easy, especially once Yoshika starts having problems with her magic once again.
This Fall 2020 series is the fifth TV series and ninth animated title overall in the expansive Strike Witches franchise, as well as being the third installment in the core storyline. It is not going to be the last animated title in the franchise, as the spinoff World Witches Take Off! is airing as I write this and another spinoff titled Luminous Witches has been announced for a 2021 debut. However, this series arguably represents the climax of the franchise to date
The series does not seem very climactic for much of its run, however. The girls piddle around doing random things nearly as much as they do in any of the previous not-purely-comedy titles and still have their share of individual feature stories. Only in the last five episodes does the focus finally shift to the operation to take Kiel so that they have a port from which to launch the attack on Berlin. (This is necessary after the events of the first two episodes scuttle plans to do it from a different direction.) The big difference here is that, this time, the conventional military forces are more integrally involved in the action. While the 501st still bears the brunt of the action load, tanks and artillery (under the direction of U.S. General Patton) also get their turn. In other words, this is one of the rare places in the franchise where the witches actually feel like they are part of a bigger military structure rather than the entirety of it.
Among the witches themselves, a few things have changed but much remains the same. The biggest changes are that Mio's retirement from the 501st (but not the military) is now official and that she has been replaced by Shizuka Hattori, who first appeared in the (plot-wise) immediately preceding movie. Over the course of the series Mina also starts to develop concerns that she may be getting close to aging out. Beyond that, though, the mix of antics and personalities is business as usual. Charlotte still gets touchy about her speed records getting challenged, Eila and Sanya are still a couple, Hartmann is still a slob, Yoshika tries to do too much, Francesca still hangs around with Charlotte and sleeps anywhere and everywhere, and so forth. And oh, yes, Yoshika's magic is back for a while, more powerful than ever, before going on the fritz again. That subplot is annoyingly retread, but previous installments have made Yoshika's magic comparatively overpowered, so some kind of limiter had to be put on her so she does not single-handedly dominate the series. But wasn't there a different way that could have been done?
The balance of the content is mostly similar to previous franchise installments, especially at first. However, over the course of the season, the pervasiveness of the fanservice components seemed to lessen considerably. It hardly ended – the franchise would not be what it is without at least some fanservice – but this may be the tamest of the series of full-length episodes yet. The series also still has its regular share of silly content, with an equal amount of serious content to match, and the balance of the two is about the same as always. The series also would not be what the franchise is without heavy doses of action scenes, mostly (but not entirely!) involving aerial combat.
Studio David Production takes over the animation job for this series, and the result is maybe the best-looking TV series yet in the franchise. The improvement is not massive, but every aspect of the series – whether it is the character designs, the animation, or the CG modeling – looks at least a little sharper. That is especially noticeable in the CG integration with regular animation and the smoother execution of some complicated battle scenes. Complementing that is the normal strong musical effort by franchise stalwart Seikou Nagaoka, a fitting but unexceptional new opener, and a closing theme which is sung by a different cast member each episode.
The Japanese dub returns the entire main cast from previous installments, so no problems there. The one quibble concerning the vocals was the vocal style and dialog given to General Patton. Tesshō Genda (the Japanese voice of Optimus Prime from the Transformers franchise) tries to portray him as a rough-and-tumble blowhard, to the point of self-parody. As a result, he never sounds quite right, so I look forward to hearing how he sounds in English. Funimation did announce back in October that they planned to do an English dub for the series in 2021, but at this time it has not yet debuted. The subtitled version is currently only available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
At the end of the final episode, Yoshika explains in narration that two more Neuroi nests remain in southern Karlsland, so theoretically the main series could still have more to it. However, several of the witches have accomplished personal goals, more are close to aging out, and not much is left to do beyond clean-up. If the animation of the main storyline were to end with episode 12 of this series, then it would be a satisfying stopping point.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Crisp battle scenes, generally improved visuals
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