I just finished watching the very odd Girls und Panzer, so of course it’s now time to review. For those of you who missed out on this when it came out in 2012, Girls und Panzer is a story set in a universe where girl’s activity club options include flower arrangement, incense, tea club, volleyball and “tankery”. As in highschoolers tooling about with tanks in formal war games. For some strange reason, this made the show a smash hit, with DVD sales peaking at number 3 in all of Japan, behind Gundam Unicorn and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha the Movie 2nd A’s, and number 4 once Evangelion 3.33 came out. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me, and fitting to the story, in an odd way.
Having watched the show, I can say that it really ranks up there for me too, though I’m not sure I’d put it in my personal top five. Art and tone wise, it seems to draw a lot from Strike Witches (which Takaaki Suzuki, the historic advisor, also provided historic assistance with) and K-On!, which is my second favorite Slice of Life anime. The overall theme is very much about the bond of young girls with each other, and the importance of friendship in school. I’ve been told that this is a cultural thing to Japan, but honestly, even my American heart finds the strings plucked by it.
A lot (and I mean a LOT) of detail went into the design artwork and even relative strengths and weaknesses of the different tanks too. Beyond simply that a Maus is practically immune to light-tank fire, they went into the nitty gritty about the foibles of different tanks and whatnot. Though, there are a few points where reality takes a backseat for drama, so be sure to check your disbelief at the door, and instead just enjoy the tale of companionship as it unfolds.
The basic story is that Miporin (Miho Nishizumi) transfers in to a new school that doesn’t offer Tankery because she’s afraid of the tanks after a bad experience in her first year. Despite this, her school offers the class for the first time in twenty years, and the student council president pressures her into joining. In a twist that is almost literally telegraphed by the Student Council, the school must win at Tankery or be shut down, and so it is up to veteran Miho and her rookie friends to quickly pick up the sport and win it for their school.
I’ll be honest, as this is technically a sport anime, like most sport anime, the actual matches are pretty foregone on who will win. There’s a formula for it, and Girls und Panzer sticks to it pretty solidly, even when logic would dictate otherwise. But honestly, for the most part, I really didn’t mind, and found myself cheering for the girls the whole way because like most fictional sports, it really isn’t about who wins or loses, or even how the game is played, it’s about watching the players’ react to the situations and watching them grow. It’s the same sort of emotions that make people watch Ultraman and Power Rangers, even though the formula is so ingrained into us that there are myriad lampooning of the trope already.
The animation is beautifully detailed and very cute too, which makes looking at the anime a pleasure instead of a chore. Early on, the girls each paint their tanks to their style in what felt like a tribute to Sakura Wars. I loved the fun that the art team obviously had as they came up with designs for what is normally grey and tan and splashed some serious color on them, giving us an (admittedly brief) look into the crews before the really serious part of the show took off. It’s a shame (though very understandable) that they moved back towards realism, rather than having it be part of the style of the show to see these beautiful custom paint jobs across all of the teams. Though, in the end it worked well, and while it is never directly addressed, I could see a pretty good growing point as the girls put the old paint back on, realizing that the normal colors are there to hide the profile of the tanks, instead of having them jump out at you, a trick they use more than once through the series.
If I had to choose anything to pick on for the show though, it would be the two “introduction” filler episodes. First off, I’m not a huge fan of filler episodes in general, it’s part of what has kept me from Bleach and Dragon Ball Z. Now, in Girls und Panzer, these episodes were caused as recap episodes as production delays kept the series from being completed in time (causing it to run a total of 14 episodes instead of the normal 12) and these recap shows are pretty simple in comparison to create to keep something in the live timeslot, and they do help to explain a few things about the girls and/or the world that the girls live in, but what gets me is that both episodes come out of left field right in the middle of a match. When watching them, it’s almost like an episode version of a commercial break. Considering that when this was broadcast, it was one episode a week, I can only imagine the agony it caused to a lot of the viewers. In addition, because these are production delay episodes, the only new material in them is in print and voice acting, which I find just makes the episodes all the more boring. How many of us skip (or wish we could skip) the “last time on ____” recaps at the beginning of a TV show? Now imagine that being the whole episode. You get my point. The show is only 12 episodes otherwise, so this sort of filler really isn’t needed. Something that perhaps included a short interview or something fresh at least would have gone a long way, even if it was still 90% stock footage, but oh well. At least now if you’re watching it you can skip the episode and come back after the match is over. They’re pretty good for short documentaries on the characters, and I do recommend checking them out at least once as you go through the series. Could have done well as an extra on the DVD, for instance.
A lot of people also gripe that the song Katyusha gets cut in the English versions from episode 8. It is very unfortunate that the song was cut, but the reason is rather understandable to me: quite frankly, there was a licensing issue in importing the Russian song to America. Because of that, it was not legally possible, and so both Crunchyroll and Sentai Filmworks were left with the difficult choice of what to do with the footage. Personally, between the two, I think Crunchyroll did a better job, by simply removing the sequence, while Sentai removed the lip movement and changed the song to the Tetris theme. Though some of my opinion is because whenever I hear that song anymore I think about this. It isn’t the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last. Just something we have to get used to until the global culture reaches a point where licensing is not constrained by country. That won’t likely happen in my life time, nor yours.
All told, another anime that I’m glad to have watched. If you’re looking for a new sort of sports anime with cute girls and big guns, Girls und Panzer definitely fits the bill. Could it have been better? Absolutely, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun and interesting.
The Ranting Loon