Quite the impressive dance for something that was presumably learned in minutes. Or is this dance like the Macarena of this world; everyone knows it?
|So this is our first Girls und Panzer post since the First Impressions post; I guess we were caught by surprise, and recently decided that a show this fascinating couldn’t be ignored. Also, as great a show as it is, I don’t like blogging Hidamari Sketch, so I’ll stop doing that; that show just doesn’t work well for blogging. Girls und Panzer has been one of the surprise hits of the season, and this 4th episode was its best one yet.|
At least it wasn’t as gratuitous as a similar scene in Top Gun.
I’ve noticed that Girls und Panzer has been well-received by a lot of people who normally don’t appreciate the girls-as-weapons genre represented by Strike Witches and Upotte!! (girls with weapons is a very common trope, but these shows exercise it at a completely pure level, even beyond works like the excellent Gunslinger Girl). I am not one of those people, being an unapologetic and rabid fan of Strike Witches. Still, there’s nothing inherent to the genre that excites me, and the cute-girls-doing-cute-things bits in the 2nd and 3rd episodes of Panzer had me bored. The training battle in the middle wasn’t particularly exciting either. So I went into this 4th episode of the show highly skeptical that Girls und Panzer would live up to the standard set in this genre.
I admit I was being foolish.
The talent behind this show gets it. Just because a show’s premise is a gimmick doesn’t mean that it can rely on the gimmick’s novelty. It still needs sound fundamentals, things like writing and direction, to succeed. Strike Witches doesn’t owe its success to its famous war on pants, it does to its visceral and thrilling aerial dog fights and its lovable cast of well written characters. When girls with tanks is the primary gimmick of a show, it needs to do more than just have cute girls doing cute things with tanks. Specifically, the tanks have to be fun to watch in action, shown in a way to make us excited. Girls und Panzer delivered with some of the best tank battle action I’ve seen in anime.
I don’t even remember her name, but I’ve taken a liking to this girl. She has fire in her eyes and, er, spark to her teeth (when you can see them).
Obviously, I can point to the show’s heavy use of CG as part of the reason for its success. It’s not that the CG is particularly pretty – it’s pretty good CG, but it still has the uncomfortable uncanny valley effect with the cel shaded characters and backgrounds – it’s that the show takes advantage of the technology to produce shots that would be prohibitively difficult or expensive with regular animation. The battle featured a few extended first-person shots similar to the show’s very first shot, as well as good use of a tracking shaky cam during the initial chase that led to the failed ambush. Common in live action, rare in anime, these shots fit perfectly into the flow of the action, taking us into it by providing an on-the-ground view from where all the action was taking place.
Beyond the cinematography, the battle was just composed particularly well. One of the most important things that a director has to make sure in an action scene is the audience having a proper understanding of what’s going on. Most anime directors simply don’t seem to get it, with, for example, common overuse of extreme closeups causing confusion in characters’ relative positions, and not to mention complete ignorance of continuity errors from shot to shot. There was little of that in Girls und Panzer. We were able to get a feel for where the combatants were and what they were trying to do. This was especially impressive during the final showdown when Nishizumi’s team took down 3 of the final 4 by outmaneuvering them and taking advantage of the cover of corners. The show was trying to prove to us that Nishizumi really is the Panzer genius that the other girls make her out to be, and it worked. How often in anime do you get to marvel at someone’s use of tactics and also understand exactly why those tactics allowed her to win? The best I’ve seen might have been an episode of Code Geass in which Lelouche caused a landslide in order to defeat Cornelia’s better equipped posse of mechs. But that was pretty simple, based on creating chaos and confusion; certainly not a careful and methodical take down as in this show.
This top-down shot was also used nicely to let us have a feeling for the battlefield.
Besides the visuals and direction, the battle was also well structured, with excellent pacing that had it introducing a new surprise each time it threatened to get stale. This being the first match, I had expected the team to get slaughtered early on when their ambush backfired. But then Nishizumi made a plan B on the fly, and the fight went into the streets, catching me completely off guard. From this point the match kept seesawing back and forth, and when the lead St. Gloriana Academy tank stood victorious, having survived 2 direct hits thanks to its superior shielding, I was genuinely surprised. Girls und Panzer is the best action show I’ve seen all year.
An important lesson learned by these girls: not all concealment is protective. The shell punched right through the fence before exploding.
Much of the final third of the episode focused on Isuzu and her disapproving mother who wanted her to pursue flower arrangement instead of tanks. There was a nice line about how Isuzu wanted to work with “stronger flowers” – that is, her teammates – but I found myself not caring much. None of the girls have received much character development, and I don’t feel a real connection with them, though I do feel for anyone getting thrown out of the house like that. The absurdity of this world where flower arrangement and tank battles are equally womanly endeavors is amusing, and fleshing it out even more instead of just pounding on that mismatch would be much appreciated. The battle had the nice touch of showing a store owner celebrating his shop getting crashed into. It gave us a better understanding of the battles, just when we had discovered (and in my case become confused by) the fact that the tank battles could spill out into city streets. Who’s subsidizing these matches, and for what purpose? I don’t need an answer now, but let’s see some steps to turn this into an internally consistent world.
At least the angler fish dance was great. I’m a little confused on the timeline of events, because the truck ride with the dance seems like something that should take more than an hour or two. But hey, I love seeing girls perform perfectly synchronized dancing while carrying on a conversation. And how about the use of the Battle Hymn of the Republic during the tournament lottery? What a nostalgic tune, one of many that I’m glad is in the public domain. Transition from this battle right into a tournament of battles does feel a bit rushed, but I can appreciate that this show doesn’t like to waste time. The fleet of Saunders tanks in the final shot looked menacing, the way an enemy ought to look. I hope that the combat in this episode was not just a flash in the pan. If it isn’t, I don’t mind its world building or characters; it’s all worth it to see more of these girls in tanks battling it out!
So, do they get to have as many tanks as they can afford in a team or something?