They’re back, Witches! (no spoilers)
|It’s been a while since its March 17 theatrical release date, but the Strike Witches The Movie Bluray is out, and English subs are finally out. The movie is the latest installment in the Strike Witches franchise that started its venture into anime with a 2007 OVA followed by a TV series in 2008. The movie is a direct sequel to 2010’s excellent Strike Witches 2, one that fans have been waiting for with great anticipation. Up front, I can tell you that that anticipation will be amply rewarded. It doesn’t take the franchise in any bold new directions, but Strike Witches The Movie manages to distill what was best about the series into a tightly paced almost-100 minutes, while also improving on almost every aspect.|
Shizuka isn’t a big fan of Ramune, apparently.
For those new to the franchise, Strike Witches The Movie starts off with a very brief introduction to the premise, and I do mean very brief. We’re told of the existence of witches as humanity’s protectors throughout history, and how the new enemy, the enigmatic CG-rendered Neuroi, took over Europe in 1939. The story picks up a not long after the events of Strike Witches 2: series protagonist Yoshika Miyafuji, the 16 year old school-swimsuit-under-seifuku wearing witch from the Fuso Empire (Japan) is back home. She’s enjoying her early retirement from the Strike Witches – the title given to the multinational 11-girl squad that makes up the 501st Joint Fighter Wing that was the focus of both seasons of the TV show – that was caused by the loss of her magical powers (I won’t spoil the events of season 2, but fans already knew to expect this), running her family clinic and studying to be a doctor. Rookie Fuso witch Shizuka Hattori drops by to deliver an invitation to a prestigious school in Europe, kicking off their ocean-and-land-based journey to the school that will take up most of the movie. The other members of the 501st are dispersed throughout Europe, including the 3 from Karlsland (Germany) holding down the fort in their home country, and Charlotte Yeager hanging out with Francesca Lucchini in Venezia, Romagna (Venice, Italy, the setting of season 2) where they spend their idle time racing other witches on ferries through the city’s canals. Predictably, Neuroi and other obstacles get in the way of Miyafuji and her new mentee, and fate conspires to bring her and all the other members of the 501st back together for a showdown with perhaps the most dangerous Neuroi they’ve had to face yet.
Fundamentally, the story of Strike Witches The Movie is that of the badass coming out of retirement. Miyafuji finds herself pulled into action in various ways during her journey to the school, but she is no reluctant badass, and she gladly goes out of her way to help her fellow soldiers, whether it be cooking breakfast in the military ship she and Shizuka are catching a ride with, or lending her medical services to a nearby European town that has lost its radio. There’s a feeling of naive hope to everything this 16 year old girl does, providing a source of conflict with Shizuka who can’t believe that this legendary soldier could be so lackadaisical and careless. Yet when the chips are down, it is invariably Miyafuji who takes charge and does the things that no one else has the guts to do despite her inability to use magic. An unforgettable scene near the end of the film has her choosing to defend a town by herself from a skyscraper-sized Neuroi while armed with just a machine gun and jeep. Through Miyafuji’s actions as well as conversations with her former comrades in the 501st, we learn that, far from being the weakness that Shizuka makes it out to be, Miyafuji’s simple positivity is the very thing that allowed her to perform those legendary feats before. And it’s what allows her to do so again here. The movie continues to follow the Strike Witches franchise’s complete lack of cynicism and its pure belief that, with hard work, friendship, and a little bit of luck, nothing is impossible. It’s a simple and childish message from which the movie never strays, and it’s hard not to find that optimism compelling.
Fear not: every single one of your favorite Strike Witches makes an appearance and gets a chance to shine.
If you’re a fan looking to see the same thrilling dog fights that defined the franchise, you will not be disappointed. The movie exceeds season 2 in many ways, with aerial battles that easily match the best from that show, both technically and artistically. Each of the battles in this movie – and there are many – is beautifully animated and directed. The dynamic camera is more, er, dynamic than ever, and CG is used subtly to good effect, both for the Neuroi (always) and the girls (faraway shots). There is plenty of creativity in the battles with the introduction of transforming land-based Neuroi providing a fresh twist to the dog fights. One particularly memorable scene has the witches baiting a Neuroi down into the canals of Venezia for an in-the-trenches chase sequence reminiscent of Star Wars, while another has them forced to resort to melee attacks after having thrown away all their weapons in order to stay flying. Keeping to the series tradition, the final battle involves the most menacing Neuroi yet that requires all the Strike Witches to work together to take down. Admittedly, it’s hard to say that it ever reaches the peak of Sweet Duet from season 2 (spoilers in link), but if it misses, it’s not by much. Basically, this movie takes the best of Strike Witches and turns it up to 11.
Unfortunately, what else has been turned up is the fanservice. I’m normally not one to complain about too much fanservice; in fact, I think having issues with it is a rather silly position to take. Neither the plethora of panty shots nor typical cute-girl-show tropes of the show distracted me, but the movie demonstrated that there are times when fanservice can be to a work’s detriment. Specifically, panty shots in action scenes are fine and expected, but having the camera zoom in on them constantly actually obscures or mis-frames the action. It is not an exaggeration to say that within the first 5 minutes we’ve been presented with a dynamic aerial closeup of the crotch of each and every girl from the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, and the pacing of such shots doesn’t slow down by much after that. This is not a fatal flaw, but if the fanservice was keeping you away from the franchise, this movie won’t change your mind.
This shot is problematic because it is not a good angle or framing of Lynette’s attack. Unfortunately, this is one of dozens of similar shots.
Strike Witches is the 800 pound gorilla in the Mecha Musume (girls-as-weapons) genre, and it got there very simply: by being damned good. It’s proof positive that good writing, characters, art, animation, technical expertise, and direction can turn even the stupidest of premises into anime perfection. Strike Witches The Movie carries on the series’s tradition of excellence with its multitude of visceral and sometimes emotional action scenes. It has just the right pacing for this sort of movie, and the next grand aerial battle is never too far off. The story isn’t particularly creative, but it effectively communicates the franchise’s core message of love, hope, and friendship. The level of fanservice will continue to draw criticism, and that criticism has never been more valid than it is now. But if you are looking for heartwarming tale with exceptional action-packed direction and animation, there are few works in anime that will leave you as satisfied as this one.
I don’t think we’ve ever seen so much of Miyafuji being angry.
In a surprising move, unlike the TV series, the movie contains no nudity, opting instead to use more warm and fuzzy fanservice shots like these.
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