“There there, we still have a couple of OVA episodes to look forward to.”
|It’s times like this that I wish I were a more eloquent writer, because there is clearly no way that I will be able to do justice to this finale. Suffice it to say, that was the best damn final episode to a show I’ve seen since… probably 2010’s Katanagatari. Continuing off the previous episode, it just kept building the tension up and up, all the way to the sweet, sweet release in the joyful finish. Seriously, when the final white flag was raised, I was already in tears. And I was watching this in public!|
One of the things I wrote in my first post on this series was that “the talent behind this show gets it” with respect to action. I feel like I’ve been finding different ways to write that same thing again and again with each new post. So I’m not going to repeat myself (too much) here. To sum it up, this was how the final episode was supposed to be: in a show that never stopped delivering on the intensity and the thrills, in delivered the most intense and thrilling action sequence yet. Then 10 minutes later, it topped that.
Of course, I’m referring to the Maus takedown to start the episode, followed by the climax proper featuring the Nishizumi sisters’ duel. I had predicted last week that the Oarai team would bring down a building on it to disable it, but in retrospect, that’s far too crude a method for Miho’s girls. No, anything less than teaming up to put a tank on top of that tank to buy time to attack its weak point would have been acceptable. Even if it meant that the student council’s Turtle team had to pay the ultimate price.
To quote Saori, This tank is so big that other tanks could ride it!
Then that final one on one between the flag tanks. How sweet was that? I’m honestly at a loss as to where to begin. There was the pre-battle showdown between the sisters before they started circling each other. There was the Leopold team with its last stand against who knows how many Black Forest Peak tanks to block the choke point. There was the cat and mouse chase weaving through the buildings, punctuated by the occasional shot that would rip off some of the Anglerfish team’s Panzer IV armor. There was that one long under-the-barrel view shot that was giving me flashbacks to when I used to play Rocket Arena on Quake 3 back in high school.
I guess it’s at least easy to choose where to end, naturally the final approach that ended in the Oarai girls’ victory. As Hana herself said immediately prior, it was all of our characters’ hard work and effort, their hopes and dreams coming down to one final dash, one final shot. It was the quick draw in a western or the simultaneous sword slash in a samurai movie. It was Nono and Lark joining for an Inazuma Double Kick. It was the main character leaping to his friend’s aid with a cloud of moths close behind. It was Kyon telling Haruhi that ponytails turned him on. It was Simon jumping out of Lagann to punch the Anti-Spiral in the face. In short, it was the defining moment in this series. In a series that had already been filled with them, this one topped them all. As it was supposed to. I mean, just look at the damn thing! That descending boom cam shot while the Panzer IV drifted around the other tank right before they both fired was fucking gorgeous!
I think what this show did so well was to build a real sense of desperation. Let’s face it, this was really just a sports show with the very overdone twist that the athletes were playing for their school’s survival. It made the most of that context by capturing the thrill of competition when on the field. When nothing else matters, and you and your teammates are focused only on working together to make victory happen. The already mentioned-and-raved-about excellence in direction, cinematography, and animation made it all possible. Watching Oarai win and its students celebrate in pure ecstasy was like being back in college in 2004 when my hometown Boston Red Sox won the World Series. The girls’ joy was my joy, and even more than a baseball team whose matches you see on TV, I had been with them every step of the way. The ending might have been a bit abrupt, but really, did we need to see anything beyond the girls being welcomed at home during their return parade? That’s the last we’re supposed to see of any championship team until the following season.
The use of the instrumental version of the ending theme for this scene was literally perfect.
I’ll admit that I’m still curious about Miho’s sensha-do versus the Nishizumi style. Darjeeling helpfully explained last episode about the Black Forest Peak’s rigid structure that was prone to go haywire when things didn’t go according to plan, and that really does contrast a lot against Miho’s style of continually thinking on her feet and adapting to changing conditions. Of course, she never had any choice but to be extremely resourceful; the only time in battle when Oarai wasn’t severely outnumbered and outgunned was at the start of the St. Gloriana friendly match.
But there’s also another thread, that of leaving no one behind, that the show made a point to feature greatly. The very act that cost Miho’s team victory the previous year, saving an ally from the water, was repeated in grand fashion in the final match. Yet Miho was also willing to sacrifice her teammates to achieve victory; in the end, her Panzer IV was the only Oarai tank left standing as the other tanks all faced impossible odds in order to allow her to go one on one against the opposing flag tank. Maybe the important distinction is that her teammates chose to sacrifice themselves to support the team, as they went to their “deaths” without regret. When you save your friends, they will save you back ten times over; after all, the saved Rabbit Team took out 2 of the Black Forest Peak tanks in the city via a couple of clever ruses. Or maybe the important distinction is between sacrifice via actual injury and sacrifice in-game.
I rather like just how stoic both sisters always are, even in the heat of battle. That made this muted scene all the more heartwarming.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was deeply skeptical of Girls und Panzer. Before the series aired, I flatly denied any possibility that it could even come close to matching the magic of the big dog of the genre, Strike Witches. The first episode caught me off guard with the gimmicks bookending the episode, I still didn’t think much of it. The following 2 episodes’ rather mundane cute girl antics had me convinced that this show would be nothing to write home about.
Then the 4th episode happened, and the rest of the show happened. There was still the minor speed bump of episode 7, but it never once descended to the quality of the first quarter of the series, and in the things that mattered, it never stopped getting significantly better. When it was already starting from a position far ahead of every other action show around, that’s a pretty magnificent feat. The overall pace was positively sublime, escalating the stakes with each match, starting with the friendly against St. Gloriana, the first tourney match against Saunders, the reveal of saving the school against Pravda, and the final against Miho’s former school, Black Forest Peak. All the tiresome school girl antics took a backseat for the singular goal of winning that next sensha-do match.
I’m not too big on rating shows with numbers. I choose to do it to keep my MAL updated and because I’m a statistics geek, but I always thought that a single number was inadequate to properly reflect the qualities of an entire show or movie. So I wasn’t thinking too deeply about what to rate Girls und Panzer after its first 10 episodes finished 2.5 months ago. I knew at least that it was easily the best show of 2012, but giving it a 10/10? That thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
After the show’s return with these 2 final episodes, I cannot in good conscience give it anything less than a 10. It wasn’t perfect, but it was special, and most certainly a masterpiece. I don’t know when a show like this will come around again. The technology is certainly available, and the directorial style was hardly novel. If not the same group of people, I’m sure some other ambitious group will replicate the success, except also with some depth in characters in story to go with the action. But given the trends in the industry, I don’t know when that perfect storm of talent, ambition, execution, and a bit of arrogance will happen again. In the meanwhile, I guess I’m happy to hold myself over by rewatching the series on Bluray. Panzer vor!
Many thanks to Fosh for the captions!