In our roundtable discussion on whether or not anime is art, Ray brought up an excellent point about that infamous scifi-fantasy-loli-pantsu fanservice vehicle, Strike Witches. To wit, though the show has actual fodder for intellectual discussion, the mere fact that it shows school girls in a permanent pantyshot state renders this moot for the vast majority of viewers. You cannot rehabilitate such a thing, the argument goes. No amount of light will overpower this darkness.
Nevertheless, with licensing confirmed for S1 and a second season reportedly on the way, an attempt should be made to see just what is good about this show. And so, with both eyes open – fully cognizant of the anti-intellectual properties of the show – let us try to find some spark of creativity inside.
This was my original review of the Strike Witches preview in March 2007:
I practically fell out of my chair laughing when the opening credits for the Strike Witches prelude rolled across the screen. The show at once incorporates elements from brash, militaristic anime mecha (Gunparade, Gundam, and the more serious moments of Full Metal Panic), cutesy mahoushojo, and simultaneously gritty and over-the-top “female warrior” archetypes (think Gunslinger Girls, Black Lagoon, and the dire moments in Magical Nanoha.)
How can a show that dares so much in the first few seconds not be worth watching? How can anyone fail to be reduced to giggles at the sight of deadpan, 1920s-style mockumentary with flying robot-suited anime girls in the place of fighter planes? The latest of science, technology, and magic indeed! The attention paid to detail is captivating.
Strike Witches is a strange smorgasboard of anime archetypes, all thrown together in some cosmic blender. Even things that logically do not fit together are added to the mix – for example, there are WWI-style base camps and raw recruit/drill sergeant hazing scenes. There are also stereotypical schoolgirl interactions, catgirls, and gigantic, overly visible spell channeling circles of the type found in Fate: Stay/Night and the aforementioned Nanoha. Sadly, and a bit disturbingly, it seems that fanservice made the cut as well. It’s especially jarring when it involves cat-eared, half-machine schoolgirls who can lift two tons.
Strike Witches takes place in an alternate universe, and understanding the setting is key to understanding many details about the human interactions therein. When the characters are always nice to each other, and have faith in their fellow human beings, this isn’t simply to be dismissed as a saccharine “everyone gets along and pitches in” tale. Rather, this is to be understood in the context of the fact that the second World War never happened.
Of course, it’s not as though WWII was the lone incident of darkness in the entirety of human history. Take away the Holocaust, take away the Rape of Nanking, take away Dresden and Hiroshima, and there is still a long and brutal history of war, oppression, and slavery to contend with. That said, the importance of WWII in the modern mileu should not be underestimated. Even if the darkness was always there, WWII and its aftermath made certain things starkly clear. For centuries princes balanced lives, money, and justice on scales in the depths of their hearts, but right there in the public eye Truman made the admission that he had to weigh Japanese lives against American lives in using the A-bomb. For centuries men and women had railed against the injustices of slavery and racism, but it took the systematic extermination of a people based on race – and an enemy fiercely concerned with its own racial superiority – to drive home the point that such biases unambiguously lead to evil. This was a historical proof, a reductio ad absurdum written in the flesh and blood of millions.
When we state that WWII drove home the evil of humanity, we are admittedly operating in a certain ignorance of historical fact. This, however, is the ignorance exercised in pop culture. It is the ignorance present in the minds of virtually all characters in the Strike Witches universe. There, humanity is not merely a morally dubious and lazy collection of louts that spend too much time on the Internet and cut each other off in traffic. There, the Strike Witches are collectively the last, best hope against an inhuman menace that seeks only to destroy. In the world of Strike Witches, evil is not found in the heart. Evil is external, and humanity is united in opposition to it.