Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer 2010: Strike Witches 2

I can't help but feel that I'm officially too old as a fan, especially when it comes to analysis and appreciation of mecha. I was more of a Giant Robo fan than I was a Gundam fan, but preference for mecha ran more into the likes of Appleseed and Bubblegum Crisis. While I have enjoyed Heroman this season, I'll have to be frank about the appeal of mecha; I like machinery if they involved mind-numbing commentary on its role in society and/or women dressed in hardsuits.

Lately it seems that the mecha genre has opted to go the way of the cell phone by miniaturizing its clunky structure and making it more hand-held. Bakugan basically shrank Zoids, and even Masamune Shirow himself slowly opted for nanotechnology over hardcover landmates. While Evangelion continues to try to keep the old school alive, the entire "mecha musume" invasion—personified mostly by the Strike Witches franchise—has come to roost.

The Strike Witches anime pushes the mecha sound barrier by introducing many different ideas all at once. Why keep all that moe bound up in a hard ceramic shell like that sexy green M&M? Why let the machine do all the work when it could be a war maiden firing all that immense artillery? Why can't there be animal ears and tails on all of these fighting females?

Most of all, why not have them all declare a war on pants?

Okay, realistically the war in the case of Strike Witches is being fought in an altered universe where Earth during World War II is a little different as we know it, both geographically and geologically. Masses of land have been obliterated by the Neuroi, an alien entity that converts their conquered regions into their weaponry. The only forces that the accumulated armies can counter with are female "Witches" who can infuse their magic into stocking-like machine units that slip over their legs. This allows the Witches to fly with magical propellers, leaving their arms free to fire big honking guns.

(Considering I haven't been exposed to the initial Strike Witches run, I'm still mystified by the ears and tails, but apparently this is due to some animal spirit lodged in each Witch.)

Strike Witches 2 brings us to the uneasy aftermath from the results of the initial series, as our plucky heroine Yoshika has returned to the Fuso Empire (Japan) in order to continue the family clinic's business. Yoshika's visit to the nearby military base to return some accidentally-delivered blueprints from her deceased father clues her into the real situation in Europe: the defeated Neuroi infestation is being overrun by a second, much larger squadron that has overwhelmed the remaining Witch corps.

Yoshika tries to throw herself into the fight again, only to be turned down by Mio, the steely first Strike Witch and most accomplished of the bunch. However, Yoshika's desire to help her fellow Witches overturns Mio's concern, and both rejoin the ranks to fight alongside the 504th troup, much to the join of all their battlemates. The initial strike against a stubborn Neuroi battleship (patterned after experimental aircraft in WW2) brings the band back together, but why in the world was the remaining Neuroi fleet destroyed by the second wave in the first place?

While the warcraft designs are pretty spotless, including some clever adaptions from existing WW2 planes into the Witches' leg-units, the show suffers from what I would call "Aika Syndrome". You remember Agent Aika, right? That spy anime where all of the characters had a quota of panty-flashes? Strike Witches 2 doesn't hide the fact that none of the women are wearing pants, and they don't intend to keep the service shots to a minimum. Yeah, the action is pretty quick, but each glimpse of cotton not only destroys the seriousness of the story, but it makes me feel downright queasy. I mean, we're given bloomer shots of the main character all through the first episode, and she's barely out of middle school. Brrrr.

It seems that Strike Witches was meant to please as many otaku as possible in one show, but the sequel indicates that there was just too much to fit into a 13-episode arc. While I admit to have never seen the first show, Strike Witches 2 indicates that there wasn't much to miss, and the first two episodes themselves were pretty forgettable, with most of the fighting footage in the first episode recycled into the second episode. The eleven members of the corps are also pretty easy to confuse, as only a few seem to have any sort of unique personality.

I find it rather fascinating to see that Crunchyroll is running Strike Witches 2 without any sort of 18+ portal, while the milder Mitsudomoe requires adult supervision. My guess? If you've seen the first run of Strike Witches, there's nothing to see in the next run.

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