I've watched a lot of fan-service anime in my time, but few match the daunting amount of panty shots, nudity, and groping found in Strike Witches. FUNimation's latest Gonzo release caused a bit of a stir within the anime community when it hit the airwaves in Japan, and it's poised to do the same in the States as well. After all, what else can you say about a show where the vast majority of its female cast doesn't wear any pants? That's right. Every scene is brimming over the edge with panty exposure. Ironically the show is actually quite entertaining and worth checking out, regardless of the visual overload of women's underwear.
The series takes place in an alternate history of sorts. At some point aliens known as Neuroi opened a gateway to our world and infiltrated our airspace. Nations crumble and some were reborn as different empires throughout this. Strike Witches actually takes place in 1944 and sees a world war underway, but its one that pits humanity against the Neuroi (there's even an off-hand comment about the prospect of a world war between nations if the Neuroi hadn't shown up). Making matters worse is the fact that conventional human weapons have proven useless against this alien technology. To say that things aren't going so well would be an understatement, and all that stands between humanity and annihilation is a group of magical girls known as Witches.
The Witches are young girls who utilize strange new technologies and magic abilities of varying types to vanquish the Neuroi. Enrobed in military uniforms (all of which consist of no pants) these girls harness the powers of mechanized leggings that are equipped with propellers. Along with these flying boots the girls use mysterious guns, swords, and supernatural powers to enter battle. On top of all this they typically sprout animal airs and tails as well. So, if you're doing your math that's: Panty Shots + Magical Girls + Nudity + Lesbianism + Cat/Animal Girls. What does that equal? A show that's actually a lot more enjoyable as a guilty pleasure than it should be, I'm afraid.
With this set up in place Strike Witches focuses on a young girl named Yoshiku. She's the daughter of the scientist who actually invented the flying boot devices and some of the other stuff used against the Neuroi. Through a series of circumstances Yoshiku winds up joining the 501st Joint Fighter Wing in an effort to find her father, whom she believed was dead. With her healing magic in tow, Yoshiku overcomes her disdain for war and makes friends with some of the other girls as she's introduced to them.
Once the main players are introduced Strike Witches slips into a rather episodic, slice of life pattern. What you basically have here is Yoshiku learning about the Witches and the Neuroi while training to be a better fighter and medic. She also interacts with the other Witches as she continues to train in each episode, and through her perspective we get to learn more about each girl. In some respects the show isn't entirely compelling. I mean, for the most part nothing happens other than some character development with a little bit of action, nudity, and breast groping thrown in for good measure. It's a combination that works on the most basic of levels, but this is a series that packs in more fluff than anything resembling meaningful content.
Now, don't get me wrong. Strike Witches has an incredible charm to it. The writing is solid, the premise is enticing, and the characters are downright loveable. The problems with this show are a lack of continuity and sloppy pacing in the mid-section. It meanders about for a while and all you really get are snippets of high-quality fan-service with jokes and the occasional crumb of action. If you don't mind that, and are looking for a guilty pleasure, then you're going to be quite happy with this show. It hits all the right notes with regards to things lovers of fan-service look for. It's just a shame that a more involved plot isn't really in the cards. Consider it recommended (highly if you want a show laden with fan-service).
Strike Witches is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image that has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show looks very good with vibrant colors, nice contrast, and attractive designs overall. The image quality is up to snuff, though some compression artifacts make their way into the picture at times and there's a little bit of noise here and there. Despite that this show is downright gorgeous. Gonzo once again did an amazing job with animation and production, and there's nary a moment here that looks stiff or like it had cut corners. There are plenty of details to gawk at (which you'll probably be doing given all the fan-service anyway).
English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks are included here for audio selections. As far as the dub is concerned it was hard to find a preference between the two. Both are quite good with solid casts and an overall well-balanced approach to emotion and acting. Technically speaking, the English offering edged out the Japanese selection slightly with LFE and channel usage. The sense of immersion isn't the greatest, however, and the dialogue winds up feeling a little flat. The show still packs quite a punch though, and the soundstage comes to life during the several moments of intense action.
Some trailers and clean animations are included on this two-disc set for bonus features. There's also an English audio commentary for the twelfth episode. This track is worth listening to once you finish watching this set. It's bubbly and fun with a great amount of humor, so if you're looking for information on the show's production you'll be left wanting.
Strike Witches was a blast. The characters were lively and enjoyable to watch, the show's development offers some nice continuity, and all around the approach to the material is as entertaining as it is preposterous. It is possible to be overloaded with panty shots and other manners of fan-service, however, so keep that in mind when looking at this release. After all, what can you say about a show whose marketing quote is "Winning the war on pants!"? Despite the silliness of it all you should consider Strike Witches recommended.
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