Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Series Reviews > Strike Witches 2 Episode 1 – Back to the Sky

Strike Witches 2 Episode 1 – Back to the Sky

I probably gave the first season of Strike Witches more of a chance than it deserved. That might sound odd coming from someone who can easily write off an actually decent show because of a lousy first episode, but there was something about it that just made me want to like it.

Maybe it had something to do with the premise. A band of girls with superpowers defending the Earth from alien invaders is old hat for anime, but Strike Witches just keeps adding on to the premise until it sounds so absurd that it has to be good.

Set in an alternate history World War 2 where the nations banded together after alien attack? Girls use magic power to fly around in propeller legs designed after period fighter planes? Said magic power disappears as girls grow older, providing a convenient reason for the cast to consist entirely of teenagers? Said magic power causes girls to grow animal ears and tails, every otaku’s favorite fetish? Said teenage magical girls are all loosely based on real-life World War 2 fighter pilots from every major nation that fought in the war and wield period and nation-appropriate weaponry?

That kind of premise, married to a story that took itself as seriously as any ace pilot anime, combined with gorgeously animated air combat, was something I really wanted to like. It was such a strange conglomeration of things that I normally enjoy watching: quasi-serious story with a completely absurd premise, aerial combat, weird devotion to historical accuracy in completely meaningless ways, that I told myself it had to be good.

But there was an elephant in the room that I didn’t want to think about.

You have no idea how many shots there are exactly like this in this episode

Strike Witches takes place in a world where women do not wear pants.

I don’t mean they just wear skirts instead. The older women do, but they make up a very small percentage of Strike Witches’s female cast. Every girl under 40 wears nothing but what looks suspiciously like underwear.

The people behind the setting are very clear that this alternate society does not consider what they’re wearing to be underwear: there’s no social taboo against wearing nothing but what looks like normal panties around everywhere, and no one seems to view it as being sexually degrading, but, as one infamous episode of the first series makes abundantly clear, the girls don’t wear anything else under there, and the designs do look a lot like what we in this universe consider underwear (or swimsuit bottoms).

The Japanese girls seem to wear school swimsuits instead of panties. No less fetishistic, and probably anachronistic

I thought this would be funny, something that would add to Strike Witches’s kooky charm. It was, at first: I couldn’t stop giggling throughout the entire first episode, and kept a running total of close-ups on crotches and butts (23, if you’re interested, or roughly one per minute).

As the series wore on, though, it started to wear on me. The way everyone was so oblivious to the obviously sexualized character designs were what started it. There’s a certain awe or admiration reserved for people who are unashamed of their body to the extent that they are willing to walk around in their underwear. But that’s not what’s going on here, because the characters aren’t aware of how we perceive their walking around in underwear.

I mean, you're just minding your own business when WHAM! Some girl's crotch is right in your face

Imagine a pedophile, leering at a young girl walking around naked at the beach. Assuming the girl is young enough, she probably doesn’t know any better. The pedophile is taking advantage of her innocence in the matter for his own pleasure. By intentionally exploiting the values difference between the world of Strike Witches and our world, the creators are intentionally creating such a situation. Now, it involves cartoon girls rather than actual human beings, but that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.

Incidentally, every girl in the show—with two exceptions—is under 18, the age of consent in the United States and many parts of Japan, so technically the creators are exploiting underage teenage girls. Francesca Lucchini, one of the more popular characters, is only 12.

Most of the witches just use their magical powers to pilot their magical propeller legs. Yoshika also uses hers to heal baby animals

And then Strike Witches started to imply romantic relationships between the girls. Nothing physical, just schoolgirl crushes, but it raised the level of perversion up one more notch. There’s no mention of sex or anything remotely sexual in the first season, but this is really only to maintain the false sense of innocence fueling the intended attraction to the characters.

Even if the characters remain ignorant of the implications of their behavior, the audience understands the sexual nature of what they are seeing. And that makes Strike Witches an interesting case study in otaku sexuality.

Oh no, a bear!

Strike Witches, if you couldn’t tell by the fact that it got a second season, is extremely popular in Japan. The DVDs were, for many weeks, the best selling anime series in the country. There have been new manga series, light novel spin-offs and several video games set in the Strike Witches universe.

It seems evident that the reason for the series’ popularity is something other than its plot and action. I can’t speak for the other works in the Strike Witches multimedia empire, but the anime is not a good show.

The action scenes are gorgeously animated, but they are few and far between, especially in the dull middle of the series. Most of the series is instead devoted to the kind of mindless, supposedly-humorous goings-on associated with moe shows, and to haphazard attempts to develop characters that, while not quite generic anime archetypes, are too flat to be more than objects of endearment.

The action scenes are very well done, even if they lend themselves too well to frequent panty/crotch shots

So Strike Witches’ popularity lies more in the appeal of its characters. But why? There are other shows more sexually explicit than Strike Witches, but none are as popular.

I think that the secret to the show’s success is the combination of girlish innocence normally found in more mundane, everyday life settings with the ostensibly innocent sexual aspect described above (and the well-animated action scenes). The show relies on the innocence of its characters mentioned above to evoke moe feelings, but then makes explicit the sexual aspects implicit in most moe anime, but left unsaid.

Lack of pants notwithstanding, Strike Witches' world isn't exactly like the real world. For example, Japan is called Fuso, and its rising sun flag looks slightly different. Also, magic and alien invaders

I’ve said before that moe anime are usually intentionally asexual, so as to not destroy the sense of innocence of the girls. If a girl expressed any sexual desire, or even attraction to a boy, it would damage that perfect illusion of cuteness and make her undesirable (or fans irate). But that doesn’t mean that sex is absent from the relationship. Instead, it’s a one-sided arrangement that only the otaku are allowed to participate in. Only they are allowed to express any sexual desire.

You can see this in the vibrant culture of fan-made works based on manga and anime in Japan. Plenty of otaku create comics or art books of characters from popular shows, usually in suggestive or sexually explicit settings. Moe shows are among the most popular sources for these books.

The battleship Yamato is here, though, and looks like it will play a big role in the new series

Strike Witches’ brilliance (if you can call it that) is that its setting allows it to make explicit what other moe shows can’t even imply: a layer of sexual suggestiveness. Because it takes place in a world where girls don’t wear pants it can combine the ying and yang of attraction to anime characters: the innocent cuteness and the risque sexuality. No wonder it’s popular.

So what about the second series, then? Well, since Gonzo Digimation, the studio responsible for the first series, is a hollow shell of a company with no animators on staff, studio AIC was given the nod for this series.

The Striker units are...kind of dumb

The result is a first episode very much like the first episode of the first series, although not quite as good. That’s going to be a running theme, as you’ll see.

Six months after the first series, main character Yoshika Miyafuji is once again at home in her peaceful life in Japan, having just graduated from middle school and preparing to begin training as a doctor. One day, a letter arrives from her deceased father, the scientist who developed the Striker units witches use to fly.

Yoshika's father is the series' favorite plot device, and nothing more

This, it should be pointed out, is almost exactly the way the first series began: with a mysterious letter from her father leading her into military service. Except now it makes even less sense, as it’s been another six months since her father’s death.

I’m sure the postal service of 1940s Japan (sorry, Fuso) was pretty bad, but this stretches any credulity the show would have had if its entire cast was wearing more than underwear. Another character tries to handwave this by commenting on how long the government censors take, but it’s really just a lack of creativity on the part of the writers.

After hearing a distress call from a former comrade in danger, Yoshika once again chooses to join the military in order to protect people. Opposing her is stalwart samurai Mio Sakamoto, perhaps the only one of the girls who can maintain any dignity whatsoever in her pantsless state.

Mio is so badass she doesn't even need pants

Mio originally opposed Yoshika joining, as well, feeling a girl as innocent and young as her shouldn’t be in the middle of a war, but took her under her wing once Yoshika joined, training her to be a proper soldier. With the war against the Neuroi over, Mio has done everything she could to keep Yoshika out of the military. That she agrees so readily at the end of the episode is ridiculous.

But this isn’t about the plot or the characters. It’s just a flimsy excuse to get Yoshika back into service, so that the rest of the show can continue. I’m sure next episode will see all the girls reunited once again, so that everything can carry on like it was before.

Being set during wartime, the show can get dark at times. Briefly.

I wasn’t expecting AIC to take the franchise in a new and exciting direction, but if you’re going to make a second series, you could at least try to come up with something original, rather than merely aping the first.

The animation is good, but not quite up to the standards of the original. Takamura Kazuhiro returns to direct, which means that the flying scenes are dizzingly shot and well-framed (except for the frequent cuts to crotch shots), but nothing is as fluid as before.

With the jerky, stilted pacing of most anime action scenes, Strike Witches loses what little it had going for it. You’re left with a rehashed story, the same flat characters as before, and the bewilderingly asexual sexualization of its main characters. I’m sure the fans will eat it up.

Even during the ending credits. DAMN IT!

(We should note that the first season of Strike Witches has been licensed by Funimation and is available streaming on Hulu. In a minor fit of sanity, Funimation declined to license the second season, which is being aired on Crunchyroll. That we are providing links does not mean we think you should use them. –3HM)


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