Review: GIRLS und PANZER

Somewhere there exists a world where femininity and grace go hand in hand with tank treads and exploding shells. Do you also have a hard time associating tanks with manliness? If so (and even if not), get ready to roll out with  today’s review.

Title: Gāruzu ando Pantsā (Girls und Panzer)
Original airing: October 9, 2012 to March 25, 2013
Studio: Actas
Episodes: 12
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Moe, Competition, Slice of Life, Military,
Source: Original

Where I watched: Crunchy Roll (English Subbed)

Watch the trailer here 

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions:

Girls und Panzer is set in an alternate universe where “Panzerfahren” or “Sensha-do” (the art of fighting tanks) is a common sport, practiced entirely by girls and women. The series follows the teen girls of Ooarai Girls High School as they learn about, operate, and battle WWII tanks against other tanking schools; forming bonds with their machines and each other.

credit: http://gup.wikia.com/

Normally I wouldn’t be drawn to a series that focuses primarily on moe style schoolgirls. Though there are plenty of good shows (K-On comes to mind), regular slice of life focused mostly on girls has never been my thing. This anime’s title itself, though, tells you this is no ordinary schoolgirl anime. When I first heard about Girls und Panzer, I latched onto the latter half of the title right away. This could have been almost anything “und Panzer” and I would have probably tried it out as I am something of a WWII tank enthusiast myself.

Alright, maybe enthusiast is giving myself too much credit here. Still, I have studied a good deal about these tanks as I collect, build, and paint WWII tank models. My ratio of money vs time spent enjoying this hobby is also terribly top heavy, but that’s another story. There aren’t very many anime that feature tanks, and fewer that focus on them heavily. Even fewer feature tanks from the WWII era. This series thus hits a few checkboxes that influenced my choice to try it out:

  • Something fun, considering my last series was Anohana
  • Twist on an otherwise uninteresting (to me) genre
  • TANKS!

With an abundance of war references and some surprisingly accurate designs, this anime was sure to intrigue war fanatics. Because of the strange setting, there are also a mix of lighthearted and humorous elements. Could this be the perfect mix between schoolgirl slice of life and intense tank warfare? I would certainly find out.


Story

panzer_story_800

The story starts off like a typical school-based slice of life series. There is a new student at Ooarai Girls High School, Miho Nishizumi, who makes friends with some other kids in class. The characters spend a little time getting to know each other and a friendship quickly forms. Everything proceeds according to normal until it comes time for the students to select their elective. The girls could select ‘normal’ classes like Incense Burning and Flower Arrangement, but many of the students gravitate toward a much different class. That is because, starting this year, the school began offering a class in “Sensha-do”: roughly translated to English as “Tankery.”

In the world of Girls und Panzer, Tankery is considered to be a skill that helps promote refinement and femininity in the same vein as something like tea serving ceremony. Tanks, in general, are somehow considered a feminine interest and the series makes a joke about not being able to imagine boys and tanks in the same thought. This sets the foundation for a story that further strains suspension of disbelief in so many instances that I can’t keep track of, but is utterly enjoyable all the same. It’s revealed at the end of the first episode that the school (nay, the whole town) is situated atop a gigantic aircraft carrier like ship and that other schools are similarly floating about. Matches between schools take place on specially prepared fields where live rounds (which are designed not to penetrate the tanks, but seemingly explode everything else) are used. The tanks are operated solely by high school girls who often have their heads sticking out of said tanks while the cannon is firing and shells are exploding around them.

Following so far? No? Well you’re probably not alone. Most of the wacky phenomenon are given only a brief explanation before the show moves on. Young girls operate tanks. That’s just how things are. As different as the world is, the series doesn’t get hung up on world building too much. Instead it quickly moves along to the main plot.

92a51c745954af71f002b80662659a2ad0f1adfa_hq
Though this is never really explained. Just how does a Tiger turret turn that fast? 😛

Using some old abandoned tanks, from remnants of Ooarai’s long defunct Tankery club, the girls scrape together five battle ready tanks of varying designs and choose Miho for the role of commander. After a practice match against St. Gloriana Girl’s Academy and their squad of British tanks, the girls learn that their school will be taking part in a Tankery tournament with high stakes for the future of their program.

The pacing of the series is decent. Each match takes up one or two episodes in this short twelve episode anime and contains enough action to satisfy the viewer’s craving for tank on tank combat. Scenes that don’t involve tank battles are understandably slower, intended to highlight character interaction or the girls’ other day to day activities. Some of the characters have their own story threads as well and there are a few rivalries that are explored through the club’s activities. I may be biased, in that my main draw to this series was the tanks, but I felt like these other story elements weren’t as strong. Their inclusion seems to be an effort to flesh out a small number of the characters as much as they could by providing another facet to their lives, but they are lacking the depth needed to deliver any real development. Some of the character threads are even left unresolved, since the series spends most of it’s time focused on the tournament.

It’s the tournament that primarily showcases the anime’s themes of the importance of teamwork and creativity. Ooarai’s team members and equipment are nowhere near the best, yet they are able to go toe to toe with stronger teams because of their resourcefulness and strategy. Where the premise itself challenges the notion of realism, these small touches greatly help make the show more believable as their victories never come from some miraculous happenstance or impossibly superior skill. The girls of Ooarai have to work for their successes and the result is never guaranteed when they roll onto the battlefield.


Characters

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L-R: Mako, Saori, Miho, Hana, and Yukari

The biggest challenge for this anime, especially considering its length, lies in telling a satisfying tournament story while juggling its five main characters. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that the very nature of a tournament usually involves a lot of other characters as well. Girl und Panzer introduces more than 60, with over half of them belonging to the Ooarai school that the series follows. With such a huge number, it’s a given that most of them are going to be one-note or side characters, but even the main characters have difficulty shining through at times.

Miho Nishizumi is the lead character for all intents and purposes, as the story of her involvement with Sensha-do is the main focus of the series. Her family is well known for its Tankery school (in the sense of a dojo or martial arts school – not a school like Ooarai High) which promotes strength and the importance of victory. Miho never fit in to this style and her failure during the finals match of the previous years tournament is what led to her transferring to Ooari in an effort to escape Tankery. Despite her initial reluctance to take part in the club, she naturally falls into a leadership role due to her ability to adapt her strategy and formulate effective tactics under pressure.

Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu are the two girls who befriended Miho (affectionately nicknaming her Miporin) at the beginning of the series.They are somewhat typical friend types, though their unique personalities help Miho as the series progresses. Saori’s enthusiasm and charm make her a likable character and her tendency to try to make others think positively leads to her becoming a role model for the first year students that join the Tankery Team. Hana, on the other hand, is a more reserved and gentle character but shows conviction and strength when needed. The most telling example of this comes from her desire to participate in Tankery in the first place after her mother expresses strong disapproval for not being more actively involved with their tradition of flower arrangement.

Yukari Akiyama and Mako Reizei are even more different than the previous pair, with Yukari being an excitable military enthusiast and Mako coming off as gloomy and perpetually sleepy. True to their personalities, Yukari appears to the most eager to join Miho’s team and greatly admires her for her experience in the sport. Mako, however, joins the team mostly by accident. She remains with them only on the promise that her frequent school tardiness (from sleeping in so often) would be excused and she wouldn’t be held back a year. Their quirkiness (like Mako’s extreme intelligence despite her lazy attitude) brings a lot of character to Miho’s team and their inclusion helps round out a main cast that would otherwise feel less than memorable.

9180-1229871122
Honestly, I don’t know 75% of their names.

The rest of Ooarai’s team are unfortunately very briefly covered and seem like little more than bodies to operate tanks. Their introductions sometimes even occur during intro or recap segments in the interest of saving time. Like Miho’s team (Anglerfish) the rest of members adopt animal codenames to represent their group (Turtle, Duck, Hippo, Rabbit, Mallard, Anteater, and Leopon), but aside from a bit about the Turtle team we learn very little about them (ie: Duck Team likes Volleyball, Hippo likes History, Rabbit are First Years. etc…). It was a nice touch that the Mechanical (Leopon) team was ultimately placed in charge of the most problematic tank and sometimes even repair it during battle.

On the topic of tanks, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about the tanks themselves. Because each team is distinct, personality wise, the tanks themselves feel like characters in their own right. Anyone who isn’t into tanks might feel lost here, but tank enthusiasts will rejoice at the large variety found in just this one team. You can read about each one in details here, but my favorite was likely the Sd.Kfz. 142 – better recognized as the Stug III. I love assault tanks and Ooarai’s use of the Stug in many of the episodes was very satisfying to watch. Special consideration goes to the early model Tiger (Porsche Tiger) because its tendency to break down was featured well in the series.

stuglife
Hippo team didn’t choose the Stug Life…

I feel as though I have skimmed over the characters in this review as briefly as the show itself did but there are really too many to cover. Some of the supporting characters though are just fantastic, if not a little stereotypical (what can you expect with names like Darjeeling, Katyusha, and Anchovy?). While Anchovy’s Anzio school was skipped over entirely in the anime series, aside from a single shot of their defeat, Darjeeling’s St. Gloriana and Katyusha’s Pravda were given plenty of screen time that showcased their various styles of tank warfare in how they mirrored the nations they represent.

With so little time to explore most of the characters, the series does an admirable job of using the tournament itself and its related activities to flesh them out. The execution of a strategy or an impromptu scouting mission reveals a lot about how the characters think and behave, and the show successfully depicts a wide variety of distinct personalities. As hinted earlier, Miho’s entire development occurs as a direct result of the tournament and comes off as charming (if a little predictable).


Animation

panzer_animation_800

Overall, Actas did a remarkable job in creating the animation for this series. The girls are drawn in moe style, making them appear much younger than their high-school status suggests. Nonetheless, they are well drawn with great attention placed on the small details which make them unique. The character designs are nicely tailored to the environments that they inhabit as well, reflecting their societal differences. The battlefields also represent a wide variety of terrains, ranging from the sunny open fields (as seen in the above picture) to the wintery town in the Pravda match. Each one is beautifully depicted in both its animation and the physical challenges that it places on the characters and tanks.

While there are many mixed feelings about the use of CGI in anime, Girls und Panzer is yet another example of how it can be done effectively. The difference in animation is noticeable but the CGI quickly blends in with the rest of the action; thanks to the faithful representation of each tank. The accuracy of the tanks, from their design to their movement, greatly owes to the fact that they were animated with 3-D models. The tanks are faithfully reproduced to look stunningly accurate when compared to their WWII counterparts and are animated accordingly (one notable exception being the gif in the previous section). From the recoil of the main cannon when a tank fires to something as simple as watching the suspension work as it moves over rough terrain, these features greatly enhance the realism of the series and shows just how much work was put into its production.


Sound

panzer_sound_800.png

OP: DreamRiser by Choucho
ED: Enter Enter MISSION! by Ankou Team 

While the animation excelled in this series, music and sound certainly kept up as well. The opening and ending themes are fantastic; the typical catchy, memorable music you would expect to hear in a moe girls series. Enter Enter MISSION! works wonderfully as an ending theme, capturing the thrill of victory in an upbeat melody and cheerful lyrics.

Sound director Yoshikazu Iwanami, whose most well known work before this was a little series called Sword Art Online, delivers spectacularly in this series as well. Just as with the tank animation, the sound of the tank engines and cannon fire is reproduced faithfully which helps heighten the immersion in each fever-pitched battle. Voice acting didn’t slouch either, with Ai Kayano (Menma from Anohana) lending her talents as the cheerful Saori. There were several actresses who had not done many well known works previously,  but the relative lack of high profile experience didn’t appear to be a problem in the slightest. I loved Sodoko’s slightly nasal casting in particular, as it made her irritation and complaints very enjoyable.

The BGMs fit the militaristic tone of the tank theme, though many of them are lighthearted variations reflecting the nature of the series. Several of the songs are used as themes to represent the various schools as well, such as The Battle Hymn of the Republic lending its iconic melody for the American team. In researching for this review, I saw several references to the Pravda girls singing a Russian folk song that the Red Army used during WWII, but I never actually saw it in the series when I watched it through Crunchyroll. I found out later that this was due to a licensing issue which resulted in dropping the scene altogether. While the clip can be found elsewhere, it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t available for viewers who streamed the show because it really adds some flavor.


Overall Appeal

I hyped myself up for this show based on the promise of tanks alone and honestly I believe it could have carried the show by itself. Nowhere else had I found such well animated tank combat, and with such a large variety of tanks, most everyone is sure to see their favorite. Of course, this is a niche interest, but I believe it’s appeal is wide enough to make many shonen anime fans disregard the fact that they’re watching a show about young women.

While the tank aspect didn’t disappoint in the least, the entire show was really enjoyable for me. This has a lot to do with how much this anime’s creators did to make the premise work despite its inherent wackiness. Taking the idea that Tankery is a girls’s sport as a given, the show never tried to make it seem overly cute or silly (aside from that bizarre dance). The characters had a genuine stake in the success of the competition, and thus were able to convey that same feeling to the viewer. This treatment helped make the story no less inspiring than similar sports stories.

On  the topic of similarity, the somewhat predictable direction of the show doesn’t offer any real surprise regarding the tournament or its final result. The main rivalry is set up early and Miho’s character arc drives it along to its logical conclusion. The brilliance in this series’ storytelling, however, comes from how the characters struggled to achieve everything that they did. As it should be with any good tournament series, the satisfaction of watching comes not from learning whether or not Miho’s team wins, but in seeing how they do it.


Summary and Recommendations

Offering a twist on the sometimes bland and repetitive nature of moe slice of life, Girls und Panzer stands out due to its insane premise and genuinely engaging storytelling. Blending the two aspects described in its title in a creative and seamless way, this series offers a lot for anyone who is looking for a unique and exciting show.

Following one school’s struggle to make a name for itself in the world of tank warfare competition, there are many entertaining aspects of school life mixed in with the rigors of competition. The storyline is very action-centric though and features a multitude of characters that are are hard for the viewer to get invested in. Several story threads don’t resolve clearly, but the main character’s arc has a satisfying conclusion.

Realistic animation and sound help make the show engaging, but the series doesn’t hold back from occasional theatrics. The creative tactics used to beat superior teams are fun to watch and provide a lot of entertainment in a woefully short series.

Watch if you:
Like tanks
Enjoy underdog stories
Appreciate historical references
Want a variation on the schoolgirl theme

Don’t watch if you:
Hate moe style art
Can’t keep up with lots of characters
Don’t like competition themed shows


My Rating

While it lacks strong character development and stuffs entirely too many of them into such a short series, this anime was a lot of fun to watch. My rating is 4/5 Miporins.

rating


Final Thoughts

Doing a twist on a genre can sometimes feel like a gimmick, and while there was the potential for a lot of campiness in this series, it took itself seriously enough to avoid falling into this trap. The juxtaposition of two realms as drastically different as girl’s high school and tank warfare is a tricky prospect, but Girls und Panzer embraces this contrast on many different levels.

More than just making this a story about girls learning to do something men normally do, this anime runs with the idea that the skills needed to operate a tank are inherently feminine. Furthermore, it doesn’t emphasize the typically male qualities of toughness or adrenaline fueled fighting. Instead it shows instances where the very qualities that make these girls feminine, such as friendship and compassion, are the same things that help them win.

Ideals of bonding and camaraderie come easily to any team oriented story, but given the setting, it takes on the lighter theme of sisterhood as well. Of course, my opinion throughout the series was that it focused more on the tank battles as a storytelling tool than anything else. The question I asked at the beginning was whether or not this series blended the two aspects perfectly. While I don’t think the slice-of-life side was driving this story, it did provide enough of the firepower to make itself known.

This idea of twisting a genre turned out to be an enjoyable journey and the next series I happened to finish did much of the same. My next review features a very well known anime and a twist on another similar genre. Get ready everyone, because we’re going to talk about Shoujo!

 

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4 thoughts on “Review: GIRLS und PANZER

Add yours

  1. Very thoughtful review. I love knowing that the writers “did their homework” and studied the design and movement of the tanks (with the one exception 🙂 ) Also, brownie points for including “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Someone told me that all American’s love that song. I think he was right 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not heard of this series, but it sounds really fun to watch. So, even with all the war references, would you still consider this a light watch? Would it fall under Shoujo? The twist of tanks being a feminine thing is interesting to me. I am all for anime that shows strong, powerful females. Would you say that this series avoids like fanservice and focuses on the actual female characters taking on this male-driven leadership role?

    Like

    1. Even with all the military stuff, I would consider it a light watch, but it’s a lot more enjoyable if you like tanks at all. I mentioned at the end that the tank tournament has a lot more focus than the other shoujo elements, but there is something there to enjoy as well.

      The question of whether or not it’s shoujo is interesting to think about. Almost all the characters are girls, but I can’t say with certainty that this is aimed at girls, especially when you consider fanservice. There is a little (unnecessary bath scene), but for the most part it does respect the characters.

      One important distinction I should point out is that this anime doesn’t really have the strong female archetype, because that trope usually needs a male to compare against. In this world, operating a tank doesn’t make the girls strong because tanks are already for girls.

      Sorry for the long winded answer, but in considering the other anime you seem to like, this one is pretty different. Still, it’s fairly short and I think you may like it once you get into it because it is a good story about self improvement and sisterhood.

      Like

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