Shimapan On The Silver Screen: Strike Witches The Movie

The first Strike Witches television series came as a surprise to most people. While turning off most folks with its admittedly shameless focus on certain parts of the female anatomy, those of us with the sorts of proclivities that the show catered to were treated to a fairly well done piece of work. It had everything us dumb otaku like: Action, jokes, nudity, and some manner of drama, all pulled off in an entertaining manner. Never mind that the show was host to a fine cast of characters.

Seeing as how things turned out well the first time around, I awaited the sequel that dropped a few years later with some level of anticipation. While Strike Witches 2 was generally inoffensive, it followed the template set forth by the first one a bit too closely at times–as if the writers were running short on ideas.

But then–probably around a year or so ago–a movie was announced. And aside from that announcement, there was absolutely nothing in the way of promotional material for a long time. Only just a month or so before the movie opened, we were finally treated to a trailer with footage from the film.  I went to see it in Ikebukuro with a few other like-minded individuals on opening day about a week ago.

Like any Strike Witches anime, the film focuses around Miyafuji Yoshika, who has now lost all of her magical powers. Being unable to pilot a Striker Unit, she’s studying to be a doctor at her home back in Fuso. While out and about with her friend, she runs into one Hattori Shizuka, another young girl with propellers attached to her legs. Turns out Shizuka is there to offer Yoshika a chance to study medicine in Europe, and Yoshika happily excepts. Shizuka also happens to be a huge fan of Yoshika’s exploits, and is honored to escort her to Europe. However, Yoshika isn’t as on top of things as Shizuka had imagined, thus creating a dynamic not dissimilar to the relationship between Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison, with Oscar’s sloppiness swapped for Yoshika’s altruism.

As they make their way through Europe, they touch base with the other Witches, giving everyone a chance to laugh and smile together, as well as providing Shizuka with different perspectives on Yoshika by way of her former comrades. At the same time, the film cuts to other parts of the world where some of the other Witches are residing. Incidentally, anywhere any of the Witches are–whether they end up crossing paths with the odd couple of Yoshika and Shizuka or not–come under attack by the same type of the Neuroi, all able to evade radar, move super quickly, and transform.

The best part of this movie is simply seeing everyone again. Strike Witches has a fine cast of characters, and every character gets their own scene to remind the viewer of how great they are. Seeing Shirley zoom through Venezia while Francesca makes cute noises or watching Hartmann and Gertrude go at it simply sets of pleasure receptors in my brain. Of course, seeing Yoshika and Lynette hugging each other also sets off pleasure receptors, just different ones…

Basically, at this point in the game the writers know these characters, know how to sell them, and this movie doesn’t betray their established personalities in any way. There’s even a few new faces thrown in–characters who I assume are from the other bits of Strike Witches media–and they’re fun as well, but not as anything more than nice distractions. I’m sure they’re great bits of fanservice for avid followers of every bit of Strike Witches media, but to viewers like me who are only familiar with the TV show, they come up a bit short.

What’s good about the movie format is that unlike the second TV series–in which each episode is basically identical to its same numbered episode from the first TV series–the movie’s character driven moments don’t adhere to any mold, and Shizuka’s inclusion into the cast throws an interesting wrench into the works that makes things interesting. Specifically, Shizuka’s strict adherence to military protocol juxtaposed towards Yoshika’s nearly childlike and laid back approach to life creates a good central theme for the film to tie itself around. Some of the characters even seem like they’ve grown a bit, especially Perrine. It’s not masterpiece grade writing or anything, but it continues to do what Strike Witches does well.

One of the movie’s weaker spots is the animation. In fact, the quality of the animation kind of exemplifies the sad trend present in most anime movies these days. It’s not that it’s particularly bad, but merely at the same level as the TV series. There’s nothing in the way of real sakuga money shots thrown in there to bang it into your head that, yes, this is a movie you’re watching. The animators generally do a good job of rendering the characters, but movement is TV-stiff, and faces–oftentimes those of mob characters–are sometimes off. It doesn’t look like something that should be on a big screen.

That said, true to the standard set forth by the two TV series, the action scenes are generally quite good. The film opens with this great scene of giant Neuroi units devastating the quaint European countryside, while tanks and foot soldiers are decimated trying to defend themselves. It’s the sort of thing one enjoys seeing in those early episodes of Evangelion (and I assume the tokusatsu shows Eva riffs on) and it sets a very serious tone for the movie, unlike anything the franchise has done before. There’s another battle later on that takes place in Venezia, making use of the city’s canals to frame a pretty interesting fight. There’s also a scene at the end that involves Miyafuji trying to take on a Neuroi lacking her magical powers, which is pretty interesting conceptually and execution-wise.

However, after a while the movie begins to fall into a routine when it comes to the fights. Aside from those few skirmishes, most of the aerial battles in this movie could be switched out for any of the many fights in the TV series, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The girls fly around, flash their crotch on the screen, and do their special attacks. The finale of the movie is especially disappointing in this regard. Not in that it doesn’t break from the established “All the Withces come back together beat the big guy” mold, but more in that it doesn’t seem even a degree more impressive or creative than the finales of the two TV series. My memory is fuzzy, but I remember season two’s finale leaving a bit more of an emotional impression, even if that was partly due to its twist. To be fair, this finale has a bit of a twist too, but it’s the sort of thing you see coming from a mile away.

By the second half of the movie, the sameness of the fights starts to weigh things down. The movie opens quite strongly by throwing in a new character and giving all the ones we know moments to shine, along with some good fights. But by the second half, it seems as if they stretch themselves too thin as far as creativity goes, and the movie gets bogged down by the monotony of some of the final fights.

By the end of the film, busting through a Neuroi and destroying its core doesn’t seem terribly difficult anymore. As far as I can remember, each episode of the TV series had some special twist in how they took down the Neuroi of the week, but in the film–after a while–it feels as if they’re just going through the motions. That said, the drama that comes along with these final moments is in keeping with the standard the series had set forward already, and generally does the job.

While I can’t make any certain judgement–as my Japanese comprehension isn’t perfect–it also seems that while the movie was trying to build up these new Neuroi as something strange and interesting, it’s never really explained in any great detail why they are the way they are. And this isn’t any real surprise, but it’s not explained where the Neuroi come from or what they’re after either. But I wasn’t really expecting anything like that anyway.

When it’s all said in done, expecting a Strike Witches movie to break away from its established pattern is a tall order. However, I do think that asking a Strike Witches movie to go all out with the animation and fight choreography for the big screen is a reasonable expectation. The idea of The Anime Movie has been cheapened over this last decade with more and more moe-centric series getting movies that don’t rise above the level of their TV counterparts, and this Strike Witches movie doesn’t do much in the way of challenging that image. Yeah, seeing the characters again is nice, and the movie starts of rather strong, but it doesn’t have quite enough steam to hold it all together for the end. They really could have at least spent more time on the animation. This is a movie after all…

We watched this movie at the same theater we saw the K-ON! movie at, but the demographic of people occupying the seats around us was distinctly more otaku, with only about two girls in the audience. And it looked like they were on dates. It was quite bizarre.

It was also bizarre how there were a bunch of guys complaining about how we still don’t know anything about the Neuroi. C’mon guys! We’ll never know that! The writers don’t even know that! But the film does end with a giant “To Be Continued,” so who knows? Maybe all will be revealed in a third season or a second movie! But I think this movie is about my limit for Strike Witches if they’re just going to stick to the same routine. It was fun those first couple of times, but now it’s time to either mix things up or go home.


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