“But courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.” —Erwin Rommel
The second Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow volume is finally out, and this time, the episode’s focus is Charlotte and Francesca, who are assigned to a squadron with Hanna and her partner Raisa Pottgen to destroy a Neuroi on Delos Island. While the command’s plan is to annihilate the island completely with the hope of taking out the Neuroi, Francesca’s strong family ties with Delos means that she object’s to the objective, and they manage to convince General Erwin Rommel to change the plan. Their initial strike fails, but the next day, Charlotte, unwilling to let Francesca down, decides to make use of an abandoned ship’s winch to pull the Neuroi out of its hiding place, allowing the naval forces to destroy the Neuroi without any damage to the island. Afterwards, Francesca takes Charlotte and the others on a tour of Delos and its artifacts.
Goddess of the Aegean Sea‘s main message lies with Francesca’s single-minded determination to destroy the Neuroi without causing any collateral damage to the island: having long valued the island as a special place for her family, Francesca is willing to do her utmost to protect her homeland. This stands in stark contrast with her more childish, laid-back mannerisms throughout most of the TV series, and together with another episode from the second season, demonstrates her love for Romagna and that, when the chips are down, even the youngest of the 501st is indeed a capable Witch. This OVA also shows a more serious side to Charlotte, as well: similar to Francesca, Charlotte is generally easy-going, but is ever-willing to help Francesca out to the fullest of her abilities. Conversely, because Hanna cannot initially understand the island’s emotional value to Francesca, she is unable to contribute to the fight on their first attempt to destroy it. A conversation with Raisa and Colonel Edytha Neumann rectifies that: and after watching Charlotte’s efforts to utilise a winch to force the Neuroi out, finally lends herself to carry out the mission and learns that Delos was worth preserving after all.
Screenshots and Commentary
- At long last, a week after its release, the internet finally has a half-decent collection of screenshots that can be accessed without the need to install an ad-blocker and some solid anti-virus software: the only other place to have screenshots is a site with an orange triangle for its logo, and their lead writer is presently inactive. Of course, their discussions are also woefully lacking, so, even from an objective perspective, my blog is easily preferable to theirs as far as Strike Witches content goes.
- Existing Strike Witches fans will have no trouble recognising Francesca Lucchini, and as is my custom, I refer to all characters by their given names, rather than family names. As the youngest member of the 501st, Francesca had minimal focus in the first season and was typically seen sleeping around the base, and in the second season, her devotion to Romagna was given a full episode’s worth of exploration.
- After the 501st disbanded following the second season, Charlotte stays with Francesca in Sicily, the largest island in Italy. With a Mediterranean climate, Sicily has mild and wet winters and hot, dry summers, and with its volcanic soil, the island is particularly suited for agriculture. Wine is one of the most well-known exports from Sicily Italy, although tourism also constitutes a fair portion of the island’s economy.
- Zuppa di pesce Sicilia is a fish stew with various fish fillets (swordfish, sea bream and conger are common), crustaceans (prawns here) and mollusks. Strike Witches spares no detail in detailing this, and this looks absolutely amazing at 1080p. While lunch is being served, a phone call sends Francesca and Charlotte to a nearby installation, with word of an impending operation against a Neuroi holed up in an island.
- Thus, the peace and calm in the episode’s opening moments are lost as Francesca and Charlotte head off to group with local forces. Having learnt that Delos is the island in question, the operation takes on a personal significance for Francesca, whose family visits the island to relax and spend time with one another.
- The vivid blues of the skies in Strike Witches are one of the reasons why I enjoy the artwork in this series to the extent that I do: the colours add a sense of depth and purity to their world, and, even if it is a world ravaged by alien monstrosities, there nonetheless remains a great deal of beauty, and in regions far from the front lines, this world’s inhabitants continue to live their lives normally.
- Hanna-Justina Marseille makes a return from the TV series; she previously participated in an operation to boost morale, and is supremely confident in her own abilities. While this aggravates Gertrude to no end, Charlotte somehow manages to maintain a cool head and wastes no opportunity to poke fun at her.
- The original operation involved making use of the Witches as decoys to distract the Neuroi, and then utilising the naval forces’ full power to utterly decimate island with the aim of taking out the Neuroi with it. Such a measure is unlikely to have been successful in the absence of dedicated ground penetrator munitions, and 1940s-era battleships did not have nearly enough firepower to completely destroy an island.
- Given that it’s the 1940s in their universe, it’s easy to forgive them for this minor bit of inaccuracy: in actuality, such sustained bombardments were performed historically. At Iwo Jima, the US Navy conducted a nine-month long operation to soften the island up using a combination of Naval artillery and airstrikes, but aside from destroying a handful of bunkers, most of the reinforced structures the Japanese had remained intact, and the Battle of Iwo Jima became a five-week long campaign to take the island.
- With General Rommel’s permission, the Witches are given an opportunity to lure out the Neuroi and bomb it using what appears to be 250-pound or 500-pound bombs, counting on their explosive power to destroy the Neuroi’s core. Neuroi is a curious term, and as a noun, has no plural form. While this might be considered unusual, there are a large number of English words without plural form (barring uncountable nouns), such as aircraft.
- Like St. Trond’s Thunder, Goddess of the Aegean Sea is actually quite restrained as far as posterior shots of the Witches go, and there are only a handful of them throughout the OVA. Reflecting that, I’ve only chosen to include two moments in this here review, and this image of Hanna doubles as yet another example of the superb choice of colours that Strike Witches makes use of to depict its world. This has been mentioned in Shirobako, and as they correctly note, the choice of colours can do a fantastic job of telling a story about the atmosphere within an anime.
- Despite reaching their destination and delivering their payload, the Neuroi reveals its anti-air countermeasures, destroying both the bombs hurtling towards it. Contrasting the aircraft-shaped Neuroi of St. Trond’s Thunder, Goddess of the Aegean Sea‘s Neuroi resembles a Chinese-style Dragon, or perhaps a centipede. Unlike Western Dragons, which are scaled lizards with wings and gargantuan proportions, Chinese Dragons are more serpentine in nature.
- Frustrated by the Neuroi’s resilience, Francesca abandons reason and attempts to rush the Neuroi, but sustains damage in the process. With their primary means of destroying the Neuroi spent, the Witches decide to withdraw from the battlefield, with their first attempt having ended in failure. However, before leaving hostile airspace, Charlotte notices the wreck of a freighter vessel that was sunk in the episode’s opening moments.
- Seeing Francesca’s dejection spurs Charlotte to make another attempt, leading her to clash verbally with Hanna. Raisa, on the other hand, is more sympathetic, offering to listen to Francesca’s concerns.
- This scene lacks the traditional fog layers and lens flare effects that a TV series would have, being much more in line with a BD release, and as such, this is the maximum level of detail I’m permitted to show here. This leads me to wonder if the original theatrical screening of Goddess of the Aegean Sea would have made use of the aforementioned fog and/or lighting layers to keep it more work safe (or at least, as work safe as one can make Strike Witches).
- The next morning, Charlotte and Hanna sortie first to carry out the original plan. At this point in time, this Operation Victory Arrow talk is being pushed out ahead of my Terror in Resonance post: I do write reviews on requests from the readers, and I occasionally pick up anime on requests from the same. However, owing to time constraints, I priorities the materials that I myself have planned for in advance, especially during a busy time such as this.
- Edytha Neumann is a Witch affiliated with the Karlsland Air Force and serves as the commanding officer of the Jagdgeschwader 27 Gruppe I. Unlike Minna, she’s more rigid and disciplined, expecting those under her to follow orders and also holding high expectations for Hanna.
- After a bit of effort, Charlotte manages to tie the freighter’s cable winch to the Neuroi. So, this leads to the question of what’s keeping me occupied at present; the answer to that is a term project that involves creating computer agents for a rescue simulator. The software platform is quite difficult, since the in-line documentation is relatively limited: to enforce agent cooperation, agents can only communicate with one another through the simulator.
- As such, reading through the simulator’s API and figuring out how to access certain information about the simulated map is quite challenging. At this point in time, the cooperation concept, and the agent’s situation set, action set and decision functions have been designed. All that’s left is the implementation, and hopefully, our team will finish soon so we may test out our agents. I’m also experimenting with the Unreal Engine; Epic Games made Unreal Engine free back in early March, prompting Unity to release Unity 5’s full version for free, as well. The paid version of Unity will feature more team development and profiling tools.
- The Unreal Engine is far more difficult to use and far more resource-intensive than Unity, but if used properly, I feel that it can substantially improve my project. As such, once my hardware’s been upgraded, I will begin learning Unreal in earnest and port my project over. Admittedly, this is quite a daunting task, since Unreal is remarkably complex and is the same engine that powers many of the Triple-A titles out there, including Borderlands 2, Mass Effect and BioShock Infinite. Back in Operation Victory Arrow, Charlotte is encountering considerable difficulties in using the winch to pull the Neuroi all the way out.
- One of the main limitations of the Unreal Engine actually stems from its complexity: it’s optimised for mainly first and third person games with a beautiful but fixed world, lacking the capacity to provide a means of procedurally generating worlds. A procedurally generated world could hypothetically have an infinite size, and if constructed appropriately, such a game could have a vast replay potential.
- Impressed with Charlotte’s ingenuity, Rommel authorises Charlotte’s actions despite Neumann’s protests and personally arrives to provide assistance. General Erwin Rommel was a famous officer who was widely seen as a humane, professional commander who never committed any war crimes (in fact, he chose to ignore orders to brutalise POWs). Girls und Panzer‘s Riko Matsumoto draws inspiration from Rommel, sporting the same German Field Marshal’s Cap and is a capable commander.
- While Hanna is not particularly skilled in working together as a team owing to her attitude, Goddess of the Aegean Sea has her work with Charlotte and the others to complete the operation and also defend her pride as the Star of Africa. With her cooperation, the results cannot be denied, and at last, the Neuroi is forced from its cave, where a full armada of battleships await.
- With the Neuroi’s main body exposed, the fleet opens fire, and the sustained fire destroys the Neuroi. I believe this is the first instance where conventional forces can be credited with a kill against the Neuroi, although even then, it could not have been accomplished as effectively without the Witches.
- In most of my Kantai Collection talks, I express an interest in learning more about the Abyssal. Generally, I prefer antagonists to have a bit of background so one can at least understand what their motivations in opposing the protagonists are, although I grant the generic, nameless antagonist one legitimate use: in series like Strike Witches (and perhaps Kantai Collection), the antagonists serve as a catalyst that reinforces the relationships amongst the main protagonists without pushing war-related thematic elements to the forefront.
- As such, a series featuring antagonists such as the Abyssals or Neuroi encourage the viewers to worry less about the morality of their conflict, and focus more on the interactions between the characters. The end of Strike Witches‘ first season seems to deviate from this approach, when Yoshika approaches a human-shaped Neuroi. However, this idea is promptly abandoned by the second season, suggesting that the Neuroi probably aren’t meant to facilitate discussions on morality and warfare beyond the black-and-white approach Strike Witches normally takes.
- Having defeated the Neuroi, Francesca, Charlotte, Hanna and Raisa take a monent to check out the island and the remnants of the Greek structures that once stood here. The Sicily region does indeed have Greek ruins that date back to 750 BC, and it is during this period that olive and grape vines become farmed here.
- The ending suggests that Francesca and Charlotte have left Sicily and are travelling along the northern shores of Africa on their next great adventure: they eventually reach Tobruk, a city on Libya’s Mediterranean Coast. The city was captured by Axis forces in June 1942, and the Allies recaptured it in November 1942. The city presently has a population of 120000.
- I’ve decided that each Operation Victory Arrow post will have a picture of Yoshika sharing the Witches’ adventures with her best friend, Michiko Yamakawa for the reasons that I’ve mentioned previously: no Strike Witches post is complete without mentioning the series’ heroine, Yoshika, at least once. For the time being, I’m holding back on my Terror in Resonance post until at least my term project makes good progress, and instead, priority will go to ensuring that I get the final Kantai Collection and Shirobako talks out on time. With The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan coming out in early April, I anticipate pushing the Terror in Resonance post back a ways: it’ll come out when it comes out.
- The last picture will be of the Witches who were shown in the episode. Like the first Operation Victory Arrow volume, the second volume was also fun to watch and also managed to raise a little bit of discussion: I hope that other viewers enjoyed it, and given that my previous prediction was correct, the next Operation Victory Arrow post will come out somewhere in August. By then, I’ll hopefully have a better grasp of Unreal and will have made some progress with the VR component of my thesis, as well.
St. Trond’s Thunder was about Erica’s aversions to experimental technology, and the second Strike Witches OVA manages to keep pacing with the first episode and continue to tell a compelling story that manages to be self-contained and satisfying. While the TV series was purely dedicated towards illustrating the character dynamics amongst the whole of the 501st, the OVAs’ setup allow for characters to be fleshed out, both with respect to their typical character and their more serious sides. Thus, even though St. Trond’s Thunder had already done so, Operation Victory Arrow manages to impress again with its focus and decision to present a serviceable story while simultaneously maintaining the atmosphere that viewers have come to expect from Strike Witches. This allows the audience to empathise with the characters to a greater extent and become invested in the outcome of their adventures; it’s a welcome direction in the Strike Witches franchise and does much to convey the idea that such a world, rich in lore, can be properly explored even if there is a lack of pants. The next and final OVA, Arnhem Bridge, will feature Lynette Bishop, Perrine H. Clostermann and Amelie Planchard. It’s set for a release in Japanese Cinema on May 2, 2015, and assuming the three month trend to hold, we could see this OVA out by late July to early August.