“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” —Roy H. Williams
Decried for “breaking no conventions”, being “predictable and somewhat insipid” and lacking any sort of pants for the characters, but simultaneously praised for being fun and enjoyable, Strike Witches has long been regarded as a polarising title since its initial airing back during 2008: viewers either love it or hate it, and there seems not to be any sort of middle ground. The passage of seven years has meant that the Strike Witches franchise has had ample time to mature, and while the second season (2010) proved to be déjà vu in that its structuring was nearly identical to the first season (2008), the movie (2012) explored Yoshika’s determination to do her duty as a Witch despite lacking any magic. The movie concluded on a high note, but also left viewers with a cryptic “To be continued”. Compared to the TV series, the Strike Witches Movie was less overt about its fanservice, and illustrated that the characters could hold the story on their own without the need to place the camera in interesting places every few frames. Through their dynamics with one another, the different Witches’ daily activities gave viewers the sense that the world of Strike Witches was a living, breathing entity. The Operation Victory Arrow OVAs were announced in March 2014, nearly two years after the movie’s release, and by September of last year, began airing in Japanese theatre. For most English-speakers, December is when the first volume truly came out, dealing with the Karlsland Witches between the second season and the movie. By the time volume two finished with recounting Charlotte and Francesca’s adventures in the Mediterranean region, there was no doubt that the Strike Witches of 2014-2015 had matured from its origins in the 2007 OVA.
Operation Victory Arrow set itself apart from the previous installments in the Strike Witches franchise in that shameless fanservice has largely been eliminated. Instead, each of Operation Victory Arrow‘s volumes set about telling a coherent, focused story with a discernible theme (mistrust of new technologies, what fighting for one’s homeland means and how prejudices can be changed amongst individuals for volumes one, two and three, respectively). Each character’s personality, having long been explored in Operation Victory Arrow‘s predecessors, comes forwards to lend itself towards the individual volume’s progression. The end result is a self-contained story that is satisfying to watch, yielding a bit more insight into the fantastical world of Strike Witches. The impressive element here is that each of the three Operation Victory Arrow volumes is able to do this consistently: this release marks the first time in the franchise where a meaningful theme can be derived. The implications of such an observation is that Operation Victory Arrow has demonstrated Strike Witches can indeed be more than just a unique world rigged deliberately to maximise glimpses of animated anatomy. Instead of forcing the plot to accommodate frequent views of the Witches’ assets, Operation Victory Arrow paints compelling stories for each of its volumes and demonstrates that Strike Witches can be designed to be worth watching for more than just fanservice alone. Now, because WordPress’ “suggested posts” can be a little unruly at times, here are links to my previous Operation Victory Arrow talks, each of which deals with the individual volume in much greater detail:
Screenshots and Commentary
- This post looks beyond the individual themes covered in each of the three OVAs. Given that each of the OVAs covered a unique theme and were standalone, there is no single overarching message in Operation Victory Arrow. Consequently, I’ve not attempted to tie each of the OVAs together, and instead, have opted to look at their contributions to Strike Witches, as well as what Strike Witches could stand to gain if a third season does indeed focus on the right things.
- Strike Witches’ first season was done by Gonzo, but everything subsequently is done by AIC. As such, the visuals and artwork from season two onwards is significantly more consistent, of an excellent calibre. This is not to say that Gonzo’s artwork and animation were poor, but armed with improvements in technical know-how, I prefer the character designs from AIC.
- While I claim that Strike Witches could leave its reputation as a fanservice-laden anime behind, striking a balance between its story and the crotch-shots that Strike Witches is known for, I imagine that a focused, story-driven incarnation of Strike Witches would not likely increase the audience pool. The fact remains that the anime’s reputation precedes it, but for existing fans, such a change could be quite welcomed.
- The major plot point in St. Trond’s Thunder was Erica’s acceptance of new technologies and ideas. Erica is shown as being quite close-minded about new concepts until an extraordinary circumstance changes her mind, even going out of her way to push a zwei-linked Striker Unit to its limits, eventually causing the link to fail. The OVAs each demonstrate how it’s possible to guide a story down a particular direction using the character’s known personalities: no one’s actions ever feel inconsistent with how they had interacted with others during the TV series and movie.
- In each of the OVAs, the Neuroi that the Witches face appear to be somewhat tougher than the incarnations seen in the TV series. This could arise from the fact that there are fewer Witches in the air, leading to a tougher fight; in each volume, the Witches respectively pull in new hardware, devise novel strategies captialise on new-found friendships to take the Neuroi out.
- Observers with a keen eye will have noticed that most of my posts come later in the evening: this is because, even though it’s the last week of summer, I’m still hard at work on my graduate project. This week, I returned to my Unity project and implemented several new features so it’d be more user-friendly in VR environments (the Unity version of my simulation has been mothballed since April 2015, ever since Unreal made their engine free). However, working hard is no excuse not to get out and smell the roses, so for lunch yesterday, I walked out to a nearby DQ and picked up a Flamethrower Grill Burger, something I haven’t done since 2013.
- The burger was enjoyable (DQ burgers have a subtle flavour that suggest the beef is grilled over a flame), but the walk out there was less so, and today, I’ve decided to stay indoors, away from the still-smokey skies. I somewhat miss having the blue summer skies the Southern Alberta region is known for; as of late, raging forest fires in Washington state have blown north over the border, and consequently, the entire region’s been covered in a thick smoke.
- I’m hoping that the smoke clears out soon, but the forecast suggests that it’s going to persist at least until the weekend. We’re now into the second volume, which focused on Charlotte and Francesca. I realise that I refer to all of the characters by their first names, but in-show, most of the characters follow Japanese convention (i.e. they only refer to one another by their given names unless they’re close to one another).
- The second volume deals with the dedication and devotion to which individuals demonstrate when they’re tasked with something that directly affects something dear to them. Here, Charlotte and Francesca react to their primary munitions’ destruction at the Neuroi’s hands, illustrating the need for yet another method. A cargo ship with a winch was shot down earlier, and before leaving the airspace, Charlotte takes note of it.
- Hanna makes a return, and although she’s the best Witch humanity’s got against the Neuroi for her ability as a marksman, she’s also rather arrogant. One of the charms about the second OVA deals with her swallowing enough pride to work with Charlotte and Francesca as a team to overcome the Neuroi, even if her motives do not directly align with the others’ interests.
- The Neuroi’s beams are never explicitly explained, but its behaviour resembles a laser weapon more so than the beam weaponry typically seen in science fiction. The fact that the Witches can conjure up shields to deflect these beams or else dodge them attests to the combat advantage that their magic confer.
- The emphasis in St. Trond’s Thunder was on technology, so it followed that there was a powerful prototype at the Witches’ disposal when things went south. In Goddess of the Aegean Sea, a partially sunken vessel’s winch becomes key in helping the Witches destroy a deeply entrenched Neuroi. While it may seem like deus ex machina at worst (or a contrived coincidence at best), the means the Witches resort to in destroying the Neuroi is plausible and merely represent a clever capitalisation on their resources to succeed.
- Inspired by Eduard Neumann, Edytha Neumann is a Colonel who reports to General Rommel. Another strong point about the OVAs is that the secondary characters (Ursa, Neumann, Rommela and Julius) play an important role in supporting the primary characters (Erica, Francesca and Perrine) of their respective volumes, in turn enriching the sense that the Strike Witches universe is a fully-developed world with its own nuances.
- As I’ve noted in the original discussion for the second volume, this marks the first time that conventional forces have directly destroyed a Neuroi. In all other previous installments, the Witches’ actions do the heavy lifting, and conventional forces are often present to show just how outmatched humanity is. While this is well and all, it’s more realistic and rewarding to see the Witches working in conjunction with conventional forces to destroy the Neuroi.
- It is for this reason that Halo still deploys Marines alongside Spartans on operations, and why traditional tanks and aircraft still exist in Gundam: a highly effective technology against a particular foe usually represents a particularly large investment that, while having a profound impact on a conflict’s course, is too expensive or difficult to mass produce. Thus, the universes where highly advanced prototypes and units fight alongside a competent conventional armed force is far more convincing.
- We step into Arnhem Bridge at present, and for the longest time after its announcement, viewers kept their fingers crossed that OVA volume three would deal with Eila and Sanya, whose dynamics they found to be the most endearing. The most dedicated of fans delved into the documentation and found that Eila and Sanya would make an appearance, but were puzzled as to how they’d fit into a story about Perrine and Lynette.
- However, it seems that discussion on the OVAs has been quite scant, so if there is disappointment about Eila and Sanya’s limited appearances in Operation Victory Arrow, I have not heard it. On the whole, however, it appears that the whole of Operation Victory Arrow was well-received by existing fans of Strike Witches: similar praises have been offered concerning the positive direction that this mini-series has decided to take.
- As evidenced by the gorgeous panoramas of the landscapes in Strike Witches, AIC does not disappoint when it comes to animation. A part of the reason why I wish to see an increased emphasis on story is such that more of the Strike Witches world can be explored; their alternate history, though more fitting for character growth rather than exploring more complex themes surrounding warfare, nonetheless feels sufficiently immersive such that it would be nice to see how other regions in and outside of Europe are faring.
- Arnhem Bridge‘s theme deals with how the Witches’ actions in Gallia help a young boy, Julius, overcome his dislike of the Witches. As with its predecessors, the third volume told a self-contained, entertaining story. One of the challenges that the third season will face is which themes they will focus on throughout the anime’s run and how these are to be tied in so the story can be explored in adequate depth when there are twelve episodes’ worth of space for development.
- When everything is said and done, Operation Victory Arrow represents the culmination of nearly eight years of experience: Strike Witches has matured into a work that can tell a compelling story from its origins as a fanservice-laden anime. For existing fans, Operation Victory Arrow is easy to recommend, and for those who’ve not seen Strike Witches until now, Operation Victory Arrow does represent the best of what Strike Witches presently has to offer, striking a balance between character development and combat scenes. In the meantime, for completeness’ sake, I may return and do a talk about the original 2007 OVA at some point in the future.
By demonstrating the contributions of solid writing in Strike Witches, Operation Victory Arrow has raised the bar for what viewers could now reasonably expect out of any future Strike Witches releases. Coupled with the incredibly vast number of Witches outside of the 501st, there is much possibility for the Strike Witches franchise. It would seem that this possibility was not missed; if sources are to be believed, there is to be a third season of Strike Witches that will follow the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. It will be quite welcoming to see new Witches enter the scene after nearly eight years of having the 501st at the forefront of everything. If Strike Witches‘ third season continues to tell a focused story, the franchise will allow audiences to gain further insight into their world, enhancing the setting’s credibility. These are exciting new directions for Strike Witches, and ever since the announcement of a third season since Vividred Operation, I’ve been looking greatly forwards to a third season of Strike Witches. Strike Witches armed with a cohesive, well-executed plotline will doubtlessly impress current fans in providing new directions for the franchise.