“He’s not human, he’s like a piece of iron.” —Ivan Drago on Rocky Balboa, Rocky IV
To give an idea of how unyielding the passage of time is, the last major news I heard about a third season of Strike Witches, it was in late 2012; it was announced that director and character designer Kazuhiro Takamura would be pursuing a continuation of Strike Witches once Vividred Operation concluded. However, Vividred Operation came and went: I finished my undergraduate degree after and heard little about Strike Witches until Operation Victory Arrow aired. So, nearly four years after these initial rumours, Strike Witches‘ third season (hitherto referred to as Brave Witches) has materialised. Opening with a familiar and simultaneously different take on the Strike Witches series, Brave Witches follows the exploits of Hikari Karibuchi and the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. Long excited about the arrival of her older sister, Takami Karibuchi, in town, Hikari resolves to volunteer for a position in the European theatre and goes up against classmate Mia Misumi, her class’ top student. Despite her ineptitude, Hikari’s determination allows her to keep pace with Mia during an examination even as a storm picks up, and when the latter crashes into the ocean during the exam, Hikari decides to rescue Mia rather than complete the stipulated course. This does not go unnoticed by the examiners, and so, Hikari is shipped off to Europe with Takami just as the Neuroi begin assembling yet another hive.
In choosing to depict a different Joint Fighter Wing, with a different collection of Witches, Brave Witches opens the floor for new character interactions and adventures. After two seasons, a movie and three additional episodes centred around the exploits of the 501st, a ceiling of what can be done with a familiar collection of characters is reached — conversely, with new Witches, provided that they will be rolling with distinct personalities to those of the 501st, audiences could be treated to that familiar, yet different experience that comes together to present this world from a new perspective. Immediately introducing everyone would be overwhelming, so as its predecessors did, the first episode of Brave Witches is centered around the protagonist and her commanding officier. However, whereas Strike Witches‘ Yoshika and Mio have no blood relations, Hikari and Takami are sisters: in fact, Takami and Hikari’s interactions are directly reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha and Cocoa, as well as RWBY‘s Yang and Ruby. With this establishment, audiences are shown that Hikari is inexperienced, quite unskilled but determined. Similarly, Takami is a highly competent Witch. How the sisters will change through their experiences in the European theatre will be of great interest as Brave Witches progress, and I look forwards to seeing where Brave Witches goes with its theme.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I’m actually not sure how people find the time to do a day-one post on weeknights, and as a result, this post does not boast the position for being either the fastest or having the most screenshots. With that being said, I am quite ready to begin my journey to chronicle my experiences with Brave Witches. I begin by remarking that it’s going to take me some time to remember all of the 502nd’s names.
- Brave Witches‘ first episode takes off in the same manner as did the introductory episodes to both seasons of Strike Witches, opening with a blurb about what the Neuroi are and how Witches became the primary means of engaging the aforementioned Neuroi to defend humanity. Hikari is introduced here; while outwardly resembling Yoshika in manner and appearance, their backgrounds differ substantially, resulting in each character being driven forwards by different goals.
- Whereas Yoshika’s father had passed away before the events of Strike Witches, Brave Witches makes it clear that Hikari’s circumstances are quite different: for one, Hikari’s father is an active member of the armed forces and is a radio operator. Hikari frequently brings him lunch, although her tendency to sprint everywhere causes his lunch’s contents to settle on one side of the container.
- Hikari is soaked after falling into an estuary near her house. Practising to cross it using her shields each and every day, she fails time and time again, but continues to get back up. I’ve realised that I’ve got a rather large number of Strike Witches posts now, and that means creating a new category on the blog such that Strike Witches posts will be easier to find. I will be classifying all Brave Witches post as under the Strike Witches grouping for ease-of-access.
- Yoshika was an ordinary student at the start of her journey, but Hikari is enrolled in a military academy. She’s not particularly skilled as a Witch and promptly crashes during her training, but one of her most defining characteristics is her determination, matched by her ceaseless optimism. Whereas Yoshika was portrayed as a pacifist who fought the Neuroi alongside the 501st to help protect those around her, Yoshika is seeking to follow in the footsteps of her older sister.
- One of Hikari’s classmates can be seen talking with her while waiting for their turn in a maneuver exercise. Beyond the characters of Brave Witches, another aspect that leads this anime to feel familiar, yet different, relative to Strike Witches is the soundtrack. The background music has the same tenour as Strike Witches but differs in melody, resulting in a sound that constantly reminds audiences that this is a different story.
- The top cadet in Hikari’s academy, Mia looks down on her both in a metaphoric and literal sense; Hikari is said to be a below-average flier and is not particularly studious, and here, she’s crashed during a training exercise. Hikari’s voice actor, Ai Kakuma, previously performed as Amagi Brilliant Park‘s Izusu Sento and Nina Clein of Aldnoah.Zero; I’m not too familiar with her other characters.
- In comparison to Hikari, Takami is viewed as a hero of sorts: I was expecting a strict character along the lines of Strike Witches‘ Mio Sakamoto in personality, but Takami easily resembles Mocha from GochiUsa, as well as Kantai Collection‘s Akagi. From what I’ve seen thus far, she’s an inspiring older sister for Hikari, serving as a role model of sorts. Unlike Cocoa, Hikari does not seem to be envious of Takami. Voiced by Tie Suegara, I’m not familiar with any of her roles: she appears to be a relatively new voice actor.
- Hikari’s been looking forwards to Takami’s arrival for the greater part of a day, and while waving to her, accidentally falls off a cliff face. Takami’s skill as a Witch can be seen here; she pulls Hikari up, and the two arrive home together.
- This here was a pleasant surprise, to see a boisterous Mio laughing and a pensive-looking Yoshika in the background. Careful inspection of this image will find that the 501st are stationed at their Britannia facility, indicating that Brave Witches starts somewhere during the events of Strike Witches‘ first season and will proceed during the intermediary period between the first and second season.
- As surprising as it may sound, I was introduced to the version of Strike Witches where steam and lighting effects were disabled. The televised variants are usually more conservative in this regard in order to ensure that a particular show is less family-unfriendly, but the end effect is that lens flare has the potential to be abused quite liberally. I imagine that in the home release volumes for Brave Witches, a similar trend will be observed, and in this particular screenshot, water will have a much higher clarity.
- Here, Hikari is insistent on participating in a selection exam with the intent of going to Europe and flying alongside Takami. Aside from her training, Hikari does not appear to have any combat experience, and as such, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that her character will view first-hand the devastation in Europe, lose resolve and regain it as she spends more time with the 502nd.
- On the day of the exam, the skies are moody and grey. The adjudicators mention that they cannot choose what conditions will be when they engage the Neuroi, and in a curious turn of events, the weather in my AO turned absolutely foul yesterday. Snow began falling, and the number of accidents began accumulating on account of low visibility and poor surface conditions. While it’s snowed earlier than this in previous years, I cannot help but notice an ugly trend this year: the weather’s been deplorable on every long weekend since I returned from my conference in Cancún.
- With this in consideration, I will take the snow and cold rain over what’s happening on the Atlantic: I’ve been reading reports about Hurricane Matthew and the horrendous destruction it has wrought over in the Caribbean nations. While the number of extreme weather events has been rising in the past decade, I firmly believe that, in the absence of more extensive weather records and statistics, it is disingenuous and misleading for environmentalists to claim that human activity is the sole cause of these changes when, in prehistoric times, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and temperatures were much higher.
- That is to say, I am not denying that climates can shift over time, but I am skeptical that human activity alone is responsible for the observed trends. This is about the upper limit that I will pursue this topic, and returning to Brave Witches, we rejoin Mia and Hikari amidst their exam. The rain’s slowed Hikari very little, and despite flying less-than-gracefully, she’s managed to close the gap between herself and Mia as the latter is unaccustomed to flying in difficult conditions.
- One of the greatest similarities between Yoshika and Hikari are their game faces: despite their normally benign appearances, both look terrifying when they’re about to get their business together. This moment forms the basis for this opening episode’s page quote: sourced from Rocky IV, it’s a comment that Drago makes after Rocky gets back up the umpteenth time after Drago knocks him down during their match. I remark that more so than a hard-hitting opponent, the most intimidating opponent is the one that takes everything one throws at them, and keeps getting back up.
- Despite Mia’s (implicitly frequent) disparaging of Hikari, the latter demonstrates that she is willing and ready to lend a hand to anyone, illustrating yet another facet of her character. Managing to walk on water for the first time, she retrieves Mia from the angry seas: this subtle aspect suggests that, while Hikari might not possess the same latent power as Yoshika, under certain moments, she may be able to perform impressive feats of magic to assist her allies.
- Her initial interactions with Hikari nowithstanding, Mia is not above thanking those who’ve assisted her, and it appears that the two reconcile to some capacity here. Looking at the calendar, I’m a little bewildered that a year has passed by so quickly: last Thanksgiving long weekend, I had reviewed GochiUsa early in the morning before spending most of the day playing the Star Wars Battlefront open beta.
- Despite feeling that she’s failed to make the cut for the European deployment, Hikari resolves to continue training until the day where she is qualified to fly side-by-side with Takami. An icy chill and heavy fog blanket the city now, a far cry from the blue skies and golden sunshine we had last year, but this has not dissuaded me from making the most of today. After hitting the gym in the morning, I returned home for lunch, then visited a local shopping centre, where I purchased The Garden of Words manga and had a Chicken Parmesan poutine for my equivalent of afternoon tea.
- However, if Hikari had indeed failed, there would be no Brave Witches. Thus, there was no doubt in my mind that she’d pass: presumably impressed by Hikari’s resolved, her examiners decide to allow Hikari the position, marking the beginning of her journey. Owing to scheduling, I’ll be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow evening rather than tonight; turkey, ham, garlic shrimps and potatoes will constitute this year’s dinner, along with some champaign and pumpkin pie. Until then, I’m going to do my best to complete DOOM and see about going for a hike in the fog-covered hills nearby…
Whereas I previously had made the decision to review GochiUsa and Hai-Furi after several episodes had elapsed, for Brave Witches, I have settled on the episodic review format right out of the gates. Having put forth the idea that Strike Witches might be moving in a story-driven direction since the end of the Operation Victory Arrow OVAs, it seems that Brave Witches could be continuing on in this trend. Assuming this will hold as Brave Witches progresses, there will likely be something worth talking about for each episode, and admittedly, it is quite a thrill to see what kind of interesting discussions that Brave Witches could prompt. Consequently, the choice to do episodic reviews for Brave Witches was not a difficult one to make. With this in mind, I’m no longer a student with an abundance of time to write these reviews. To accommodate my current arrangements, my Brave Witches discussions will typically be published on Saturdays (or possibly Sundays, depending on circumstances) — they will come later than my previous episodic posts, but beyond this, the posts should still be of a passable quality.