“Christmas is not an external event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.” —Freya Stark
Hikari falls ill after riding on a sled in the frigid winter air of Petersburg and becomes bed-ridden. Meanwhile, the 502nd discover that their supplies have fallen critically low as a result of earlier Neuroi attacks on their warehouses. Consequently, Gundula decides to cancel this year’s Saturnus Festival, much to Nikka’s dismay. Recalling that it was the Saturnus Festival that led her to feel more welcome as a member of the 502nd, she resolves to try and push a scaled-back variant for Hikari: she, Alexsandra and Naoe carve Matryoshka dolls for Hikari while Waltrud is out hunting for a pine tree as punishment after inadvertently insulting Edytha. Waltrud accidentally reveals to Hikari their plans for a Saturnus Festival and is further penalised, sent out to find some edible mushrooms. However, these mushrooms induce uncontrollable laughter, and so, when a Neuroi appears in the area, it’s up to Nikka to defeat it. Her bad luck seemingly prevails midcombat, when her weapons jam, but Eila and Sanya of the 501st arrive to defeat the Neuroi, before dropping off enough provisions that allow the 502nd to have a Saturnus Festival for Hikari that Nikka fondly recalls. This seventh episode of Brave Witches follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, being one that is rather more relaxed in nature, but, ever-mindful of differentiating itself from Strike Witches, Brave Witches capitalises on their episode to tell a meaningful story about how meaningful the Saturnus Festival is for Nikka, and her desire to make Hikari feel at home amongst the other Witches of the 502nd.
Episode seven of Brave Witches is in effect a Christmas episode, depicting a celebration of Christmas at the front lines and how even if the traditional elements of Christmas are absent, it is the spirit and togetherness that makes this season a magical one. The Saturnus Festival is derived off the Roman holiday Saturnalia — during winter months, to appease the Sun God, Saturn, human sacrifices were made to bring back the sun, and Roman law would select an enemy who would be permitted to indulge in sins. At the end of the festival, this individual would be executed. During the festivities, law was not be in effect, so people could party and give gifts. Numerous winter festivals developed independently of the Roman Saturnalia and Jesus Christ’s birth, and in modernity, Christmas is the main winter festival that people observe. A time for togetherness and gift-giving, there’s a magic about Christmas that Nikka experienced during her first year as a 502nd witch, and speaking to its impact, she tries her best to ensure that the 502nd’s latest addition, Hikari, can also experience thus to feel more included as a 502nd Witch. In keeping with the notion of a Christmas miracle, Eila and Sanya arrive, allowing the Saturnus Festival to truly be magical for both Hikari and Nikka, who is given an opportunity to see her friends.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Winter has now set in over Petersburg, and being from Suomus, Nikka hardly notices the frigid air, whereas Hikari and Naoe find the air surprisingly brisk. I can understand Nikka’s remarks; lifetime of living in Canada means that I’m mentally prepared to handle cold weather. For me, a day where it’s -15°C is considered comfortable, especially considering how the more frigid winter days can drop temperatures down to -40°C with windchill.
- The seventh episode of Brave Witches holds the season record thus far for “most funny faces”, and I’ve decided to include some in this here episode discussion. What is less amusing for Naoe and Nikka is what happens subsequently, when Hikari pushes the sled and trips, leaving no one to steer it and causing it to drive over thin ice. In the ensuing cold, Hikari develops a cold of her own.
- Dwindling provisions leaves Sadako with increasingly fewer options for preparing meals; she creates a dumpling soup that each respective Witch attempts to identify as a cuisine from their own homeland, and Naoe names it as suiton (すいとん) soup. Having nothing to do with the spell in Final Fantasy or one of Gundam‘s most infamous online presences, the soup is said to be hearty and filling when properly prepared. Here, it’s stated that Witches falling ill are uncommon owing to their healing factors, although Hikari’s weak magical ability is leveraged to created a specific situation that drives the remainder of the episode.
- Fortunately for the rest of the world, Suiton629 is a name that no longer plagues most online discussion venues, and so, there will be no further mention of this individual. Back in Brave Witches, Hikari is left to rest and recover from her cold. That Nikka and Naoe are looking after her suggest that they’ve grown the closest since Hikari joined the 502nd. I’m still finding it difficult to believe that Naoe shares a voice actor with Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?‘s Megu Natsu.
- While Gundula has made it clear that there is to be no preparations for any sort of festival, Nikka nonetheless begins trying to bring in even small tokens, and Alexsandra contributes her own Christmas experiences, having received a Matryoshka from her parents as a child. Known more commonly as Russian Dolls, these nesting dolls are a relatively recent invention, being crafted in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin.
- It may strike some as an unusual contradiction — whereas I greatly enjoy reading ghost stories on paper or hearing about them, I am not particularly keen on horror movies in general. The last and only horror movie I’ve seen is Dark Water (Japanese title: Honogurai Mizu no soko kara); my fear and unsettlement came from the implications of the familial dynamics in the movie, as well as pity for the ghost, and I realised that I fear that part of people capable of neglecting or even bringing harm onto others, rather than anything a ghost can or cannot do to the corporeal world.
- To see Edytha show up just as Nikka and Naoe take off after Waltrud’s “ghost” story was bloody hilarious: while normally of a quiet and reserved demeanour, seeing any emotion from Edytha contrary to her normal self evokes a sense of amusement. What she does to Waltrud for telling the story is not shown, but the aural cues themselves do a fantastic job of suggesting that for Waltrud, things were not particularly pleasant.
- Nikka, Alexsandra and Naoe begin carving the Matryoshka dolls for Hikari, and although they’re off to a strong start, with Naoe carving an intricate dog that is mistaken to be a cat, Hikari awakens and wonder what’s going on. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is Waltrud appearing with an evergreen tree and loudly announcing that she’s hoping Hikari will enjoy their efforts at a Saturnus festival. The secret out, Waltrud is sent on a second punishment assignment.
- Waltrud and Edytha stumble on some mushrooms while hunting for ingredients such that Sadako can cook a reasonable Christmas dinner. Continuing with unique facial expressions from Edytha, who is typically capable of maintaining a neutral expression under most circumstances, it is pleasant and amusing to see her expressing her feelings, and here, she sports a soppy expression following their find.
- I’m not a mycologist and therefore, I cannot immediately recognise species of fungi on sight alone. Here, Edytha reacts to the consumption of the mushrooms she and Waltrud have found earlier: they’re remarked to be “laughing mushrooms”, specifically, Gymnopilus junonius. This identification is based purely on the mushroom’s geographical range: unlike other mushrooms with these properties, which are found in more temperate climates, G. junonius‘ distribution includes Russia). These mushrooms contain a compound known as psilocybin, which is metabolised in the body to form psilocin. This chemical induces euphoria, leading the characters to laugh uncontrollably. Although the science is not mentioned explicitly in Brave Witches, it is impressive that the writers have taken the effort to get these details correct.
- Psilocybin is the compound found in hallucinogenic mushrooms, which are consumed recreationally by some, and the results leave individuals in no fit state to operate machinery. Thus, with everyone on base in hysterics from the mushrooms, and Hikari still on the mend from her cold, it’s up to Nikka to deploy and engage a Neuroi that has seemingly appeared from the blue. Remaining on the ground, Hikari’s observations lead Nikka to the conclusion that the Neuroi has active camouflage, which enabled it to evade observers until it was in close proximity to the base.
- The MG 42 that Nikka wields in combat is one of the top machine guns that German produced during the Second World War, coupling a high reliability and durability with an impressive fire rate of 1200 to 1500 rounds per minute that resulted in a unique report. A solid all-around weapon, that it jams in Nikka’s hands is meant to illustrate the misfortunes that befall her in combat, and without any other combat options, it’s all Nikka can do to remain in the air after her weapon fails to continue operating. However, Nikka’s luck is not totally poor: in this screenshot, a rocket can be seen entering the frame, and moments later, a burst of machine gun fire destroys the Neuroi.
- These shots are fired from the 501st’s very own Sanya Litvyak and Eila Juutilainen: whereas Yoshika and Mio only made cameo appearances in a newspaper clipping during the first episode, this episode marks the first time 501st Witches are given dialogue on-screen. In the aftermath of Strike Witches‘ first season, Sanya and Eila return to the Sumous area and spend time with Nikka; The Sky That Connects Us depicts Sanya singing for both Eila and Nikka.
- I purchased The Sky That Connects Us more than two years ago, and it never ceases to amaze me just how quickly time has elapsed. Here, Hikari and Nikka admire a miniature Christmas tree that accompanies the supplies that Sanya and Eila have shipped in. With American Thanksgiving being today, and Black Friday tomorrow, the next major holiday on the table is Christmas. This year, Christmas will be a quiet event with nuclear family: with no Master Grade to build this year, I foresee that I will spend most of the day reading books and playing Battlefield 1 (or Mankind Divided).
- As a consequence giving everyone an unwanted high from the ‘shrooms and very nearly bringing about the destruction of the Petersburg base, Waltrud is made to kneel in a corner, bearing the sign “I committed sabotage”. While seemingly harmless, Waltrud’s actions incapacitated the 502nd’s ability to defend against hostile actors and, were it not for Nikka, could have spelled certain doom for the 502nd. Her punishment therefore comes across as being quite light in nature, although strictly speaking, her punishment for accidentally revealing the 502nd’s plans for a Saturnus festival was also unnecessary.
- Under the candlelight, Alexsandra, Naoe and Nikka present Hikari with her gift. Hikari mis-identifies Naoe’s carving as a pig when it’s supposed to be a dog, but Naoe’s reaction to this mistake is decidedly more benign. While outwardly expressing a seeming lack of concern about Hikari, subtle changes in Naoe have been expressed through her actions, which plainly show an abundance of concern for Hikari’s well-being.
- Gundula confiscates some champaign from Waltrud, and proceeds to open the bottle. While writing this, I suddenly recall that, in the wake of my thesis defense, I was given one voucher to a bottle of champaign at the Last Defense Lounge on campus. I still have the voucher with me, and originally, I intended to stop by the Last Defense Lounge to lay claim to some complementary champaign after my convocation. I’ve yet to actually do so, but the voucher is good for quite some time, so I’ve a bit of a window to capitalise. Despite my low tolerance against the effects of beer, I can drink other alcohols in moderation without too many ill effects.
- The reflection of candlesticks among the droplets of champaign in the episode’s final moments are impressive and magical, worthy of the sort of magic that Nikka describes the Saturnus festival as having. I now go briefly off mission to explain why this post comes out with only a few minutes left on the 24th: one of my friends was back in town after a clerkship out East, and we decided to go watch Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them after work ended today.
- I rather enjoyed the movie, which is set in New York during the roaring twenties: it allows for magical communities outside of Britain to be explored, and despite having numerous layers in its narrative, the story told is rather solid. In many ways, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is similar to Brave Witches in that both spinoffs have enough uniquely identifying elements to stand apart from their predecessors, while at the same time, have enough familiar elements to remind viewers that they’re in the same world. Prior to the movie, I dropped by Kilkenny’s Irish Pub for a fantastic dinner: a medium-rare double steak sandwich with onion rings and a large helping of sea-salted fries. Aside from the tender and tasty steaks, the best part is that the sandwich was thirty percent off, being the Thursday special.
- I’ll wrap up this post with a screenshot of Eila and Sanya in Yuletide attire. It was most pleasant to see them again, and while they might not have appeared in the Operation Victory Arrow OVAs, their being given some screentime here is much welcomed. With the Christmas episode of Brave Witches concluded, and a mere quarter hour before Black Friday, I need to sign off and get some sleep. My upcoming posts in the near future with deal with Battlefield 1‘s campaign mission “Friends in High Places”, and perhaps something on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided once I finish the Prague by night missions. In addition, Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days was released a week ago, and once the episode becomes available, I will be giving that a reflection, as well.
Given that this is Brave Witches‘ idea of a “fanservice” episode, it is quite apparent that Brave Witches stands exceptionally well on its own and quite apart from its predecessor. The inclusion of meaningful character development and world building (here, depiction of what Christmas is like in the Strike Witches universe) provides a chance to begin exploring the extensive and hitherto uncharted world that is the Strike Witches universe. The world that Humikane Shimada created extends well beyond the pantsu elements that Strike Witches was once known for; audiences have wondered what life in such a world could be like and with Brave Witches beginning to present various facets of life in such a universe, this alternate reality becomes more life-like, more plausible and more welcoming: the seventh episode of Brave Witches drives this world building through character interactions, giving additional insight into Nikka’s personality and beliefs. In this manner, the Witches themselves become more complex, believable characters that, despite perhaps lacking the same glitz as their counterparts in the 501st, nonetheless are a thrill to watch.