“Without vision you don’t see, and without practicality the bills don’t get paid.” —Paul Engle
Hikari sets off from the 502nd’s Petersburg base in fine spirits, after sharing a conversation with Naoe about how she’s glad to have had the opportunity to help everyone out to the best of her ability and giving the others a farewell. She meets Sanya and Eila at the train station, and they head off towards Sumous. Meanwhile, the 502nd are briefed on their assignment: they are to defend a pair of Schwerer Gustav 800 mm railway guns that have been equipped with special-purpose ammunition dedicated to take out the Neuroi hive. The operation proceeds nominally after the Witches fend off Neuroi waves, allowing the first gun to fire a HE round that strips away the clouds surrounding the hive. However, the hive responds with a fierce counter-attack, destroying the second gun. Takami tries to remove the shell from the damaged cannon and deliver it, but it is with the 502nd’s full efforts that the second shell is airlifted and dropped over the Neuroi hive. Despite seemingly succeeding, the Hive begins to regenerate; Takami learns that there is a second core that manages to elude her magic. Back on the ground, Hikari leaves the train with the goal of stopping Takami from executing her ability again. While previous battles against Neuroi hives in Strike Witches have always pushed the bounds for plausibility, Brave Witches‘ hive battle has proceeded in the absence of moments that defy known logic, and everything that has been seen this episode has been established firmly as being possible. With the mind no longer wandering about trying to make sense of everything, it leaves audiences free to enjoy the start of Brave Witches‘ final battle.
While the events the of penultimate episode of Brave Witches were predictable, the path taken to reach a particular outcome remain distinct from those seen in Strike Witches; Brave Witches continues to differentiate itself from its predecessor by making use of new tricks in a familiar environment, all the while striving to maintain a fine balance between continuity and viewer engagement. The magic-assisted Schwerer Gustav 800 mm railway guns utilised strategically to assault the Neuroi are indicative of the lessons learnt from the 501st’s misadventures with the Warlock, an artificial weapon using a Neuroi core to power its weapons. In spite of its overwhelming power, its operators lost control of it and were on the cusp of precipitating an even larger crisis. Hence, other military forces have learnt not to make extensive use of Neuroi technology, instead, falling back in weapons that have been tested to work. Practicality notwithstanding, conventional weapons nonetheless remain ineffective against a Neuroi with a mobile core, and in keeping with this episode’s title, it would appear that the eleventh episode is suggesting that in the face of extraordinary circumstances, innovation (in the form of trying something different) is a necessity to overcome challenging odds.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Hikari seems to be in high spirits even after the events of the previous episode: she bids farewell to the 502nd, receiving some food and drink from the others, as well as the damaged liberator back from Waltrud. Today’s post comes a bit slower than usual because WordPress decided it was a good idea to change up the user interface, conveniently discarding features I’ve grown used to for pushing a post out.
- The experience is akin to being switched off a bolt-action rifle I’ve been using for five years, with optics that must be manually zeroed but work between 0 and 1000 meters. The replacement rifle would be a semi-automatic weapon with self-zeroing optics that I have no control over, and can only be zeroed between 0 and 500 meters. There are features that I plainly miss from the old WordPress editor, namely, the ability to copy and paste tags from old posts, the ability to edit posts in bulk and the ability to copy images from my hosts without waiting for an upload, then center them in the page. Back in Brave Witches, once Hikari sets off, and Nikka tearfully waves her goodbye, the 502nd return to their briefing room and are given their assignment.
- These new “updates” to WordPress impede my speed, and is doubly frustrating because of a long day at work spent trying to figure out Apple’s nonexistent Swift 3.0 documentation. As it stands, seeing Eila and Sanya back in Brave Witches was precisely what I needed to relax this evening; they await Hikari at the train station and are set to accompany her to Kuahava via train.
- After Eila offers Hikari some salmiakki, the intense flavours in what is essentially salted liquorice overwhelm her, resulting in another “funny face” moment that I’m almost certain resulted in my prompt punishment through the new WordPress interface. The salt is not common table salt (sodium chloride), but the more potent ammonium chloride that can numb the tongue or even induce a stinging sensation. Like stinky tofu, durians and lutefisk, the description of salmiakki means that it is an acquired taste.
- Back in the air with a skilful partner, Naoe and Takami resolve to blow the Neuroi hive out of the skies as they fly towards their objective. Naoe has plainly grown to care for Hikari, but she remains most familiar with Takami; once the battle begins in earnest, the two take on a forward role in dealing with any Neuroi posing a threat to their escorts. Lacking any of the banter she and Hikari shared, it’s all business for Naoe.
- Large number of anti-air cannons and tanks participate in the battle, alongside conventional aircraft. Although capable of putting out a large volume of sustained fire, the Neuroi begin their own counter-attack, driving friendly casualties up to thirty percent in a matter of moments. However, in keeping the Neuroi occupied, this reduces the amount of fire directed against the railway artillery cannons.
- Large number of particles fill the sky as projectiles begin punching through Neuroi. Fantastic for depicting transient objects, such as smoke, flame and ice crystals, particles are graphic objects used in rendering fuzzy phenomenon. They are used to great effect in contemporary games, and in my thesis, were used to fill biomolecular spaces with moving objects to give a sense of activity. Even though modern GPUs can render millions of particles in each frame, biomolecular spaces are yet more complex, being filled with billions of moving proteins and molecules.
- Having recovered from the saltiness of Eila’s liquorice, Hikari listens to radio transmissions from a receiver that Eila’s brought with them. Throughout the battle, Sanya uses her magic to listen in on her surroundings. Listening to the combat dialogue on a radio can be quite harrowing, since one can’t readily see what’s going on, and I suddenly recall that I’ve not listened to a Flames game on the FAN 960 AM radio channel for quite some time — it was quite difficult to follow a game. Typically, the only actions really easy to visualise were goals and saves.
- The first shell is fired as per the battle plan: here, Witches of the 502nd defend it from Neuroi attack, harmlessly deflecting the attack. The Schwerer Gustav guns were capable of putting 7.1 tonne shells 38 kilometers downrange and originally planned to be utilised to punch through heavily fortified positions on the Maginot Line, although the weapons were not used with any frequency — the Gustav saw combat use in a few battles, while the Dora was used in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 but is thought to have never been fired. Towards the end of World War II, Germany destroyed the weapons to prevent the advancing Red Army from capturing them.
- The first HE round is successful: after leaving the barrel, it imparts a large shock wave that jostles nearby Witches around and dispels the clouds surrounding the hive. However, heavy fire penetrates a shield that Nikka and Georgette have projecting, destroying the barrel on one of the Schwerer Gustav cannons and rendering it inoperational. Ground command immediately orders their remaining Gustav cannons to chamber the anti-Neuroi shell, but the twenty minute wait becomes unacceptable owing to how quickly the battle is moving.
- This is the first time that I’ve seen a Neuroi Hive without its clouds, and the structure of the Gregori hive resembles a large shipyard similar to the Tharsis Shipyard from in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: it’s a large pillar with two large rings surrounding it, and Edytha discovers that it is impervious to conventional weaponry, necessitating the rounds from the Schwerer Gustav to destroy properly. The hive offers one additional challenge: flexible appendages that can independently target fast-moving targets such as the Witches.
- Determination and a refusal to give up is a trait the Karibuchi sisters share; Takami tries to single-handedly lift the anti-Neuroi shell to its destination. Alexsandra mentions that the shell’s mass is around one ton, but even assuming it is one metric ton (1000 kilograms) as opposed to one US ton (roughly 907.18474 kilograms), the shell would still be much lighter than the Schwerer Gustav’s high-explosive round, which was the lighter of the two shells the weapon could fire and had a mass of 4.8 metric tons.
- In a titanic effort from all of the 502nd’s Witches, the shell is finally moved and airlifted to its destination, where gravity is counted on to do the rest, allowing the shell to punch through the Neuroi’s core and destroy it. In its original specifications, the shell is stated to have the equivalent of a hundred Witches’ worth of magic, in turn leading me to wonder where the magical energy is extracted from.
- Going purely from aesthetics alone, Georgette and Nikka probably remain my favourite Witches of the 502nd, although I could be swayed to be more receptive of Takami after this screenshot. The reason why this image was included in lieu of a moment featuring the 502nd in combat was primarily because Brave Witches proved to be very disciplined with respect to the number of infamous pantsu moments that appeared throughout much of its run. However, there are some moments such as these, and so, I include Takami’s assets to accentuate the fact that crotch-shots are rare in Brave Witches, if they only appear once every two to four posts.
- The Neuroi hive shatters immediately after impact, and the 502nd believe their operation has completed successfully, but given that it is only the eleventh episode, it was not surprising to see the Neuroi begin reassembling itself, with the Witches learning that it had a second movable core. Ordinarily, this would be counted as a contrived means of extending the battle, but because Brave Witches has made it clear that Neuroi are capable of such a feat, I chalk things up to clever writing that plainly establish what is and is not possible within the Brave Witches universe.
- I’ve read that some viewers were looking for a bit of time spent giving Gundula some background (namely, how she came about her injury and what her story was) in animated form, but this penultimate episode offers none of that; apparently, the story was covered in supplementary material. She is a phenomenal Witch who suffered a serious back injury after having her sight obstructed by Neuroi debris, and while usually choosing desk work, she will fly into battle if the need is great. I found that Gundula resembles Shuumatsu no Izetta‘s Elisabeth in appearances alone.
- A break in Neuroi jamming allows Hikari to learn that the Neuroi has regenerated, and that Takami is planning to utilise her trump card to stop it. In light of Takami’s falling into a coma the last time this ability was used, Hikari feels that it’s up to her to stop Takami. She leaps off the train to Eila and Sanya’s surprise and begins making her way to her Striker unit, and one wonders if Eila and Sanya may also participate in next week’s showdown with the Neuroi hive.
- Now that things have cooled off a bit, I conclude that, if I can just figure out how to copy tags between posts and determine what’s needed to properly format images so there is not a large gap between the image and figure caption, I could probably grow accustomed to the new interface. Similarly, there might be a means, albeit a roundabout one, of solving the Swift 3.0 problem I’ve got at work. I won’t know until I try for either, and with that being said, this week’s post comes to a full end.
Hikari’s concern for her sister is what leads her to jump train and make her way back to an operational Striker Unit: having solidly established that Hikari cares deeply for Takami, it is quite fitting that it is this concern that prompts her to come back. With Hikari looking to join the battle against the Hive, the upcoming finale is shaping up to be a climatic sequence that will likely see the two sisters see eye-to-eye about Hikari’s desire to fight alongside the 502nd as a Witch. There’s only one episode to Brave Witches left by this point, and it should be quite apparent that Brave Witches has done a fantastic job this season in both standing out from Strike Witches while simultaneously incorporating the best elements from its predecessor. It will be quite exciting to see how Brave Witches chooses to send the audiences off in its finale. In keeping with how I handle finales for episodic reviews, next week’s post on the last episode will be a bit larger than the average post, detailing my thoughts on the series as a whole, and unless Brave Witches manages to do something completely outrageous (equivalent to an NHL team blowing a 6-0 lead with five minutes left in the third period), I am reasonably confident that my assessment of Brave Witches will be a predominantly positive one.