The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Girls und Panzer, Understanding Success On the Intersection Between Friendship, Sportsmanship, Self-Discovery and Technical Excellence

“Cheer up, and let’s do this. We’ve all decided we were going to do this together, that we were going to fight until the end, and never surrender.” –Miho Nishizumi

After a disastrous outcome at the previous year’s Panzerfahren tournament, Miho Nishizumi transfers to Ooarai Girls’ Academy, where she hopes for a fresh start. She befriends Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu, but inevitably finds herself being recruited to the newly-restarted Panzerfahren team. While Miho is initially hesitant, her previous experience and innate qualities as a leader inspires her fellow team-mates. Saori later manages to convince Mako Reizei to join, as well. After a mock battle with St. Gloriana’s Academy, their leader, Darjeeling, wishes Miho the best, and Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team begin their journey in the current Panzerfahren tournament. They topple Saunders University in the first round and become friends with Kay, Saunder’s commander. Between training and securing new parts for their tanks, Miho also comes to know her classmates better, seeing each of their interests and unique traits. She reveals to her friends that she’d quit Panzerfahren because of her failure to secure a victory the previous year, as a result of her decision to leave her tank and rescue a classmate, whose tank had fallen into a river during the final match. This led to a rift between Miho and her mother, Shiho, who felt Miho had not lived up to the family name. Ooarai later defeats Anzio in battle and faces off against Pravda. While the cold conditions initially work against Ooarai, and Pravda surrounds them, Miho accepts a temporary ceasefire so she can send Erwin and Yukari out for recon. They come back with a report on Pravda’s positions and exploit this to earn a victory, along with Katyusha’s respect. Here, Momo and Anzu reveal that there was a reason for Ooarai’s participation in Panzerfahren: from a lack of funds, their school was to be shut down, and they needed a game-changer to convince the school board to let their school remain open. Thus, victory became all-important, and going into the final round, Miho is fighting not just for herself or her friends, but the fate of the school she’s come to call home. It is a difficult battle: against her old school, Black Forest, Miho finds that her tanks are outmatched by Black Forest’s sheer power, but with a few novel approaches, Ooarai begins levelling things out, leaving Miho and her older sister, Maho, to duel it out. Miho comes out victorious, and Maho expresses relief that Miho’s found her own way again, while Shiho looks on, pleased with Miho’s tenacity. This is Girls und Panzer, one of the most iconic anime of the 2010s: despite being plagued by production issues and possessing what initially appeared to be a weak premise suited for little more than fanservice, Girls und Panzer‘s historic run in 2012 and 2013 led the series to unexpected success that defied all expectations.

At its core, Girls und Panzer speaks to the importance of friendship and support in helping individuals overcome their own doubts and fears. Miho begins her journey uncertain, having lost her way from a defeat that, in the Nishizumi Creed, was untenable. She transferred to Ooarai with the hope of escaping Panzerfahren and living an ordinary life. However, when circumstance pushes Miho to take up the duty of a Panzerfahren commander, it is with the support of her friends that allow her to make this transition. Initially, it is warmth from Saori and Hana that gives Miho the courage to step back into a tank. Over time, as Miho leads Ooarai to victory time and time again with her kindness, compassion and empathy, she earns the admiration, respect and trust from those who fight alongside her: Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team rallies behind Miho, placing their faith in her to create opportunity and pursue success even where hope is slim. This support is what pushes Miho to fight for them; as a result of this mutualistic dynamic, Ooarai ultimately is able to save their school, and Miho rediscovers what Panzerfahren is about. The key distinction in Miho’s newfound approach to Panzerfahren over her original techniques stems from her own genteel character, in addition to concern for the well-being of those around her. Miho embodies Sun Tzu’s terms of a great leader from Art of War, being a commander who is tough but fair, compassionate yet resolute. By caring for those under her command, and setting them straight without being impatient, Miho creates a team who is willing to fight to the ends of the earth with her. This kindness is a component of the friendship themes in Girls und Panzer; Miho’s personal style, in integrating adaptivity, sportsmanship and compassion, not only helps unite Ooarai, but also inspires the rival teams that she ends up meeting in battle. Darjeeling, Kay, Katyusha and even Maho come to appreciate Miho’s choices, in time, supporting Ooarai in their journey to victory.

While the themes in Girls und Panzer are nothing novel, the success story Girls und Panzer found comes from the consequence of the series excelling with the integration of feel-good themes together with a compelling level of technical excellence in Panzerfahren itself. Girls und Panzer meticulously researched World War Two-era armour to a level of accuracy that is comparable to Tom Clancy’s, and as such, allows the series to define very specific rules and constraints for Panzerfahren. Armour and projectile properties, tank movement characteristics and operational procedures are all explored in detail, faithful to their real-world counterparts. The sum of this level of technical detail allows Girls und Panzer to create highly-nuanced discussions on armour doctrine and tactics. For instance, knowing the attributes of the Panzer IV Ausf. H’s 7.5 cm Pak 40 and the significance of the armoured skirt allows one to comment on Miho’s odds in squaring off against Maho’s Tiger I: there is both fact and historical precedence to guide discussion and speculation on what could happen in a battle. However, while Girls und Panzer draws heavily on real-world details, the anime does not make them mandatory for enjoyment; in the total absence of any knowledge about World War Two armour, one could still have a complete, satisfying experience with Girls und Panzer. This is what sets Girls und Panzer apart from similar series of its time: the anime stands solidly on its own with the virtue of a strong cast, a simple but well-presented theme and a superb audio-visual presentation, but also invests enough into the details to really captivate viewers with existing knowledge of armoured warfare. There is something in Girls und Panzer for everyone, and regardless of one’s background, there is something to enjoy in this series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If Girls und Panzer is nearly seven years old, and I’ve written about the series to death before, what would drive me to revisit the series, one asks? The answer is actually two-fold: the first is that in the seven years between now and when Girls und Panzer finished airing, my writing style has shifted somewhat, and I feel that now, it is a bit easier for me to articulate what makes the series so enjoyable for me, as well as why the series has not lost any of its charm since its original run in 2012-2013. The second reason is a bit more insidious – I’ve deliberately timed this post to coincide with Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s second movie’s home release.

  • I will be writing about Das Finale‘s second film very soon and strive to have the ‘net’s first and most comprehensive discussion. Until then, this revisitation of Girls und Panzer will provide readers with a rough idea of why after all this time, I’m still writing about Girls und Panzer. The anime begins with Miho transferring to Ooarai, and quickly befriending the warm Saori Takebe and composed Hana Isuzu. Out of the gates, they help her get used to life in school; although Miho still has difficulty in participating in Panzerfahren, Saori and Hana’s friendship steels Miho’s resolve.

  • Even this early on, Girls und Panzer did a phenomenal job of foreshadowing. Girls und Panzer had originally been expected to be a joke, a fanservice-laden series with no meaningful message, and so, when its run was underway, viewers were shocked as to just how well-written and detailed things were. From things like characterisation, to details behind each tank, everything in the series was of a quality that far exceeded initial expectations, although Girls und Panzer made it clear that knowledge of armoured warfare notwithstanding, anyone could go in and have a good time.

  • Initially, once Miho decides to take up Panzerfahren again, Ooarai forms a Panzerfahren team and go on a hunt for tanks to use. A long time ago, Ooarai had been a school known for its Panzerfahren, but the program eventually was shut down, and tanks were left around the school ship. In Japanese, the girls refer to the art of operating tanks as 戦車道 (Hepburn sensha-dō, literally “way of the tank”), and Panzerfahren is a compound word derived off the German Panzer (tank) and fahren (“to go”). In my context, Panzerfahren is approximated as “tank riding”, and English translations peg sensha-dō as “tankery”, which is admittedly strange-sounding, so Panzerfahren stuck with me.

  • After a day’s efforts, the girls find a 38 (t), StuG III, M3 Lee and a Type 98B in addition to the Panzer IV Ausf. D. Thus, five teams are formed: Miho joins Anglerfish with the Panzer IV, while the student council take the 38(t). The history fanatics take the StuG III, the first years take the M3, and the Type 98B are given to the volleyball club. Of these tanks, Battlefield V has the Panzer IV and 38(t): the former is an excellent all-around tank that plays well with Miho’s adaptability, while the student council’s decision to 38(t) suggests at their faith in Miho even this early in the game – the 38(t) is a light tank with a weak gun, and in Battlefield V, it is completely ill-suited for anything other than anti-infantry combat. Even then, a few well-placed Panzerfaust rounds will melt the 38(t).

  • During their first practise match, Miho operates the radio, Saori takes on the role of the commander, while Yukari acts as the gunner, and Hana drives. Mid-match, Hana is knocked out from an impact, and the girls look to be demolished until a chance encounter with Mako Reizei, who promptly picks up on driving the Panzer IV. With Miho’s instructions keeping them focused, the Panzer IV manages to knock out the other Ooarai tanks despite being stuck on a rickety bridge, and the first years fall into a panic, de-tracking their tank in a desperate bid to escape. This early match is a far cry from the scope and scale of later matches, but was critical to show viewers that a proper team must similarly have a proper leader, and at the smaller scale, every tank must also be properly operated.

  • After the practise match, the girls begin to deck out their tanks to fit their own personalities. It is assumed that at this point, each team has begun learning the essentials of their own tanks, while at once training to master the basics, such as compensating for gravity when firing, how to move so as to minimise the tank’s profile and maximise the amount of armour pointed at the enemy to reduce damage. While Miho ends up leaving the Panzer IV in its default colours (to Saori’s disappointment), the first-years paint their tank bright pink, and the history buffs make their tank a walking war museum. The student council’s customisation is the most ostentatious: they opt to go for a brilliant gold finish.

  • Battlefield V‘s tank customisation is practically non-existent, but in Battlefield 1, it was indeed possible to deck one’s tank out with a gold finish, exactly as the student council had done. Upon seeing the results, Yukari is scandalised – being an expert in all things armour, Yukari loves tanks and became saddened to see armoured vehicles being desecrated. Miho finds things hilarious, and although she’s accustomed to properly camouflaged tanks, she allows her classmates this customisation so that they feel at home with her. There is one other unspoken reason: Miho is the sort of person who prefers experience to speak for itself, and letting the volleyball team, history buffs and first years to learn of the consequences of bling on a tank on the battlefield would be far more effective than if she’d lectured them herself.

  • Giving people the freedom to explore and learn is oftentimes a more effective teacher: sometimes, it takes making mistakes in a risk-free environment to really drive a lesson home, and sweating out in training beats bleeding out in war. During training, Miho drills the others on basics like manoeuvre and firing techniques, and I’m particularly fond of interior shots of the tanks themselves. Besides showing the claustrophobic space inside (and Miho’s thighs when we’re talking about the Panzer IV’s interior), interior shots really go to illustrate how sophisticated the art and animation in Girls und Panzer is; the reflection from the optics Hana is looking through is reflected on her shoulder.

  • Once Ooarai’s Panzerfahren team is assembled, Anzu, student council president, arranges for a training match against St. Gloriana. At this point, Miho is asked to be the commander for the whole of Ooarai, which she accepts, and the roles for the Panzer IV are also determined: Mako is to be the driver, Saori takes on the radio operator role, Yukari becomes the loader, Hana is the gunner, and Miho is the commander. Miho’s crew becomes considerably more effectual once everyone settles into a role suited for their personalities, and the first friendly bout between two schools takes place.

  • Against St. Gloriana, Miho fields her variety of tanks against Darjeeling’s Churchill Mk. VII and the Matilda A12 Mk. II. The Matilda’s the predecessor to the Valentine Mk. VIII that I’ve operated in Battlefield V: the Valentine has slightly lighter armour and a slightly reduced top speed compared to the Matilda, but could be produced more inexpensively and quickly. I favour the Valentine for its balance in gameplay and never had much success with the Churchill.

  • The first match with Darjeeling’s crew is set in the streets of Ooarai, a coastal town in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture. The town is counted as one of the dullest, most unremarkable places in Japan to be, but this was before Girls und Panzer changed that. Here, Miho drives past the Ooarai Marine Tower, and during their first battle, many familiar locations around Ooarai are depicted. I’ve covered this in great detail in an earlier post, and note that since Girls und Panzer, the town has seen an increase in tourism.

  • While Miho effectively solos the whole of St. Gloriana’s team and disables all of their Matildas, the Panzer IV Ausf. D’s 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24 is completely inadequate to punch through the Churchill’s armour. At ranges of under 100 metres, the main gun on the Ausf. D could only penetrate the equivalent of 41 mm of armour, and the Churchill Mk. VII has a minimum armour thickness of 51 mm in its rear, with the turret front and hull having a maximum of 152 mm of armour, while the sides possess 95 mm of armour.  Simply put, Miho would have had no way to defeat Darjeeling on her own: the StuG III that the history team fielded had already been knocked out of the fight by this point.

  • In order to defeat the Churchill at this point in Ooarai’s career, Miho would’ve needed to keep the StuG III and its Kwk 40 L/48 alive for longer: at under 100 metres, this 75 mm gun would have penetrated a maximum of 143 mm of armour, so attacking from the sides or rear would’ve been sufficient. Miho does indeed end up losing, and it shows that this early on, Ooarai still needs to improve as a team. As a consequence for losing, Miho and the others must do the dreaded “Anglerfish Dance”, and I’ll feature Miho doing the dance for no discernible reason beyond the aesthetic properties of this moment.

  • Miho, Yukari, Saori, Hana and Mako end up visiting a tank-themed sweets cafe that serves cakes in the shape of tanks, and here, they run into Miho’s older sister, Maho, and her best lieutenant, Erika Itsumi. While Maho is presented as being cold and reserved, this belies a friendly and warm personality; she cares greatly for Miho and worries about her. Erika, on the other hand, is more disparaging towards Miho, holding a grudge that Miho’s actions the previous year had cost them a victory. The choice to introduce Erika here was probably meant to show that Miho and Maho are very similar. Rather like how Erika greatly respects Maho, Yukari will go to the ends of the earth for Miho and stands up to defend her. Early on in Girls und Panzer, the similarity between the two siblings are not immediately apparent, but even here, care was taken to subtly indicate that Miho and Maho are definitely sisters despite outward differences.

  • In preparation for their first round against Saunders, besides training to improve their teamwork and coordination, the girls also repaint their tanks to standard camouflage to avoid sticking out on the battlefield. Because Miho’s been out of her game for a little while, Yukari decides to assist and sets off on a reconnaissance mission to Saunders to learn more about her opponents. Yukari’s first time is marked with inadequate fieldcraft, and she’s quickly discovered. Reconnaissance is a legal part of Panzerfahren, and despite being compromised, Yukari learns of the loadout and disposition of their first opponent.

  • To Yukari, befriending Miho, Saori, Hana and Mako marks a major point in her life: she explains that until now, she’d never really met anyone that shared her love for armoured warfare and all of the accompanying elements. With a profound interest and knowledge in tanks, Yukari is aware of survival tactics and equipment in addition to the properties of different armoured vehicles. While she may be a loader in Panzerfahren, Yukari offers Miho suggestions and in time, also becomes a capable reconnaissance unit able to gather intelligence and get out without being compromised.

  • If there were a single screenshot that could capture the magic of Girls und Panzer, this would be it: I remark that in retrospect, Girls und Panzer is a series that I could’ve easily written episodic reviews for. Each episode advances the story in a meaningful way, and each episode features plenty of material to walk about from a hardware and physics perspective. However, in the interest of keeping things as concise as I can for a Masterpiece Anime Showcase, I’ve elected to stick to forty screenshots, and as such, will not fully represent all of the moments within this series.

  • The match against Saunders allows Ooarai to experience both sides of Panzerfahren: Saunders, reflecting on the American way, has an incredible access to resources, and during the match, Alisa uses a special balloon to intercept Ooarai’s radio communications, giving them a seemingly-supernatural edge. Miho realises this and switches her team over to SMS, while providing false information to send Saunders’ tanks into traps. When Kay discovers this, she stands down her tanks to match Ooarai’s number in the name of fairness.

  • With the equipment gap closed, the battle between Ooarai and Saunders becomes one of pure skill. After locating the Saunders flag tank in pursuit of Ooarai’s flag tank, Mako parks the Panzer IV so Hana can make the shot. Saunders’ top sniper, Naomi, prepares to fire and interrupt Hana, but a steady aim allows Hana to fire moments before they re disabled. The resulting shot disables Saunders’ flag tank, bringing the match to an end. Panzerfahren matches in Girls und Panzer come in two varieties so far: elimination is decided based on who runs out of tanks first, while the VIP game type involves protecting the flag tank, wherein losing the flag tank causes a team to lose the match regardless of their remaining numbers.

  • While Darjeeling had the composure and grace to thank Miho for a match well-played, it isn’t until Ooarai’s victory over Saunders where themes of sportsmanship really come into play in Girls und Panzer. Kay personally thanks Miho for a great match and notes that victory is only meaningful if achieved in a fair, honest manner. Sportsmanship is one of my favourite aspects of Girls und Panzer, creating a very warm and inviting environment that contributes to the anime’s universal appeal, and for this, Kay very quickly became one of my favourite characters outside of Ooarai for embodying the boisterous, hard-working and bold spirit that represents the best traits of the United States.

  • At Girls und Panzer‘s halfway point, Miho opens up as to why she was initially against taking Panzerfahren, and at AnimeSuki, an anime forum I occasionally peruse, this led to a flame war on whether or not Miho’s actions were justified. While most people (myself included) agree that Miho made the right decision in saving her classmate even at the cost of the match, one Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi and willx argued that Miho was better served leaving her classmate to certain danger for the sake of winning. This resulted in a week-long festival of ad hominem attacks, self-aggrandisement and mudslinging between the two parties.

  • Sumeragi was eventually banned from AnimeSuki, and since then, discussions there on Girls und Panzer have been more reasoned and peaceable: thou shall not be missed. Sumeragi was wrong about pretty much everything related to Girls und Panzer‘s themes despite being a so-called “expert” on all things related to armoured warfare, and in retrospect, my decision not take Sumeragi and willx to school proved a good one. This allowed me to finish my undergraduate thesis on time and enjoy the final two episodes without worrying about remaining edits or other work. Back in Girls und Panzer, viewers are introduced to Pravda, a Soviet-themed school whose commander diminutive stature is matched by a big and confident personality: having never heard of Ooarai before, Katyusha  is confident she’ll be able to mop floor with Miho and then take a shot at beating Black Forest.

  • If and when I’m asked, Miho is my favourite anime character of the 2010s: she possesses all of the traits that I respect in people, being fiercely loyal and optimistic even in the face of overwhelming odds. Polite, soft-spoken and shy, Miho is a very human character whose growth comes as a result of the time she spends at Ooarai; her doubts are slowly displaced by confidence as she continues to fight for those important to her. As an side, the fact that Miho’s specs are 82-56-84 increases her appeal, although given the nature of this post, that is neither here nor there.

  • During the match against Pravda, overconfidence causes Ooarai’s tanks to step into Katyusha’s trap, and they find themselves encircled at the church. Katyusha, doubtful Ooarai will put up much of a fight, decides to offer them a surrender instead. The girls quickly become demoralised from the cold and the situation, and it is here, in the darkest hour, that Anzu, Momo and Yuzu explain the truth: that Ooarai will shut down unless they can win the Panzerfahren tournament to prove the school is still relevant. Spurred on, Miho uses the lull to send Yukari, Erwin, Mako and Midoriko out on reconnaissance, before doing the Anglerfish dance herself to raise everyone’s spirits.

  • For a Girls und Panzer post, the observant reader will note that I’ve got very little in the way of actual screenshots from the combat sequences: this post was written with the characters and themes in mind, rather than the tanks, but I’ve also included a few pivotal moments, such as Miho making use of the StuG III’s low profile to do what I personally would count as the height of dishonesty in Battlefield V: camping is despicable, and in Katyusha’s place, since I don’t underestimate opponents, I would’ve opted to slag Ooarai instead. However, in Girls und Panzer, we are cheering for Ooarai, so I’ll concede that camping with a StuG III is technically not the worst thing one could do in Panzerfahren.

  • Between Miho dancing the Anglerfish Dance and Katyusha properly thanking Miho for a good match, expressing that she’s impressed with Miho, the Ooarai victory over Pravda was my magic moment to Girls und Panzer. Up until now, the series had been engaging in its own right, but after this episode, I was thoroughly convinced that I was watching a masterpiece unfolding before my eyes. It was therefore something of a shock to learn that Girls und Panzer would experience an intermission, as the series had run into difficulties in production.

  • I thus busied myself with mastering principles of software engineering and preparations of my undergraduate thesis while waiting for Girls und Panzer to catch up: the difficulties that Girls und Panzer experienced brought to mind the Project management triangle (if you do something quickly and cheaply, it’ll not be good; if you do something quickly and well, it’ll not be cheap; if you do something cheaply and well, it’ll not be quick), and in Girls und Panzer, I remarked that given the quality of the series, I was okay with ACTAS sacrificing “quick” to ensure the series was good. I would not be disappointed.

  • Towards the end of Girls und Panzer, lingering questions of family are addressed: Mako and her grandmother come to an understanding, as does Hana and her mother. Yukari and her parents are on excellent terms, and Miho is a bit envious of their relationship compared to the strained relationship between her and Shiho, her mother. On the final night before the final match against Black Forest, Miho and her friends share a tonkatsu dinner; all of the Ooarai Panzerfahren members have tonkatsu to some capacity to show their unity and resolve. With its origins in the 19th century, tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet and usually served with a special sauce, and it is an excellent dish that is very hearty.

  • On the day of the final match, Miho faces against the toughest opponents that she’ll encounter in the Panzerfahren tournament: Black Forest (Kuromorimine in Japanese, I’ve deliberately gone with the English spelling since it’s faster for me to type) is known for respect for discipline, order and structure, which are Prussian values. Driven purely by victory, Black Forest is not particularly on good terms with the other schools, and their doctrine is one of superior firepower and force, based on Shiho’s own interpretation of the Nishizumi Style. Entering the final battle, the outcome of the match was a foregone one for me; having studied Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the pure Nishizumi Style is stymied by rigidity and an inflexibility that, on paper, would prove vulnerable to a flexible, adaptive doctrine.

  • As it turns out, the classmate Miho ended up saving was grateful that she’d done so. This simple moment decisively cleared up the long-standing argument from AnimeSuki: Girls und Panzer had been so focused on themes of friendship and sportsman-like conduct that this response was the only one consistent with everything the series had built up. It is here that Girls und Panzer showed that despite the cold, impersonal interpretation of the Nishizumi style that Black Forest practises, their students are still human, able to accept and understand things like respect, integrity and compassion.

  • Besides Sun Tzu, the fact that I’ve been a practitioner of Gōjū-ryū (literally “hard-soft style”) for upwards of two decades also impacted my perspective of Miho’s Panzerfahren style. Our school’s original founder, Chōjun Miyagi, embraced the idea that the hard (linear strikes) and soft (circular, open-handed techniques) was not just applicable to martial arts, but to life itself. Arguing that switching between the two would allow one “to deal effectively with the fluctuations of life”; in other words, success comes from adaptability and flexibility. Black Forest, on the other hand, would be over-reliant on the hard, and therefore, lack the adaptability for success. As such, while Ooarai is understandably nervous about their final match with Black Forest owing to the latter’s fearsome reputation, Black Forest’s might is not as insurmountable as one might think.

  • In retrospect, the heavy tanks of Black Forest, suited for engaging equivalently armoured tanks or larger numbers of technically inferior tanks, were immediately at a disadvantage in their fight against Ooarai, whose motley-looking arsenal of light, medium and heavy tanks reflect on Miho’s ability to improvise and adapt. It speaks volumes to the quality of writing in Girls und Panzer that despite having a very clear outcome based purely on precedence set both in military strategy and life lessons, the anime would nonetheless keep viewers on the edge of the seats for every minute of every battle. There is only one other franchise that has successfully conveyed its themes and captured the viewers’ excitement despite having a protagonist that can do no wrong, and that is Ip Man.

  • In order to reinforce the idea that Miho’s “nobody gets left behind” mindset is both honourable and appropriate, after creating chaos amongst Black Forests’ armour, Miho leads her units across a river, and Rabbit Team’s M3 becomes stuck in the river even as Black Forest is in hot pursuit. While Rabbit Team implore Miho to leave them, Miho refuses and personally directs the efforts to free their tank. For her efforts, Miho is rewarded when Rabbit Team go on to knock out a Jagdpanther, whose powerful 128 mm main gun would’ve almost certainly caused trouble for Ooarai. Miho’s fierce and unyielding loyalty, for better or worse, is one of her defining traits, and in a broader interpretation of the Nishizumi Style, this unwavering dedication to what she believes in means that Miho has indeed made use of Shiho’s teachings, albeit in a very indirect fashion.

  • Despite the dramatic differences in setting and context, Ip Man‘s titular character shares a great deal in common with Miho. Both are proficient in their chosen martial art to a near-supernatural level, and believe that the style matters less than one’s on commitment to what they respectively believe in. Neither are invincible, but instead, Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Miho both are polite, respectful, observant, finding victory from a combination of uncommon resilience and creativity. Consequently, when it comes to Girls und Panzer and Ip Man, excitement comes not from the outcome of a battle, but rather, how the respective series’ protagonist finds a way to win. I recently had a chance to watch Ip Man 4: The Finale, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie; it was no secret that Donnie Yen’s Ip Man would best Scott Adkins’ Barton Geddes, but against Geddes’ overwhelming power and technique, Ip Man ends up using pressure points to bring the tough-talking, hard hitting Gunnery Sergeant to his knees in Ip Man 4‘s riveting final fight.

  • There was never any doubt that Ip Man would win, but the fight gave both Yen and Adkins a chance to shine. Similarly, in the fight against Black Forest in Girls und Panzer, while Miho was certain to win, the final fight featured plenty of surprises, such as the super-heavy tank, Panzer VIII Maus. Only two prototype mockups were ever built, and for their extreme firepower and durability, such tanks would have proven impractical as the world began moving towards the main battle tank, a combination of powerful engines and main guns, as well as improved armour technology, that gave medium tanks the mobility of a lighter tank and the firepower and armour of a heavy tank. In Ooarai’s arsenal, nothing conventional would’ve been effective, so Miho decides to cook up a clever scheme for defeating the Maus: success rallies Ooarai and sets Miho on course for a one-on-one showdown with Maho.

  • In an evenly-matched one-on-one, Miho narrowly comes up on top: having upgraded to the Panzer IV Ausf. H with a Kwk 40/L43, Miho had more than enough firepower to deal with a Tiger I from under 100 metres. With the ability to penetrate up to 133 mm of armour at close range, and the fact that the Tiger I’s maximum armour thickness is120 mm, this upgrade proves instrumental in helping Miho secure the win for Ooarai. Even without knowing this, however, the outcome of Girls und Panzer nonetheless remained quite evident. This was in fact, the key strength in Girls und Panzer: having knowledge of the tanks’ properties is helpful but will not diminish enjoyment of the series – viewers can have a full experience of the series irrespective of whether or not they have any a priori knowledge about World War Two tanks.

  • Ooarai’s victory is well-deserved, and acts as a definitive ending to Girls und Panzer. Here, Girls und Panzer could have ended on a high note even if no movie and film series had ever been announced: the original TV series is a self-contained experience that got every detail correct. Seven years later, Girls und Panzer looks as sharp as any contemporary anime when it comes to visuals (a few areas do appear more simplistic, and watching Das Finale gives one a good idea of how the art has improved since 2012-2013), and the soundtrack is of a top tier, featuring a combination of tense battle music, classic marches and gentle slice-of-life pieces that capture Miho’s journey of rediscovery.

  • With the additional seven years of life experience since Girls und Panzer‘s conclusion, I find that Miho and Shiho’s portrayal in the original series to an incomplete and somewhat unfair one, as it does not adequately represent them as people. This is a consequence of the series’ short run-time of only twelve episodes, but at the end of the championship, Maho praises Miho for having found her own way, and even Erika remarks that she’s looking forwards to challenging Miho again. As icing on the cake, a proud Shiho looks on and applauds her youngest daughter for her achievement. As it turns out, Maho dotes on Miho and is similarly selfless, having set herself down a rigid path to uphold the family name, and despite her strict, no-nonsense demeanor, Shiho cares deeply for her daughters as well, going to respectable lengths to look after both Miho and Maho.

  • At its core, Girls und Panzer creates a very warm and optimistic story of growth, discovery, and friendship masterfully woven with armoured warfare. By approaching the anime with an optimistic and open mind, people found in Girls und Panzer a series that was enjoyable for a variety of reasons. Since Girls und Panzer, no other series has had quite the same magic as Girls und PanzerHai-Furi was one series that had a very similar premise and was superbly enjoyable, but Girls und Panzer continues to hold a special place in my heart even seven years later, attesting to just how well-done the series is.

Girls und Panzer was initially a series I had decided to watch on the basis of its premise: entering, I had very low expectations and had purely intended to watch, and write about it, so that I could dispel complaints and criticisms that may have arisen. However, when the anime began airing during the autumn of 2012, I was up to my eyeballs in trying to keep up with my undergraduate thesis project, and the series fell to the back of my mind. However, news of production delays, and seeing a video of Miho motivating her classmates with the Anko Dance during the match against Pravda drive me to watch Girls und Panzer in earnest. I thus pushed through the series, reached the tenth episode, and found myself in anticipation of the remaining two episodes, whose release dates coincided with the wrapping-up of my undergraduate thesis. This was a stressful time, and while I had been very confident about the strength of my project (a multi-scale model of renal flow using a hybrid model), the work it took to get my project was substantial. Watching Girls und Panzer helped me to both relax and focus: seeing Miho’s resolve under stress was a bit of inspiration, and it hit me: if Girls und Panzer could stick its landing, then I would, as well. I thus finished Girls und Panzer, found a series that beat all expectations, and then went into my undergraduate defense with a similar mindset. I ended up finishing my undergraduate programme on a high note, and since then, Girls und Panzer had rekindled my interest in armoured warfare. For having accompanied me through my undergraduate thesis and then continuing to shape my expectations of what defines a good anime (accessibility in appealing to a diverse audience, and a meaningful story), I count the original run of Girls und Panzer a masterpiece that has aged remarkably well: seven years after its original run, the series still looks and feels amazing, and it is no joke when I say that anyone who’s not seen Girls und Panzer is missing out on what is perhaps one of the most outstanding and quintessential anime of the 2010s.

12 responses to “Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Girls und Panzer, Understanding Success On the Intersection Between Friendship, Sportsmanship, Self-Discovery and Technical Excellence

  1. Jon Spencer February 27, 2020 at 18:43

    I think this is a show that gets overlooked a bit more than it should. I enjoyed reading 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tpaul Homdrom February 28, 2020 at 09:43

    I love Girls und Panzer! It’s the first show I’ve ever immediately started rewatching after finishing, and I’ve watched it all straight through, including the Anzio OVA, movie, and Das Finale part 1, five or six times. You hit the nail on the head in so many ways in this post. There’s a magic to it all that is hard to believe just by seeing trailers or screenshots from the series. It seems like any other sports anime or moe slice-of-life show from a distance, but even the very first episode makes abundantly clear that this is something special, something crafted with care and passion. There’s some absolutely amazing foreshadowing and set-up that stands out on a rewatch, just about everything was crafted with care and forethought, and even though I’m not a tank buff, it was clear just watching that the details of the tanks were painstakingly researched and recreated. I’m usually unimpressed with CG anime, even more so with 3D CG mixed with 2D animation, but Girls und Panzer does it perfectly, and is, in my mind, perfect reference material for any studio or team trying to meld different styles together. It’s practically seamless, aside from a few brief frames of tanks looking a little too obviously video-gamey, usually in specific lighting conditions, and even then, it’s not even for a scene or a cut, just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of quick moment. The battles are breathtaking, the characters are so well-developed with shockingly little screentime to do so, and the themes and ideas shine through perfectly.

    (I do have one note, though: when Yukari went to do reconnaissance on Saunder’s, I’m pretty sure she did it on her own with no one knowing. Even Miho seemed surprised by what she did, and all of them were wondering where she was when she was gone, so I’m pretty sure she did it on her own, but that worked so well to flesh out her character more. Anyway, just a thing I noticed that, at least by my recollection, went slightly differently than you described)

    Fantastic write-up! I love seeing people excited about Girls und Panzer, it seriously is a “watch it and you’ll understand” kind of show. It looks… shallow from the outside. It could easily get lost in the constant flood of new anime, but anyone who gives it a chance can see very quickly that it’s much deeper and much more special than outside appearances seem. The premise stuck out to me and I thought “okay, this’ll be a wild ride no matter how it plays out” and came away with a new favorite.


    • infinitezenith February 28, 2020 at 18:47

      I’ve patched out that particular bug, things happen when one puts out a post of this size in three days for a bet that in retrospect, shouldn’t’ve been made, on an anime that I watched long ago. I’m writing purely from memory here. I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the show to the extent that you did, as well; Girls und Panzer is one of those things that have aged remarkably well, and if I had to level criticisms towards the series as a whole, it’s 1) there’s not enough of it and 2) the delays on it are absolutely insane. Das Finale‘s second movie is out now, and I hope you’ll have a chance to enjoy that, too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tpaul Homdrom March 1, 2020 at 15:28

        Yeah, I lucked out not finding out about the series until after it had finished airing. The movie was also out on video when I first learned of Girls und Panzer, so that worked out nicely. Das Finale is gonna be interesting in terms of waiting, but if it’s as good as or better than what’s come before then I don’t mind the wait for the sake of quality. I’ve seen the first episode of das Finale and it was amazing! Looking forward to part 2 and after I’ve watched it I’m really looking forward to reading your post on it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. arkhangelsk February 28, 2020 at 18:34

    Akeiko “Daigensui” Sumeragi and willx argued that Miho was better served leaving her classmate to certain danger for the sake of winning.

    Ah yes, I remember that one. Having said that though, to be fair to him, during the “der Film” era I actually spent a little bit of time over at Japan’s Nicovideo threads and it just so happens they are discussing this.
    I got the vibe that while commentary on this issue is pretty one-sided in the West, in Japan it is a lot closer to a 50-50 fight. You won’t die for taking a “Western” stance, but it is also perfectly acceptable for people to suggest that Miho should reflect somewhat on the trouble she caused. It seems collectivism, sacrificing for the team and deference to parental authority really IS stronger there.

    Personally, it is one of the first times that “Japanese are really different at times” really hit home (that, along with a bunch of their hounds chasing me for being too loud about good old Karl-Gerat and the mods actually siding with them. Well, no more money for you, Nicovideo…). Since I’m half Japanese, that was rather … alienating.

    So perhaps Sumeragi (sounds Japanese) was actually arguing in good faith for a position that he thought was, for lack of better words, societally acceptable.

    Just thought I’ll put that out as a cultural difference note.


    • infinitezenith February 28, 2020 at 19:07

      There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea that one should be more driven by long-term goals and success rather than compassion for one’s allies, and in reality, both are needed: it’s not one extreme of the spectrum or the other, and highly-context sensitive (i.e. there are some times where one must fight for the greater good, and other times where compassion is the correct course of action.

      “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

      Was there an argument for the side that favours collective goals? Naturally, there were, and many of them are valid. There is merit to both sides, and with seven years of life experience behind me since then, I am more appreciative that there are two sides to the discussion. However, one thing that has absolutely not changed is the fact that the approach that Sumeragi took was unnecessarily aggressive, and that willx had no basis for supporting Sumeragi in any way.

      It is fair to say that there was merit in the supposition that Miho may have made a poor move in the moment, but I remain adamant that Sumeragi and willx invalidated their perspective by attacking everyone who disagreed with them. Both Sumeragi and willx had a history of trying to foist their alleged superiority onto the other forum goers, were completely disinterested in hearing others out and and believed that their station in life meant they were exempt from presenting their perspectives in a civilised manner.

      While I expressed that I was glad to have sat that out at the time, looking back, at the risk of incurring a ban, it may have been worthwhile if I myself added to things and set them straight. It is some consolation that Sumeragi is banned, and reading back through the old arguments, I similarly take some solace in the fact that no one was agreeing with them even back then. If we can agree that there are arguments for both sides of Miho’s decision, but that Sumeragi and willx’s actions in that thread were unjustified, then we are in alignment.


  4. Mika68 April 3, 2020 at 22:40

    I’ve read all your articles about Girls und Panzer, and honestly enjoyed it. Not only I feel heart-warming for such positive and passionate and unbiased reviews for the show, I am much appreciated you to consider it a “masterpiece”, you just speak my heart. Overall, Girls und Panzer has meant so much for me, to the extent I have hold it dearly for 7 years, since I watched its debut 12-episode series in mid-2013. I’m in love with its decent and lovely storytelling, well-made action sequences and rich in character representation.


    • infinitezenith April 7, 2020 at 09:49

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read the Girls und Panzer articles I’ve written here! I wouldn’t really say I’m unbiased about this series: I have nothing but good things to say about it, after all 🙂 With that being said, it does speak to Girls und Panzer‘s strengths that it can captivate us and hold our interest after all this time.


      • Mika68 June 8, 2021 at 12:13

        It’s been a year already. Sorry for lack of interactive since then. I’ve been under the rock due to the tight schedule of work and education. I’ve managed to make the best out of lockdown time to improve myself.

        Regarding Technical Excellence, I’m just speechless, I’ll be watching GUP with the mindset of love just like the dedication the staff are pouring into it. It’s not only about tanks accurary, but also the very hard-working and thorough researching behind the scene with the mindset of respecting the viewers. I’m glad to know it from their interview in the CG World 2019 entry for Das Finale Episode 2, there are more interviews and breakdowns for Der Film and Das Finale Episode 1 and 3 and a seminar in Youtube as well. I always love to read all kind of supplementary materials like this about my favorite anime.

        I know it’s a love-hate for hybrid 3D-2D anime, but I’d love to speak out my respect and tribute to all the hard-work that the team has put for GUP, and how the industry has recognized GUP’s technical excellence since Der Film and all 3 episodes of Das Finale, I’m appreciated it and I have the more reason to be proud of.


        • infinitezenith June 20, 2021 at 11:38

          There’s absolutely no rush: life’s busy, and things happen. Just recently, I’ve been busy enough to fall behind on replying to comments 🙂 Admittedly, I am looking forwards to the end of this pandemic; while I’ve done my best to keep busy, I do miss going into the mountains, training at the dojo and lifting weights.

          The sheer amount of effort that goes into things like Girls und Panzer (and a lot of works) is frankly, astounding and commendable. Bonus materials like cast and staff interviews, storyboards, concept art and rough sketches all give insight into just how much goes into making anime worlds plausible and life-like 🙂 For this very reason, I’m fond of collecting TV series artbooks; they indicate the level of effort and patience that goes into making anime, and I find that with artbooks, I end up rewatching series and getting more out of it than I did the first time.

          Finally, I’m generally been very forgiving about CG and accept why it’s used in anime. Unless it is completely immersion breaking, I’m cool with it! Girls und Panzer is no different, and indeed, is one of those shows where use of CG allows the animators to do things more smoothly. Your remark, however, does leave me with a question: have you seen Das Finale‘s third instalment yet?


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