“I need a weapon.” –Master Chief John 117, Halo 2
Yoshika puts in every fibre of her being into defending the Doge, and with fire support from the nearby Fort Scheldt, she manages to buy the Doge some breathing room. However, owing to the poor maintenance on her Striker Unit, Yoshika is forced to make an emergency landing when her engines give out. While the Striker Unit undergoes repairs, Yoshika is summoned to the Doge’s bridge, where she meets Captain Grimani for the first time and learns that the Neuroi has set a direct course for the coastal town of Antwerpen. Despite the Doge being equipped with beam-resistant armour, it begins sustaining heavy damage; Yoshika decides to head topside and use her shields to repel the Neuroi’s assault. When the mechanics bring her Striker Unit back into functional order, Yoshika heads back into the skies and engages the Neuroi. With the Doge, they manage to lure it back into open waters, and Yoshika succeeds in breaking through the ice to locate its core. Before she can finish it off, her Striker Unit falters. Both Yoshika and the Doge are unable to catch up with the Neuroi, but moments later, Minna, Gertrude and Erica arrive. Perrine, Lynette, Charlotte and Francesca join the fight, severely damaging the Neuroi and forcing it to abort its attack on Antwerpen. As it attempts an escape, Sanya and Eila arrive: the combined might of the 501st swiftly destroy the Neuroi, and Shizuka arrives to save Yoshika after her Striker Unit fails yet again. The remnants of the iceberg smash into Antwerpen’s port, and in the aftermath, Minna announces that the 501st are to be formally reactivated, with Shizuka serving as Mio’s replacement. With twenty minutes of non-stop action, Strike Witches properly kicks off Road To Berlin, bringing every member of the 501st back in full as they prepare for an all-out assault on a Neuroi Hive over Berlin in Karlsland: this week’s instalment was a thrilling one, sets the stage for what Minna considers to be the toughest challenge the 501st have ever faced.
Attesting to the maturation of Strike Witches, Road to Berlin‘s decision to pit Yoshika against a Neuroi serves to demonstrate the extent of Yoshika’s power: things have come a very long way from the days where Yoshika could barely fly in a straight line, and at present, even with a defective Striker Unit and no weapon, Yoshika is able to fly well enough to buy time for those she is defending. However, despite an admirable showing, Witches certainly have their limits when fighting Neuroi individually: even when backed with conventional munitions, the unusual properties of the Neuroi mean that a combination of special weapons and tactics are needed to properly bring a Neuroi down. As such, in its thrilling second episode, Road to Berlin indicates to viewers that, while Yoshika may be the most powerful Witch in terms of latent magical ability, she alone cannot turn the tide of war even with her power. Instead, the Human-Neuroi War is to be determined by a team effort: it is the sum of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing’s exemplary teamwork and cooperation that allow them to be so effective in combat; when they arrive, the cumulative effort from each Witch fighting makes the fight against the iceberg-bound Neuroi look effortless. This is the answer Road to Berlin has regarding Yoshika’s power, and in the face of an enemy that will only be more lethal, more desperate and more difficult, every member of the 501st will need to be doing their utmost for one another, as well as for the sake of humanity.
Screenshots and Commentary
- This week, viewers have the broadcast episode of Road to Berlin to enjoy: here, the visual quality is much higher than it had been during the pre-airing and is consistent with last week’s broadcast release. There are some moments that are noticeably computer-rendered, and for a split second, it feels like I’m watching RWBY rather than Strike Witches. However, unlike Brave Witches, which saw numerous instances of lower-quality animation, Road to Berlin is generally smoother and better polished.
- Even in the absence of a proper firearm, Yoshika holds out modestly well against the Neuroi: as the Fort Scheldt hammers the Neuroi, the Doge is able to make distance. However, the poorly-maintained Striker Unit soon begins failing: both engines suffer a flameout, and without lift, Yoshika begins losing altitude. Fortunately, she’s near the Doge, and makes a safe, if somewhat rough, landing on the deck. The Striker Unit appears to be modelled after the Bf-109, one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world when it was introduced, and set several flight records after its introduction in 1937. However, even a top-tier aircraft will fail if not properly maintained, and while the loaner Striker Unit might’ve lasted the flight over to the North Sea, it is unable to hold up during the vigours of combat.
- Fort Scheldt is a reference to the Battle of Scheldt, which started in October 1944 and ended a month later: the goal had been to capture the port of Antwerp for the Allies. In Road to Berlin, a large fortress and its coastal batteries are located here. During the course of battle, Fort Scheldt unload several salvos against the Neuroi, drawing its attention; the Neuroi subsequently begins manufacturing bombs and hammers the fortress, completely destroying it when the Neuroi’s bombs causes cook-off in the stored shells, resulting in a titanic secondary explosion and an attendant mushroom cloud. Without the additional firepower impeding it, the Neuroi continues on its course for Antwerpen, which stands in for Antwerp. Here, I note that mushroom clouds can form from a sufficiently powerful blast, where the gas displacement creates a Rayleigh-Taylor instability which rises rapidly, drawing in debris and air upwards. After a while, this column of dust, debris and air cools and disperses, creating a distinct mushroom shape.
- Antwerp is presently the largest city in Belgium (although its metropolitan population is eclipsed by that of Brussels); located along the River Schedlt, Antwerp fell to Nazi Germany in May 1940 and was liberated in September 1944. During the course of World War Two, the Germans subjected Antwerp to bombardment using V-1 and V-2 rockets in an attempt to destroy the port, inflicting heavy damage on the city even as the port escaped total destruction. In this image here, the size and scale of the Neuroi is apparent: to the left-hand side of the image is the Roman-Catholic Cathereal Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, which has a maximum height of 123 metres, and the Sint-Pauluskerk can be seen on the right-hand side.
- While anxiously awaiting the repairs to be conducted on her Striker Unit, Yoshika is called to the bridge and learns that Antwerpen is the Neuroi’s target. In trying to draw the Neuroi’s attention, the Doge has made itself a target: the Neuroi begins firing on the Doge, but thanks to an anti-beam coating similar to the ablative armour in Gundam, the armour is able to repel a handful of direct hits. Sustained fire, however, causes the armour to yield. The presence of anti-beam coatings would suggest that conventional forces are beginning to devise better gear to improve their survivability: even being able to deflect a few beams can be enough for time for Witches to show up and handle things.
- Owing to the communications disruption, it does not appear that help is on the way, and so, Yoshika returns to the deck in a bid to keep the Doge alive for as long as possible using her shields. Despite her vast magical power, against such an onslaught, even Yoshika begins to tire. However, during this time, the mechanics below deck have managed to bring the Strike Unit back to a state where Yoshika can fly it. As Captain Grimani laments being unable to stop the Neuroi, he hears an communiqué about the Doge’s elevator being active.
- Yoshika prepares to sortie, making use of a catapult scaled down for Witches on the Doge’s deck. The Striker Unit is operational, but without the proper parts to fully repair it, Yoshika is advised not to push it past 2000 RPM. The notion of a vehicle not prepared for operation at full capacity, but being made to deploy anyways, is a common enough occurrence in fiction: during Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer, Setsuna’s 00 Raiser had GN particle tanks substituting the GN drives, although there, Setsuna’s first engagement with the ELS was stymied by their unusual quantum brainwaves rather than any limitations of the 00 Raiser. Limitations such as these are usually used to throttle the protagonist’s capabilities and accommodate story progression.
- Had Setsuna simply just destroyed the ELS using the 00 Raiser, there’d be no need to introduce the 00 Qan[T], and similarly, in Road to Berlin, Yoshika single-handedly destroying the Neuroi would render the eventual arrival of the 501st meaningless. With this being said, Yoshika’s game face suggests that her heart is set on destroying this Neuroi: with a look like this, one would not doubt her ability to do so. Yoshika typically sports a cheerful and optimistic mien, but when the chips are down, she can look quite terrifying, leaving no doubt in the viewer’s mind that every legend surrounding her holds water.
- The limitations on her Striker Unit means that Yoshika is unable to fight at her best, but now, with a mostly-operational Striker Unit and a Bren in hand, Yoshika prepares to take to the skies and keep the Neuroi off the Doge even as she searches for its core. The Bren is a British light machine gun that began service in 1938 and was utilised right up until 1992. The later versions were modified to accept the 7.62 mm NATO rounds, but in World War Two, Bren guns originally fired the .303R round. The Bren is typically Perrine’s choice of weapon, and in Strike Witches, can be seen with a 30-round magazine. With a firing rate of 500-520 RPM, one would empty out the magazine in around 3.6 seconds on full automatic.
- In the realm of fiction, this can be overlooked: with a weapon, Yoshika is back in the fight, and after knocking out the Neuroi’s bombs, she destroys several of the Neuroi’s tendrils before noticing a pulsating light on the iceberg. Deducing this is where the core is, she waits for the Doge to soften the ice up with its AP shells: Captain Grimani resolves to help grease the wheels for Yoshika, and with the ice weakening from the shelling, Yoshika uses her magic to punch through the surface. She locates the core and lines up for the kill, but at the worst possible moment, her Striker Unit gives out. The Neuroi fires on her, and she is pushed back outside. With the best opportunity to destroy the Neuroi lost, Yoshika can only watch as the Neuroi resumes its course for Antwerpen.
- Just when it appears all is lost, the Karlsland Witches join the party: Gertrude expresses surprise that Yoshika has not already soloed the Neuroi, but there’s not a moment to lose. The four Witches begin firing on the Neuroi, destroying its appendages one at a time. With three more Witches in the air, the Neuroi begins to feel like a pushover now, and I am forcibly reminded of the vast differences in things like The Division 2, where having a team makes legendary missions and raids more doable – my attempts at soloing game modes that do not scale for solo players have shown me that, if I wish to complete the missions in a time-effective manner, I will have to bite the bullet and squad up as I had in The Division, where I used matchmaking in order to complete Legendary missions for their exotic caches. By comparison, everything I’ve done in The Division 2 insofar, I’ve done solo, including the accumulation of a reasonable collection of exotics.
- Viewers with a keen sense of hearing will notice that continuing on from the previous episode’s introduction, the MG-42s that Gertrude and Minna wield seem to fire more slowly than Erica’s. From a character development perspective, this actually makes sense – Minna and Gertrude are more by-the-book and would favour doing things that give them whatever advantage possible in combat. Switching the stock bolt for a heavier bolt that lowers their MG-42’s RPM, then, fits with their personalities; they would rather fire fewer rounds and improve weapon accuracy, as well as conserve on ammunition during a firefight. Conversely, Erica and her blasé attitude means that for her, whatever works, works: a factory MG-42 allows her to fight, and so, she’s not bothered modifying it.
- With the Karsland aces present, Yoshika begins to let her guard down somewhat and finds herself in harm’s way, when one of the Neuroi’s appendages makes a beeline for her. She is saved when a Kynoch & RG .55 Boys round punches through the appendage – Lynette and Perrine have arrived as well. After Lynette and Yoshika embrace, Perrine explains that Mio had managed to get everyone together. She barely conceals her relief that Yoshika is alright; Perrine had been Yoshika’s rival during the first season, jealous of Mio’s focus on her, but as the series continued, hostility became begrudging respect, and respect transformed into friendship. By Road to Berlin, Perrine has become one of my favourite characters: while still retaining a stiff and formal personality, knowing what she fights for and seeing her get on fine with Yoshika shows that at heart, she cares for those around her deeply.
- When it comes to speed, Charlotte is unmatched: she swiftly destroys one of the bomb-type Neuroi that manages to get past the others. Charlotte and Francesca are often a source of comedy, and following 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, I admit that it’s going to take some time to get used to the fact that Erika, Charlotte and Francesca aren’t anywhere nearly the same troublemakers in Strike Witches as they were during 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!: with this being said, in The Sky That Connects Us manga, Francesca and Charlotte do land in hot water with the Desert Witches after Francesca inadvertently insults the entire team by groping them and commenting that no one’s mammaries come close to Charlotte’s.
- Sustained fire from the 501st deals enough damage to the Neuroi, prompting it to flee. Minna orders everyone into Formation Emile and they give chase. It’s great to see everyone back in full: the last time I saw the 501st fly together would’ve been in 2012’s Strike Witches: The Movie, and I remember shortly after the movie ended, it was announced that director Kazuhiro Takamura would move on to work on Vividred Operation before returning to Strike Witches. Takamura would direct Operation Victory Arrow and Brave Witches, which were both excellent series, and finally, eight years after Strike Witches: The Movie, viewers finally have a chance to see the 501st together once more.
- Sanya and Eila are fan-favourites owing to their dynamics: Eila’s feelings for Sanya are not subtle in any way, and it says something that in 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Eila’s antics are actually not too far removed from her antics in the series proper. While Eila is reduced to a mess when off the battlefield wherever Sanya is concerned, she’s also a highly competent Witch whose precognition magic allows her to glimpse into the future and gain the upper hand. Priding herself on never relying on a shield, Eila prefers to dodge attacks instead, although the second season saw her finally swallowing her pride so she could properly support Sanya on a mission to attack one of the most unusual Neuroi viewers had seen until then.
- Erica manages to take down the escaping core, bringing the Neuroi threat to an end. Yoshika’s ailing Striker Unit finally fails, but fortunately, Shizuka is on hand to pull her up before she can fall into the ocean. However, the iceberg that the Neuroi had been using remains on a collision course with Antwerpen, having built up a considerable amount of momentum. Per Newton’s Third Law (F₁ = -F₂), it would take an equivalent negative force to stop the iceberg, and simply put, the Witches’ arsenal wouldn’t do anything to the iceberg, even if it had been moving at a relatively slow 10 kilometres per hour. Without carrying out any calculations using Newtonian Mechanics, eyeballing a solution would suggest that it would take something on the order of a Mark II Light Coil MAC to even begin slowing down an iceberg of that size quickly enough to prevent any damage to Antwerpen.
- In the end, while the city itself is spared, the port suffers serious damage. However, Altia and her father are happily reunited, and the damages themselves are left for the brass to deal with. It turns out the Witches have a new assignment to prepare for, and what’s more, Shizuka formally is transferred into the 501st to replace Mio, who’s completely lost her magic and is serving as an officer now in more conventional roles. Here, I note that the warehouses on the left of the image greatly resemble those seen on Ooarai’s school ship in Girls und Panzer: I imagine that Girls und Panzer likely modelled them after the sort of warehouse seen in Europe, and for a moment, I was half-hoping to see a few Panzer IV style Ground-type Striker units lying around.
- Once Minna re-establishes the 501st, it’s just like old times as a familiar crew prepare to liberate Karlsland and Berlin from the Neuroi. While we do seem on the precipice of a great battle, the next episode seems to be focused on giving viewers a break from the action: this second episode has been almost all combat, and with Shizuka now a full-fledged member of the 501st, it looks like the first course of action is to get her accustomed to life with the 501st, as well as participate in combat with Yoshika. Despite their fearsome reputation on the battlefield, in everyday life, the 501st are rather more unremarkable, and in order to get along with everyone else, Shizuka will have to accept that it’s not all military discipline and training when Minna’s in charge.
- This week’s Road to Berlin post took a grand total of around two-and-a-half hours to complete from start to finish: I had originally planned on writing it out over the course of several days and publish on Friday, but since things this evening were a bit quieter, I decided to see if it was feasible to write an entire post out on a weeknight. I’ll let readers decide if the quality of my writing tonight is up to scratch: if there are no objections to this standard of writing, then I will make a more concerted attempts to write about Road to Berlin the same day the episodes air.
With a total of three seasons as precedence, Strike Witches is very much a formulaic series: Road to Berlin opens the same way as its predecessors did. Whether or not this makes Road to Berlin worthwhile will largely depend on the viewer; folks looking for an all-new experience with Witches will likely be in for a disappointment even in Road to Berlin, as the series is very likely to unfold in a familiar fashion. Conversely, viewers who have come for the spectacle will certainly find the series enjoyable for bringing back familiar faces and sending them on an all-new adventure. In a way, the Strike Witches franchise resembles the progression of consumer electronics like the iPhone. While revolutionary during its launch, successive generations have only incrementally introduced new technologies and features. The latest iPhone 12, for instance, possesses a superior processor and the chip-set to handle 5G communications, but beyond this, does not offer enough of a difference to warrant an upgrade for anyone who has a more recent device. Road to Berlin is similar in this regard: it’s still distinctly Strike Witches and appears to be following the well-worn path, and as such, how well Road to Berlin performs will depend on whether or not those incremental changes create a unique enough experience that further fleshes out the Strike Witches universe. This is what I will be looking for as I continue my journey with Road to Berlin, and insofar, I am reasonably impressed with how Road to Berlin has managed to up the stakes and engagement while simultaneously preserving what makes Strike Witches enjoyable to watch.