“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” —George S. Patton
General Patton is furious to learn that the operation to retake Berlin is to be delayed on account of the damages to Antwerpen’s port. Meanwhile, Yoshika reunites with the 501st, and Shizuka is introduced to the others. Despite an embarrassing start, Yoshika reassures her and accompanies Lynette to take Shizuka on a tour of their latest base. During training, Shizuka finds herself unable to keep up with Yoshika, Lynette and Perrine. Yoshika bails her out during a mock combat drill, but unexpectedly loses all magical power. A physician explains that Yoshika’s having trouble channelling her magic, leaving her unfit for combat. When a Neuroi suddenly appears and splits into three entities, Yoshika implores Minna to allow her to deploy: the remainder of the 501st have been diverted in fighting the other two Neuroi units, leaving the base vulnerable. Seeing Yoshika’s determination inspires Shizuka, and Minna relents, allowing the two to sortie. Yoshika uses her shields to cover Shizuka, who concentrates on flying and shooting. Together, they succeed in locating and destroying the Neuroi’s core. In the aftermath, Yoshika comments that working as a pair might not be so bad if she’s not concentrating on flying, but when Shizuka realises why Yoshika’s content to be flown around, she demands that Yoshika work harder so that she can fly for herself. Traditionally, Strike Witches‘ third episode had always focused on a team-building exercise, and Road to Berlin has opted not to deviate from this trend, as Shizuka strives to keep up with the veteran Witches of the 501st while coming to terms with the fact that she can’t always rely on Yoshika to support her. Having Shizuka do what she can for Yoshika, including channelling Yoshika’s admirable, and insatiable desire to do good by others, Shizuka finds her own way of helping Yoshika, and the 501st out, despite still having spots as a Witch.
While Shizuka’s addition to the 501st was undoubtedly the heart of the episode, Yoshika’s inability to consistently channel magic, and the limitations it imposes on her, was a clever addition that serves to ensure that Yoshika will not be soloing Neuroi any time soon. The implications of such a condition are that Yoshika’s going to be operating in a reduced capacity in the foreseeable future. Consequently, rather than lending her raw power into a combat situation, Yoshika will likely continue to mentor and support Shizuka, who will similarly feel compelled to return the favour and do her best for Yoshika. This dynamic is likely to result in Shizuka maturing and become increasingly confident in her own ability as a Witch. This give-and-take will be interesting to see, as Shizuka’s worship of Yoshika speaks to the former’s immaturity, which could have an detrimental impact of her if left unchecked; by forcing Yoshika to take a reduced combat role, she will likely look for new ways to help out, and this inevitably includes providing Shizuka with the help she needs to become a better Witch. This is a very refreshing and novel way of addressing Yoshika’s power in manner appropriate for what Strike Witches has established; besides retaining consistency with how Witches are stated to work in the series, it also provides an excellent opportunity for Yoshika to really mentor Shizuka. This is something that was absent from the movie, resulting in Shizuka developing an incorrect impression of Yoshika, and at present, while the Allied leadership work out a solution to restore their supply lines to support a Berlin operation, there will be some time left for Shizuka and Yoshika to properly become familiar with one another.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Road to Berlin manages to capture an abstraction of George S. Patton and Omar Bradley’s personalities in its opening: in history, Patton was known for his gruff manner and skill, but he was also prone to speaking his mind in a controversial way. Bradley, on the other hand, was much more reserved and polite, even though he was very much a competent general who was as disciplined and tough as the more flamboyant personalities of World War Two. In Road to Berlin, Bradley is seen trying to reign back Patton, who is absolutely furious at the prospect of being forced to delay a major offensive. This delay, resulting from damages to the Antwerpen docks, also creates time for Road to Berlin to ease viewers back into things.
- First introduced as a Fuso Witch during the events of Strike Witches: The Movie, Shizuka is voiced by Aya Uchida (Vividred Operation‘s Himawari Shinomiya, Kaede Furutani of Yuru Yuri and Magia Record‘s Tsukasa Amane). Standing in for Mio, Shizuka is a disciplined and spirited, but remains relatively untrained, having only fought in battle on a handful of occasions. Shizuka knows of the 501st, but only briefly met them during the movie, having spent most of her journey accompanying Yoshika to Europe. Here, I will make a brief aside: it looks like I’ve been issued an IP ban from MyAnimeList. I was trying to view the site for a community event and was met with a full-spectrum block, so I can’t view the site even while signed out. I suspect it might be related to the Koisuru Asteroid rebuttal I wrote a few months ago. I am not current on whatever drama has occurred, but that negative review is still gaining traction even now. Fortunately, I might’ve come upon a solution; I’d been looking out at the skyline during a break at work to a grey, snowy sort of skyline earlier this week when an idea crossed my mind.
- I’ll share more details in the future where appropriate, but my goal now is to see if I can get that Koisuru Asteroid review stricken from MyAnimeList outright. For now, all I’ll say is that I might be able to leverage the review rules in some way. If successful, this individual will have their reviews deleted, and with it, all of their ill-gotten upvotes. This will also remove the context behind the praise they’d undeservedly received. Back in Road to Berlin, while making her formal introduction to the other Witches, Shizuka chokes and trips, landing upside down and giving viewers a glimpse of what had been so common in earlier instalments of Strike Witches. The resulting moment is so unexpected, that the other Witches struggle to keep a straight face: even the ever-serious Gertrude is seen doing her best to fight back laughter, and Sanya is seen asking Eila to stop laughing. Fortunately, Perrine is on hand to reprimand the others, and the laughter swiftly dies down when Yoshika takes Shizuka’s hand and assures her that things will be fine.
- Previously, when Yoshika had been the greenhorn of the 501st, Mio had asked Lynette to show her around and also was on hand to train Yoshika personally. Unlike Yoshika, who had no military background to speak of (she turns down a sidearm that Minna offered her), Shizuka has prior experience and is less of a liability than Yoshika had been in her earlier days. The choice to bring Shizuka into the 501st was done so Mio would have a suitable replacement, accommodate a “starting out” journey into Road to Berlin and simultaneously accelerate character growth so the main event, the strike against the Berlin hive, could be done. Assuming this to be true, Road to Berlin would be a very ambitious project, and given the progression Strike Witches had gone through over the past decade, it is within the realm of possibility for Road to Berlin to pull off a story featuring all of these elements in a satisfactory manner.
- During the tour of their latest base, Shizuka sees firsthand just how close Yoshika and Lynette are. Unlike the Peter and Paul Fortress of Brave Witches, this base is in solid condition: from the firing range to the onsen on-site, and even the bedrooms, the base has a very well-cared for feel to it. Conversely, back in the Brave Witches days, the Peter and Paul Fortress was decidedly more worn: cracks in the walls, grimy windows and chipped paint can be seen. The differences are night and day – this base has a much warmer feeling to it.
- Yoshika is immediately impressed with how well-appointed the kitchen is: fresh fruits can be seen on the table, the cookwares look very clean, and there’s even a wood-fired oven that looks rather suited for baking pizzas, which I’m sure Charlotte and Francesca will appreciate. Unlike the Britannia base, however, it would appear that the 501st are moving in for the first time and still getting used to where everything is. Feeling at home, Yoshika instinctively makes to prepare something. Lynette has something else in mind; it’s time for afternoon tea. During the tour, placement of the characters give the sense that, while Shizuka’s been welcomed into the 501st, she still feels like an outsider, especially seeing how close Lynette and Yoshika are.
- All of the Witches in the 501st are unique in their own right, but of everyone, I’m the most fond of Lynette. Throughout Strike Witches, she’s always been around to support Yoshika, even during the darkest of times, and the two have an especially close friendship. In combat, Yoshika has helped Lynette gain confidence in herself: Lynette had previously been distracted by flying and was unable to use her stablisation magic to aim her Boys AT Rifle during combat, so at a few key junctures, Yoshika would fly for her, allowing Lynette to focus on shooting. As time went on, Lynette became more confident and could fire more accurately without any help.
- In Strike Witches 2‘ third episode, Yoshika was sent to participate in special training alongside Perrine and Lynette, once Mio and Minna determined the three to have gone out of practise owing to how much time they’d spent away from the front lines. Over the course of that episode, the girls learn to master their magic and fly as Witches once did: using a broomstick. The girls ultimately learnt teamwork together, and it was here that Perrine began warming up to Yoshika. Road to Berlin has Yoshika, Perrine and Lynette train with Shizuka, and the gap in their skill level is a reminder of how far these three have come since the second season. Unlike the others, Shizuka is less confident about her abilities, initially depending on Yoshika for help.
- During their mock battle, Perrine manages to flank Shizuka, but ultimately, loses thanks to Yoshika’s mastery of shield magic. Perrine remarks that Yoshika’s power is almost like cheating. Earlier, Perrine had noted that Shizuka should do her best to keep up, in the name of Mio and Fuso; however, it becomes apparent that this is simply her way of doing things: she’s very strict and critical, similar to Gertrude, but she has no ill-will towards Shizuka. Instead, I imagine that Perrine has come to hold Fuso Witches in very high regard, having seen what Mio was capable of and coming to respect Yoshika for her contributions to the 501st.
- When Yoshika’s Striker Unit suddenly fails, causing her to plummet towards the ocean, Lynette and Perrine rescue her just in time. I was rather surprised to see this moment and for a moment, wondered if it was Yoshika simply overloading her Striker Unit as she did previously. However, this Striker Unit, a Shinden-kai, came straight from the factory and is therefore, in top condition. A faulty Striker Unit cannot be the cause of Yoshika’s problems alone, so something more ominous is at work.
- A physician pins down the cause of Yoshika’s mysterious loss of power: while her magic had returned against all odds, it looks like her flux is inconsistent, resulting in occasional bursts of extraordinary magic, and at other times, her magic simply ceases to be. At this point in time, I’m glad no one’s taken to reintroducing the mathematical definition of flux or re-deriving its SI units; most discussion seems to be focused on how this is a good thing for the story. I’ve already stated my reasons as to why I am enjoying this: it fits the narrative and allows for new directions to be explored.
- With this being said, I firmly believe that there is a difference between balancing a story out and a story being realistic. A common misconception (especially evident in something like Puella Magi Madoka Magica discussions) is that “realism” is the act of having characters incur a cost for their actions. This isn’t true: something is “realistic” if it adheres to constraints that are visibly felt in real life (e.g. physics), and in the case of magic (or causality), there is no real-world yardstick to reliably compare it to for making the claim that a certain occurrence is more (or less) realistic. Viewers are mixing up realism with balance in writing; the latter of which can be used to describe the tradeoffs that characters must make in exchange for certain decisions or outcomes.
- Hence, in Road to Berlin, it is unknowable as to whether or not Yoshika’s magic fluctuating is “realistic”, but we can decisively say it’s a mark of good writing, since it throttles back Yoshika’s power and drives the story in a novel direction to keep things exciting. In a similar vein, Puella Magi Madoka Magica‘s presentation of cause and effect cannot be said to be realistic, since there is no real-world precedence for whether or not making a wish will always come at a cost, but we can say that the suffering Magical Girls go through (and their subsequent transformation into Witches as a result of their experiences) is a satisfactory portrayal of the idea, “be careful what you wish for”.
- Inspection of the star-shaped moat surrounding the 501st’s base indicate that the location was modelled after Fort Erfprins in the Den Helder, Netherlands. Built in the 1807 as a part of the Den Helder Defense Line, the site was a part of the Atlantic Wall during World War Two: the Germans added four 105 mm SK C/32 naval guns to the site in the 1940s, and since 1973, Fort Erfprins became a national monument. The Dutch Navy continues to use the site as a training ground, and inspection of the area will find no equivalent of the castle, which appears to be of a fictional design. The Lange Jaap (Long Jeep) lighthouse can be seen in the background. Construction on this lighthouse began in 1882, and it entered service in 1872. With a height of 63.45 metres, it was the tallest lighthouse in the Netherlands until the Maasvlakte Light in Rotterdamn was built.
- When a Neuroi appears and threatens the base, Minna initially refuses to allow Yoshika and Shizuka to sortie. However, seeing Yoshika’s spirit inspires Shizuka, and the two somehow manages to convince Minna that, if they’re really just half a Witch, then together, they’re a full Witch. Speaking to the blasé approach Minna’s taken towards command, she approves of their idea. The 501st and their propensity to disregard basic protocol would make them a liability in reality, but here, it accommodates the story’s goals – the third episode is all about trust in a team member.
- The other Witches had found the Neuroi’s patterns unusual: rather than engaging the Witches head on, the two Neuroi that appeared seemed more intent on evasive manoeuvres rather than direct combat. While considerably weaker than the iceberg-type Neuroi, this Neuroi is clever in its patterns, seeking to disperse the Witches’ attention long enough to hit their base. However, it wasn’t counting on the unusual approach that Yoshika and Shizuka take: resembling the trick that Yoshika and Lynette and used during Strike Witches and its sequel, Yoshika has Shizuka fly and fire while she provides the shield. Minna manages to draw the Neuroi’s attention and opens a hole to expose its core, leaving the two to finish it off.
- The unorthodox methods that Yoshika devises to offset her limitations is what prompts the page quote: being a rather colourful character, one cannot deny General Patton’s efficacy even if some of his methods were sometimes questionable. I respect him for being someone who gets things done. Patton was absolutely instrumental in Allied victories, and I greatly enjoyed George C. Scott’s portrayal of him in Patton. While Road to Berlin may not have as faithful of a Patton as the 1970 war film did, it was nice to see him in anime form, although I feel that his portrayal here was less flattering than it was in Patton.
- The decision of wasting one of my twenty screenshots of Yoshika taking it easy at the end of this third episode may prove tricky to justify, but I’m not sure how many opportunities there will be to do this in upcoming episodes, so I’d figure now would be a good time as any. I’ve frequently mentioned that Yoshika’s been trending away from her fixation of everyone else’s mammaries in recent posts: this moment suggests that Yoshika’s probably not improved, but at the very least, the series did appear to be spending less time on this side of Yoshika, so I hope that trend persists. Shizuka, of course, is less impressed, and she immediately states that Yoshika must get her flight capabilities back up so such moments can be avoided.
- This was an enjoyable episode, and it feels like Road to Berlin is settling into its stride a quarter of the way into its run. With this, I’ve done my weekly talk on Road to Berlin, and not a moment too soon: yesterday, 343 Industries announced that their flighting for Halo 4 had begun. Invitations have begun making their way to Halo Insider members, and I’ve already downloaded the client. Tonight, focus on the Road to Berlin post means I spent precisely zero minutes playing around with Halo 4, but I do intend on giving things a go as soon as convenient.
The first quarter of Road to Berlin is now in the books, and with this third episode, I am particularly impressed with how the writers have managed to keep things fresh and engaging, while simultaneously retaining the precise aesthetic and atmosphere that defines Strike Witches. It is evident here, beyond any doubt, that Road to Berlin will very much follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. The third episode of previous seasons have all been about training and orientation at a new base, as well as about the importance of having faith in one’s teammates and training to keep up with the team. However, like Brave Witches, Road to Berlin will almost certainly continue introducing new elements to keep the story exciting and further build out the Strike Witches world. The balance between old and new means that for the fourth episode, I can be reasonably confident that the story will deal with Gertrude and Charlotte in some way: previous seasons had Charlotte attempting to break new speed records, and the previews have Charlotte as the prominent character. Furthermore, given her not-so-subtle indications of concern for Yoshika this episode, Gertrude will likely be a major player as well, as Yoshika’s lack of magic renders her vulnerable (and sparking Gertrude’s protective instincts). I imagine that Shizuka stepping up will help assuage Gertrude’s fears, and it will be the case as the 501st acclimatise to fighting alongside one another, we’ll likely see a few more of these episodic, monster-of-the-week style episodes right up until the Berlin operation is ready to roll. I am hoping that Road to Berlin breaks with tradition and starts the party earlier than its predecessors did, as it would really serve to accentuate scope of the Neuroi threat, but time will tell whether or not Road to Berlin will dare to be different.