“Rules are made for people who aren’t willing to make up their own.” –Chuck Yeager
When Charlotte learns that someone had defeated her old speed record by a margin of 3.2 kilometres per hour, she is incensed and immediately sets about trying to reclaim it. She brings her old bike, the Rapid, out of storage and begins working to upgrade it, even ordering specialty parts to do so. After replacing the muffler and tuning the engine, Charlotte manages to best the record but feels dissatisfied, wondering if she’d be able to reach a land speed of 320 kilometres per hour on a 1000 cc motorbike. Her thoughts are interrupted when a Neuroi appears and damages the hangar with bombs before retreating. The damage is minor nontrivial, and so, the 501st manage to secure the provisions to conduct repairs on their base. Among the equipment is a new P-51H Striker Unit: with superior acceleration to Charlotte’s P-51D, Minna assigns the unit to Charlotte and promises to turn a blind eye to her side project using military funds. Longing to help out, Francesca modifies Charlotte’s Rapid by bolting on propellers, resulting in an argument. An irate Francesca storms out, and Gertrude speaks with Francesca, convincing her to reconcile with Charlotte. Charlotte apologises for her words, and makes up with Francesca, bringing the Rapid to its original glory and then some. The next morning, the Neuroi has returned, and Francesca sorties in the P-51H, hoping to swiftly destroy the Neuroi so Charlotte can attempt to set a new land speed record. However, she’s unaccustomed to the P-51H and falls; before any harm comes to her, Charlotte saves her, using the tuned-up Rapid to build enough speed to catch Francesca. The Rapid is destroyed, and Charlotte reminds Francesca that their friendship matters more than anything else. She dons the P-51H Striker Unit and dispatches the Neuroi before reuniting with the 501st. Underwater, amidst the Rapid’s wreckage, the speedometer has remained intact and indicates Charlotte had reached 320 kilometres per hour.
This fourth episode of Road to Berlin continues in the season’s trend of finding novel ways to retreading familiar ground, and I believe for the first time in Strike Witches‘ animated incarnation, Francesca fights with Charlotte. This moment is significant because it is an indicator of how close the two really are: Francesca sees Charlotte as a role model and is keen to help her achieve her dreams, but in previous seasons, this had never really been shown. The extent of this admiration and desire to be helpful is, not surprisingly, when Francesca takes it on herself to modify the Rapid for Charlotte; while the results were questionable, the intention was genuine, and Charlotte soon comes to realise this. Francesca, on the other hand, understandably becomes angry, since her efforts went up in smoke, and this also creates a chance for Gertrude to step in and help Francesca to see things from Charlotte’s perspective, appreciating the desire to set a record on her terms. Gertrude has rarely been seen interacting with the Witches from outside of Karlsland, and typically, said interactions are terse, focusing more on discipline and combat. However, having established that Gertrude deeply loves her younger sister, Chris, and that she sees Yoshika as a bit of an analogue for Chris, it was nice to see Gertrude showing viewers this side of her character by supporting and providing advice to Francesca; upon seeing her sand spheres’ smoothness as how Charlotte views the Rapid, she immediately realises she has to apologise for not having fully understood why Charlotte had been intent on setting the land speed record on her terms. Seeing these moments in Strike Witches show that outside of their usual circles, the Witches can certainly get along with one another. These frivolous slice-of-life style episodes in Strike Witches thus serve one important purpose: to remind viewers that the teamwork Witches display in the air come from having spent so much time living and training together that the Witches all understand one another well enough to work as a single cohesive unit during combat against the Neuroi.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Since this episode deals with land speed records, it’s worth mentioning that John Cobb of England set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1938, by reaching a maximum speed of 595.04 km/h (371.9 mph) in a custom vehicle known as the Railton Special. This far outstrips the 296 km/h (185 mph) that Charlotte was beaten by in Strike Witches, and so, it prima facie looks like Charlotte might’ve been chasing a pipe dream if her goal had been to beat an all-time record. However, Charlotte reiterates that she’s in the 1000 cc motorcycle category, and back during the 1940s, motorcycles with a 1000 cc displacement could only reach around 180 km/h, so Charlotte’s achievement would be something noteworthy, worth pursuing.
- For this post, I’ve deliberately stuck with metric units for the sake of familiarity. As a Canadian, I deal with both metric and Imperial units: for heights and weights of people, feet-inches and pounds makes sense, while for distances, I prefer kilometres. Similarly, for referring to air temperature, I am accustomed to Celsius, while for cooking, Fahrenheit makes more sense for me. It’s a bit of a strange detail, which is why even though Charlotte measures speed in miles per hour, I’ve converted everything to kilometres per hour because it’s more familiar for me.
- After ordering new mufflers and optimising the engine, Charlotte manages to break the speed record by a meagre 4.8 km/h, with Francesca as her witness, but the accomplishment leaves her feeling a bit hollow: Charlotte comes across as being someone who’s fond of pushing her limits, and this episode had her act as a child being given permission to buy anything of her choosing in a candy store. It’s a reminder that despite their accomplishments and capabilities, the Witches are still young, and admittedly, it was fun to see Charlotte in such a manner.
- This week’s episode provides an aerial view of the base, and the four-point star forming the moat is visible from this elevation. From up here, the shape is reminiscent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) logo, itself styled after the four point compass, representing an organisation that would keep its member nations travelling along a peaceful path. Of course, at this point in the real world, NATO would not be formed for another nine years: it was originally established to formally defend Western European nations in the event of a Soviet attack, although NATO never saw any active combat during the Cold War.
- It wasn’t until after the fall of the Berlin Wall where NATO, now reorganised to participate in operations with a larger humanitarian piece, saw its first military interventions: in 1992, NATO stepped in and intervened in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Bosnian War. Of course, this is well outside the scope of Strike Witches: returning to Road to Berlin, the Neuroi that hits the 501st’s base ends up immediately leaving the airspace after delivering its payload, which causes damage to the main hangar. Its strike is surprisingly precise, and the Neuroi have definitely appeared to have improved their game since the film: as of Brave Witches, the Neuroi are capable of acting in surprising ways.
- This leads me to wonder if the Neuroi may have deliberately targetted the 501st’s Striker Units, while leaving the base largely intact, either as a mode of distraction or to test their responsiveness ahead of some larger operation. Throughout this episode, Yoshika’s been relegated to a background role, doing her best to try and control her magic in a more reliable manner. Their training with brooms is a callback to Strike Witches 2, where Mio had sent Yoshika, Lynette and Perrine to train with an elderly Witch, whose traditional methods helped the girls to really understand their magic. At this point in time, Lynette has no trouble flying on a broom, and even Shizuka is able to fly well enough. Yoshika, however, is a bit of a rogue element: although she has the skill to ride a broom, her magical output is inconsistent.
- While Charlotte’s grown fond of her P-51D, she agrees to fly the newer P-51H after Minna offers her a deal: if Charlotte accepts the new unit and makes the most of it, she’ll be pardoned for tinkering around with her motorcycle on company time. The venerable P-51D saw extensive use during World War Two as one of the best American fighter planes of the war: capable of reaching a top speed of 700 km/h and possessing a 12800 metre flight ceiling, the P-51D was also armed with six 50-calibre machine guns and had a maximum range of 1600 kilometres on internal tanks, making it capable of escorting B-17 bombers deep into German skies. By comparison, the P-51H was considerably lighter than the P-51H and sported a new engine, allowing it to accelerate faster and reach a top speed of 760 km/h.
- The P-51H was originally intended to participate in the invasion of Japan, although none saw any actual service during World War Two. Instead, designs from the P-51H were used to design the F-86. In Strike Witches, Charlotte’s initial reluctance to fly the P-51H is understandable: although an improvement over the P-51D in terms of performance, at this time, its characteristics were not widely known, so one can forgive Charlotte for wanting to stick to her older, but tried-and-true P-51D. This episode helped me become more fond of Charlotte: she does have a bit more of a childish side to her whenever speed is concerned, and here, I’m guessing she’s as excited about being let off the hook as she is about having a new toy to try out.
- When Francesca decides to surprise Charlotte by modifying the Rapid, Charlotte is less than happy. This shows that she’s very much a purist for speed, and more specifically, her unwillingness to use different means of propulsion shows a more honourable side to her character: if she is to break a speed record, then she’ll do it within the constraints of whatever platform she’s using. Things quickly break down, and after slinging a few insults, Francesca runs off.
- Hints of Yoshika’s frustration at not being able to properly channel her magic begin manifesting here: she decides to try the Adam Richman diet in the hopes that perhaps giving her body as much nutrition as possible might somehow unplug whatever is slowing her magic down. Because Yoshika’s condition is completely unknown, there is no precedence in-universe (and no suitable analogues out-of-universe) to act as a yardstick for whether or not Yoshika’s tricks might work. For now, all viewers can do is cheer for Yoshika from the sidelines while the other Witches have their stories told. Charlotte is noticeably absent from the proceedings here, working her hardest to restore the Rapid back to its original state.
- When Gertrude finds Francesca sculpting spheres out of the sand, she sits down with her and asks, whether or not the spheres would still be perfectly formed if they were modified. Francesca replies that at that point, they’d fail to be spheres, and it suddenly hits her as to why Charlotte had been so touchy about the Rapid. With her maturity, she is able to help Francesca understand how Charlotte feels. This is a natural part of Gertrude’s growth as a Witch: she and Charlotte had a pretty strong rivalry in Strike Witches 2, and it speaks volumes to how Gertrude is becoming more compassionate and caring for those around her.
- Despite being a strict, by-the-book soldier with no tolerance for lethargy or sloppiness, Gertrude does have a more tender side to her character. Now that I think about it, GochiUsa‘s Rize Tedeza greatly resembles Gertrude in manner and appearance: save the fact that Gertrude’s got brown hair and brown eyes, as well as shorter twintails, the two are very similar in personalities. Because Strike Witches predates GochiUsa by around four years, one cannot help but wonder if Koi drew inspiration from Gertrude while writing Rize’s character.
- After they’ve had a chance to cool off, both Charlotte and Francesca make up, apologising to one another, and then set off to improve the Rapid for Charlotte’s quest to punch past the 320 km/h barrier that gives this episode its name. After a full day’s work, the Rapid is ready, and both are looking forwards to exploring hitherto uncharted grounds. Earlier, Francesca had perused Charlotte’s book and noted that no one had successfully pushed past 320 km/h before on a 1000 cc bike. Charlotte, however, in channelling her namesake’s spirit, believes that this speed limit was simply meant to be broken.
- With his bold personality, Yeager was a flying ace who would also go on to break aviation records, becoming the first man to ever exceed the speed of sound in the Bell X-1. In this way, Yeager certainly lived up to the philosophy outlined in the page quote, and Charlotte has that exact same spirit. It’s rare that viewers get to see Charlotte so excited about something, and this gives her a lot more defining character: while Charlotte has always been known for her speed magic, viewers typically know her better for having the largest bust of anyone in the 501st.
- On the morning of the attempt to set a new world record, the same Neuroi unexpectedly appears. Francesca sorties in the P-51H, hoping its speed will allow her to quickly destroy the Neuroi and allow Charlotte to proceed as planned. Despite her mannerisms, Francesca is uncommonly talented at flying, being able to use her small size as an asset while in the air. However, as the youngest of all the Witches in the 501st, Francesca has a tendency to rush into things without thinking it through: in exchange for its speed, the P-51H Striker Unit is also far lighter and therefore, less stable than her Ferotto G.55S.
- Francesca loses control and falls into the ocean after blocking several hits from the Neuroi. In a bid to save her, Charlotte pushes the Rapid to the limits, catching Francesca just in time before she is impaled by the Neuroi. The Neuroi subsequently fires a shot that decimates the Rapid, but for Charlotte, this matters little: when the chips are down, Francesca’s safety matters more than anything in the world. Gertrude ends up stepping in and grabs a hold of Charlotte to prevent both from plummeting into the waters below.
- Overall, while this fourth episode may have been predominantly about Charlotte and Francesca, I felt that small differences in how Gertrude regards Charlotte here means that the episode also gave viewers a fair amount of insight into the former, as well: she’s come to respect Charlotte for what she brings to the table. Of course, the girls still have yet to deal with the Neuroi that’s still in the air: Charlotte dons the P-51H, borrows an MG-42 from Minna and catches up to the Neuroi, declaring that this kill is for Francesca before destroying it.
- The attention to details in Road to Berlin is impressive: Gertrude had handed Erica her MG-42s before catching Charlotte, and later, Minna can be seen carrying Francesca, indicating that the MG-42 must’ve come from here. It took me a few moments to realise this, since things happened rather quickly, but once I caught on, it was one of those things that furthered my enjoyment of this week’s episode.
- It is not lost on me that I’m here writing about Road to Berlin, and Hai-Furi: The Movie just released to BDs yesterday. In a similar turn of events four-and-a-half years earlier, I was writing about Hai-Furi on an episodic basis, and back then, I also had Girls und Panzer: Der Film to look at. I remember how it felt a little anti-climatic to go from Der Film back to Hai-Furi, and at present, I am curious to see this film for myself now. With a nine month, ten day gap between the theatrical première in Japan and home release, the wait was two months longer than the average, but still considerably shorter than the likes of Your Name, Weathering With You and Saekano Fine, which required an eleven month long wait. I have plans to write about Hai-Furi: The Movie in full once I sit down and watch the film, and before then, there’s plenty to be getting on with: readers have expressed an interest in me writing about the new Higurashi series, along with Warlords of Sigrdrifa.
- I am confident about Warlords of Sigrdrifa, but Higurashi Gou could prove a little trickier because of its structure, so I won’t be writing about it immediately. On the other hand, Kamisama ni Natta hi has proven immensely difficult to write for, and I feel like it could become Glasslip, 2020 style, so I do not plan on writing about it. On top this is the second half of my YU-NO collaboration with Dewbond: it’s busy times ahead for this blog. With that being said, I’ve now settled into writing for both Road to Berlin and GochiUsa BLOOM, so I imagine that I’ll be able to occasionally write about other stuff aside from these two series. Finally, it looks like Random Curiosity will continue to write for Road to Berlin, per their latest schedule: supposedly, the series is, in their words, “not particularly deep, but it’s easy to talk about”. This translates to a more casual post, which is fine, but given our vast differences in style, I can safely say that for all esoteric World War Two references, I’ve got that covered off, on top of bringing a more interesting conversation surrounding the characters.
Road to Berlin suggests that it will be a ways yet before the port of Antwerpen is repaired and fully operational, meaning that at least, for the next several episodes, the series will follow on in the footsteps of its predecessor. Strike Witches 2 had Francesca meeting with Maria, the princess of Romagna, and here in Road to Berlin, it looks like Perrine will have a chance to shine next episode, when she, Yoshika and Shizuka visit the Queen of Nederland. It suddenly strikes me that this third Strike Witches season is aptly named: for the Witches and how the franchise portrays them, the Road to Berlin isn’t just about the horrors of combat and sacrifices needed for victory, but it’s also about the path the Witches take together. Small, subtle things like what each Witch likes and dislikes, as well as what everyone is fighting for, is as important as being able to fly and shoot well. Thus, the path to Berlin can also be taken to mean the everyday adventures the girls have with one another prior to dropping in on the Berlin hive; assuming this to be the case, it means that this season of Strike Witches will remain quite light-hearted and optimistic, as its predecessors had done. While the initial key visuals suggested a grimmer season was at hand, a third of the way in, there hasn’t been much to suggest that Road to Berlin will be considerably more serious than its predecessors. Series that had unnecessarily driven its narrative in a darker direction have not always benefited from doing so, and in Road to Berlin‘s case, I personally would prefer the series to continue playing to Strike Witches‘ strengths rather than employing tragedy and drama for shock value: the series has been constantly improving in subtle ways since the movie, and there’s really no reason to begin deviating too greatly from what has worked so well for Strike Witches.