“A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it.” ―Odin, Thor
After the appearance of the mysterious Pillars, which prove resistant to all of humanity’s weapons, the Norse God Odin appears and claims that Ragnarök is near. He offers humanity the Valkyries, as a means of defeating the Pillars. Valkyries pilot magic-powered aircraft into battle, and Claudia Braford leads the European campaign. However, she regrets joining operations where she is the sole survivor. When she is transfered to Japan as a member of the 909th at Tateyama Base, she finds herself joining a team of inexperienced, but friendly Valkyries: Miyako Muguruma, Azuzu Komagome and Sonoka Watari. After completing several successful operations with them, Claudia begins to feel as a part of the squadron as a teammate, spending equal time with Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka in their air as she does in their everyday lives, and over time, begins to appreciate that the world is more than just taking to the skies for humanity’s sake, and that things like friendship and camaraderie are also worth fighting for. This is Warlords of Sigrdrifa, an anime that was originally scheduled to air during the summer of 2020 but was delayed to the fall season as a result of the ongoing global health crisis. The anime adaptation has insofar proven to be fun, striking a balance between the grim realities of warfare and the more familiar daily lives of energetic and spirited youth; on its own Warlords of Sigrdrifa is an engaging series that, while utilising a very familiar premise of unknown, faceless invaders acting as a common enemy, differentiates itself from other series of its genre with a unique set of protagonists, all of whom have their own reasons for fighting.
Despite being a series that prima facie appears to be right up my wheelhouse, the greatest challenge that Warlords of Sigrdrifa faces at present is the fact that the delay in its airing means that the series is directly competing with Strike Witches: Road to Berlin this season – comparisons between the two are going to be inevitable, especially since both series are focused on aerial combat, the Pillars and Neuroi are counterparts to one another in their respective worlds, and the Valkyries share numerous similarities with the Witches, being talented young women with the power necessary to fight a foe that has otherwise proven unbeatable by conventional means. Strike Witches holds the edge in that it has had more time for world-building, and more time to really develop the characters out, whereas Warlords of Sigrdrifa is a newcomer and therefore must differentiate itself. This is accomplished by going with a much smaller group of central characters: the 909th only consist of Claudia, Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka, so with only four Valkyries available, the matter of maintenance, logistics and support fall upon the other staff at Tateyama base. Unlike Strike Witches, where the Witches’ were initially presented as being the single element capable of preventing the war from turning outright against humanity, Warlords of Sigrdrifa thus suggests that even with the Valkyries, conventional soldiers and staff still need to play their part, from the mechanics and commanders, to ordinary soldiers who are, fortunately, most willing to assist their Valkyries out. Notions of cooperation and teamwork at a much larger level is seen in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, offering a much more compelling argument for the series’ theme about the significance and value of both teamwork and friendship.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The notion of an extraterrestrial or supernatural invader so powerful, that it overwhelms the world’s militaries, is something that I’ve seen in virtually every work of fiction involving super-soldiers, magic and other wunderwaffe. This is done deliberately to indicate just how outmatched humanity is, and even in works like Halo, it is shown that the right individual in the right place can make all the difference: Spartan IIs were instrumental in turning the tides of the Human-Covenant war. In Warlords of Sigrdrifa, the Pillars fulfil the role of the faceless enemy, resembling Strike Witches Neuroi and Vividred Operation‘s Alone. Prior to the introduction of Valkyries, even nuclear weapons were ineffective against the Pillars.
- At the start of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, Claudia returns from an assignment where the allied casualties were nearly a hundred percent: even though she’d destroyed yet another Pillar, Claudia feels survivor’s guilt. That she continues to come home from missions where the rest of her wing-mates are downed weighs heavily on her, and Warlords of Sigrdrifa opens with dark colours to indicate Claudia’s state of being. She reluctantly accepts the transfer because they’re her orders, but otherwise fears that casualties in Europe might be worse with her absence.
- However, upon transferring, Warlords of Sigrdrifa immediately takes on a more colourful character: scenes are more brightly lit, and the arrival of the 909th is one filled with light-hearted antics. Even as her aircraft comes under fire from a weaker Pillar, the mood is light, and upon seeing the weak coordination between the pilots, Claudia decides to enter the battlefield for herself. Azuzu transfers control over to Claudia, who manages the squadron and successfully drive the Pillar away, allowing Claudia to land at Tateyama Base.
- Sigrdrifa is a reference to Sigrdrífumál, the story of how Brynhildr (named Sigrdrífa) confers advice to Sigurðr in a meeting in Poetic Edda. I admit that upon hearing the title, my thoughts immediately returned to a certain “Knight Valfodr”. Unsurprisingly, a bit of Google-fu finds that Valfodr has its origins in Norse mythology, as well: it is properly rendered as Valföðr, being another name for Odin. One wonders if Knight Valfodr is currently watching Warlords of Sigrdrifa and Strike Witches this season – it is a shame that I did not have the opportunity to share in discussions with him. Our interests and hobbies are very similar, but his inability to accept other world-views (especially politics) made him a particularly difficult individual to get along with.
- Right out of the gates, I immediately enjoyed Miyako’s character: she reminds me of The Magnificent Kotobuki‘s Kylie, sporting a cheerful, boisterous personality beloved by all. With her energy, it’s difficult even for the stoic Claudia to remain gloomy. I will note here that while I started watching The Magnificent Kotobuki almost two years ago, one thing led to another, and I ended up stopping at episode four. I might be inclined to pick this one back up along with Girly Air Force, which was also airing back then – if memory serves, I only watched Endro! that season because I had been spending most of my time working in my CLANNAD posts, which took quite a bit of time to write out, and therefore, most other series did not catch my eye.
- I’ll try not to drop Warlords of Sigrdrifa as I did The Magnificent Kotobuki – writing about it should help, and admittedly, this series does have quite a bit going for it. Upon finishing the initial tour of the base, Claudia is surprised at how lax everything is. This is a recurring theme in anime; where a character joins a group, only to learn that they’re not as disciplined or rigid as expected. While hardly realistic, the choice is deliberate because such anime are inevitably about themes of friendship, trust and teamwork. The military-moé genre is prominently about these themes, similar to standard series like Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Koisuru Asteroid, and as such, I regard series like Warlords of Sigrdrifa and Strike Witches as being in the same category.
- While Claudia might be the lead character in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, Miyako takes the spotlight in all of her appearances. I imagine that a large part of the character development in Warlords of Sigrdrifa will involve Claudia opening up, over time, to those around her, and begin shedding her self-described moniker as a grim reaper. At this point, I will note that “Odin”, the Norse God who appears to bestow upon humanity the means of fighting the Pillars, has insofar lacked the same regal and kingly manner as Anthony Hopkins’ Odin: preferring to manifest as a child, Odin in Warlords of Sigrdrifa is an arrogant, smug individual, and one cannot help but wonder if this is really Loki in disguise (at least, if one were to assume a Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of things).
- The tour of the base is cut short when the Pillars return, prompting the 909th to sortie for immediate combat. Claudia pilots a modified Gloster Gladiator into combat: despite being of an older design, the Gladiator fared reasonably well even against more formidable monoplanes, and served throughout World War Two. Earlier Gladiator models used a pair of .303 Vickers guns in the fuselage and .303 Lewis guns in the wings, and newer iterations would use the M1919 Browning Machine Gun instead. Capable of reaching up to 407 km/h, the Gladiator could stay airborne for about two hours and had a flight ceiling of ten kilometres.
- In Warlords of Sigrdrifa, I do not expect Claudia’s Gladiator, or any of the 909th’s other aircraft, to conform with their real-world counterparts in terms of performance or armaments: they use a magical engine of some sort that allows the planes to pull off feats and use features their real-world equivalents certainly would not have access to. For instance, Miyako’s Nakajima Ki-44 swaps out the 40mm Ho-301 cannon for what Miyako refers to as the “Hero” cannon, firing shells specially designed to deal damage to the Pillars. The only thing viewers know about the Valkyries’ technology is that there’s a magical component
- In practise, the Pillars can be thought of as being the most similar to Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Vertex: they’re abstract beings with a three-dimensional form whose objectives are completely unknown, providing a monster-of-the-week style setup for the protagonists to fight in each episode. Like Yūna, Miyako prefers charging head-first into things, and after she spots the Pillar’s core, she exits her aircraft and cuts it open with her blade. With such feats possible in Warlords of Sigrdrifa, I’ve concluded that there is no point in even attempting to approach the series as being “realistic” – attempts to fit anything from the real world into discussions about this series’ mechanics will be met with failure.
- Any useful discussion of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, then, focuses on the characters and their experiences. For Claudia, her first sortie proper with the 909th marks a milestone of sorts – whereas she’d previously lost entire squadrons during operations, with the 909th, everyone comes back alive and well. In the aftermath of a Pillar’s destruction, a vast tree will begin forming where the Pillar once stood: I’m not at all familiar with Norse mythology, so I can only hazard a guess that the trees themselves are a symbol of nature, a return to what’s pure and unblemished in the world on the ground that trees in Norse mythology are characterised as being of great splendour and beauty.
- The first episode of Warlords of Sigrdrifa was a forty minute long special that capitalised on its extended runtime to properly set the universe up and introduce Claudia. Shortly after the first episode aired, I heard that the series could take on a Yūki Yūna is a Hero-like tone, with the Valkyries suffering horrifying fates as the war against the Pillars continues. This is admittedly, tough to take with anything more than a pinch of salt – while series have come out and surprised viewers previously (Puella Magi Madoka Magica comes to mind), such a direction would not be particularly conducive towards the sorts of message that Warlords of Sigrdrifa intend to communicate to viewers.
- As Sonoka gives Claudia a tour of the Tateyama base, one cannot help but feel that the background artwork in Warlords of Sigrdrifa is strictly average, which is a bit of a surprise considering that A-1 Pictures is the studio producing this series. Having seen some of their previous works (Sword Art Online, Vividred Operation, Your Lie in April, Blend S and Anthem of the Heart, to name a few), this is a bit of a disappointment – Warlords of Sigrdrifa lacks the other series’ vividly-depicted worlds, which would have been to the anime’s favour. With this being said, character animation is smooth and consistent: the Valkyries of the 909th are especially well-presented.
- After mustering the courage to properly introduce herself in the style that each of Miyako, Sonoka and Azuzu have, the base’s alarm goes off, signifying the presence of another Pillar. This one is unusual in that it’s negatively impacting civilians in the vicinity, and it’s all hands on deck to try and figure out how to best take it out, especially when the Pillar has employed a shield to protect its main body from all assault. This appearance comes unexpectedly, and the girls immediately head off to be briefed before sortieing, leaving Claudia embarrassed beyond all measure.
- The question of how World War Two era planes can keep up with contemporary jet fighters such as the F-15J/DJ has arisen more than once, and to this, I can only say that given how magic is presented in this series, the precise mechanics behind how these older aircraft operate is secondary to the learnings Claudia discovers while flying alongside the 909th. In short, it matters very little as to how the aircraft work because the characters’ journey is at the series forefront. This is not lazy writing, and in fact, would be the opposite: instead of padding the series out with unnecessary technical details, Warlords of Sigrdrifa chooses to focus on what matters to Claudia and her experiences with Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka.
- Conversely, if a series chooses to incorporate technical detail as a major component of its story, then those details must be relevant to the characters in some way. For instance, if a story explains the procedure by which a Predator drone is controlled, the expectation is that how the drone operators react to an extraordinary event is an indicator of how severe the event is for the main characters elsewhere (provided that the main characters are not themselves the drone operators). The scale of their enemy becomes visible as the 909th and their support heads towards the Pillar, which is untouchable behind the shield.
- For me, the closest I’ll get to experience Warlords of Sigrdrifa in video game form would probably be Ace Combat 7: it’s not lost on me that this tunnel flight was reminiscent of the tunnel flight where I had to manoeuvre through a service tunnel to reach the orbital elevator’s opening and destroy the last of the ADF-11 drones. Flying in the tunnel itself was easy, but trying to get out was tricky, and I crashed a few times. Fortunately for us, the 909th are more skillful than I am, and their propeller aircraft also have tighter turning radii, so they manage to exit the tunnel no problem and can begin their attack runs on the Pillar.
- Just as it seems the Pillar is able to render all of their attacks ineffectual, Sonoka deploys liquid nitrogen, freezing the Pillar long enough for Miyako to utilise her Hero Cannon and neutralise it, to their great relief. As a weapon, l do not believe liquid nitrogen is particularly feasible: for one, as soon as the nitrogen is deployed, it will immediately disperse, and without direct contact with the surface, it will not have the freezing effect fiction portrays. Of course, in a universe where there is magic, spectacle matters more than realism, and it is not particularly egregious that Sonoka has such a weapon in her arsenal.
- Similar to Azur Lane‘s Enterprise, Claudia sees warfare as one would expect it: grim, desolate and a cause of suffering. Because of this, she is initially reluctant to open up to Miyako, Azuzu and Sonoka. However, it is in the aftermath of their second successful sortie together that Claudia truly begins to see herself as a member of the 909th: despite being inexperienced, the 909th’s members are spirited, honest and sufficiently competent as to get their job done without sustaining casualties. Consequently, when Claudia comes back from this mission to see everyone alive and well, she begins to realise that the 909th have more going for them than luck alone.
- Claudia’s closing remarks, that teamwork can overcome challenges that are near impossible individually, summarises the whole of Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s theme in an elegant, simple line. With the series being this forwards about what it intended to do, it becomes clear that at least for the time being, Warlords of Sigrdrifa is going to proceed in a more familiar manner and deal with themes of teamwork, friendship and how appreciation for the ordinary acts as a major morale booster during trying times.
- While it’s probably not a particularly reliable indicator, my confidence in Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s themes and projected path are in part a consequence of moments such as these, when the serious Claudia is portrayed with the simplified eyes in response something Miyako said. Distinct facial traits such as these are typically done to accentuate comedy in a moment, and although serious works, such as Yūki Yūna is a Hero, have done this previously, but this did not stop the series from sending the characters on a downward spiral as the girls learnt of the Taisha‘s true intents. With this being said, Yūki Yūna is a Hero did give the characters a happy ending, whereas in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the outcomes were a bit more ambiguous, and in the latter, humour derived from facial expressions were absent.
- While acclimatising life with the 909th, Claudia’s biggest misgiving is the fact that Miyako serves sashimi for breakfast. I appreciate that raw fish is a part of Japanese cuisine. This particular aspect stems from the Japanese respect for fresh ingredients, and the fact that traditional seasonings, like soy sauce and wasabi, have anti-septic properties. Getting past the risk of pathogens and parasites, raw fish is actually quite delicious: if the safety can be assured, I have no trouble eating sashimi. With that being said, I prefer my fish be cooked fully to ensure removal of all pathogens and parasites prior to consumption.
- Cooking does little to change the intrinsic nutritional content of fish, and things like the omega-3 fatty acids are retained after cooking, so as far as food safety goes, cooked fish is the best route to take. Curiously enough, raw fish is a part of other cuisines, as well, and even in Cantonese cuisine, there is something called 魚生 (jyutping jyu4 saang1, literally “raw fish”). Of course, my prior biases mean that as far as Cantonese cooking goes, fish is best cooked, and my favourite fish is served steamed, with soy sauce, ginger and green onion. For now, despite Miyako’s effort to convince Claudia to try sashimi out, Claudia is reluctant.
- She is saved at the last moment when the commander appears and gives the girls an assignment: to check in with Umihotaru and see how people are doing in the aftermath of the Pillar’s appearance. It turns out that the Pillars use ultrasound to communicate, and this has negative effects on people exposed to it for prolonged periods of time (headaches, hearing loss, fatigue and nausea, to name a few). Thus, a part of the military’s duty is to ensure the civilians are safe. Claudia is all business, expecting a structured assignment ahead.
- Upon arrival, the girls find that everything’s quite normal: families are out and about, while vendors are open for business and offer the 909th free crepes for their efforts in keeping everyone safe. Claudia is surprised that this assignment is so lax that they’re able to treat this as an excursion of sorts, but finds herself enjoying the day in spite of herself. Being able to see the people her efforts helped to protect is a bit of a reminder to Claudia that even back in Europe, the successes she saw in the air would’ve had a tangible impact on civilians, even if she never had quite the same opportunity to see things for herself.
- Despite her soft-spoken mannerisms, Sonoka is actually a bit of a dæmon when it comes to video games, and similarly, flies very aggressively in combat. It is shown that she’s able to out-perform her fellow soldiers in various arcade games: as far as arcade games go, I’m absolutely atrocious owing to a lack of practise, and I don’t really go to arcades at all, preferring to do my gaming on a PC.
- One aspect of Warlords of Sigrdrifa I’ve not noticed is the soundtrack: in general, if a series has a standout collection of background music, I’ll catch on every early on and immediately begin looking forwards to the soundtrack’s release. In the case of Warlords of Sigrdrifa, the incidental music is unremarkable, and it turns out the soundtrack is to be released with the BD volumes: the first is set to come out in December, and the last will release in May 2021, which is quite a ways away. This time around, I’m in no particular rush to listen to Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s soundtrack: while it’s not bad per se, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the incidental music.
- To put the release date for Warlords of Sigrdrifa‘s final BD in perspective, May 2021 is two months after Non Non Biyori: Nonstop and Yuru Camp△‘s second season. By this time, Yuru Camp△‘s second live-action season will be airing, as well. As such, I’ll return focus back to Warlords of Sigrdrifa proper, and remark that after three episodes, I am convinced that this is a series I could enjoy watching: I’m fully warmed up to Sonoka, Claudia and Miyako at this point in time, and I’ll be writing about this series once more after the finale airs, to provide my thoughts on this series overall.
- As the night sets in, Miyako comforts a dying soldier, offering him hope and reminding him that his actions were not in vain before he dies. This moment also helps Claudia to appreciate that the other soldiers she’d fought alongside back in Europe never once begrudged her for coming back alive: on each mission, the soldiers were prepared to give their lives up for humanity, and so, seeing this for herself helps Claudia to shake off the occasional thought that she’s a Grim Reaper.
- The third episode ends with Claudia discovering that sashimi is delicious, earning herself a warm smile from Miyako. With the third episode of Warlords of Sigrdrifa in the books, it’s time to turn my attention towards catching up with the remainder of the series (at the time of writing, the fifth episode) so that I may expediently write about the entire series once it draws to a close. Admittedly, the fourth episode was a bit of an unusual one, and I have no need for that sort of thing, and I would hope that things return to to the 909th in the fifth episode, as they are the stars of this show.
At three episodes, it is still early to be deciding whether or not Warlords of Sigrdrifa will manage to distinguish itself from Road to Berlin of its own merits. Warlords of Sigrdrifa has established that beyond a common premise, the themes are likely to be different to what Strike Witches aimed to convey, and although it is still early in the season to be deciding whether or not the anime is a solid contender even when going up against something like Strike Witches, it is apparent that Warlords of Sigrdrifa does intend to be itself. Consequently, I will continue to follow this series with interest and see what lies ahead for the 909th, as well as how the combined efforts of Claudia, Miyako, Azuzu, Sonoka and the Tateyama base will play a pivotal role in staving off Ragnarök – I imagine that unlike Thor: Ragnarök, where Thor realised he had to allow Surtur to destroy Asgard in order to defeat Hela, the Valkyies will not allow for Midgard to be defeated by the Pillars. Furthermore, Warlords of Sigrdrifa does seem to swing between the serious and the light-hearted, more so than Strike Witches; whereas Strike Witches is familiar, Warlords of Sigrdrifa could represent a chance to explore directions that the former typically does not, and this could result in a thrilling ride for viewers, especially if the series elects to showcase the interplay between the horrors and desolation of warfare, as well as the meaning of friendship.