“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” –Charles M. Schulz
While on patrol, Eila and Sanya encounter a Neuroi capable of producing a copious amount of fog. They decide to turn back and report to base, and Eila begins making himmeli ahead of the Saturnus Festival. As it turns out, the same Neuroi had been responsible for blanketing the entire Kiel area, preventing reconnaissance aircraft from obtaining aerial photographs of the Neuroi’s placement. The original plan had been to use these photos and perform precision airstrikes on these targets to capture Kiel, but with the fog, the higher ups feel that a strategic bombing operation will be required. Gertrude confronts Minna after the briefing and expresses her displeasure: as she and Minna grow older, their capabilities as Witches will begin dropping off, and Gertrude had wanted to at least see Karlsland liberated before they retired. The two reluctantly agree to escort Allied bombers to Kiel for a strategic bombing operation. Upon overhearing this, Sanya decides to draft out her own plan – Orussia had similarly been occupied by the Neuroi, and she empathises with both Gertrude and Minna. Because the fog severely reduces visibility, she has Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka drill in low visibility exercises, and despite initial setbacks, the four are ready to go. When they encounter the Neuroi, Sanya orders the others to hold fire until they are close enough to the Neuroi. However, Eila senses something is off, and after feeling Sanya is in danger, opens fire. With the element of surprise lost, the four are forced to retreat. Sanya and Eila argue on which course of action was correct, and Sanya decides to attempt the operation again without Eila. Without anything else to do, Eila continues working on her Saturnus ornaments, sharing a conversation with Minna before learning why Sanya had failed to detect the Neuroi. In the skies over Kiel, Sanya, Yoshika and Shizuka are overwhelmed by the Neuroi: its main body is largely hollow, explaining why Sanya could not detect it. Eila arrives just in time to save them, and uses her precognition magic to determine where the Neuroi’s core is located, allowing Sanya to destroy the Neuroi. With the Neuroi eliminated, the fog begins clearing, and the bombers, now with a clear line of sight, are able to destroy Neuroi anti-air emplacements with pinpoint precision. Kiel is swiftly captured, and as the 501st celebrate Saturnus, Eila receives a surprise gift from Sanya, leaving her overjoyed. Road to Berlin is back on track – with Kiel in Allied hands, we’re now a stone’s throw away from Strike Witches‘ feature presentation.
Generally speaking, the Sanya-Eila episodes are a fan favourite, and Road to Berlin demonstrates that it is for good reason – second to the Karlsland Witches, Sanya and Eila’s stories are a touching story of closeness between the soft-spoken night Witch and an energetic Seer who is all too happy to look after her. Sanya’s quiet and stoic mannerisms means that it is rare to see her express any emotions, especially since as a night Witch, Sanya is often sent on night missions and sleeps during the day. As such, episodes like this week’s Road to Berlin offer a fantastic chance to see more of Sanya – beyond her reserved, taciturn personality, she is as determined and resolute as Gertrude and Minna are about taking back their homelands from the Neuroi, and even goes to the lengths of clashing with Eila when their initial operation fails. For her part, Eila’s anger stems from Sanya not trusting her: it would have come as a shock for Eila, as the two have been flying together for a long time. The episode is therefore a demonstration that in combat, the Witches must have enough faith in one another to trust one another’s judgements; Eila had counted fully on Sanya’s detection magic to help them navigate, and in the heat of a situation, the precognition magic Eila has is reliable enough to help her keep teammates out of harm’s way and locate a Neuroi’s core. When separated, the Witches fare poorly against Neuroi because individually, their powers are highly specialised; it is together that creative and adaptive use of everyone’s skill set that things get done, and this week, through Sanya and Eila, viewers are reminded again that the 501st’s greatest strength lies in their teamwork, and a core part of this teamwork is both following orders where appropriate, as well as having faith in the judgement of the other Witches once combat begins.
Screenshots and Commentary
- After the previous episode, which I barely got through, this week’s episode was a thrill to watch, being of the same quality as what I’ve come to expect from Road to Berlin. Things open with a mysterious fog-generating Neuroi blanketing the area in an unearthly mist, and this season continues on with an idea that Brave Witches first established: that the Neuroi are becoming more strategic opponents, rather than relying on their mobility and firepower. By being able to deny the Allies of intelligence, they potentially could create enough delays to endanger planned operations.
- After overhearing a conversation between Gertrude and Minna, Sanya decides to assemble a plan for taking out the Neuroi. Eila, on the other hand, seems quite nonchalant about things. Throughout the episode, she’s seen making himmeli, a type of Christmas ornament with Finnish origins that takes the form of a wireframe. They take a bit of effort to make, and can be highly intricate. Curiously enough, the root word of himmeli is himmel, which is Germanic in origin.
- Previous seasons of Strike Witches had Sanya as being quite passive, but in Road to Berlin, she takes the initiative of planning out a strike against the fog-generating Neuroi: Sanya reasons that if the fog can be eliminated, then there will be no need to resort to a strategic bombing run. Such runs in World War Two were devastating, employing carpet bombing to damage as much ground by carpeting the area with explosives, and since 1977, carpet bombing on any populated is counted as a war crime by the Geneva Convention. While the Allied forces are reluctant to do so, they feel there is no other means of dislodging the Neuroi at Kiel.
- Gertrude, Erica, Charlotte, Francesca, Perrine and Lynette are selected to escort Allied bombers for this operation, leaving Minna, Sanya, Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka to stay behind. Sanya decides to have her fellow Witches drill in low visibility conditions by using their sense of hearing to judge where friendlies are. For Eila, this is old hat – she’s been flying with Sanya before Strike Witches began. However, for Yoshika and Shizuka, the training represents new territory for them, and while things start out smoothly, they soon begin running into minor mishaps.
- Over the course of Road to Berlin, I’ve become increasingly fond of Shizuka: while she’s nowhere near as experienced as the other Witches, she serves an important role in supporting Yoshika. She may not have too many kills to her name, but her actions in Road to Berlin have been instrumental in helping defeat Neuroi. Since this episode’s number of pantsu moments are fewer in number, I’ve decided to showcase this here mid-air collision instead to compensate.
- On the day of the operation, Sanya uses her magic to lock onto the Neuroi’s signal. She supposes that in the dense fog, the Neuroi will likely have difficulties in detecting their approach. To help with this, Sanya asks the others to hold their fire until the Neuroi is in visual range. In combat, Sanya wields a custom Fliegerfaust that resembles the M202 FLASH; the former was a German shoulder-fired anti-air weapon, and the latter is an American rocket launcher designed to fire incendiary rockets. Both weapons proved to be ineffectual: the Fliegerfaust had a very short range and suffered from projectile dispersion, while the M202’s special 66mm rockets were unreliable. Sanya’s custom Fliegerfaust suffers no such problem, being a multiple rocket launcher with a solid all-around performance.
- When Eila senses that Sanya’s in danger, she immediately breaks the order to hold fire and begins shooting. Alerted to their presence, the Neuroi begins returning fire. Eila’s precognition magic has made her a formidable Witch, and during the second season, she prided herself on never having to depend on a shield because she could foresee a Neuroi’s attacks and therefore, could simply evade them. However, her desire to support Sanya won the day: in a special operation to destroy a tower-type Neuroi, Eila projects her first shield of the series to protect Sanya and herself from the extreme conditions at the edge of the atmosphere.
- With their element of surprise gone, Sanya, Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka have no choice but to retreat. In the aftermath, Sanya is frustrated that Eila acted against her orders: she is certain that her ability to detect the Neuroi was spot on, and so, clashes with Eila, who is confident in her own magic’s reliability. Eila’s affinity with precognition means she’s also fond of fortune telling with Tarot cards, but despite being a little less adept with Tarot, Eila’s long established that her magic is reliable. For the viewer, then, this leads to the question of what exactly they were facing in the fog.
- I believe this is the first time in the whole of Strike Witches where viewers see an angry Sanya. These details are critical in a series that is strongly driven by character growth, and form the basis for what I look for in the military-moé genre. For me, the learnings and growth matter considerably more than technical details such as the performance of certain weapons and the series’ ability to be consistent with certain things. With Road to Berlin, the biggest complaint at present deals with how Yoshika’s magic is presented: it seems to vary depending on what the episode calls for, but as far as I’m concerned, the series has done a well enough job justifying why it’s so variable that it doesn’t warrant further discussion.
- As Eila, Shizuka and Yoshika unwind in the sauna, which has been repaired since Gertrude’s towering temper put holes in the walls, Shizuka sides with Sanya: despite having relaxed a little since joining the 501st, she believes that orders are absolute and must be followed, whereas Yoshika feels that Eila’s in the right, having seen her magic previously. The conflict Eila and Sanya have mirror a bit of the conflict between Yoshika and Shizuka. These similarities are accentuated when in anger, Eila gropes Shizuka: Brave Witches and The Sky That Connects Us shows Eila as being fond of groping people, although it is suggested that Sanya is the one person Eila never messes with.
- Sanya is determined to shoot down the fog-generating Neuroi and manages to convince Minna to have another go at it. Worrying that Eila will defy orders, she decides to sortie without Eila. Relegated to hanging out at the base with Minna, Eila continues making himmeli, and when Sanya enters the room, she quickly makes to hide them. Eila noises are surprisingly endearing, but because few episodes are focused on Eila, it’s rare to be able to hear them. On the topic of sound in Road to Berlin, the soundtrack will be coming out on December 23, and retail for 2970 Yen (about 37 CAD). There’s no tracklist as of yet, but there are some strong incidental songs that I’d definitely love to hear.
- After she mounts her himmeli on the tree in front of the base, Eila runs into Minna, who explains everything that’s been going on. Minna has been a bit more open about the Witches where she makes an appearance: as the commander of the 501st, Minna is a bit of a motherly figure for the others, doing her best to look after everyone under her command. In the first season, Minna found it difficult to be forward to Mio about the latter’s weakening magic, but by Strike Witches 2, Minna’s able to be open about difficult topics: for her and Gertrude, as the older Witches in the 501st, their declining magic is becoming an increasing concern. Here, after their conversation, Eila is struck with a moment of inspiration after seeing the himmeli.
- Sanya, Yoshika and Shizuka manage to destroy a Neuroi, but it immediately begins regenerating. Seemingly out of the blue, a second Neuroi appears. Its lattice-like structure conceals the core, and the three suddenly realise the extent of their foe. I’ve seen questions about why Sanya’s magic was unable to spot the Neuroi’s main body, and I propose a simple enough explanation that should address what’s happening. Sanya’s detection magic works like radar, in which the resulting signal is dependent on how much of an outgoing signal is reflected and detected. In the case of this Neuroi, enough of the signal passes through so that whatever reflects off the Neuroi’s structure is not enough for Sanya to pick it up.
- I appreciate that this is a bit of a difficult case to explain, and the best means of demonstrating that Road to Berlin gets things correct to a satisfactory extent would be empirically, but that would be well outside the scope of discussion. The three Witches are taken aback by the Neuroi’s second body, and Sanya begins to feel that she’s failed outright. The Neuroi takes advantage of this gap and opens fire on the Witches. Fortunately, before anyone is blasted to kingdom come, Eila appears and deflects the beam with her shield. Since Eila rarely uses her shields, that she raises one usually indicates the gravity of a situation.
- With Eila on station, Yoshika and Shizuka head off to distract the drone Neuroi, whose solid body was what Sanya had picked up earlier. Eila is able to sense that the Neuroi’s core is moving, and puts her detection magic to good use here: she quickly identifies the spot that the core will pass through and marks it for Sanya, asking Sanya to open fire on her location. Although Sanya is reluctant to risk harming a friend, she ends up trusting Eila, firing a single rocket that impacts the spot right as the core moves by. With the core destroyed, the Neuroi disintigrates, and the fog begins fading.
- The Allied air group are surprised that the fog’s begun to clear up, and immediately return to their primary plan of conducting a precision airstrike. A massive group of B-17G Flying Fortresses can be seen along with the 501st’s Witches, preparing to drop their ordinance on the Neuroi below. In World War Two, precision bombing was accomplished by flying at lower altitudes: at higher altitudes, winds could blow the bombs off-target. Modern bombs can be outfitted with a guidance system that manoeuvres the bomb to its target, either making use of GPS as a JDAM might or else adjust its flight path to fly towards a point designated by a laser. For the Witches and Allies, without the fog, they’re able to complete their mission successfully, as well.
- Sanya and Eila make up on the spot and fly home together holding hands. Eila is elated, and the news only improves as the girls receive word that the Allied forces were able to take back Kiel without damaging the critical port facilities. It’s a turning point for the Witches: having spent most of Road to Berlin waiting for the higher-ups to sort out battle plans and logistics, the path to destroying the Berlin Neuroi hive seems to be clear now. This is the little extra that is done in this Road to Berlin episode: Sanya’s determination and Eila’s choice to help Sanya out made a massive difference, and for Gertrude, Erica and Minna, they’ve been given a superb gift: the chance to strike at the Neuroi hive and take back Berlin.
- After their successful operations, the 501st shares a Saturnus Festival dinner together with other soldiers. Charlotte and Francesca can be seen with turkey legs: I associate whole turkey legs with the Stampede, where they use a curing brine and seasoning on turkey legs before smoking them. They’re very expensive, for how much meat one gets, and I’ve never had one before, preferring to try other things instead. Ordinarily, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are when I have turkey. This year, I think we’re opting away from turkey and doing a much smaller Christmas to keep it simple, but at the heart of Christmas isn’t the traditions, gifts or dinners, it’s the fact we get to be with those closest to us.
- The unusual conditions this year means that we’ll have to be creative and mindful of those around us, but I feel that even if traditions aren’t observed, the spirit of Christmas can still be preserved. Because of the global health crisis, I did all of my Christmas shopping back in late October. As things are now, I am ready for the Christmas season: while the typical Christmas dinners are off the table this year, I am looking forwards to a quiet day with the immediate family. That is, however, a month away, and in the meantime, there’s still a full month before Christmas Day itself.
- After seeing Eila get shafted for so long, it’s great to see her walk away with a win on screen. This was a fun Road to Berlin episode, and with this one in the books, I’m glad that the series has not lost any of its momentum after last week’s episode. With this post done, and the fact that it’s a month to Christmas, it means that we’re nearing the end of November. I have a few more posts planned out before the end of this month: GochiUsa BLOOM will be receiving a post this Saturday, as will my final talk for Controversed. I also wish to write about Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear before November is out; I’ve crossed the halfway point, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why people are taking the series so seriously. Finally, I will need to focus on finishing the third manhunt for The Division 2; I just need to take out Bardon Schaeffer to finish this one off, and then I’d expect to have a chunk of December to go back to World of Warcraft.
Today is one month before Christmas Day: it is especially fitting that in Road to Berlin, the episode was framed around the Saturnus Festival, which is functionally equivalent to Christmas. In my talk for Brave Witches‘ seventh episode, I touched on what the original Saturnus Festival entailed: it is Roman in origin, being a time of celebration and cheer. In the Strike Witches universe, Saturnus diverged from its Roman background and became more similar to the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, as well as various European winter festivals. Being a time of togetherness, the Saturnus Festival acts as a fantastic opportunity to bring Eila and Sanya together; traditionally, Strike Witches had always been fond of ruining any quiet moments the two had for comedy’s sake, but Road to Berlin chooses to go with a different route, and in doing so, it creates a very satisfying moment towards the episode’s end. For Eila, there is no greater gift than seeing Sanya happy, and since she typically gets shafted by circumstance or bad luck where Sanya is concerned, it was especially rewarding to see the two share a Saturnus moment together. While things are quite rosy in Road to Berlin on their equivalent of Christmas (Minna, Gertrude and Erica are pleased to learn that things are progressing according to plans), the fact remains is that there will be an uphill battle leading up to the liberation of Berlin. Next week’s episode will deal with Minna: being the oldest of the Witches, her ability in combat was brought up this episode, and recalling how determined she’d been to keep Mio safe during the events of season one, it will be interesting to see if the next episode follows how she handles the inevitability of time.