“I like this guy’s lack of style.” –The Donbot, Futurama
During their match against St. Gloriana, Miho opens by directing her tanks to a ridge such that they have the elevation advantage, and then has her own crew bait St. Gloriana’s tanks into following them into an ambush. Their initial attack fails owing to Ooarai’s poor aim, and with St. Gloriana returning fire, the first years flee the battlefield, while Miho has the remaining tanks fall back into the streets of Ooarai. Here in the narrow roadways, Miho and the others use the area’s layout to neutralise St. Gloriana’s Matilda IIs – St. Gloriana’s commander, Darjeeling, is shocked that a single Panzer IV has taken out her supporting tanks. However, the remainder of Ooaria’s tanks get knocked out in the process, as well. Miho gambles on a risky manoeuvre to gain the upper hand Darjeeling’s Churchill Mk. VII, but anticipating such a move, Darjeeling returns fire, taking Miho out of the battle and ending the match. In the aftermath, Darjeeling thanks Miho for a splendid game and remarks that she is nothing like her sister. Miho and the others perform the Anko dance as a consequence of losing, and later, Miho, Saori, Mako and Yukari accompany Hana to visit her mother. Hana learns that her mother is disapproving of her pursuits and effectively disowns her, but Hana vows to follow her own path. Ooarai enters the national Panzerfahren tournament and Miho draws Saunders Academy as their first opponent. Girls und Panzer‘s fourth episode marks the first time Miho leads Ooarai into a match against another school, and sets precedence for what is to follow: Panzerfahren matches are categorised as either elimination matches (immobilise all enemy tanks) or VIP matches (take out the designated tank), and here, viewers are afforded a glimpse of what happens during a match: understanding one’s strength and weaknesses, taking advantage of the environment, and playing on the other team’s psyche all come into play. This is the definitive moment for many viewers, showing the emotional tenour surrounding a match, while at the same time, also giving viewers insight into the meaning behind Panzerfahren: Darjeeling is a graceful winner, and after the match ends, expresses her respect for how Miho conducts herself on the battlefield. Sportsmanship is a key component in Girls und Panzer, and Darjeeling is the first to set this example for viewers.
St. Gloriana proves to be an interesting school against the style that Miho brings to the table; documentation shows that their preferred combat style entails elegance, advancing in a neat and structured manner while returning fire, and when pressed, St. Gloriana tends to hold their ground. Against most foes, St. Gloriana acts patiently, bidding their time and letting the enemy make the first move. Conversely, Miho introduces her own brand of Panzerfahren to Ooarai, using tactics to break up formations and destroy enemy tanks individually to counteract the fact their tanks lack firepower and armour. By favouring mobility above all else, Ooarai’s methods are the polar opposite of those St. Gloriana uses: Miho will come to frequently order her units to get creative and move around in a way to make themselves difficult to hit, compensating for their lack of armour and allowing tanks to position themselves in a way as to score hits on the comparatively lighter rear and side armours of enemy tanks. In such a match up, experience is the deciding factor, rather than style. If Darjeeling’s tanks have truer aim, they’d pick off Ooarai’s tanks before there’s a chance to return fire. If Miho’s team can be precise and purposeful in their movements and positioning, they can out-manoeuvre a static opponent. The outcome of this first battle lays bare the obvious: Miho and her crew still need time to build up their team chemistry and acclimatise to their tanks’ capabilities. Such a match also exposes where Ooarai is presently weak – their marksmanship is poor, and the first years outright abandoned their posts. Ooarai is plainly beginning their journey, but the makings of a capable team is present. To overcome St. Gloriana, Miho has already shown that her style of capitalising on her tanks’ mobility can present a challenge to St. Gloriana: at ranges of under 100 metres, both the M3 Lee’s 75mm L/31 and the Panzer IV’s 7.5 cm KwK 37 could punch a hole in the Churchill’s rear armour if they could get behind the tank. Similarly, the StuG III’s 7.5 cm KwK 40 would be able to punch through the Churchill’s front armour at a range of 250 metres with APCR rounds. Had the correct teamwork been present, the tanks Ooarai fields would be more than satisfactory for the job. As such, this battle shows how equipment disparities notwithstanding, what matters most in a Panzerfahren match is the team itself – a successful team will work together to augment their strengths and cover for their weaknesses, theoretically allowing teams using weaker tanks to nonetheless hold their own and even surprise teams with some of the most iconic tanks of World War Two. Thus, losing to St. Gloriana shows Ooarai while they presently lack finesse, there is potential amongst the team, giving Ooarai a tangible objective to work towards ahead of their match against Saunders.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The topic of St. Gloriana remained a contentious one long after Girls und Panzer ended: in typical AnimeSuki fashion, it was argued that this represents a significant gap in Girls und Panzer’s storytelling, because Miho’s inability to take Darjeeling apparently “[represented] an “unsolved problem” for Oarai as a whole” that “wound up selling both sides short” because Darjeeling was supposedly forced into close quarters (when her tanks were capable of engaging foes at longer range), and Ooarai was supposedly written to be weaker to make St. Gloriana look better. Such claims represent a massive subjective leap in judgement.
- For one, most Panzerfahren battles end up being close quarters matches because accuracy is low, and so, schools would rather risk entering a range where a steady aim and quick trigger finger matters more than what their tanks can deal out and take. Similarly, in a close quarters environment, doctrine and skill matter less because chaos introduces an element of luck. Things like terrain and environment can confound matches by adding new elements into the equation. Skill affects the set of variables one can control on virtue of experience, whereas luck entails things with a probability component, and where teams approach one another in terms of skill level, luck often determines an outcome.
- Another topic that became a point of contention was whether or not Miho’s explanation of safety as being provided by the fact that tanks possess a carbon lining was adequate. As the first episode already established that this was a universe where material science and physics deviates slightly from our own through showing the size of the school ships in this series, I find that attempts to shoehorn real-world constraints into Girls und panzer is an exercise in futility: conversations at AnimeSuki did precisely this, and one viewer tried to argue that Girls und Panzer fails to maintain internal consistency because of the characters’ actions. However, internal consistency strictly refers to the workings of the world, and throughout Girls und Panzer, there is no point where observed behaviours within the world contradict one another as to break this consistency.
- As such, arguing the characters are inconsistent is incorrect – characters react in the moment to a stimuli, so different variables lead to a different response. This is the luck piece, which is something that the authors control; a story is directed in a direction that is consistent with the themes, rather than following outcomes that adhere to what is observed in real life. Since the point of Girls und Panzer was never about Miho’s ability as a commander, but rather, following the path that brings her to not only take up Panzerfahren, but find a newfound reason to enjoy it. Miho’s growth as a person has nothing to do with the fact that she cannot beat Darjeeling, and in fact, the biggest unresolved element in Girls und Panzer as a whole is whether or not Miho can come to terms with what had led her to leave Panzerfahren to begin with.
- The loss to St. Gloriana is ultimately inconsequential from the perspective of Miho’s development as a commander, but rather, sets the precedence for themes of sportsmanship and chivalry amongst people. In this arena, Girls und Panzer completely excels. Making such a claim based on only a handful of battles is not particularly meaningful, and in this first battle, while waiting for Miho to draw in St. Gloriana, Ooarai’s remaining tankers are plainly shown as slacking off, whereas an experienced team would be at the ready, their sights already zeroed for the attack ahead.
- Moreover, Miho’s crew have no prior experience in aiming at moving targets, even when firing from stationary: this speaks to everyone’s general inexperience, and Hana is shown struggling to work out the Churchill’s range early on. Their first effort at ambush fails completely when the other tanks miss at close quarters, allowing Darjeeling to begin encircling them. This outcome was not to be too surprising, and the me of nine years earlier did wonder what would happen if Ooarai’s aim had been true. The lighter tanks would have no hope of getting through the Matilda or Churchill’s armour, but the StuG III, Panzer IV and M3 Lee could’ve knocked out at least two Matildas here.
- While things look grim for Ooarai, even St. Gloriana’s technique is not perfect, and this allows Ooarai to escape into the town proper. Ooarai’s lost the M3 Lee to deserters (the first years panic and run off), and the 38(t)’s tracks come off, but Miho still has the StuG III and the surprisingly tenacious Type 89 along with her Panzer IV. She thus orders a tactical retreat, hoping to take advantage of Ooarai’s narrow streets to buy time and break up her foe.
- I’ve previously done a full-scale visit of Ooarai in a location hunt, and a quick glance at map data finds the road leading into town actually comes from the golf course. There are no rocky fields or cliffs as seen in Girls und Panzer: the entire region surrounding Ooarai is comprised of farmland and towns. At this stage in Girls und Panzer, ACTAS had not anticipated that the series would be as successful as it was. However, this did not stop the studio from doing their best to bring Ooarai to life: once St. Gloriana and Ooarai leave the starting area and enter town, Girls und Panzer really kicks into high gear.
- When one of the Matildas report that they’ve been disabled, Darjeeling drops her tea in shock. Having boldly claimed that nothing would cause her to drop her tea in combat, this moment signifies how Ooarai is full of surprises, and although Darjeeling had entered the practise match thinking it would be a quick one, the fact that Ooarai is putting up a bit of a fight despite being inexperienced is a bit of a surprise for her. Darjeeling’s relaxed demeanour evaporates, and she realises that if they are to win, she and her team must step their game up.
- The history buffs and their StuG III are the first to score a kill against one of St. Gloriana’s Matildas: the StuG III’s main gun has no trouble punching through the Matilda’s armour, and the history buffs gloat in a hilarious (but still adorable) fashion. They prepare to take on their next target, but while they comment on the StuG III’s low profile, they’re blasted from the match: the flags they’re carrying have cost them. Meanwhile, using a feint, the volleyball club surprise another Matilda, although their Type 89’s weak main gun fails to penetrate the Matilda’s rear armour. They are taken out of the fight shortly after.
- Miho’s team is surrounded, and right when it looks like certain defeat for Ooarai, the Student Council appear out of nowhere to buy Miho time. The 38(t) has no hope in anywhere of dealing any damage to the Matildas from the front (and certainly not the Churchill), but Momo doesn’t have a chance to find out: even at a range so close it’s almost a contact shot (again, I reiterate that this is not “point blank” range), Momo seems to have a fantastic tendency to miss shots. In return, St. Gloriana’s tanks pound the 38(t) into the ground. However, Miho captialises on this moment to take one of the Matildas out of the fight before fleeing further into Ooarai’s streets. Amidst the chaos, Miho manages to single handedly have her crew take out two more Matildas, leaving a one-on-one fight with Darjeeling’s Churchill.
- The Matildas remind me of the Valentine tanks that Battlefield V provided as the British medium tank, although Valentines were more inexpensive to produce because they lacked the Matilda’s armour, and as a result, could achieve the same speeds. In my Battlefield V days, I absolutely destroyed using the Valentine’s Archer variant: compared to the Churchill, I have eight times as many kills. I found the Churchill to be slow and cumbersome, preferring the medium tanks to heavy tanks in general. Here in Girls und Panzer, Miho attempts a risky manoeuvre to try and get behind the Churchill: a Churchill Mk. VII’s rear armour is only 51 mm thick, and the Panzer IV’s KwK 37 can defeat up to 54 mm of armour at ranges of under 100 m when using Pzgr. 39/1 shells.
- However, this fails: when the Panzer IV fires, the round strikes the turret’s side, which has an armour thickness of 95 mm. The placement of such a shot is still, at least for now, beyond the skills of Miho’s team. In the aftermath, Miho looks absolutely woebegone. However, Yukari is in fine spirits: although they’ve been defeated, the match had been most instructive and marks the first time she’d participated in a match with another school. From the looks of things, the worst that happens when characters’ tank suffers a mission kill is that they become scuffed up. Although certainly not plausible in reality, the Girls und Panzer universe suggests to viewers that the technology is there to accommodate for such matches and leaves things at that.
- Upon meeting Miho, Darjeeling expresses that she fights with a completely different style than her older sister; despite a seemingly aloof and noblesse oblige attitude, Darjeeling and her classmates are cultured, civilised people who simply conduct themselves with grace, but otherwise, are not above acts of kindness and understanding. Darjeeling is presented as someone who is difficult to impress, but her comments to Miho suggest that there is something special about Ooarai.
- In this fourth episode, Ooarai is just as much of a star as Miho and Darjeeling’s teams were. Locations in town are faithfully reproduced, and here, as a part of the conditions of losing, Miho is made to perform the Anglerfish dance in the town festival. Seeing this detail led me to wonder about why Ooarai was chosen to be the school Miho attends, and ultimately, I felt that compared to Japan’s largest cities and famous destinations, Ooarai is absolutely drab and unremarkable by comparison: it is a coastal town surrounded by fields and hills. In this way, Ooarai parallels Ooarai Girls’ Academy’s students – on first glance, everyone is dull and not particularly standout.
- However, on closer inspection, much as how Ooarai Girls’ Academy has a very colourful collection of students, each with their own unique stories, aspirations and desires, Ooarai itself can surprise visitors in pleasant ways, too. This detail was not picked up upon by folks counting themselves to be authorities in Girls und Panzer, although in retrospect, this should not be too surprising; viewers of the time were too wrapped up in debating whether or not St. Gloriana represents an “unsolved problem” for Miho and the nature of the carbon to look beyond minutiae and appreciate details that relate to the thematic elements Girls und Panzer strove to convey.
- One such aspect that went unnoticed is the parallels between Miho’s relationship with her family, and the other members of Miho’s team; after their match ends, Miho and the others prepare to go shopping at Ooarai Seaside Station whilst they still have some shore leave, and here, they run into Hana’s mother, who is so disapproving of Hana’s decision to take Panzerfahren that she faints on the spot. The topic of parents’ opinions of their children’s choices is one that’s hotly contested; having grown up with parents who are first-generation immigrants, I ended up getting best of both worlds. While my parents had hoped I would pursue a career in medicine, I ended up turning my undergraduate learnings towards software development. I always had the freedom to choose a career and field of my interest, so looking back, I do not have any regrets about the choices I’ve made.
- When Girls und Panzer was airing, I’d been in the middle of my undergraduate thesis project, and there were numerous details I did not catch. Subsequent revisits allowed me to pick up such details, although laziness led me to not write about things episodically. With #AniTwitWatches, I am now afforded a chance to go back and put my thoughts into writing; so far, the experience has been fantastic. Besides gaining insight into a host of other perspectives, I am also learning that many of the details that troubled the community nine years earlier are actually non-issues. For instance, 4 of 5 people find that the Student Council’s threatening Miho with expulsion was only meant to be foreshadowing and in no way diminishes their contributions to the series..
- In the end, although Hana’s mother forbids her from returning home (in effect, disowning her), Hana promises to make the most of things and one day convince her mother to respect her choices. Miho’s quiet promise to do the same foreshadows a similar situation with her family, and to the learned viewer, this topic would immediately become more pressing than something like realism behind the “carbon” technology behind Panzerfahren, or whether or not St. Gloriana represented a clear and tangible narrative hole. Because of how Girls und Panzer is presented, I was never too worried about Hana: they return to their school ship, and here, Miho finds a surprise awaiting them.
- It turns out Darjeeling has sent a gift of tea to Miho and her team; for the viewers’ benefit, Yukari explains that St. Gloriana only does this for worthy opponents, foreshadowing yet again the potential that lies in Ooarai. Darjeeling has spotted this, and while Miho draws Saunders for their first round opponent, Darjeeling’s experience suggests that it is Saunders who will be surprised when they meet Ooarai in competition. With this post in the books, I am looking forwards to seeing what #AniTwitWatches has to say about things, and further remark that unwinding with Girls und Panzer is a pleasant way to wrap up this Family Day Long Weekend: I’ve been up since 0600 local time awaiting the setup of a new Fibre network at the new place. Cursory tests using WiFi devices finds I’m getting a maximum download speed of around eight times faster than my current network, while upload speeds are now 95 times faster.
When the match between Ooarai and St. Gloriana has Miho’s team pushed to the defensive, Miho directs her forces into the town of Ooarai itself, capitalising on her team’s knowledge of the area to buy time while she works out how to best engage them. All of the schools in Girls und Panzer hail from different parts of Japan: St. Gloriana is from Yokohama in Kanagawa, while Saunders is located in Nagasaki. Pravda is situated in Aomori, and Kumamoto is where Black Forest calls home. Each of these locations have their own specialties and attractions, worthy of visiting. Similarly, the various schools seen in Girls und Panzer all have their own distinct traits: St. Gloriana is a school for refined young women who practise aspects of British high culture, while Saunders has an all-American theme, calling for enthusiasm and a go-big-or-go-home mindset. Conversely, Ooarai Girls’ Academy doesn’t have a distinct theme, mirroring the fact that Ooarai in Ibaraki has been counted as one of the dullest places to visit in Japan. A quick glance at Ooarai finds why: it is a coastal town located north of Tokyo and, aside from hosting Japan’s nuclear energy research programme, has very little going for it in the way of attractions. However, being an agricultural town, Ooarai does offer several notable products, including fish and sweet potatoes. In addition, the presence of Ooarai Marine Park and shopping malls, plus the presence of engaged, spirited residents, show that Ooarai is more than what its outward appearance suggests, and similarly, Ooarai Girls’ Academy can be full of pleasant surprises despite not having an identifying trait. The decision to have the first match in Ooarai itself allows Girls und Panzer to tell a story about Ooarai Girls’ Academy without needing to take away from the focus on Panzerfahren matches: by having Miho, Saori, Hana and Yukari do the Anglerfish Dance and discuss plans to unwind after their training match, Girls und Panzer suggests that contrary to impressions otherwise, Ooarai does have its own charms, and in this way, we are reminded that Ooarai Girls’ Academy also has its own charms, too. Indeed, the lack of style in Ooarai suggests that this is a school that is a blank slate, able to adapt and overcome in their own way; although on first glance, Ooarai Girls’ Academy might be boring or dull, those with the patience to look beneath the surface will find a group of colourful individuals, each with their own strengths and merits, just as how the town of Ooarai has much to offer to visitors and certainly is more than its designation as one of Japan’s most boring places to visit, in turn foreshadowing the surprises that Ooarai Girls’ Academy has in store for viewers.