“Win or lose, do it fairly.” –Knute Rockne
Prior to their match against Saunders, Miho and her friends visit a tank-themed café, where they run into Miho’s former classmate and her older sister, Maho. Later, Miho worries about the line-up Saunders plans to bring to the table, and Yukari decides to help her. The next day, Yukari is absent from practise, and the others decide to visit Yukari’s home to see how she’s doing. It turns out Yukari had been on a reconnaissance mission and was able to learn Saunders plans on deploying a Sherman Firefly, along with several Sherman tanks upgraded with a 76 mm cannon, in addition to the base Shermans. However, Yukari was burned during this op, and on the day of the match, Saunders’ commander, Kay, greets Ooarai warmly, inviting Yukari to visit normally at next opportunity. When the match starts, Saunders appears to have an almost-supernatural knowledge of Ooarai’s positions, and they keep the pressure on until Miho learns that Saunders had deployed a wiretapping balloon allowing them to intercept Ooarai’s transmissions. While Hana and Saori protest, Miho realises she can turn this to their advantage, and by communicating on their phones, Miho uses fake radio commands to lure Saunders into open areas, allowing Ooarai to take down their first tank of the match. With the advantage gone, Saunders’ flag tank becomes encircled, and upon learning that flag tank commander Alisa had used such methods, Kay orders four of her tanks to stand down in the name of fairness. Alisa regroups with Saunders’ main force, and Ooarai comes under fire; the M3 Lee and Type 89 are knocked out, leaving the Panzer IV and StuG III to cover Ooarai’s flag tank, the 38(t). Although seemingly out of options, Hana requests that Miho allow them to fire from a hill and end things decisively. Although Saunders’ Firefly takes them down, Hana was able to get a shot off that strikes Arisa’s flag tank squarely, bringing the match to an end. In the aftermath, Kay thanks Miho for a match well-played, and remarks that Panzerfahren is about sportsmanship and fair play, hence her decision to withdraw half of her fighting forces upon learning of Arisa’s radio tapping. While celebrating their first win of the tournament, Mako learns her grandmother was hospitalised, and Maho offers to take Mako over using their helicopter, noting that this is also a part of Panzerfahren. Meanwhile, Ooarai is scheduled to take on Anzio in their next round.
Kay’s approach towards Panzerfahren speaks to Girls und Panzer’s portrayal of integrity and honesty as being a vital part of what people do. As Panzerfahren is meant to be a martial art that cultivates graceful, strong-willed and compassionate individuals, it follows that the sport itself places an emphasis on sportsmanship, treating an opponent with respect, fighting a match with one’s best and accepting the outcome graciously. Darjeeling had not spoken of this topic after she’d beaten Miho and her team during their exhibition match, but the gesture of sending Ooarai tea was meant to show that Darjeeling similarly respects the traditions of Panzerfahren. Thus, when Arisa resorts to something like wiretapping to gain the upper hand, Kay immediately responds by balancing the odds out: as she says, Saunders would’ve likely won in a straight fight, but this victory would not have been representative of their true skill or capability. Instead, by ordering several tanks off the field, Kay is ensuring that, if Saunders wins, they are able to win of their own merit, skill and creativity, rather than through strength of numbers or equipment usage alone. Such a mindset speaks volumes to both sports and life in general: a victory earned though honest, sincere means is the highest possible victory because it was attained purely through what one brings to the table. This is why flag tank matches are employed in Girls und Panzer‘s National Tournament: a capable team, although out-gunned and out-numbered, can utilised clever tactics and adaptive strategies to offset disadvantages and earn their win anyways. In doing so, Girls und Panzer openly endorses the idea that the principals of Panzerfahren (and sports) applies to real life: fair play is how one discovers their limits and capabilities, and winning through honest means show that one’s skill is at a satisfactory level as to have earned a win. Similarly, Kay indicates that there is no shame in losing to a team that has won fairly, and that there are many ways to fairly practise Panzerfahren: she promises sit Arisa down later to review the latter’s decision, showing that sometimes, those who employ below-the-belt practises may have things backfire on them, hence the importance of approaching something with integrity.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Maho and Erika’s appearance at a tank-themed café is a surprise to Miho and her friends; Erika’s scathing remarks immediately draw the indignation from Yukari, Hana, Saori and even Mako, causing some to paint Black Forest with a broad stroke – for the remainder of the season, Erika’s actions here led viewers to allow their own prejudices to shape their perspective of Black Forest and Maho. However, Maho’s only remarks here were to comment on her surprise Miho’s back in Panzerfahren: on their own, Maho’s words are neutral and betray very little about her character. However, Girls und Panzer‘s overarching themes mean that even though Erika overstepped in this moment, it does not mean she is necessarily a haughty or unworthy practitioner of Panzerfahren.
- The dramatic gap between how Ooarai and Black Forest prima facie conduct themselves on the battlefield, in conjunction with Hana, Saori, Yukari and Mako’s strong reaction to Erika’s comments, would lead to the impression that Black Forest and the Nishizumi Style as a whole was ruthless and unyielding. Miho’s own reaction doesn’t help; she looks completely defeated here. Given Miho’s previous participation in Panzerfahren and Yukari stating she agreed with Miho’s choice, Girls und Panzer is foreshadowing that something happened at her previous school that led her to desire a change of pacing from Panzerfahren. This is what the scene had intended to accomplish, and, putting two and two together, Erika’s attitude towards Miho suggests one thing alone: that Miho had done something previously that must’ve been costly.
- This “something” ended up sparking a flame war of leviathan proportion at AnimeSuki, and I will save the topic for when that particular bridge is crossed. That Miho’s already thinking about their match with Saunders even after running into Erika and Maho suggests that Miho doesn’t dislike either, but instead, something from the past was weighing on her mind. Seeing Miho in this state, Yukari decides to do a little snooping around on her own to help Miho plan out their strategy ahead of the match and ends up skipping practise. Worried about her, everyone swings by the Akiyamas; it turns out Yukari’s parents run a barbershop of sorts and moreover, care for their daughter very much.
- Yukari’s first reconnaissance mission is simultaneously a failure and success – despite getting burned (spook-speak for “found out”), Yukari is able to secure information about Saunders’ lineup, including the fact that they will be sending out their Firefly, a modified M4 Sherman with a 17-pounder cannon. Miho is grateful for the help, and here, it turns out that until Panzerfahren, Yukari’s love of tanks meant she found it difficult to make friends with others. Ever since meeting Miho, Saori, Hana and Mako, Yukari’s world has changed, and although she may not see it, her contributions to the team are non-trivial: she is able to bring her expertise to the table and help Miho to make important decisions.
- This sort of friendship is a key part of Girls und Panzer, and the main reason why I’m reluctant to treat Maho, or even Erika, as a villain. In fact, there’s a track on the soundtrack (composed by Shiro Hamaguchi, who’d previously done the music for Hanasaku Iroha, Tari Tari, Shirobako and Ah! My Goddess) named “Yesterday’s Enemy is Today’s Friend!”. Girls und Panzer had been aiming to convey how competition brings people together, and those who attempted to frame this as a serious portrayal of martial arts, or even armoured warfare, were completely mistaken. I myself would very much like to understand the rationale behind why it was necessary to take an anime this seriously, but returning to topic, here, the first years restore their M3 Lee back to factory conditions ahead of their first round in order to blend with their surroundings better, but also adding a rabbit logo for customisation.
- All of the teams take on animal motifs, and it is worth mentioning that the team names are assigned based on a story behind each group. Miho’s team become Anglerfish Team simply for the fact that they’d danced the Anglerfish Dance (Anko Team from here on out for brevity), while the Student Council are Turtle Team (per Anzu’s belief that slow and steady wins the race). The first years are Rabbit Team (a rabbit is spotted sitting on the tank they find, and the history buffs are designated as Hippo Team (having found their tank underwater). The volleyball club members become Duck Team (they descended from the skies to find their tank). Here, Miho and her friends have their three sizes taken ahead of a surprise, and while queuing up, Mako cops a feel of Saori’s chest. Meanwhile, Yukari smiles upon hearing Miho’s three sizes (82-56-84): this is how Yukari was able to pick out a properly-fitting swimsuit for Miho during one of the OVAs despite Miho not trying any of them.
- Once the uniforms come back, Miho and her team look ready to rumble: the Ooarai uniforms are as simple as they are functional, giving the Panzerfahren team an air of readiness about them. While Girls und Panzer only shows the team practising occasionally, it is clear that under Ami’s supervision, and with Miho’s guiding everyone, the team is improving constantly. This was a point of contention for some, who felt that Ooarai’s performance in battle was not consistent with the amount of training they went through. However, most of the training happens off-screen (similarly to how K-On! has practise happening off-screen to emphasise the cake and tea moments); when Miho leaves a notebook behind and returns to retrieve it after one practise, she finds Mako and the others going ahead full steam.
- I’ve been around anime long enough to know which details are relevant, and which things can be presented with a reduced emphasis; generally speaking, it’s the nit-pickers who tend to show just how little they know, and for this reason, I’m glad to have sat out most of the discussion at AnimeSuki while Girls und Panzer was running. At this point in the season, my autumn term was coming to an end, and it seemed like the stars had lined up for this term. I was dominating my English literature class, was keeping up with genomics and health policy, was able to pull my weight on my team for the university’s first-ever iOS development class, and had time to spare for working on my undergraduate thesis. By late November, I’d already had the foundations of my virtual renal system model set up with its particle systems.
- Kay immediately became my favourite Panzerfahren commander outside of Ooarai following her appearance in Girls und Panzer: boisterous and friendly, Kay sees Panzerfahren as a sport for bettering oneself, an opportunity to practise fair play and have a good time doing so. Besides unsportsmanlike conduct from her own teammates, very little gets under Kay’s skin, and she greets Yukari like an old friend after they formally meet. Anzu seems to get along well with Kay, as well. When it comes to things like sport, or recreation, I believe that Kay’s mindset is the right one; we watch films and TV shows, read books, and play games to relax, not to outdo one another in meaningless internet fights.
- Conversely, in real life, I play to win: there are some things that should be taken seriously, such as one’s career, responsibilities and obligations. The mark of a mature individual, then, is knowing when to be all-business, and when to take it easy. Curiously enough, I find that it is possible to have best of both worlds, in both worlds: I find that in reality, sometimes, appropriate humour can lighten up an otherwise stressful situation and help to show those around me that while things are tough, and I am focused on fulfilling my duties, I can also see the humour in things. Back in Girls und Panzer, between the fact that they’re outnumbered 2:1 and that there’s a still-undisclosed reason for why they must win at all costs, the match does feel a little more stressful for both Miho and viewers alike.
- Saunders’ mainstay is the venerable M4 Sherman; the M4 was the most-produced American tank of World War Two, and by default, came with a 75 mm cannon that could punch through between 91 and 109 mm of rolled homogeneous armour equivalent at 100 m depending on the variant and ammunition used. With a maximum of 177 mm of armour in the front, American doctrine was to overwhelm enemies with numbers, and during famous engagements, like the Battle of the Bulge, M4s would attack Tiger Is en masse. An individual M4 could not defeat a Tiger I, but one M4 was enough to keep the Tiger I’s 88mm cannon busy, so it was common practise to send four other M4 tanks to attack from different directions, aiming for the thinner rear and side armour.
- Ooarai does not possess a Tiger I in its arsenal at the time of this match, and the Panzer IV’s maximum armour thickness of 80 mm meant that it could not take a direct hit from even the 75 mm M4s. However, for this match, Ooarai is playing under VIP rules: alternatively known as a flag tank match, VIP rules dictate that a match ends when a designated VIP, the flag tank, is knocked out. Such matches favour strategy which separates the opponent’s flag tank from its defenses, and allow schools fielding weaker tanks to stand a chance. Ooarai’s match takes an unexpected turn when Saunders is able to pinpoint their location early in the game. It turns out that one of Kay’s teammates, Arisa, has deployed a radio-interception balloon, allowing them to eavesdrop on Ooarai. Arisa chalks this up to “girls’ intuition”, which seems to satisfy Kay.
- With Ooarai on the backfoot, Miho orders her tanks to disperse and evade the Saunders offensive for now: a straight fight would be foolish, and Saunders has the advantage in numbers. While moving to their next waypoint, Miho spots the radio-interception balloon and hastens to inform her crew of the turn of events. Officially, there are no rules forbidding the use of such equipment, although it is frowned upon; Hana and Yukari’s minds go straight towards following a conventional train of thought and they immediately wish to report this incident.
- However, Miho’s got another idea in mind; rather than fight fire with fire, she adopts a technique reminiscent of what gojūryū karatedo practises – in martial arts, one of the central principals is that in a fight, there is a high chance one is fighting someone far stronger than oneself. To fight this individual on their terms is to invite loss, but the stronger someone is, the more force they exert, and this force can be used to one’s advantage. For instance, if someone were pulling on my arm towards them, conventional wisdom dictates that I’d pull in the opposite direction to resist. However, if that someone was much stronger than myself, I’d be overpowered. So, in order to get out of that situation, I’d actually push myself in the same direction they’re pulling and use their own force to loosen their grip, which would throw them off-balance creating a chance to escape.
- Miho ends up doing the exact same thing: since Arisa is completely dependent on radio interception, Miho is able to use Arisa’s force against her by feeding her a stream of untrue statements. Meanwhile, all of Ooarai’s tanks coordinate via SMS. Although Arisa is confused as to why her observations are completely inconsistent with what Ooarai says they’re doing, she doesn’t really spot that they’ve been had until Ooarai manages to lure a handful of Saunders’ tanks into a trap, and using the StuG III, they manage to take out one of the M4s. The remaining M4 escapes, but the surprise turn of events is enough to send Arisa into hysterics, during which she devolves into a rant about how her crush never notices her.
- No one had anticipated that Ooarai would be able to score a kill against the tougher armour Saunders brought to the table, and suddenly, the momentum in the match shifts: emboldened, Ooarai regroups and prepares to go after Saunders’ flag tank. While Miho’s exploiting Arisa’s tactics only net them a single kill, the effect that this has on morale is where the main accomplishment was – Ooarai’s other crews now realise that they might actually have a shot at things. Meanwhile, Saunders’ sense of invulnerability is shattered, forcing them on the back-foot.
- Momentum is a critical part of sports, and life, in general: this is why for Saunders, it is so important to have a commander like Kay around. Even when things start turning around, Kay maintains her cheerful demeanour and sets her tanks to regroup. Seeing the M4 in action brings back memories of Battlefield V‘s acclaimed Pacific War update, and the M4 was remarkably fun to use. The M4 became my third most-used tank after the Valentine Archer and Panzer IV, and I scored a total of 205 kills with it over four hours of play. The base Sherman comes with the 75 mm cannon, although I upgraded it to the 76mm M1A1 cannon, whose higher muzzle velocity gave it better anti-armour performance: the coaxial machine gun is plenty for anti-infantry roles, and I found it more versatile than the optional anti-personnel flame-thrower.
- Miho had sent the volleyball team in search of Saunders’ flag tank, and after punching through a bamboo forest, the team is successful. Both teams stare at one another for a few moments before Arisa loses her cool and orders her tank after it. The Type 89 wouldn’t have a hope in anywhere of defeating the M4, even at close range, but the volleyball team’s goal is luring Arisa into an ambush. Under pressure, Arisa reveals to Kay that she’d been using radio-tapping, earning herself a reprimand from Kay. Now understanding what’s going on, Kay sends four of her tanks off, feeling that it is only fair to engage Ooarai with equal numbers.
- Regrouping with the other tanks shifts the momentum in this match; for Arisa, it’s a matter of holding Ooarai off long enough for their sniper to get a bead on the 38 (t). Things begin looking bad for Ooarai when Saunder’s remaining tanks converge and manage to take out both the Type 89 and M3 Lee. While the first years’ contributions to this match are still limited, they’ve improved considerably since the first match against St. Gloriana, and no longer run away from their duties even when under fire. Growth among the characters in Girls und Panzer is subtle but present, and for me, this was one of the series’ greatest strengths, even more so than the impressive attention to technical detail and clever callbacks to both history and famous World War Two-related works.
- Despite the fact that any round from an M4 that connects will take Ooarai’s tanks out of the fight, firing while on the move results in highly inaccurate fire: the M4 and M3 were among the earliest tanks to use a gun stabiliser, but those were rarely used and ineffective if the tank was travelling at more than 16 km/h. Improvements to stabilisers were made after World War Two, making use of a combination of a gyroscope and servos to keep the gun trained on a target even as the tank itself moved, and by the 1970s, tanks like the M60 Patton could fire as accurately while moving as it did while stationary. Modern tanks use computers to help with calculations, and consequently, are able to hit moving targets while itself moving at 50 km/h at a range of two kilometres.
- I imagine that such technology would completely defeat the purpose of Panzerfahren: because World War Two tanks don’t have meaningful stabilisation technology, Miho and her crews are trained to manoeuvre into position, stop and allow the tank to settle, fire their shot and then move on to avoid being hit if their intent is to land a good shot off; beyond this, shots fired are purely mean to create cover. By this point in Girls und Panzer, Momo’s poor aim becomes something of a joke: Yuzu is fond of remarking that Momo’s missed her mark, and while this often happens in situations where Momo shouldn’t miss, it is the case that firing while on the move will often mean one hits nothing but ground: in other words, Momo is forgiven here.
- Although Miho herself is timid and shy, lacking confidence in her own abilities, when the moment calls for it, Miho is composed and acts in a manner befitting of a commander. With the remainder of Saunders’ tanks in pursuit, the match seems lost, but Miho reassures her crew: as long as they can do their best, the outcomes will follow. This lights a fire in Hana’s heart, and she resolves to bet everything on a single well-placed shot. Kay immediately spots this and sends Naomi’s Firefly onto the ridge in pursuit of Miho’s Panzer IV. Thanks to Miho’s situational awareness, she spots the Firefly and manages to evade their first shot, buying enough time for Hana to take that critical shot.
- At around 200 m, the maximum penetration of the Panzer IV’s Pzgr. 39/1 round would be around 52 mm, and the M4 Sherman’s side armour is 38 mm. With Hana’s sharpshooting, Arisa is taken out of the fight, bringing the match to a close. It matters little that Miho and her crew are also disabled, since the round is over. It typifies Miho’s willingness to do what is necessary for the team win, even if it means sacrificing herself when appropriate: at the end of the day, Panzerfahren is a team effort, and individual pride is not relevant compared to contributing to the final outcome.
- One small detail I noticed was that despite being taken out of the fight towards the end, Miho and her friends don’t appeared scuffed up at all, reflecting on their high spirits after the match. Hana credits Miho with encouraging her to be her best self, and the others are happy they’ve managed to win. For Miho, she’s curious to know why Kay ended up withdrawing half her fighting strength, and in the post-game, after shaking hands with Kay, Miho learns that Kay approaches Panzerfahren from a very mature standpoint: she’s as determined as anyone else to win, but adheres to a code of honour and fights on fair terms.
- In real-world situations, and even per Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fair fight means insufficient planning, but in athletics and martial arts, fairness is integral. Facing off against Kay in the first match helps Miho to truly appreciate that there are many ways of approaching Panzerfahren, contrasting the world she’d previously known. More so than the win itself, the biggest gain Miho derives from their first round against Saunders is the understanding that Panzerfahren is more profound than strength and victory; sportsmanship, professionalism and creativity also counts. With this encouraging her, Miho is able to do Panzerfahren in the way that she is most comfortable with.
- #AniTwitWatches participants are immensely fortunate in that they’ve got access to all of Girls und Panzer‘s twelve episodes at present: back in 2012, viewers would’ve had to wait an additional week after the StuG III took out one of Saunder’s M4 Shermans: in their pursuit of excellence, ACTAS ran into production delays with Girls und Panzer, resulting in a recap episode being released, covering the events that had occurred up until now. Recap episodes are almost universally reviled amidst the anime community, and although fans generally understand that recap episodes are done to put something in an anime’s broadcast slot, being left hanging regarding the story can be a bit tense.
- With their first match over, things begin winding down until Mako receives a phone call indicating her grandmother’s taken a fall and has been hospitalised. A dread fills her, and spotting this, Maho offers Mako use of Black Forest’s helicopter. This singular action speaks volumes about the kind of person Maho is; while she doesn’t speak much and isn’t very expressive, she cares for those around her. Allowing Mako to take the helicopter suggests that Maho considers Miho’s friends her friends, too. Similarly, while Erika initially shows some resistance to the idea, she relents and flies Mako and Saori over to the hospital Mako’s grandmother was admitted to.
- As such, it stands to reason that Erika is someone who admires Maho, but is occasionally left guessing at how Maho is feeling simply because the latter isn’t open about herself. Rather than arrogant or villainous, Erika’s actions suggest someone looking for acceptance and her own path. Contemporary discussions (especially those of AnimeSuki) completely skated over this fact; after the sixth episode aired, no one gave any thought to the characters, and almost everything was focused on speculation surrounding Panzerfahren and how it works. The end result of this was that Maho and Erika were swiftly branded as evil, irredeemable, setting the stage for what would become the worst anime discussion I’ve seen anywhere.
- What this flame war entailed is something that still rankles for me, and for next week’s #AniTwitWatches, I will be looking forwards to hearing what the community today makes of things. In the meantime, I will note here that Maho and Erika arrived to watch Miho’s match in a Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache, a helicopter of German design. The earliest rotorcraft flew in 1920, and with a cruising speed of 175 km/h, the Drache was designed as a cargo carrier. It could carry up to a thousand kilograms of cargo and move at a maximum speed of 120 km/h. Only twenty were ever built, and two were eventually recovered by American forces.
- While Mako and Saori arrive at the hospital, Anzu discusses the difficult fight ahead: both Pravda and Black Forest decimate their opponents. While Girls und Panzer make use of framing to suggest the power behind a foe (both Pravda and Black Forest appear to be unbeatable behemoths), this portrayal stands in stark contrast with the series’ themes. On closer inspection, both Pravda and Black Forest are able to defeat their opponents only because of a disparity in skill and tactics: here, Maho wipes floor with Chi-Ha Tan because at that point in time, their strategy had been to bum-rush their foes. The Chi-Ha and Chi-Nu tanks Chi-Ha Tan fields wouldn’t have been able to do any damage to the Tiger Is, making their defeat inevitable, and similarly, Pravda squared off against Bonple, a school with weak armour who attempted to end things quickly, only to walk into a trap. Thematic elements indicate that Pravda and Black Forest are tough at their best, but certainly aren’t indestructible monsters even in spite of the imagery the series uses, and I imagine this is deliberate to create a bit of tension.
Although Girls und Panzer plainly espouses integrity and sportsman-like conduct, at first glance, it would appear as though Black Forest’s Erika and Maho do not adhere to these principles. When meeting Miho for the first time in a few months, Erika openly disparages Ooarai’s program and claims that weaker teams should be barred from participating if they sully the name of Panzerfahren, implying that Miho’s methods are crude and unsightly. Erika’s claims seem to also suggest that there is only one proper way of approaching Panzerfahren, standing in contrast with Kay’s belief that Panzerfahren can be approached in the way best suited for the individual. Consequently, Erika’s attitudes toward Miho and Panzerfahren has led to the impression that Black Forest as a whole is arrogant, but can put their money where their mouth is. In turn, this led to Black Forest being branded as villains by period viewers. However, such characters would stand contrary to what Girls und Panzer‘s main themes are, and there are several hints in this scene that indicate Maho, Erika and Black Forest do not contradict Girls und Panzer‘s central message. The first is how Maho’s only comments throughout the entire meeting was to express surprise Miho’s returned to Panzerfahren, and the second is how readily she suggests that Mako be allowed to board their helicopter for a quick flight over to the hospital that Mako’s grandmother was admitted to. While she might appear otherwise, Maho is actually a compassionate and caring person who worries about Miho’s happiness, and understands that kindness is also a part of the lessons they learn. That Erika accepts Maho’s request to fly Mako out without resistance similarly hints at her own personality: it is evident that she greatly respects Maho, and so, her comments towards Miho were a consequence of her own assumptions of what Maho is looking for. Because Maho is so taciturn, it becomes difficult to spot how she’s feeling, and it’s clear that Erika’s biggest shortcoming is her desire to be accepted. In this way, Erika is to Maho what Yukari is to Miho. Both are lonely individuals who loved tanks and only found friendship after meeting their respective Nishizumi sister. The only difference is that Maho probably finds it tricky to indicate she’s grateful to Erika, leading Erika to step up her boot-licking, whereas Miho openly expresses thanks for what Yukari does, encouraging Yukari to be her best self. In this way, it is not a fair assumption to claim that Maho and Erika are villainous; Girls und Panzer strives to show how, thanks to sportsmanship and integrity, even the most intimidating opponent is, at the end of the day, human; that there is greater merit in befriending, rather than antagonising, one another.