“The best morale exist when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower
Grace Maitland Steward provides cover for the the Dunkirk Evacuation in 1941, while Virginia Robertson comes into contact with a falling star. Four years later, Virginia decides to travel to London, where she hopes to return Moffy, her Familiar. Here, she runs into Lyudmila Andreyevna Ruslanova, a Orussian Witch who’s trying to find Albert Hall, and Inori Shibuya, a Fuso Witch that Lyudmila’s Familiar drags along with him. Their chance meeting leads the three to travel around London and learn more about one another – Virginia hails from Scotland and is completely unfamiliar with Witches, while Lyudmila is a terrible shot, and Shibyua is planning on leaving the armed forces. All three manage to catch a glimpse of Aira Paivikki Linnamaa, an ace Witch turned singer: it turns out Lyudmila had went to London to see Aira prior to leaving the service. Meanwhile, Grace exits a meeting where she had tried to persuade the command of implementing a dedicated unit for raising morale, arguing that songs can save people just as effectively as bullets do. Although she’s unsuccessful, she catches the eye of Felicia Louisa Gresley, who agrees with Grace’s plan. Later, while riding a bus, Grace spots Virginia singing and hastens to catch up to her, but by the time she can disembark, Virginia has left with Lyudmila and Inori for the Royal Britannia Museum, where Inori believes they might be able to learn more about Virginia’s Familiar. Grace eventually comes up with the idea of the League of Nations Air Forces Aviation Magic Band (LNAF Band for brevity), and these ads catch the eye of various misfit Witches who are not combat-effective, but wish to contribute to the war effort in their own way. With this, Luminous Witches‘ first episode is now in the books, and the events surrounding how the LNAF Band (informally referred to as the Music Squadron) would come to be and provide morale-boosting concerts in a time when humanity most desperately needed support in a brutal fight against the Neuroi.
Right out of the gates, Luminous Witches establishes that the LNAF Band’s members are not active soldiers; Virginia herself is a Witch with no training whatsoever, and lacks any understanding of what Witches around the world do. Instead, she’s an optimistic and friendly girl with a great love for music, using her magic to tap into music from great distances and sing to her heart’s content. Lyudmila and Inori, on the other hand, are soldiers who do not feel they can serve well alongside other Witches; Inori’s shortcoming has not yet been shown, but Lyudmila is such a poor shot she can hit everything except her target. Other Witches, which viewers gain brief glimpses of, are similarly lacking; Maria Magdalene Dietrich has trouble waking up in the morning and misses training extensively, while Silvie Cariello constantly is sidelined despite being a hard worker with a good record in training. The remainder of who will become the LNAF Band’s members are similarly unfortunate and all possess traits that render them unable to participate in combat despite their desire to do good. As such, assembling the LNAF Band means initially taking a misfit group of, for the lack of a better word, losers, and giving them a chance to make a contribution to the war effort in another way. Through Grace and the LNAF Band, then, Luminous Witches is setting the stage for a familiar, but reassuring message – people can still contribute in their own way so long as their hearts are in the right place. Such a message is par the course for a Strike Witches series, and while Luminous Witches may not deal with the Neuroi directly, once the LNAF Band get to know one another and gain momentum, they will earn their place in the history books alongside the likes of Hikari Karibuchi and Yoshika Miyafuji.
Screenshots and Commentary
- In 2017, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk began screening in local cinemas, portraying the incredible sense of tension present during the Dunkirk Evacuation from land, sea and air. Luminous Witches opens with the Dunkirk Evacuation, portraying Grace as doing what she can; what she witnesses here contribute to her decision to start the LNAF Band later on, but this is about as serious as things get. When Luminous Witches was first announced, it was July 2018, and beyond the premise, as well as the fact that SHAFT was working on Luminous Witches, not much more was known.
- Things remained quiet right through 2020, when Road to Berlin aired, and last year, a short preview video was released, depicting the LNAF Band as they prepared for a photo shoot that goes awry when everyone’s Familiars make a sudden appearance. At the heart of Luminous Witches is Virginia, a Witch from the rural Britannia. Although she’s technically a Night Witch (any Witch with the ability to control and manipulate magical waves akin to EMR), she does not appear to have any aversions to light and starts her journey with a trip to London, where she hopes to reunite her Familiar with others of its kind.
- In London, Lyudmila meets Inori for the first time; the former is interested in getting to Albert Hall but keeps losing her direction. Strike Witches has always excelled with their casts: having everyone hail from a different nation and allowing everyone to bounce off one another is what keeps this series light-hearted and fun even when times look tough. An Orussian Witch, Lyudmila finds herself unsuited for combat owing to her poor accuracy, and had hoped to catch a glimpse of Aira before heading home. Inori, on the other hand, is planning on transferring out for her own reasons, and out of the gates, she’s become my favourite of the LNAF Band members, if only for the fact that she resembles Uma Musume‘s Special Week and Mizuki from This Art Club Has a Problem!.
- Strike Witches is serious when it needs to be, but for the most part, comedic mishaps are inevitable when one places a bunch of youth together for extended periods of time. Outside of the battlefield, Witches are ordinary girls and act as such, so moments like these, resulting from Virginia’s Familiar causing unforeseen trouble, aren’t too out of place in Luminous Witches. Seeing SHAFT’s portrayal of London affirms that from a visual perspective, Luminous Witches is going to be of a satisfactory quality: after the preview video became available, it became clear that said video was little more than a short vignette providing little more than a glimpse into life as a music Witch.
- While a preview video hinted that the televised series would become available soon, all news of Luminous Witches had ceased, leaving me to wonder whether or not this anime would be released. As it turns out, challenges with production led the release date to be pushed back: officially, the reason stated was “unforeseen difficulties”, but some fans have speculated that some of the voice actresses who were involved in the project had taken ill, so more time was needed for everyone to recover such that they could finish recording all of their lines. If this first episode is anything to go by, the wait was worth it – I had become worried that preview video might be all viewers would get of the Music Squadron, but fortunately, this is not the case.
- In the beginning, a handful of Witches do indeed transition over to music: Aira is surprised to find that Eleonore has not changed in preparation of greeting their guests prior to the evening’s show. Aira is an excellent singer, and while Eleonore performs with her as a supporting vocalist, the latter appears to see singing as a secondary duty. Luminous Witches, at first glance, is little more than a variant of Love Live! or The Idolmaster set in the Strike Witches universe, but in reality, singers were very much a part of World War Two, and every Witch in the LNAF Band has a real-world equivalent.
- I imagine that Luminous Witches was green-lit after the Strike Witches franchise saw a resurgence through Brave Witches and Road to Berlin: the original Strike Witches had been an exercise in fanservice, but as the series continued, it became a fantastic story about bravery and fighting to protect what is dear to oneself in a world that is vividly written. Idols and concerts in Strike Witches may seem out of place, but between the fact that music was indeed a part of morale boosting during the Second World War, and the fact that idol anime can drive music sales, Luminous Witches is a logical addition to Strike Witches. However, while Grace has been trying to push this point to command, she’s having trouble conveying this to grizzled brass whose priority is winning the Human-Neuroi War.
- Luminous Witches marks the first time I’ve seen Familiars in Strike Witches: although written media indicates that all Witches have one, Strike Witches and Brave Witches never portrayed them (presumably on time constraints). Lyudmila and Inori explain to Virginia that the Familiars are spirits that manifest in a form that only Witches can see. Despite the plethora of details in the Strike Witches world, I’ve always found that every series has done a good job of Familiarising viewers with things through the perspective of a newcomer. Virginia fulfils this role in Luminous Witches, and in a series where combat is not the emphasis, it is logical to finally introduce the Familiars.
- While Grace was unsuccessful in convincing the top brass of her plan’s viability, the idea of a Witch band intrigues Felicia, an older lady who appears to carry some clout. She agrees that morale is vital, and as they share a conversation, the pair pass by some “To Victory” posters. Posters were also a major part of the Allied propaganda engine – although propaganda is defined as misinformation deliberately tailored to influence people’s opinions and is a major reason why our understanding of foreign nations is so diminished, in the opposite direction, propaganda can also be used to rally morale and encourage people to tough things out.
- The British were apt at this: the famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters is such an example of the British Government looking to keep people focused on survival and defeating the Axis forces. However, in the present day, propaganda of this sort is ineffective because of increasing stratification in society. For instance, when governments announced “We’re all in this together” during the early days of the global health crisis, they failed to account for the most vulnerable groups, and this created cynicism in how well authorities were managing things. At the opposite end of the spectrum, propaganda rooted in the hatred and untruth remains effective because it shifts blame and foists responsibility onto a scapegoat, a low-effort endeavour.
- This is a consequence of the fact that the human brain reacts more strongly to negative stimulus, but while negativity is easier, constant cynicism is taxing on mental health. As such, things that can be done to lift people’s spirits become important, and in the context of Luminous Witches, in a society that already is galvanised towards beating the Neuroi, having something to look forwards to (such as Witch concerts) would be valuable. Grace may lack the ability to put these thoughts down into words, but her intentions are clear, and given Luminous Witches‘ premise, the creation of a Music Squadron is expected.
- While Lyudmila and Inori’s Familiars spar with Moffy as everyone heads towards Albert Hall, I note here that everyone’s outfitted in a very conventional fashion; Virginia, Lyudmila and Inori are all wearing skirts. Strike Witches was known for its emphasis on pantsu, and while this had drawn fans to the series initially, writers soon realised that Strike Witches was sufficiently engaging so that they could reduce the now-infamous crotch shots and still have people watch the series on the merits of world-building and character growth. The end result is that Luminous Witches is probably going to be the most family-friendly of the Strike Witches instalments.
- Of everyone, Lyudmila is the most versed with the musical witches, and she melts in happiness after seeing Aira passing by in a car. Characters are not typically introduced without reason, so every Witch that was seen in Luminous Witches‘ first episode will be important later down the line. Seeing glimpses of the other Witches’ lives provides viewers with a modicum of insight into why everyone joins the LNAF Band – as Lyudmila states, while all Witches have magic, not everyone can utilise these abilities in a way that is directly useful for repelling the Neuroi.
- As such, it would be quite unreasonable to expect that Virginia and her newfound friends will end up taking to the skies and downing a Neuroi Hive as the 501st and 502nd have done. However, the worth of having Witches tour the European theatre and sing for soldiers cannot be understated – Witches understand what other Witches are up to, and musical Witches therefore have the unique ability communicate successes to audiences. Coming from a Witch, messages of Human perseverance and endurance would take on additional meaning.
- Because Virginia hasn’t even gone through basic training, her magic manifests in a form that suits her innate traits: when her powers are active, she projects a pair of headphones. Up until now, she’s only used this power to tune in to other broadcasts and sing along with them, becoming a skilled singer in the process. Although these abilities aren’t likely to bring down a Neuroi, it leaves Virginia perfectly suited for the central role she’s set to play in Luminous Witches.
- Virginia is modelled on Jeannie Robertson, a Scottish folk singer who had learnt to sing thanks to her mother. In 1953, Jeannie met Hamish Henderson – he’d been interested in learning about Scottish ballads. There are variants of what happened next, but all of them end with Hamish becoming impressed with Jeannie’s singing, resulting in her music becoming recorded. I’m not sure how closely Luminous Witches will follow reality, but hints of Jeannie’s history are present in Virginia; both are from Scotland and have an innate interest in music that would later gain them recognition.
- Lyudmila is modelled on Lidia Ruslanova, a Russian folk singer who sang at a factory while working and was sent to music school when coworkers recognised her talent. Although lacking strengths in music theory, she loved music and would go on numerous tours, singing for soldiers on the front. Inori, on the other hand, is Luminous Witches‘ Noriko Awaya – hailing from a poor family, she graduated from music school and began her career in singing classical songs, but later moved on to singing popular songs and produced several hits, although she would also come to disapprove of later Japanese artists like Seiko Matsuda. Here, after Virginia explains why she’s in London, Inori suggests that they hit the Britannian Museum to see if they can learn anything about Familiars.
- In the real world, the British Museum is home to exhibits on art, history and culture. Founded in 1753, the building today was designed by Sir Robert Smirk in the Greek Revival style and began in 1833. True to its real-life counterpart, the museum seen in Luminous Witches is closed for repairs after sustaining damage in an airstrike. The real museum was hit with several bombs during the Blitz, and some parts of the museum were not fully repaired until the 1960s.
- While Virginia spends a full day with Inori and Lyudmila, Grace had spent her afternoon trying to track down Virginia after hearing her singing, to no avail. Back in her office, she struggles to come up with a proposal for her project, but later will design the posters that advertise the LNAF Band. Becasue of the presence of a Music Squadron for Witches who aren’t combat effective, the promise that Virginia, Lyudmila and Inori share, to meet again one day, will shortly be realised.
- Luminous Witches is off to a solid start – the idea of a Music Squadron in the LNAF Band is actually quite appropriate from a story perspective and would help with further expanding the Strike Witches universe in ways that a story dedicated to the frontlines cannot, and from a financial perspective, can also produce excellent music. In upcoming episodes, more characters are going to be introduced, and I’m ready to meet the other members of the LNAF Band as everyone sets about practising for their performances and, potentially, even travel around Europe to lift the spirits of soldiers fighting against the Neuroi.
Despite being set in the same universe as Strike Witches and Brave Witches, Luminous Witches‘ focus means that this series will inevitably feel more like Wake Up, Girls!, Love Live! or The Idolmaster rather than Strike Witches; the emphasis here is on musical theory, vocals, instrumentation and dance choreography over weapons handling, combat strategies and daily training. The premise means that, by definition, Luminous Witches will lack the same emotional tenour as previous Strike Witches. However, because the stakes are not as severe, this gives Luminous Witches a chance to let Witches bounce off one another as they practise and train for their roles, too. Previously, Strike Witches and Brave Witches both needed to strike a balance between advancing the story in the Human-Neuroi War, and while episodes could do substantial world-building, time also needed to be spent on combat operations and the requisite character growth needed for the squadrons to succeed. By comparison, because the LNAF Band are intended to travel around and sing for civilians to boost morale, this represents a chance to further explore the world that Strike Witches had established. Between the reduced emphasis on combat, and the fact that the LNAF Band will be composed of a raggedy-ass bunch of misfits, it becomes clear that Luminous Witches represents a departure from tradition, but will remain a series that is worth following for fans of Strike Witches who’ve been curious about further world-building, as well as fans of the military moé who possess a modicum of interest in idols and music. Beyond this, since we’re only one episode into Luminous Witches, it’s tricky to say where this anime is headed, but a solid start means I’m looking forwards to see how Virginia and the others will handle meeting their fellow band members; there might be no guns, but I imagine that for the first little while, there will be bumps and bruises as everyone gets accustomed to one another before turning their attention towards the shared goal of helping out in the Human-Neuroi War in their own way, even if they’re no longer soaring through the skies as their counterparts typically would.