“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller
Upon spotting the recruitment posters, Lyudmila and Inori decide to join the LNAF Band. They join the other applicants, but the interviews leave Aira wondering if anyone is really suited for the role after it is revealed their only candidates are not combat capable. While Grace continues to review the day’s results, the other Witches decide to cook dinner and stay the night. As night settles in, Inori recalls that Virginia has Night Witch magic, and to help Grace search for Virginia, she suggests flying out and singing together. The music wakes Virginia up, and since she’s unable to transmit, all Virginia can do is climb to the rooftop and signal for the others, who soon spot her magic antennae glowing in the night. In this way, Virginia reunites with Inori and Lyudmila. In the morning, Virginia agrees to enlist and join the LNAF Band. While she takes her basic qualifications exam, the other girls begin training with the senior Witches. Grace trains Inori and Silvie, a Romagnan Witch. Elenore ends up with Manaia (New Zeiland) and Joanna (Liberion), while to Lyudmila’s great pleasure, she and Maria (Karlsland) are to be taught by Aira. While the others begin training their singing and dancing, Aira drills Maria and Lyudmila in flying. However, Maria’s weaker magic causes her to pass out during training, leaving Aira to feel guilty. Meanwhile, Virginia passes basic training, and Elenore decides to take everyone over to a nearby village to get everyone accustomed to performing in front of a crowd. In the process, the children begin enjoying watching, and their parents later express that it’s been a while since the children have had anything to smile about. Aira later admits she’d been pushing Maria and Lyudmila so hard because she’d felt useless at being unable to fulfil a combat role, and promises to be a better instructor. Back in the village, the children decide to call their local Witch squadron the Luminous Witches, giving the series its name. Three episodes into Luminous Witches, viewers have now been introduced to the principal cast – besides Virginia, Inori and Lyudmila, we have Silvie, Manaia, Joanna, and Maria joining the party. Everyone has their own unique traits: unlike Strike Witches, where the characters’ personalities are stereotypes of their home nation, everyone in Luminous Witches is quite distinct. However, all of the Witches are united by their love of music, and with everyone now beginning their journey, it is quite clear that Luminous Witches will be a very laid-back and easygoing series that, while standing in stark contrast with the tenour previous Strike Witches conveyed, still acts to build up the Strike Witches world further.
Because everyone in the LNAF Band is unfit for combat for their own reasons, Luminous Witches‘ Witches are the bottom of the barrel, incapable of taking to the skies and defending humanity through direct actions. Each of the Witches are lacking in some way – Virginia can only receive magic signals, and Lyudmila can’t aim worth shit. Maria’s magic isn’t powerful enough to keep her in the air, and Manaia’s magic is inconsistent (on good days, she can fly like the wind, but on bad days, she’s unable to even move). Similarly, Aira’s magic is fading. Each of the LNAF Band’s Witches possess limitations that stop them from being an asset on the battlefield, and especially for Aira, being forced away from the frontlines is having a negative impact on her mindset. Although Lyudmila admires Aira greatly, once she gets to know the real Aira a little better, the situation becomes a little more embarrassing for both. Luminous Witches continues to explore what Witches go through as they age, and their magical abilities diminish. However, unlike Strike Witches, Luminous Witches shows how even though Aira herself cannot fight, there remains things she can do – while Aira is a skillful singer, what she longs for most is to return to the skies, and this disconnect results in dissatisfaction. When the new Witches arrive, Aira is unaccustomed to dealing with them. The presence of new Witches also represents a new opportunity – seeing everyone train to become performers, and the energy they bring to the table will doubtlessly help Aira to find new purpose. Grace’s constant remarks that Witches can do more than just fight holds merit, and it is plain that even in-universe, Grace struggles to convince command of the idea that music Witches can be important. In reality, some folks question the merit of making something like Luminous Witches and argue there’s no point for a Music Squadron to exist because Witches can be sourced for all tasks. However, in the Strike Witches universe, it appears that there are enough Witches so that not every Witch is necessarily an asset; there isn’t any strong indicator that humanity’s resources are pushed so far to the brink that any magic user is needed on the frontlines. Further to this, the idea of Witches being musicians, to civilians, would be a morale booster. Non-magic users don’t necessarily need to know these Witches are sidelined in some way: to have Witches show up from time to time and lift spirits would also help people to push towards the war effort. As well, these Witches may not be frontline material, but they still know the ins and outs. Having someone with this knowledge say something reassuring in a concert would be important to morale. As such, even early on in Luminous Witches, it is clear that this series means to show viewers how there’s many ways of being helpful.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The vast fields of Britannia feature prominently in Luminous Witches – Strike Witches was originally set in Britannia, using the island nation as a staging point to mount an offensive against the Gallian Neuroi Hive, and here in the pastoral setting, Strike Witches conveyed a sense of tranquility. However, things were periodically broken up by Neuroi attacks, and the actions of Air Marshall Trevor Maloney led to the Warlock Crisis, in which an automated air superiority fighter built using Neuroi technology lost control and precipitated a crisis that the 501st would be forced to fix. Maloney was subsequently relieved of command, and the 501st would go on to play an instrumental role in the Human-Neuroi War.
- Without Neuroi appearing on a weekly basis, Luminous Witches is infinitely peaceful and has the same light-hearted tenour as World Witches: Take Off!. However, Luminous Witches isn’t driven by gag-based humour as was World Witches: Take off! – instead, the gentle atmosphere and the relative absence of a Neuroi threat allows the members of the LNAF Band to simply bounce off one another. Here, Lyudmila all but begs Grace, Éléonore and Aira to accept her into the LNAF Band during the interview process.
- Grace had originally created posters advertising openings in the LNAF Band because she’d been moved by Virginia’s performance and sought to recruit her. However, the end result of these advertisements is that Grace receives a host of applicants who initially seem quite unqualified and unsuited for the role – everyone is a Witch who hadn’t been a good fit for their previous squadrons, and are applying for a position here so they can continue to help the war effort in whatever way they can. Éléonore, Grace and Aira are disappointed that no one seems to have any musical talent.
- When the last applicants appear to strike out, Éléonore, Grace and Aira decide to close things off for the day and decide whether or not they want to reject all of the applicants. The outcome of this conversation is a foregone one, and while stories often create tension by suggesting the characters won’t make it, logic dictates that, were this to be the outcome, there’d be no story. Predictability has long been considered to be a detriment among anime reviewers – although moments like these are meant to create some tension and add a little weight to the process, folks may count such moments as being forced. Of course, if an anime has everyone waltz through the interview process, then the same folks might say that things were too easy or contrived.
- For me, predictability is a non-issue in some cases: when it comes to things like setting a story up, the story doesn’t need to be too dramatic. What matters more for me is how the outcome was reached, and here, after deliberations enter the evening, the other Witches decide to whip up some dinner. Lyudmila is especially eager to have Aira try her cooking, and while Aira is hesitant to partake, she reluctantly does so after Éléonore offers to feed her. After a long day, food ends up being what brings this disparate group of Witches together, and in this moment, strangers become friends.
- I’ve long believed that food underlies the absolute best of humanity – food is a central part of every culture, and understanding how a culture prepares and enjoys their food offers profound insight into their values, beliefs and traditions. Nothing brings people together like sharing food, and as the evening wears on, the Witches get to know one another better. Here, Manaia steals a potato from Silvie, while Maria enjoys some freshly baked bread and Joanna carries a pot of soup. One of the challenges I’ve always had with Strike Witches is learning new names, but with time, I imagine that spelling names will come more naturally.
- After three episodes, however, I’ve no difficulty in recognising the characters and matching faces to names. Once dinner concludes, Inori admits she’d only shown up to recommend Virginia for the LNAF Band position, and, upon recalling that Virginia listens to the radio by night, she decides to fly out and see if she can’t transmit something that Virginia might hear. The other Witches decide they’d like to accompany Inori into the skies too; Inori is normally quite reserved and quiet, but it appears that where Virginia is concerned, she becomes quite fired up.
- Determination quickly turns into apprehension – Inori’s never flown at night before, and so, Silvie and Lyudmila take her hands to help guide her. Flight acts as a bit of a metaphor for the girls, and although the LNAF Band’s members are second-rate Witches, rejects, the fact that they support one another makes things all the more endearing. This speaks to Strike Witches‘ messages of how everyone is stronger together, and I’d expect that even here in Luminous Witches, such themes will return, even if the LNAF Band’s function differs than that of the 501st, 502nd and other, conventional Witch units.
- Back on the ground, Grace, monitors the radio and provides assistance where she can. Seeing all of the World War Two era equipment at base brings to mind memories of 2018’s Battlefield V; looking back, Battlefield V was actually a solid game that had continued in the footsteps of its predecessors, and despite a few SNAFUs in the form of inconsistent TTK behaviours and weapon balancing, as well as an opaque roadmap for content release and the total absence of iconic battles, Battlefield V had solid gunplay and atmospherics to the point where, by the Pacific Update in 2019, the game had been superbly enjoyable. Having returned to the realm of multiplayer, I might return to Battlefield V again for old times’ sake.
- Back in Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band’s night flight catches Virginia sleeping. Her Familiar’s headphones activate, and Virginia herself begins to overhear the other Witches singing. While most of the Witches are adverse to performing and singing (Joanna would prefer to work behind-the-scenes, and Inori is shy in general), the Witches set aside their doubts to hail Virginia. The Witches’ efforts pay off, and Virginia rushes off to the roof. Her inability to transmit leaves her unable to respond to their song, but the other Witches spot the glow from her headphones shortly after.
- Luminous Witches thus shows that in the world of Strike Witches, the abilities of Witches are incredibly varied and diverse. Like the Force, magical ability varies in individuals. Some Witches, like Maria, Manaia and Hikari have inconsistent and weaker powers, while others, like Yoshika, are so powerful that they’re practically on the same level as The Chosen One. This variability has led folks to extensively discuss how magic in Strike Witches works, and while the lack of official information has made things a little tricky, this was one of the joys in Strike Witches (and Brave Witches).
- Luminous Witches‘ focus is away from how Witches fight, what weapons they use and the nature of their foes, so things like details behind the weapons, equipment and tactics will not be a substantial part of the conversation. Previously, Strike Witches had elicited spirited discussions because one could look at the real-world applications of things like the MG-42 and predict how its combat characteristics may impact a given combat encounter. Because music is the focus here, there are no guns, and this has led to quieter discussions. At Random Curiosity, for instance, Luminous Witches was marked, for the first time, as having being a series their writers had limited excitement for.
- This makes sense, considering Strike Witches was already a series with a very niche audience – it stands to reason that a Strike Witches music spinoff would have an even smaller audience. I further concede that writing about an anime like Luminous Witches, which combines music with slice-of-life elements, can be tricky: while such series can be immensely adorable and cathartic, they do not offer much in the way of insight or discussion at first glance. However, when one takes the time to reflect on why things are unfolding the way they do, slice-of-life focused series can be superbly fun to write for, as well.
- Back in Luminous Witches, after hearing Striker engines, Virginia jumps into the night sky, and Inori ends up catching her. According to the character profiles, Inori is supposed to fill the role of the protagonist’s shy and reserved friend. It does feel a little unusual to see Yoshika and Lynette’s roles reversed, but once Inori and Lyudmila reunite with Virginia, they are surprised to learn that she’s more than willing to join the LNAF Band.
- The next day, Virginia bids her family farewell and prepares to join the LNAF Band – Witches are evidently respected in Strike Witches, and even though Virginia begins her journey with even less combat utility than Hikari, being a Witch and being able to participate in the war effort means that, even if she’s not on the frontlines taking down Neuroi every other week, being able to contribute in some way makes her as much of a Witch as Yoshika and Hikari are.
- Strike Witches had the 501st operate out of several impressive-looking castles, with Road to Berlin featuring Fort Erfprins in the Den Helder, Netherlands, and Brave Witches‘ 502nd was based out of The Peter and Paul Fortress. However, befitting of the LNAF Band’s lower profile, they reside in much more modest, but still cozy and inviting, accommodations. While the others begin cleaning the country home out after moving in, Virginia’s gone off to complete her basic qualifications to enlist. Because of how little emphasis was placed into this, it stands to reason that Virginia will have no trouble with things.
- The LNAF Band begin their first day with training exercises, breaking up into three groups. To ensure fairness, groups are determined by drawing names from a hat, and out of the gates, Grace teaches Inori and Silvie the basics of singing. Meanwhile, Éléonore drills Manaia and Joanna in stretching exercises, indicating that stamina is a vital part of performing. To Lyudmila’s great pleasure, she ends up joining Maria in training under Aira. However, Aira sends her students into the skies in training Striker units, giving viewers a chance to enjoy the sights scenery above the Britannian countryside.
- Strike Witches and Brave Witches both followed a very well-defined approach – the second episodes to each have Yoshika and Hikari meeting the other Witches, and then the third episode formally introduces all of the Witches. Luminous Witches has kept to tradition in its third episode, with the obvious distinction that there is no emergency sortie that presses the protagonists into combat later on. I am curious to see how later episodes unfold; if Luminous Witches proceeds as its predecessors did, then from a thematic perspective, things will likely still deal with teamwork and trusting one another.
- During flight practise, Maria suddenly faints – she’s been shown to be quite lethargic in the mornings, and is even worse than Erica Hartmann, who finds herself constantly on the receiving end of Gertrude’s lectures for not acting more like a proper Karlsland soldier. Whereas Erica is merely lazy, it appears that Maria’s magic is inconsistent and may peter out mid-flight. When this happens, Aira is forced to save her, and in the aftermath, Aira begins to feel guilty at having pushed Maria without having gained a better measure of Maria’s abilities. As it turns out, Aira had been a capable Witch at one point, but as she grew older, her powers began diminishing, and her pushing the trainees here is her way of convincing herself that she’s still able to be useful.
- A potential story element in Luminous Witches, then, would see Aira realise that there are indeed other ways of being useful. Whether or not this happens will be left as something for future episodes, and back in the present, Virginia returns to base to announce she’s passed basic training and is now formally a part of the LNAF Band. The mood is heavy as Aira sulks about, but Éléonore suggests that, to keep everyone busy and give Aira some time to regroup, they head into town to practise choreography in front of others. Éléonore reasons that since the LNAF Band is expected to perform in front of an audience, everyone should get accustomed to being in public.
- It would appear that the Witches’ outfits are standard-issue uniforms: now that Virginia’s formally a member of the Britannian forces, she’s rocking the same outfit as Lynette, with the key difference being that she’s wearing a skirt. For longtime Strike Witches fans, this can come across as jarring: Strike Witches had originally made its name by having characters running around without any sort of skirt or pants, and Lynette herself not worn the same green skirt Virginia is seen with. Similarly, the iconic pantsu shots of Strike Witches are completely absent here in Luminous Witches.
- It therefore speaks volumes to how Strike Witches has matured over the years: the series was originally an exercise in pantsu, but gradually become increasingly well-written and began focusing on world-building over the pantsu. For some Witches, like Lyudmila, Inori and Joanna, this seems like an overwhelmingly unreasonable ask, but for Virginia and Manaia, their outgoing personalities mean that they have no qualms about jazzing things up. Manaia is especially fond of dancing, and when she’s powered up, she can be quite hard to keep up with.
- The village children find the LNAF Band’s performance to be quite amusing, and very quickly come to develop respect for the Witches. Although Virginia and the others are not officially performing yet, the fact that they are able to bring smiles to children is significant: when the children are happy, the adults will similarly feel at ease, and this helps to raise morale. Children are very attuned to the tenour in their surroundings, but can also influence the emotions of those around them, so having this small, but tangible outcome shows that Grace’s idea of the LNAF Band has merits.
- The next day, things between Aira and Lyudmila become awkward after what happens to Maria, so to take her mind off things, Aira decides to invite Virginia to come to town to check in on things. Torn between giving Aira space and being with her, Lyudmila eventually decides to accompany the two. However, things remain tricky, and being quite unaware of what had happened earlier, Virginia tries to strike up a conversation with Aira.
- This results in probably the best funny face I’ve seen in Strike Witches since I began watching the series back in 2011. We’ve seen some funny faces previously – Eila provides most of them, grossly overreacting whenever anyone is perceived as getting too close to Sanya. I remember one especially memorable scene in Strike Witches 2 where Yoshika ends up with a face-full of Eila when she accepts an assignment to accompany Sanya in destroying a kilometres-high Neuroi. In Brave Witches, funny faces are rarer, but I vividly recall Naoe sporting a hilarious expression as she rides a sled with Hikari and Nikka on a frigid winter’s day.
- After speaking with two of the town’s residents, Aira sees for herself what the LNAF Band could potentially accomplish: it turns out that after they’d shown up in town, the children had been expressing excitement at the prospect of seeing them performing again. Since the Human-Neuroi war had been quite grim, the residents note that it’s been a while since they’ve seen the children so happy, and this in turn has warmed their hearts, too.
- To avoid disappointing the children, Aira arranges for an impromptu performance that ends up inspiring her fellow LNAF Band members do a fly-over while Aira, Virginia and Lyudmila sing. Luminous Witches gives the impression that it will combine Love Live! and IdolMaster elements into things, but so far, the two songs seen in the series have been ballads, which convey a completely different aesthetic than do the upbeat pop songs that idols usually sing. With this being said, having a diverse range of music in an idol anime makes for a more dynamic and immersive soundscape: in Wake Up, Girls!, one of the songs on the album is Tina Kobayakawa’s DATTE, which is a cover of Sen Masao’s Kita Kuni no Haru (Northern Spring).
- During their fly-over, Manaia collides with Silvie, and this causes a minor malfunction that causes the training Striker units to spit out magic rings in the colours of a rainbow. Traditionally, magic circles are blue, and I imagine that this is a property of the Witches’ powers: a blue colour indicates consistently high energy levels and short wavelengths. The fluctuating colours are probably a sign of having weaker or poor magical control, manifesting as magic rings with different colours, but this works in favour of the LNAF Band, who appear to be putting on a light show for their audience, as well.
- Back at headquarters, the other Witches marvel at Virginia’s unusual Familiar before passing it around like a volleyball – Virginia’s already fitting in to life with this group of Witches, and while challenges will face even this merry band, I imagine that the days upcoming will be filled with discoveries and laughter. Meanwhile, back in the village, children decide to dub the LNAF Band the Luminous Witches for their sparkling character, giving the series its name. With three episodes in the books now, I can say with confidence that Luminous Witches is a series I will continue to look forwards to every week. While this series isn’t one that can be easily written for at on episodic basis (at least, if I want to bring something fresh and meaningful to the table for readers), I do have the confidence in returning every three episodes to share my thoughts on where things are for Luminous Witches.
The near-total absence of Neuroi in Luminous Witches hasn’t stopped the series from giving the characters a chance to fly. Even though Virginia and the others might not carry a machine gun into the skies with them, they’re still afforded the opportunity to use training Striker Units and soar in the skies above the English countryside. The military aspects of Strike Witches have been fun, but one aspect of the series I’ve always enjoyed are the slice-of-life pieces, showing Witches as they train and relax outside of combat operations. Such moments are inevitably disrupted in Strike Witches itself, since repelling the Neuroi is an integral part of the series, and World Witches: Take Off! might not represent the most faithful portrayal of things, since it has the characters engage in things that are truly outrageous. Conversely, Luminous Witches‘ premise means that the LNAF Band will likely spend most of their time practising on base or in Britannian villages. However, because Luminous Witches is not a rowdy comedy, there is an opportunity to see more of the world. Luminous Witches has not disappointed insofar – London is a bustling city, and the Britannian countryside is immensely tranquil. The atmosphere contributes greatly to the themes in Luminous Witches, assuring viewers that the events of this series will be peaceful and calm; this represents a welcome change of pacing to things, and since I’ve long wished for a more laid-back spin-off set in the Strike Witches universe, it appears that Luminous Witches will fulfil this wish. Such series will not appeal to all viewers, but for longtime fans of Strike Witches, Luminous Witches will have its own charms. It should be evident that Luminous Witches is more than a mere attempt at cashing on the idol industry’s successes – typically, music-oriented anime have the potential to sell albums, and while there is little doubt that Luminous Witches was likely greenlit because of this potential, the series has done a wonderful job of showcasing the other aspects of the Strike Witches universe insofar, and if the music in Luminous Witches turns out to be as enjoyable as we’ve seen so far, it would not take a stretch of the imagination to suppose that albums for Luminous Witches would perform well.