“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” –Mother Teresa
With the LNAF Band now assembled, the girls immediately set about preparing for their debut concert. Maria and Manaia end up taking on choreography, while Silvie and Joanna work on costume design. Lyudmila and Inori work on songwriting, and Virginia visits the different groups, offering help where she can. On the day of the performance, a rainstorm rolls into the area, but dissipates by the scheduled start of the performance. Aira and Éléonore kicks the show off with a ballad before the others join and introduce themselves. While Grace is shocked that rainfall has damaged their audio system, Virginia decides to sing anyways, and the others join in – the audience are thoroughly impressed, and Felicia approaches Grace to inform her that the LNAF Band programme is a go. Kicking off the first leg of their European tour is Romagna, but upon arrival, Silvie asks Grace to take her off the roster. While the other Witches head around town passing out fliers, Silvie visits her mother’s grave and speaks with her father. It turns out that Silvie is one of the heirs to the Romagnan royal family, and since becoming a Witch, had been denied an active frontline role because her superiors worried about her. Fearing she’ll disappoint her father, she declines to appear on stage, but a conversation with Joanna convinces her to change her mind. She decides to accept the ribbon Joanna had asked her to wear, and joins the others in singing for the Romagnans. While the other Witches are surprised to learn of Silvie’s background, they are doubly surprised that Silvie’s so ordinary, and Grace reads an interview where Silvie’s father comments on how everything the Witches do will contribute to the war effort. After a series of performances, the LNAF Band stop in Greece, where Maria is frustrated by the lack of progress in a series of new routines she’d designed. Following an argument with Manaia, Maria tries to draft new flight routines but becomes disheartened by the fact that she lacks the ability to fly them. Manaia and Virginia later find the drafts Maria had discarded, and Manaia reassures Maria that it doesn’t matter if Maria can’t fly, because they can fly together. Taking Maria into the open skies, Manaia and Maria manage to perform one of the routines Maria had planned, and the pair reconcile. Later, the LNAF Band practise projecting multi-coloured shields, while Grace considers asking headquarters to increase their budget. At the halfway point, Luminous Witches has settled into a comfortable and consistent pattern, capitalising on its episodes to show how the characters’ individual problems are overcome together.
In a series where there are no Neuroi to directly fight, Luminous Witches chooses to focus on the Witches themselves. Although everyone gets along well enough, each of the LNAF Band’s members bring with them their own background and associated emotional baggage into their journey. Aira had joined because this was all she could do, and she tried pushing the trainees in an attempt to make up for her own declining combat performance. Silvie ends up signing up for the LNAF Band because she wanted to do something more despite constantly being sidelined by worried superiors, but also wanted to avoid disappointing her father, who she felt was under the impression she was actively contributing to the war effort. Maria’s weak magic and flight ability leaves her frustrated that she can’t do more for her peers, and she lashes out at Manaia as a result. However, just because each of the LNAF Band’s Witches have their own problems doesn’t mean they can’t perform well together, and in typical Strike Witches manner, Luminous Witches sells the idea that everyone benefits with help from one another. In the context of Luminous Witches, the idea is that music is what brings together this disparate group of Witches and gives them a purpose that is, while perhaps less visceral than taking to the skies with a high-calibre machine gun and blasting Neuroi, still nonetheless an important role. As each of the Witches overcomes their own doubts and concerns, they become increasingly effective as LNAF Band members. In this way, Luminous Witches is doing a fantastic job of introducing all of the characters to viewers, and by learning of everyone’s backgrounds, this helps viewers to empathise with and support everyone – seeing what each of the Witches struggles with, and how they overcome this limitation makes the LNAF Band’s accomplishments all the more meaningful. Now that we’ve passed the sixth episode, I anticipate that the other Witches will also be given some time in the spotlight before Luminous Witches culminates with a finale performance, one that I hope would see iconic faces return as a part of the audience.
Screenshots and Commentary
- After Aira and Éléonore set about assigning everyone tasks based on their choices (and after rebalancing the roles so Manaia isn’t doing everything, in spite of her enthusiasm), Virginia is asked to observe the others as a part of her probationary period, while Maria’s working on putting a routine together now that she’s been made a dance choreographer. Since Maria’s never done something of this sort before, she figures she could watch the other Witches fly and see if she can’t put something together.
- Later, Virginia swings by to check in on Lyudmila and Inori to see how they’re doing. Despite being assigned to be the lyricist on account of her flowery writing, Lyudmila finds herself struggling to write down the things that adequately capture how she feels. Virginia suggests that Lyudmila writes things as though she were directing them to Aira, and in a stroke of inspiration, Lyudmila’s creative juices begin flowing. The choice to have Virginia observe the other Witches thus has a positive, if unintended side effect: her naïveté allows her to come up with suggestions that no one else has thought of.
- Grace ends up securing permission for the LNAF Band to perform their debut concert at the local village, and preparations thus begin in earnest as everyone does their part in preparing for their first-ever concert together as the LNAF Band. Besides of Éléonore and Aira, everyone else is a novice, but spirits are high. The positivity and optimism amongst members of the Music Squadron is encouraging, and this has given Luminous Witches a very friendly, welcoming tenour that has made this series fun to watch.
- Whereas Strike Witches and Brave Witches had the Witches flying independently, Luminous Witches has the Witches holding one another’s hands while flying. This bit of symbolism is a constant reminder that all Witches benefit from acting as a team, and especially in the case of the Music Squadron, whose members might not be combat-effective, but nonetheless, still have the right mindset to do something bigger together. Here, Aira flies with Inori: no longer weighted down by her doubt, she’s more than happy to train the newcomers.
- As preparations bring the LNAF Band closer to their debut, spirits are high. Designs for the stage are finalised, while Joanna and Silvie have managed to fully convert some school uniforms donated to the Witches into idol costumes. Even though it’s rainy on the morning of the performance, the girls remain hopeful that things will turn out well, and by the time Music Squadron are ready to head on stage, the weather’s cleared up, allowing the show to continue.
- The performance opens with Éléonore and Aira singing as they’d previously done. There’s quite a few albums already released with the LNAF Band’s performance, but at this point in time, I’ve not had the chance to listen to them yet. One thing I’d like to check out is whether or not any of the songs in Luminous Witches is already released, but if this isn’t the case, a series of character songs will be released later this year. The vocal songs in Luminous Witches, befitting of a music-driven series, are quite good, a far cry from contemporary popular music.
- By my admission, I’ve never been a big fan of popular music on the virtue that it’s too repetitive; the general rule I follow is that, if the song doesn’t get stuck in my head because the melody or chorus was engineered in a way to have this effect, I will likely have no complaints about the song. Having said this, the music that I enjoy most either tells a convincing story, or otherwise paints a vivid image in my mind’s eye. Songs can achieve this without ever forcing themselves to be catchy. In fact, I would suggest that catchy music resembles narcotics in that they force a listener’s brain to fill in the gaps and create an “itch”, which forces an individual to listen to the song again to remove this itch.
- Grace resembles Captain America‘s Peggy Carter in appearance and role; I’m certain that, were Luminous Witches to be live action, Hayley Atwell would do a fine job of portraying Grace. Here, she reacts to the revelation that rainwater from the wet tent has leaked onto their broadcasting equipment, creating a short that renders said equipment non-operational. However, speaking to the girls’ faith in one another, they begin to sing even without the instrumental accompaniment, leading to the show’s main event.
- The actual performance itself is animated using CG, and this results in the Witches taking on a very stilted appearance; they resemble the characters from 2013’s RWBY. Although some six years have passed since 2016’s Brave Witches, where similar techniques were used, it appears that the complexities in creating compelling dance sequences is still a challenge even for veteran production studios like SHAFT. These will likely be touched up in a BD release of Luminous Witches, but, despite being quite noticeable, the heart behind the performance is sincere.
- In the aftermath of their first performance, the villagers are invigorated, and Felicia is convinced that the LNAF Band is more than just talk: she decides to speak with her higher ups, and ends up giving the LNAF Band clearance to begin doing a tour across Europe. Although Grace is initially surprised, she seizes on the chance, as this is precisely what she’d been hoping to initiate. The stage is therefore set for Luminous Witches to really begin exploring the world, and the first stop on the LNAF Band’s itinerary is Romagna.
- To the girls’ great surprise, Grace has managed to secure an Avro Lancaster as their transport aircraft. The Lancaster is an iconic British heavy bomber that succeeded the Handley Page Halifax, which has a similar design (the Lancaster has a larger canopy and the dorsal gun emplacement is closer to the rear of the aircraft): it was originally intended to be used for night bombing missions and was the only aircraft capable of carrying the ten-tonne Grand Slam bombs. However, the Lancaster was also an effective daytime high-altitude bomber. The Lancaster’s high payload, and comparatively smaller number of defensive armaments and crew requirements therefore makes it an attractive choice for the LNAF Band, who are flying around Europe with their Striker Units in tow.
- Compared to the 2021 short PV, Luminous Witches‘ full anime features much more consistent character designs, and by the fifth episode, I was as familiar with each member of the LNAF Band as I was with the 501st and 502nd: off the top of my head, we’ve got Aira, Éléonore, Silvie, Inori, Lyudmila, Virginia, Manaia, Joanna and Maria. Traditionally, shows with a larger number of characters overwhelm me somewhat, and I only tend to remember the central set of characters (e.g. in Shirobako, I only remember Aoi, and in Girls und Panzer, it took almost a decade to learn everyone’s names). However, Strike Witches has a talent for making their characters memorable, making it easier to recall who’s who.
- The LNAF Band’s first stop is in Romagna, a region in Northern Italy. Until now, we’ve only seen London and the Britannian countryside, so having Luminous Witches visit other parts of Europe allows SHAFT to really show viewers what they’ve got. Upon arriving, the girls’ first goal is to raise publicity for their event: without things like television or social media to spread the word, the LNAF Band fall back on the tried-and-true method of handing out fliers. Some of the Witches struggle with their shyness (Inori even tries passing a flier out to a statue), others, like Manaia, are absolutely enjoying every moment of their work.
- The fifth episode focuses on Silvie, who had approached Grace earlier with the request to not appear on stage. As it turns out, Silvie is a part of the Romagnan royal family and is one of the successors to the Princess title. She’d joined the Witches hoping to fight the Neuroi, but her royal background meant that her superiors were always reluctant to send her into combat lest she became injured or killed, and this is why she never saw any sorties. She worries that this will disappoint her father, who had high hopes for her as a Witch. Here, she visits her late mother’s grave: from what other citizens say, Silvie greatly resembles her mother.
- When Silvie meets Virginia and Joanna at a Romagnan church, she points out the copula is actually a trompe-l’œil, a painting meant to create an optical illusion of depth. She begins to feel that there’s nothing beautiful about what is basically a facsimile of depth, but for Virginia, she feels that real or not, the effect is quite nice. Virginia’s remarks speaks to the idea that what matters is what impact one can make, no matter what form it is, and this optimistic way of thinking represents yet another instance where Virginia’s cheerful attitude is an asset to her team.
- While the the LNAF Band enjoy dinner, I remark that we’re now in the heart of summer, a time where the days are beginning to gradually shorten, but a time during which the weather remains at its best. To spend some of the accumulated vacation time I had, I ended up taking the past Friday and this Monday off. On Friday, I decided to swing by a part of town I rarely visit to walk the riverside pathways there and check out the downtown core from another angle. Back in July, I ended up missing out on the free Stampede pancake breakfast after an unforeseen setback, and since then, I’ve been looking to enjoy pancakes again. Hence, after my walk ended, I swing by a delightful eatery called the Blue Star Diner, where I had their Fried Chicken and Pancakes, a gourmet pancake dish consisting of fried chicken breast, smoked bacon and a sunny-side egg topped with parsley, cilantro, chipotle garlic honey and chili butter on a bed of two fluffy buttermilk pancakes, served with all-Canadian maple syrup.
- My first bite was a veritable explosion of flavour and nearly brought tears to my eyes: I was immediately shown how wide the gap between specialty pancakes and common pancakes were. This meal proved a pleasant one, and in conjunction with a hot chocolate, warmed me right up: while the skies were pleasant, it’d been blustery and merely 14°C. Back in Luminous Witches, a conversation with Joanna convinces Silvie to accept herself; Joanna shares her own background with Silvie, and it turns out that she’d joined the armed forces because despite her own talents as a visual artist, her family was having some financial troubles, so becoming a Witch would allow her to help them to put food on the table. For Joanna, all of the Witches in the LNAF Band are there for their own reasons, but this doesn’t mean their desire to contribute isn’t genuine. Spotting this, Silvie decides to give Joanna’s suggestion, of tying her hair up, another go.
- On the day of the concert, Silvie feels a lot more confident and ready to perform. The Witches fly out over to the performance venue, a Romagnan amphitheater packed with an excited audience. The song that the LNAF Band performs here feels more like a contemporary idol piece rather than the ballad that Aira and Éléonore previously performed. Modern idol music, as we know it, is derived from J-Pop, which began taking shape in the 1960s after Japanese artists began stylising their songs in the rock ‘n roll style. However, the style of music in idol groups is largely inspired by Morning Musume, which was formed in 1997.
- I’d always wondered how fitting in modern idol trends into the World War Two era would unfold; seeing contemporary performances in an era before television, on paper, would feel unusual, but Luminous Witches manages to make everything work out. In this way, Silvie is able to enjoy her performance, and her father’s shown up to watch. In a news interview later, her father would state that he enjoyed watching Silvie perform, and that he agrees with the sentiment that any effort to the Human-Neuroi War is important.
- Silvie decides to reveal her royal heritage to her fellow LNAF Band members, and they’re shocked that someone of such a pedigree could get along so well with commoners. In the moment, Joanna also reveals her own verbal tic, a tendency to speak like a guy as a result of having grown up with male siblings. Luminous Witches suggests that backgrounds and origins aren’t as significant as what one’s actions are, and in this way, Silvie’s gotten past her own doubts to become a full-fledged member of the LNAF band, no longer worried that she’s being sidelined simply because of her background.
- Maria’s been presented as lethargic but amicable up until this point, but when the time for the LNAF Band to begin incorporating the Striker Units into their performances, she takes on a much stricter and more demanding character, befitting of a Karlslander. The sixth episode focuses on Maria: it turns out that while her own magic is weak (even more so than Hikari’s), she gained her station owing to having saved Field Marshall Erwin Rommel at some point. Although Rommel’s name is not mentioned, it’s clear Maria’s referring to Rommel, who was known as the Desert Fox.
- Having not seen too much of Maria up until now, I found her mannerisms adorable: despite her limited magic, she still tries her hardest in the ways that she can. This is in keeping with the LNAF Band’s modus operandi, and in fact, recalling Strike Witches‘ first season, a recurring theme throughout the whole franchise is about doing what one is able to. Yoshika had joined the 501st while in search of her father and ended up doing what she could to defend those around her, but her simple determination to do what she felt was right eventually would lead her to become a legend of sorts.
- The Witches of the LNAF Band won’t have such potential in them, but by this point in the series, they’ve gone on several tours and are presently stationed in Greece. After a difficult meeting, Maria tries to enjoy Inori’s cooking. Another recurring element in Strike Witches is the general enjoyment of Fuso cuisine; while foods from around the world are seen, the fact that everyone is partial to Fuso cooking is a subtle, but gentle reminder of this series’ origins. When the conversation topic turns to whether or not Maria and Manaia are having troubles, Maria begins coughing, and Manaia excuses herself without getting seconds.
- One cannot help but feel bad for Maria here: she very much feels like an imposter of sorts because she’s a Witch despite lacking any magical talent. While she goes about creating elaborate flight routines for her bandmates, Maria realises that she’s unlikely to ever be able to fly any of them. In frustration, she chucks half her proposed drawings out into the Greece afternoon. Originally, she and Manaia had been assigned to choreograph the flight routines, but Manaia’s free spirit and seeming inability to use technical terms frustrated Maria, who’d resolved to do everything herself with typical Karsland efficiency.
- Speaking to her indigenous origins, Manaia’s shield has Māori influence. Her carefree spirit allows her to project a shield of sunshine yellow, and Manaia’s explanation suggests that allowing one’s feelings to flow through them will produce a shield with a natural colour. The default aquamarine shield that Witches typically project, then, is a symbol of focus and training. After Virginia finds Manaia and brings her sandwiches, the pair play around with their shields until Manaia spots pages floating in a tree. Upon looking more closely, they’re the same notes Maria had discarded.
- Manaia thus goes on a hunt for the remainder of the notes with Virginia, and while she might lack the same technical finesse as Maria, she still spots routines that she could be excited about performing. Virginia and Manaia spend the remainder of their afternoon running around in the Greek countryside, and here, I express a hope that the LNAF Band will have the chance to perform in Greece. This country, counted as the originator of Western civilisation, has thousands of years of history and is located on the shores of the Mediterranean; as such, the area is littered with ancient ruins under exceptionally gorgeous skies.
- Just when the others prepare to embark on a search for the two, Manaia and Virginia return to base. Here, Maria tearfully admits that she’s an extremely poor flier and had been trying to design something she could also participate in, but worried about her ability. I relate to Maria’s situation wholly: one of the reasons why I had been considering medical school was because in all of my computer science courses, and my summer research, I’d long felt that my ability to get through them was always because I had a lot of help in my corner. If I did well, I thought to myself, I did so because of a great deal of luck.
- It wasn’t until my medical school applications fell through, and I had a conversation with my supervisor, that I learnt that my affinity was in the computer sciences. My supervisor extended me an invitation to work on a new project, and I accepted. When this project concluded, I became a little more confident that software development was indeed my area of strength. In Luminous Witches, Manaia takes Maria on a flight. While Manaia struggles with some of the terminology and finesse, and Maria struggles to stay aloft, once the pair find their groove, they perform a new manoeuvre successfully.
- This newfound success brings Manaia and Maria closer to one another, speaking yet again to the significance of teamwork. In Strike Witches, Brave Witches and now, Luminous Witches, it seems that even amongst a close-knit group of Witches, subgroups form, and through mutual encouragement and support, individual Witches become stronger, more confident and better equipped to deal with whatever follows next. The rekindled bonds between Manaia and Maria are visualised by a vivid sunset: although SHAFT may have dropped the ball in CG, their hand-drawn moments remain of a superb quality.
- In the aftermath, Manaia manages to show the other Witches how to project shields of a different colour by allowing their thoughts to wander somewhere comforting. Speaking to Aira’s previous experience as a disciplined Witch, she struggles and wonders what on earth going with the flow feels like. Meanwhile, with the successes the LNAF Band have seen thus far, and their plans for more wonderful performances, Grace begins to contemplate requesting an even larger budget.
One of the unintended consequences of removing the Neuroi as an active threat from Luminous Witches is that the series ends up feeling more adorable than any previous Strike Witches series. In tenour, Luminous Witches is more similar to World Witches Take Off! than Strike Witches, and the urgency of warfare is completely displaced. Instead, each of the characters exude a vibe that, taken together, makes Luminous Witches feels like K-On!, GochiUsa or Kiniro Mosaic set in the Strike Witches Universe. The troubles that affect Aira, Silvie and Maria, for instance, are nowhere near as emotionally charged as the pressure Mio faced when her Witch powers began declining, or the struggle Hikari experiences in trying to prove her worth as a member of the 502nd. This is a reminder that the Human-Neuroi War has compelled Witches to mature far more quickly than would otherwise occur, speaking to how far-reaching the war’s impact is. However, even in such a universe, normalcy does exist – seeing the smaller scale of the problems that the LNAF Band face in Luminous Witches face shows that despite the scope of the conflict, people still strive to live normal lives. In presenting this side of the Strike Witches universe, the weight of the efforts the other Witch squadrons are putting in to repel the Neuroi becomes more apparent. Strike Witches had originally been an “enemy-of-the-week” excuse to show the Witches and their pantsu, but as the series matured, and more of the world was developed, the opportunity to see more of this world has presented itself. The more laid-back atmosphere in Luminous Witches is especially conducive towards showing the slice-of-life side of things, but unlike World Witches Take Off!, where the humour is derived off crude gags, Luminous Witches is able to build humour and catharsis through natural interactions among the LNAF Band’s members, whom, as time passes, become increasingly familiar and comfortable with one another.