“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.” –Vera Nazarian
Upon their arrival in Chelyabinsk, Orussia, Virginia has Moffy looked at by a local Witch, Anna, while Grace, Aira and Éléonore travel into town, where the locals are busy rebuilding. Grace eventually determines that it would be appropriate to host a radio concert after learning from Virginia that Anna’s husband, Volodya, was once a concert pianist and would perform for his daughter on her birthday. On the evening of the radio show, a Neuroi’s unexpected appearance jams all communications. Virginia is able to locate it and manages to transmit its coordinates to the 503rd Joint Fighter Wing, who promptly intercept and destroy it. Volodya begins performing, and over the skies of Britannia, Sanya, Eila and Yoshika hear Volodya’s performance. The LNAF Band head over to Tokyo, Fuso, and after a concert where Lyudmilla accidentally botches her part of the choreography, she becomes envious of Éléonore for how close she seems with Aira. The group stays with Inori’s grandmother, and during the evening, Inori reluctantly decides to perform with Lyudmilla. When Aira realises Lyudmilla is singing her old song, she realises that her music did reach someone, and later during the evening, Virginia wanders off after receiving a signal. She meets a Night Witch, Tomomi Nishisugi, who’s a big fan of the LNAF Band and reiterates that their music’s done much for others. The LNAF Band begin the final leg of their world tour, finishing off in New York, Liberion. Joanna has a chance to catch up with her family, and inspired to put on a show that will reach them, she suggests changes to the programme that Grace approves of. With help from the locals to get the costumes done, the LNAF Band take to the skies for their performance’s finale and put on a show that reaches everyone in New York, including Joanna’s family. After the girls conclude their concert and express contentment at how well things went, Grace arrives with the news that the 501st has destroyed the Gallian Neuroi hive. Here at Luminous Witches‘ three-quarters milestone, the series has remained consistently endearing and heartwarming with its portrayal of the importance of morale during times of adversity.
In Luminous Witches‘ third quarter, the series explores how music can connect people despite physical distances separating them, drawing upon this to show how the LNAF Band have been immensely successful. When Lyudmilla, Virginia and Inori meet Anna and Volodya, who had mentioned they had a daughter that Volodya had played piano for long ago, Strike Witches veterans will almost immediately draw the connection with Sanya, who had managed to hear her father’s playing after succeeding in a night operation with Eila and Yoshika during the events of season one. Although they’d been separated by a great distance, for Sanya, hearing the reassuring sounds of her father’s piano was the affirmation that her parents were alright and moreover, were thinking about her. Although Virginia and the LNAF Band won’t know of this connection, Luminous Witches shows how putting in the effort to make a difference and accommodate others can have far-reaching, tangible positive outcomes. For Sanya, knowing her parents will always be there for her helps her to be a more confident part of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing. Similarly, in Fuso, Aira is shocked to learn that Lyudmilla had listened to her earliest songs, during a time in her career when she thought there’d be no listeners. For Lyudmilla, Aira’s songs would become sources of inspiration and strength, giving her something to regroup to when things had looked grim, and while it is fate that Aira and Lyudmilla do end up in the LNAF Band together, Lyudmilla’s admiration of Aira is not unfounded: although perhaps rough by her standards today, Aira shown how small actions, such as choosing to put one’s best foot forward even at a time when few might be looking, can set others on a path to better themselves. Knowing one’s efforts have tangible meaning is ultimately what Luminous Witches shows here; Virginia learns that the LNAF Band is having a tangible impact, and when Joanna arrives with the LNAF Band in New York, seeing just how enthusiastic her family is about what she’s accomplished with the LNAF Band similarly provides her with the encouragement to continue doing her best. The end result of this is a successful music and airshow over the skies of Manhattan, one which dazzles both concert-goers and citizens alike. The timing of Grace’s announcement, that Gallia’s been liberated, couldn’t be better: although the outcomes of the 501st’s efforts were the culmination of Yoshika’s resolute refusal to give up and Minna’s decision to violate direct orders, rather than anything the LNAF Band may have done directly, one cannot help but feel that the LNAF Band’s concerts (and the ensuing emotions) may have reached the 501st from time to time.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Luminous Witches has exceeded expectations thus far because of the series’ ability to combine the intricate world of Strike Witches with a tale of how music can reach people’s hearts no matter one’s distance. The rough, grittier side of the idol industry is discarded here in Luminous Witches: with the military’s backing, the LNAF Band are free to focus on their performances without worrying about sales figures and competing idol units, creating a very positive and cheerful atmosphere that brings to mind the likes of 2014’s Locodol.
- While Luminous Witches is lighter compared to its predecessors (excluding the World Witches Take Off! spinoffs), the story is not compromised for humour. Virginia’s quest to continue finding Moffy’s companions continue, and here, she meets a Orussian Witch by the name of Anna. Anna has an extensive knowledge of Witches and magic, and it turns out that constantly travelling is placing a strain on Moffy’s well-being, which is why he’s appearing exhausted since the world tour began.
- The idea of a world tour works exceedingly well because, even though the LNAF Band only spend one episode in a stop, and very little of that stop can be portrayed, it does give Luminous Witches a chance to explore places that Strike Witches previously could not: traditionally, Strike Witches and Brave Witches had the characters stationed at a base, and all of their operations would take place in an area around this base. While the Witches have a reasonably large operational range, they remain stationed in Europe. Strike Witches has shown Afrikan and Fuso Witches in other media, but at present, no animated adaptations of these stories exist.
- Compared to its predecessors, Luminous Witches is G-rated: even in a sauna, the girls wear bathing suits. In Strike Witches and Luminous Witches, fanservice was more heavily employed: Lynette, for instance, wore her Britannian outfit without a skirt, but here in Luminous Witches, Virginia rocks a skirt. I do get the feeling that Strike Witches began as a bit of a joke, but over the past fifteen years, the series has had an opportunity to build out its world further. Stories became more mature and nuanced, and it became clear that the character dynamics and stories, rather than the pantsu and crotch shots, were the real reason that Strike Witches continued to be successful.
- Originally, Luminous Witches‘ seventh episode was scheduled to air on August 14. However, production issues meant that the episode was pushed back a week, and with it, it meant that this discussion was pushed back by a week, too. The end result of this is that my quarterly post thus comes during the Labour Day long weekend. After a full summer of sunshine and blue skies, smoke from the forest fires west of my area swept into my area. In spite of this, I headed out for one final adventure and drove over to Turner Valley, a small town about an hour south of my city. After walking the Friendship trail, I swung by the Chuckwagon Café, an iconic eatery featured on You Gotta Eat Here!, for their House Burger, a mouth-watering six-ounce all-Alberta Beef burger topped with grilled onions, mushrooms, thick-cut bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and a homemade sweet pepper relish with a side of homemade fries. The wait for a table reached 75 minutes, but it was absolutely worth it.
- With this, my summer culinary tour of Southern Alberta draws to a close. Back in Luminous Witches, having managed to convince Volodyn to join them, the LNAF Band prepare to perform their radio show. However, when the transmission equipment malfunctions, and the power goes out, it becomes clear that the Neuroi have appeared. This was probably the tensest moment in Luminous Witches: unlike their combat counterparts, the Music Squadron doesn’t have any weapons to speak of. In spite of this, they choose to sortie anyways, and here, Virginia manages to transmit as a Night Witch for the first time. Nearby Witches from the 503rd receive the Neuroi’s position, and they immediately begin firing on its position, eventually destroying its core.
- With the Neuroi gone, Music Squadron begin hearing Volodya’s piano. As it turns out, Anna isn’t actually a Witch, but her daughter’s Familiar actually had a sibling, and to keep her family safe, she decided to leave the Familiar behind while she went over to the frontlines. While the performance might not have been in time for the Witch’s birthday, the LNAF Band feel that the sincerity of their emotions will allow Anna and Volodyn’s performance to reach their daughter, and this is ultimately what counts.
- As soon as the piano begins playing, my eyes immediately began watering: it’s been more than a decade since I watched Strike Witches‘ first season, but I’ll recognise Sanya no Uta from anywhere in the world. Back in the day, I picked up Strike Witches after it caught my eye, and while other anime fans in my data structures class advised against watching it, I proceeded anyways. While the fanservice was quite brazen, it was still a fun watch, and the world-building had especially captured my attention. However, having now had a chance to go back and look at things again, it becomes clear here in Luminous Witches, being able to see both sides of the coin meant really being able to understand just how powerful music can be.
- The real treat in Luminous Witches was actually seeing Sanya, Eila and Yoshika after they’d beaten a Neuroi together. The scene here faithfully captures the moments from Strike Witches‘ sixth episode: Gonzo’s original composition and framing, right down to using the full moon as a backdrop, is reproduced in SHAFT’s interpretation of the scene: Eila is carrying Sanya, who had lost one of her Striker units during the engagement with the Neuroi. Moments like these are a nice touch for veteran viewers, and Strike Witches has been running long enough so that new instalments don’t generate quite as much excitement as they once did.
- Despite this, I’ve long been a fan of this series because it’s matured considerably during the course of its run, and by Luminous Witches, it is clear that Strike Witches can be made to work in the total absence of pantsu. After a night’s effort, the LNAF Band catch a quick kip before they’re whisked off to their next destination, Fuso. While this episode did not have any live performances, choosing to frame things with a radio show and using this as an opportunity to tie Luminous Witches in with the events of Strike Witches was a particularly clever move on the writers’ part, allowing for one to ascertain that the LANF Band are flying around the world with their music at the same time that Yoshika and the others are working towards an assault on the Gallian hive.
- At a Fuso shrine, Aira draws “bad luck”, prompting Lyudmilla to ask her to switch it out. Drawing fortunes at a shrine is an integral part of Japanese culture, and I’ve never actually seen luck switching out like that. Fortunes and luck work on a self-fulfilling prophecy principal, in which receiving a fortune of a certain type impacts one’s confidence, and in turn, said confidence affects one’s ability to stay focused. Since Lyudmilla is unaware of what 凶 means, and happily accepts it from Aira, humour comes from what ends up happening to Lyudmilla.
- Following their latest concert in Fuso, the LNAF Band sign autographed copies of their latest album. While the other Witches are pleased with how smoothly things proceeded, Lyudmilla is sulking because she ended up accelerating ahead, breaking choreography, and Éléonore was forced to join her to cover the mistake. To the audience below, nothing unusual has happened, and it speaks volumes to how where performers are attuned to every detail of their work, audiences end up picking up on the energy and vibes surrounding a show. A missed step like Lyudmilla’s isn’t likely to raise too many eyebrows, and while Aira tries to get Lyudmilla to lighten up about things, she ends up mentioning another one of Lyudmilla’s mistakes, which only sours things further.
- To help out with things, Grace has arranged for the girls to stay over at the Shibuya residence with Inori’s grandmother. The residence is large, but hasn’t been prepared for guests since their housekeeper had urgent business to attend to. Fortunately for Grace and Inori’s grandmother, the LNAF Band are excited to be here and more than ready to help out. Grace herself is slated to hang out with Leftenant Ishida to review the LNAF Band’s performance.
- While the other Witches immediately busy themselves in getting the Shibuya residence set up, Lyudmilla finds herself growing irate when Éléonore appears to excel in all tasks. Lyudmilla ends up challenging Éléonore to various housekeeping tasks and is beaten at every turn, but Éléonore herself seems quite unaware of what’s going on until Lyudmilla directly requests a showdown with Striker Units later on, with the aim of proving her worthiness to Aira.
- Because Luminous Witches had been quite focused on musical performances and preparations for concerts, the series had been very disciplined with regard to elements that Strike Witches is best known for. Even during a race over the ocean, there are more close-ups of Lyudmilla’s Striker Unit, rather than Lyudmilla herself – this shifts attention away from Lyudmilla’s figure and onto the feeling of unease surrounding the notion that her bad luck may not have entirely run its course yet.
- Sure enough, Lyudmilla’s Striker Unit malfunctions after a critical turn, and while she had been set to win, this unexpected malfunction sends her tumbling into the ocean, surprising the others. That Lyudmilla had been holding out against Éléonore suggests that as a pilot, she’d been okay, but otherwise, wasn’t able to aim effectively. Here, Inori, Virginia and Manaia look on – Manaia’s got a flag in hand, ready to wave it when a winner is known, but once Lyudmilla falls into the water, the race is off, and Inori is later seen helping her apply some ointment to ease the stinging after she fell into a group of jellyfish.
- Virginia begins to feel that Lyudmilla’s been unlike her usual self and decides to speak to Éléonore about things – Éléonore feels that Lyudmilla’s spirits must be a result of her working harder to offset the fact that her home nation is besieged by the Neuroi, and that seeing her in such spirits was encouraging. It doesn’t appear that Éléonore has quite grasped the fact that Lyudmilla is infatuated with Aira, but the moment does speak to the fact that Éléonore wasn’t acting out of malice towards Lyudmilla, and in fact, actually respects her greatly, seeing her as a source of inspiration.
- After the evening meal, the girls change into yukata and settle down for the evening, where Inori’s grandmother is treated to a story of Inori’s contributions within the LNAF Band. Inori’s grandmother then shares with the girls the fact that Inori had once taken koto lessons, but she later gave up after feeling she’d made little progress. Virginia encourages Inori to perform, and she ropes Lyudmilla into joining her. While Inori’s reasons for joining the LNAF Band remain unexplored at this time, one supposes that some of her characteristics made her less suited for being a combat Witch.
- After joining Inori for an impromptu performance, Lyudmilla shares a moment with Aira and expresses that she’d been motivated by Aira’s music, promising to one day surpass her and make a name for herself. Aira is encouraged by this – she hadn’t known that her music reached anyone early on. We recall that Aira had been a devoted and focused Witch, so when her magical powers began fading, she would’ve lost a bit of her way until she took up music, and now, knowing she inspired Lyudmilla gives her the vindication that her efforts were worth it.
- When Moffy’s magic suddenly activates in the middle of the night, Virginia rushes out and encounters Tomomi Nishisugi, another Night Witch who’s fond of Virginia and the LNAF Band’s music. Moments like these are brief, but serve to reinforce the fact that the LNAF Band’s work is not to be underestimated. When Luminous Witches began airing, some folks had derided the need for such a series, but much as how the LNAF Band’s lifted the spirits of those in the Strike Witches universe, the series has also proven to be a much-needed source of relaxation.
- The last time I watched an anime that took viewers to New York City was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid‘s OVA. Here in Luminous Witches, the New York we see are of a Manhattan in the 1940s; in reality, Manhattan had a population of two million in the 1940s and was already a bustling hub of business and culture. The actual concert itself is set on Fort Jay on Governor’s Island – it is named after John Jay and was built in 1794 to defend New York, and by World War Two, was headquarters to the First Army.
- The Witches are impressed with the city lights and limosine that’s come to pick them up – as a callback to history, Continental United States was spared the destruction that ravaged Europe, and coming out of the Second World War, America was the only industrial power left on the planet with intact infrastructure, giving them a massive economic advantage. Similarly, the Neuroi invasion only appears to have impacted Europe in Strike Witches, and their inability to cross open water meant the conflict appears limited to Europe. Here, Aira is surprised that Éléonore can casually hop into New York’s cultural scene, as she admires all of Broadway and partakes in some popcorn. When Aira asks her about Gallia’s own culture, Éléonore sees this as a bit of inspiration for what Gallia could be restored to in the future.
- The next day, while Lyudmilla and Inori explore New York, Inori becomes entranced by the sights and sounds, even buying a doughnut from a street-side vendor before Lyudmilla hauls her off. Inori was adorable in this scene, expressing pure joy at being able to enjoy North American cuisine. The choice to have her buy a doughnut might also speak to the Japanese love for doughnuts – Japan is second only to Canadians on a per capita consumption of this confectionary, and while Japan has their own variety of doughnuts, the Western style doughnuts became wildly popular in the 1970s after Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut opened branches there.
- While out and about, Joanna and Silvie go shopping for new costume materials, before swinging by the neighbourhood Joanna grew up in. Her siblings subsequently greet her, and the remainder of the Witches are introduced to Joanna’s family – it was a pleasant surprise to provide viewers with an opportunity to see Joanna’s siblings and meet the family she’s been working so hard for. Since Strike Witches had the Witches focus on their fight, the Witches do not have much of an opportunity to visit family. For instance, Lynette comes from a family of Witches, but we’ve never seen them in animated form (one of Lynette’s sisters do show up in The Skies that Connect Us).
- Similar to Inori’s grandmother, Joanna’s family are overjoyed to see her among the LNAF Band’s members, and in fact, they’ve even got a few scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings of her adventures abroad. Since Silvie’s story, Luminous Witches has done a wonderful job of showing how, despite not being combat Witches, the girls’ families are still proud of them for doing what they can for humanity. As it turns out, the fellow that Inori had brought the doughnut from happens to be Joanna’s father.
- On the day of the performance, the LNAF Band perform for a massive crowd before switching their uniforms out. The Witches had grown very ambitious, inspired to try and put on an incredible show; Silvie and Joanna have gone above and beyond to make this a memorable showing, and while their uniform design proved complicated, Grace finds a local textile mill willing to help with producing the new uniforms. With new choreography and music, this show proves to be the LNAF Band’s biggest one yet. In this episode, parts of the performance are rendered in CG, but unlike their earlier renderings, SHAFT has done a more consistent job here. While the 3D assets still feel a little uncanny, they are more polished.
- Excited to get into the skies for their big finale, Joanna and Silvie lead the show by using their Striker Units to draw massive doughnuts in the air. While her family couldn’t get front row seats at the performance, the LNAF Band have devised an ingenious method for bringing the show to all of New York’s residents, by using their Strikers to draw patterns in the sky that linger. By this point in time, all of the Witches have become skillful enough at flying to remain airborne for prolonged periods of time and perform the manoeuvres that Maria had choreographed. The Brooklyn Bridge is visible here, and Joanna’s family eagerly anticipates her arrival.
- The LNAF Band utilise a Striker variant of the T-6 Texan, a trainer aircraft the that first flew in 1935 and was used by the United States Air Force and Navy, as well as the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. Although retired from service, the aircraft remains popular in airshow demonstrations, and because the aircraft resembles the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it is used to simulate other aircraft in films. For air shows, the LNAF Band gives their Striker Units different colours; they’ve been red previously, but to match the girls’ dresses, they’ve been painted blue for this show.
- Following a show that exceeded expectations, the LNAF Band are exhausted by pleased. Everyone had already gotten along on reasonable terms, but seeing the Magic Squadron perform in this fashion really accentuates how far everyone’s come since Grace had assembled everyone for a pilot project. However, as icing on the cake, Grace arrives with news from Gallia: the 501st have just defeated the Gallian Hive, paving the way for the liberation of Gallia. I still remember watching Yoshika participating in this battle after Minna defied orders to continue engaging the hive. Strike Witches and Strike Witches 2 had been the only instalments in the series where humanity attempted to use Neuroi technology against them, but by later series, Witches would engage hives without attempting to utilise methods with unknown properties.
- Grace is overjoyed at the news, and Éléonore is surprised: new possibility suddenly fills her mind, and viewers will gather that there is now a chance for her homeland to be restored to its former glory, letting her to show her friends the best that Gallia has to offer in the future. However, Strike Witches shows that the rebuilding process is a tough one, and Perinne had been leading the effort to rebuild throughout the later instalments of Strike Witches. In a war where humanity had been on the backfoot, Grace’s smile speaks volumes to how monumental the Witches’ achievements are. We now enter Luminous Witches‘ final quarter, and while the ninth episode felt quite conclusive, that there are three more episodes means viewers will have a chance to see the world in the period following the Gallian hive’s destruction.
The finale concert in New York made the latest episode take on the traits of a season finale, and now, with news of the Gallian hive’s destruction reaching everyone’s ears, it becomes clear that Luminous Witches had always been intended to act as a side story of sorts, showing what was going on while Yoshika was getting to know her felling 501st Witches better and struggling with her own misgivings as the Neuroi begin deploying units in the form of a Witch. Seeing Sanya, Eila and Yoshika appear here in Luminous Witches was a callback to the original series which had aired fourteen years earlier, rewarding longtime fans for having accompanied the series for this long, and also tying the stories in as one that is set during the same timeframe as some of the Strike Witches‘ universes fiercest battles. That the LNAF Band are operational during this time and performing for people in what may be seen as humanity’s darkest hours serves to reiterate just how much of a positive impact Virginia and her friends are having on the course of the Human-Neuroi War, even though no one in the LNAF Band wields a machine gun. Instead, the LNAF Band’s greatest weapon is the ability to make feelings of hope and encouragement tangible through song and dance. With the Gallian hive now destroyed, and mention that this is the first time any Neuroi hive has been taken down, this marks a turning point in the war, showing humanity that, beyond any doubt, their Witches are symbols of hope, and instruments of liberation. Further to this, because the LNAF Band’s world tour has concluded in New York, and there are still three episodes left, one cannot help but wonder where Luminous Witches will go with its last three episodes. It would be a pleasure to see the 501st again, and there might be a possibility (however slim) that Yoshika and her team will have a chance to watch the LNAF Band perform in person. Time will tell how Luminous Witches will unfold, but given how consistent this series has been after three quarters, one can be reasonably confident that whatever lies ahead will also be quite heartwarming to watch.