The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Strike Witches

Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! – Review and Impressions After Three

“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” –Morty Smith, Rick and Morty

Strike Witches: Road to Berlin is coming out in 2020, and then Luminous Witches will air in 2021, it looks like the Strike Witches franchise has returned in full after a slow start in 2007 with its OVA – this series has been polarising for seemingly being an excuse to showcase female soldiers running around without any pants, but as the series progressed, it also matured deeply, showing that elements of world building can indeed far outweigh initial impressions that the series is merely for visual charm. Themes of camaraderie, trust and a determination to protect what one holds dear, plus minor themes about technological advancement, understanding and open-mindedness began making their way into a series to give characters credible growth. Strike Witches‘ 2013 movie, Operation Victory Arrow and Brave Witches represent a maturing series that began focusing more on the human side of the Human-Neuroi War, and of late, Strike Witches has become much more than being a flimsy excuse to full a seam with crotches. It’s now been some two years since Brave Witches, and four years since Operation Victory Arrow; with new Strike Witches on the horizon, it stands to reason that fans have definitely earned something in the meantime to re-light their interest in the series.

Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! (Strike Witches: 501-butai Hasshinshimasu!) appears to be this “something”: on the surface, it deals with everyday life amongst the 501st. From Yoshika taking up cooking for everyone owing to their incapacity to cook (Minna, in particular, manages to harm her fellow soldiers more than the Neuroi do), to Gertrude’s determination to have Erica maintain a clean room, from Charlotte’s terrifying driving to Eila’s inability to properly express her feelings for Sanya, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s comical portrayal of the 501st marks a far cry from the series’ typical features. In fact, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s approach is so unexpectedly different that one would be forgiven if they were to mistake this for a bad joke: the animation and artwork appear as though it was produced by an algorithm that was designed to produce animation on its own, but was overfitted to a poor training data set. The insane premises and events suggest improvisation the same way Rick and Morty improvised the Interdimensional Cable skits. While inherently flawed, Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! also seems to express different relationships amongst the characters: Gertrude acts as a mentor of sorts for Yoshika, while the slovenly Erica seems to be more at home with the lazy Charlotte and Francesca. The dynamics result in odd moments that show the members of the 501st in a caricature form of themselves, and this produces a unique brand of humour that is as outlandish as Interdimensional Cable.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There is no discussion out there on Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! – I don’t mean that discussions are scant, or that they are light, because there simply is no one else talking about this series. This is unsurprising, given that this Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is meant to be a bit of a practical joke. The artwork is of a much lower quality than what I usually watch, although the vast blue skies of Strike Witches remain.

  • After becoming a part of the 501st, Yoshika is assigned to cooking duties because she’s apparently the only person on the team who can make anything edible. Gertrude feels badly for her and decides to help out. In Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Gertrude has a much closer friendship with Yoshika: she was initially distant, feeling Yoshika to resemble her younger sister, but the two get along quite well in Strike Witches proper.

  • Minna is the commander of the 501st, and while she’s normally gentle and kind, there are some conditions where her personality will harden, usually in regards to everyone’s safety. This will not manifest in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, and instead, Minna is presented as being a bit ditzy, as well as having a terrible sense of taste. Her cooking is as lethal as a M829 APFSDS, putting everyone on the floor: when she suggests cooking in place of Yoshika, everyone vehemently objects.

  • The events of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! are not so clearly determined: while everyone is located at the Britannian base see in the first season, Mio and Minna mention an infamous scene where Minna, concerned for Mio’s safety, holds her at gunpoint and demands that Mio stand down from active duty. This occurred later in season one, and the 501st leave the Britannian base after the season ends. The Sky That Connects Us shows that everyone is scattered around the globe, so Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! might not be really a formal part of the Strike Witches timeline.

  • Charlotte and Erica are perhaps two of the scummiest members of the 501st, if Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is anything to go by. When assigned to patrol duty, they simply lounge around in swimwear and suggest that Yoshika do the same. It’s a callback to the first episode when Charlotte is seen chilling, but unlike the series proper, the low level of detail means that contours and the like are rendered with a much lower fidelity.

  • Whereas Gertrude usually is content to deliver a verbal tongue-lashing in response to Erica’s slovenly ways, in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, she resorts to physical beatings that put everyone on the floor. Yoshika is made to suffer when she decides to do patrol duty properly and is given a heavy jacket that gives her heat stroke. With Yoshika out of commission, Minna cooks for everyone and manages to harm the 501st in ways that even the Neuroi do not.

  • When Gertrude’s patience with Erica’s mess reaches its limits, she enlists Yoshika to help her in clearing out a mess that would defeat even the Konmari Method™: Marie Kondo’s approach to reducing clutter is to use a simple metric in deciding what to keep and what to chuck. If something creates happiness or has sentimental value, it can be kept, and otherwise, it is to be discarded. My parents’ method is simpler and more effective – if something is actively being used, then it should be kept.

  • I would imagine that my parents’ approach, which I’ve adopted, would make for a much more boring approach. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, the Konmari Method™ eventually results in a series of accidents that allow Erica’s mess to be cleared, but also causes her to lose a medal. While trying to find the medal, Erica reintroduces the mess, undoing everyone’s efforts. One wonder how such a mess is even possible.

  • I actually had no intentions of writing about Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, but the combination of wanting to give myself a challenge and the fact that there’s no other blogs talking about this series means a unique opportunity for me to see if there’s anything noteworthy I could say about what essentially amounts to a shoddily-prepared show for something like Interdimensional Cable: the events of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! are outlandish and zany enough so that they could fit within the realm of what is shown in the multi-verse.

  • Fanservice in is much lighter in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! than anywhere else in Strike Witches, which started out shoving everyone’s pantsu into the viewers’ faces. AS the series progressed, while such moments were still present, they became secondary to character growth. Here, Erica and Charlotte apologise after Minna kicks their asses for making fun of her dress.

  • The Interdimensional Cable atmosphere of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is why I’ve opted to go with one of the more famous quotes from Rick and Morty, where Morty presents a very bleak view of the universe to Summer and suggests that things are what they are, so one might as well enjoy themselves with the time and plane of existence they do have. This is one way of saying that folks should not be so invested into minutiae surrounding their entertainment and take things a little less seriously.

  • After Minna and Mio are invited to a party for officiers, Gertrude and Yoshika overlook duties at the base. They ren’t enough to rein in the undisciplined antics of Erica, Francesca and Charlotte, but it turns out that, in the absence of standards, Erica, Francesca and Charlotte actually have no goofing off to do. They decide to explore the rooms of their squadron mates, but find things that disturb them.

  • Francesca, Charlotte and Erica’s reactions mirror my reaction to the weather yesterday: we’re only a stone’s throw from May, but Winter evidently wasn’t through with us yet and dropped 15 centimetres of snow on the city, bringing everything to a halt. Back in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, Yoshika and Gertude explained that nothing special occurred, while the lipstick marks on Mio and blood on Minna imply that something hilarious went down behind the scenes.

  • After Yoshika accepts her paycheque, which features a bonus because her cooking is single-handedly keeping everyone’s spirits up, Yoshika decides to go shopping for new cooking implements. Gertrude decides to accompany her, along with Lynette, but when Charlotte offers to drive, the mere suggestion is enough to strike fear into the hearts of all those who know of her driving. As far as I can tell, Charlotte was not that bad a driver in Strike Witches, and I don’t ever recall a moment where she’s driven anyone anywhere.

  • A part of the humour in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! stems from implicit moments, as well: leaving audiences to work out what occurred can be as funny as seeing things for oneself. While I’ve not very much to say about things in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, I can say that watching the incredible antics of the 501st does bring a smile to my face. One of the genuine criticisms I have of Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! so far is that Lynette hasn’t had much screen time yet. Of the Witches, I’m rather fond of her character.

  • Back at base, Minna decides to make lunch, and Eila somehow gets pulled into things, reasoning that fermented stuff akin to the Japanese-style cooking Yoshika’s been doing must taste better. They whip up pickled herring and decide to add ammonia to it (which, incidentally, is toxic), scaring the living daylights out of Erica. She runs off to find Mio, in the hopes of putting an end to this nightmare. When Mio manages to cut the containers open, their noxious gases incapacitates her, reducing her to a trembling wreck. In any other series, this would be a pretty big deal, but in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, all injuries are temporary, and all damage sustained is quickly repaired. Hence, viewers may enjoy a laugh at Mio’s expense.

  • Later, Eila succumbs to a cold and is bed ridden: while Yoshika accompanies Sanya on a night mission, Gertude and Erica look after her. Eila’s feelings for Sanya have formed the basis for many a joke in-series: Sanya is near oblivious to Eila’s feelings even where everyone else is aware of them.

  • I’ve heard that summoning circles are all the rage on social media these days, and after leaving some of the Sanya cutouts so Eila won’t be lonely, the others allow her to rest. These props actually glow in the dark by some unknown mechanism, and actually look quite intimidating. When Sanya returns from her patrol and sees these, she’s a little put off, and once Eila recovers, she immediately hunts down Erica for the trouble.

  • If folks were looking for a proper slice-of-life with the 501st, then Operation Victory Arrow and the manga, The Sky That Connects Us, do a solid job of presenting what goes down between Neuroi attacks. I will be returning to write about Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! towards the end of the season: while nothing substantial, it is something that is fun in its own right. We are at the end of April now, and now is a good time as any to mention that, after a day of delayed flights, I am now in San José, California, where I will be attending Facebook’s Developer Conference, F8. I may work on a few posts here and there, but I expect to be quite busy until my return early May.

While Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! has numerous flaws and very little in the way of themes, its unusual brand of humour brings out the worst of all the characters and gives audiences something to laugh at – I imagine that this is a deliberate design choice to keep audiences busy, and presumably, to lower their guard ahead of Road to Berlin‘s release. Since Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! comes across as weak, Road of Berlin will stand in stark contrast and be more consistent with the increasingly detailed and mature themes that Strike Witches has trended towards. Fans of Strike Witches won’t gain much more than a few cheap laughs out of the characters’ misfortune in Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, but it does act as somewhat of a reminder that each of Yoshika, Lynette, Perrine, Mio, Charlotte, Francesca, Gertrude, Erica, Minna, Eila and Sanya have come a long way since their initial appearances in 2008’s Strike Witches. The series is no longer dominated by needless pantsu, and there is a deeper, more enjoyable theme to the 501st’ exploits – if Road to Berlin is going to be more moody and reflective than the second season, then for the time being, viewers might as well watch everyone in unusual and strange conditions that exaggerate their characters far more than a proper season would.

The Great Petersburg Strategy: Brave Witches OVA Review and Reflections

“I’m an unlucky charm…don’t go anywhere with me.” –Sophie Turner

After their arrival at the Petersburg base, Eila and Sanya find themselves kicked out of bed by Georgette, whose heart is intent on doing winter cleaning. Longing to visit the deserted streets of Petersburg with Sanya, Eila’s plans are dashed when Sanya is requested to discuss intelligence on the fronts. The next day, Eila runs into Waltrud and upon learning that Waltrud has set out to win Sanya’s heart, tries to stop her, only to burst into Sanya’s room while she’s changing. Alexsandra appears and defuses the situation, hauling Waltrud and Eila off so the latter can provide instruction for the other 502nd Witches. Sanya and Eila encounter Sadako on the third day while sneaking about base, trying to sneak out undetected to have a date together; Sadako acts in a manner contrary to her usual self and cuddles with Sanya while Eila tries in vain to stop her. As New Year’s Eve approaches, the girls begin preparing a special Russian dinner to celebrate. Learning that watching fireworks with someone special will bring them closer together, Eila decides to add fireworks to their celebration with the hope of becoming closer to Sanya, but Gundula denies Eila’s request for fireworks. Mid-dinner, a Neuroi attack prompts a section of the 502nd to sortie. Eila helps Hikari stabilise in flight before she, Sanya, Edytha engage the Neuroi in combat. They learn quickly that this Neuroi has tougher armour than bog-standard Neuroi, and despite their efforts the Neuroi breaks through their ranks. Owing to Eila’s precognition magic, she is able to foresee this and breaks off to intercept the Neuroi, destroying it. The resulting ceramic shards from the Neuroi give the impression of fireworks, allowing Eila to share a tender moment with Sanya. This is the gist of the Brave Witches OVA’s events, whose focus is predominantly on Sanya and Eila.

After the end of Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow, audiences were disappointed that Sanya and Eila were not given their own OVA – Operation Victory Arrow‘s final instalment dealt with Lynette and Perrine. While enjoyable, viewers were hoping to see more of the dynamics between Eila and Sanya, whose relationship has been of great interest to fans of Strike Witches. With this in mind, the Brave Witches OVA delivers this in spades: the OVA’s emphasis is on humour, providing a highly entertaining story about Eila’s efforts to spend time with Sanya, and despite her frequent failures, it is after the battle that Eila’s wish to watch fireworks with Sanya comes true, in manner of speaking. One of the great ironies of Strike Witches is that despite Eila’s powers for precognition, she’s unable to really find the opportunity to get closer to Sanya, being bested time and time again by the machinations of bad luck. However, like Strike Witches: The Sky That Connects Us, Eila is able to be there with Sanya in the most tender of moments, offsetting her usual bad luck and the comical situations she finds herself in while in pursuit of Sanya’s heart. The combination of hilarity and heart-warming moments in Eila’s efforts to court Sanya is what that makes their moments so enjoyable to watch: between Eila’s exasperation at how many of the 502nd is seemingly vying with her for Sanya’s attention and the lengths she is willing to go in order to do the same, the Brave Witches OVA ultimately ends up being the Eila and Sanya OVA that Strike Witches fans were looking for, being well worth the wait.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My considerable prowess for Google-fu has not yielded any results, so I am very confident in saying that this is the internet’s first and only review of the Brave Witches OVA. As is the typical modus operandi, this post will feature thirty screenshots and a bit of a surprise that leads me to note that, if you’re at a workplace or place of learning, please do not scroll any further. I will open the post with Georgette brusquely awakening Eila and Sanya, declaring her intention to clean their room. Her enthusiasm brings to mind Yūna’s energy from Yūki Yūna is a Hero: she’s a far cry from her quiet, shy self seen in Brave Witches proper.

  • This is not particularly surprising a comparison; both Yūna and Georgette are voiced by Haruka Terui. The Brave Witches OVA is set in between the seventh and eighth episode, following the Christmas party that Nikka tries to prepare for Hikari, and before Eila and Sanya depart early during the eighth episode. For folks familiar with Strike Witches: The Sky That Connects us, the OVA is very similar to Eila and Sanya’s chapter in terms of composition.

  • Unlike the installations that Yoshika and the 501st reside in during Strike Witches and its second season, the Petersburg base is a little older and less well-maintained. Cracks are visible in the walls, and there’s a distinctly minimal personal effects or clutter in the girls’ rooms. Here, the play of light suggests an early morning, and Eila’s plans to bring Sanya out on a walk of the nearby city are promptly done away with when Edytha and Gundula ask Sanya to debrief them on the situation in other regions.

  • While the OVA’s only been available since August 25, there were theatrical screenings that preceded the release of the BD volumes containing the OVA back in May. I’ve seen at least one individual fly to Japan for the singular goal of watching the OVA. For me, that is an unreasonable use of money, since the cost of a flight would set me back by an average of 1300 CAD (and cheaper flights start at around 800 CAD). Even for folks situated in other parts of the world more conducive for travelling to Japan on short notice (e.g. from Manila, a flight starts at 400 CAD on average), it’s more economical to simply import the BDs even if the wait is longer.

  • While this OVA might deal predominantly with Sanya and Eila, there are other moments worth mentioning, including Georgette’s unexpected decision to use force in vacating Naoe from her spot to continue with her cleaning. Even if the feat itself is not particularly impressive considering what Witches can do when drawing upon their powers fully, when Georgette Hulks out and tosses Naoe from her spot, bed and all, the moment leads to all sorts of comedy.

  • While the original televised run of Brave Witches was marred by obvious CG elements, the BDs represent a considerable leap in visual quality. The OVA continues on with the quality present in the BDs, and here, a small book unearthed when Georgette moves Naoe’s bed is visible. It turns out to be titled “The Little Princess”, and Georgette remarks it’s a cute book uncharacteristic of the fare that Naoe is typically seen reading. I have a very diverse interest in books, ranging from the political thrillers of Tom Clancy to Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”.

  • Naoe’s ensuing reaction was a bloody riot, and second only to Eila, Naoe’s funny face moments in the OVA alone make it worth watching. Here, I will admit that the Brave Witches OVA arrived much sooner than expected, just in time for the long weekend. I also learned that Battlefield 1‘s In The Name of the Tsar DLC will become available to premium players on the fifth of September, which coincides with the conclusion of the Labor Day Long Weekend and when I did a talk for the Battlefield 1 beta last year.

  • The latest DLC is Russian-themed, and so, is a perfect opportunity to experience Brave Witches in the Frostbite Engine. I’ll be doing a few talks as I experience the DLC, but for the present, we return to Brave Witches, which pits Waltrud and Eila in a one-on-one. Both are formidable Witches when in the air, but on the ground away from their duties, their actions belie their prowess in the skies. After Eila runs into Waltrud, she quickly takes off to protect Sanya from Waltrud’s plans.

  • Eila and Waltrud burst into Sanya’s room, only to be surprised at the sight awaiting them. One must wonder where Waltrud got the bouquet of flowers from; such commodities cannot be inexpensive, and it is unlikely that the 502nd have a flower garden at their base. Even if this were the case, the Russian winter would preclude anything from growing. Having said this, the presence of fresh flowers is not a big deal, providing a bit of visual humour.

  • Earlier, I remarked that this post has images that are ill-suited for viewing at a workplace. This particular screenshot is not the pair I’m referring to; after initial surprise at having unexpected guests, Sanya’s reaction turns to one of embarrassment. I don’t think I’ve seen Sanya sport such an expression previously, and therein lies one of the joys of OVAs, allowing characters to demonstrate a side of their characters that would otherwise not be seen or feel out of place in the narrative proper.

  • When Alexsandra passes by, she manages to separate Eila and Waltrud, before turning to Sanya and noting that Sanya’s got a very pleasant presence that Alexsandra can relate to. This is hardly surprising, considering that both are from Orussia. After a short conversation, Alexsandra’s come to borrow Eila to help provide instruction for the 502nd’s other Witches, and knowing that Waltrud is likely to capitalise in Eila’s absence, hauls her away, as well.

  • Despite her precognition magic giving her a unique edge in battle by offering her a glimpse into the immediate future, not unlike that of a Newtype, Eila’s technical ability of a Witch is lacking: she’s very dependent on her ability to keep ahead of enemies in battle and therefore has had little incentive to develop teamwork and her mastery of shield projection. Consequently, she finds it very difficult to explain her tactics during combat: it somewhat brings to mind Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer”, a very clever book that explains how things work using the thousand most common English words – one of my favourites includes “tall road” for “bridge” and “up goer 5” for “Saturn V Rocket”.

  • Eila’s explanations leave the others befuddled; Hikari seems to derive the idea that combat is explosive and high paced, while Naoe is frustrated. Meanwhile, Waltrud does not even seem to care, enamoured by Eila herself. Alexsandra is disappointed at this turn of events, exasperated that Eila’s not of more help. I’ve not been a TA for quite some time now, but I imagine that I used to be reasonably clear as a TA. Beyond being known helping students, both in and outside of my own section on short notice, one of my favourite remarks from students is “speaks fluent English”.

  • Georgette, meanwhile, continues on her cleaning spree. It is largely through her efforts that the Petersburg base remain quite clean and inviting even in spite of its aging facilities. It’s actually a very nice touch to see chipped paint in walls exposing the brick underneath, giving the base a much older, worn feeling to it. However, older and having seen better days does not correspond with being a dank, unfriendly place to be: good lighting and cleanliness does wonders for making older buildings a cozy place to be.

  • Eila’s quest to take Sanya on a date in Petersburg fails completely even when she employs her magic to evade other members of the 502nd. In Brave Witches proper, Sadako is quite reserved – it’s an unexpected aspect of her character that audiences see in the OVA, as she hugs Sanya tightly, to Eila’s great displeasure. Her efforts to extricate Sanya from Sadako end in failure. It is here that some of Eila’s best “funny face” moments come to be.

  • Naoe and Edytha watch on as Sadako continues cuddling with Sanya in the presence of a highly riled-up Eila, implying in their conversation that Sadako’s done that to everyone else in the 502nd. As nearly eleven months have passed since I watched Brave Witches, I cannot quite remember of Sadako does something similar to Hikari: in the anime proper, I remember her as a capable cook who doubted her abilities as a Witch.

  • Not even the 502nd’s captains are safe from Georgette’s Need to Clean. After Georgette evicts them from Gundula’s office, Alexsandra and Gundula are left to enjoy their tea in peace, but in the cool of the hallway. While I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say I’d welcome a Russian winter right now, the temperature where I am hit a maximum of 32ºC. It’s quite the contrast from last year, where the weather was grey and overcast when I visited Drumheller.

  • Georgette expresses her gratitude to Sanya for having helped her catch a mouse that was getting into their provisions, leading a jealous Sadako to remark that it’s taking her full self-restraint to not hug Sanya again. While Sanya might be a character in Strike Witches, for folks in China, Sanya (三亚) is the name of Heinan’s southernmost city. With a population of 685000, the city is known as China’s Florida, being a popular destination for its warm weather and pleasant beaches.

  • Sadako praises Sanya for her knowledge of Orussian cuisines; for their New Year’s Eve party, borscht (борщ-суп, a sour soup made from beets), pirozhki (пирожки, a fried bread with beef and vegetable filling), Olivier salad (Russian salad with potatoes, a variety of vegetables, apples and chicken), pelmeni (пельме́ни, dumplings with a meat or fish filling) and a dish known colloquially as “Herring under a fur coat” (Селёдка под шубой, or “dressed herring”) are on the menu. Dressed herring is very popular as a New Year’s Eve dish in Russia, being made of pickled herring topped with layers of layers of grated boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beet roots), chopped onions, and mayonnaise. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever had Russian cuisine before.

  • When Edytha gives Sanya permission to use her caviar collection to make something for the New Year’s Eve party, Waltrud appears out of the blue and wantonly wastes it, this time by eating it directly, earning herself yet another beating from Edytha. This is a returning joke from Brave Witches, where Waltrud had previously destroyed Edytha’s caviar stock when supplies were running low amidst a fierce snowstorm. Enraged by the other’s efforts in stealing Sanya from her, Eila suddenly loses steam and decides to go with Nikka to the sauna on base.

  • In The Sky That Connects Us, Eila, Sanya and Nikka relax in a sauna, but they’re wearing towels: the OVA has them without any sort of clothing, and the last post I have an open screenshot of papilla mammaria was for Yosuha no Sora, which was not too long ago. After groping everyone, including Nikka, and remarking that she’s bored, Eila resigns herself to the fact that she might not get to spend any time with Sanya while they’re in Petersburg. However, Nikka notes that watching fireworks in the company of a special someone might push things along, re-energising Eila.

  • Steam certainly does not work this way in reality: Eila stands up and hops off, with the steam following her as she moves. However, if Brave Witches had dared to go the whole nine yards in this moment, I would have not featured the screenshot at all. While Nikka and Naoe watch Eila leave to make the proposal of including fireworks in the evening celebrations to Gundula, Hikari basks in a memory of her watching fireworks with Takami.

  • While a day trip out of town would be nice, the hotter temperatures today meant such a trip would be somewhat uncomfortable. In lieu of this, I figured it would be appropriate to visit the area mall instead: I’ve been looking to buy new running shoes to replace a pair from two years ago, as well as a new bag (my old backpack has been around since I was an undergraduate). This particular mall is a relatively new one and quite popular; it’s very busy during the Labour Day long weekend, and after enjoying New York Fries’ Premium Dog (which I added relish, onions, mustard, ketchup and hot sauce to) and their latest Beef Lovers’ poutine, I picked up the items I was looking to buy. After a day’s shopping, we then went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which featured a chicken stir-fry, sa lai gwut (which I finally figured out the hanji for, being “沙拉骨”), crispy shrimps and vegetables.

  • It’s now evening, and although the weather is cooling down, a thick smoke is covering the area again. Back in Brave Witches, the 502nd settle down to dinner after Gundula gives a short New Year’s toast, resolving to work towards ending the Human-Neuroi War. The foods mentioned earlier are present, but as the girls begin to enjoy things, an alarm signals the arrival of a Neuroi. This turn of events is hardly unexpected: every Strike Witches episode and OVA previous feature Neuroi combat. Thus, it’s time to take off into the night and deal with the enemy.

  • Sanya’s magic allows her to project radio waves and act as a human AWACS, detecting hostile elements in the air even under the cover of darkness. With Hikari in tow, Sanya is reminded of Yoshika and their first night battle together, suggesting that they hold hands to avoid getting separated. Carrying the Fliegerhammer MRL into combat, Sanya provides heavy firepower useful for punching through the ceramic exterior of a Neuroi. This weapon is likely the logical development for the Fliegerfaust (“pilot fist”), a prototype German multi-barrel rocket launcher that was intended to act as a MANPAD, and shares similarity in appearance to the American M202 FLASH, a multiple-tube rocket launcher for firing incendiary projectiles.

  • The low light conditions of night combat causes Hikari to lose orientation and enter a spin, but Eila, who’d been surprisingly incapable of providing useful advice earlier, helps Hikari return to a stable flight pattern here. When the Witches begin engaging the Neuroi, they find its armour uncommonly tough, requiring multiple direct hits from Edytha and Sanya to begin even cracking the armour. Even after they expose the core, the Neuroi’s quick regeneration and subsequent boost of speed surprises the Witches – it punches through their lines on a beeline to their base.

  • However, this turns out to have been the distraction Eila needed: she was able to foresee this and already positioned herself to destroy the Neuroi. With several well-placed shots from her MG-42, the Neuroi disappears into a shower of luminescent crystals, filling the sky with a calm glow evocative of a single, impressive firework.

  • While Eila is disappointed that her wish of spending some time with Sanya while in Petersburg was seemingly not realised (she never does have the chance to explore the deserted city adjacent to their base during the time the two spend in Petersburg), and that there were no fireworks to speak of, Sanya notes that the Neuroi shards resemble fireworks, which suggests to Eila that she did get her wish after all. The two usher in a New Year hand-in-hand subsequently.

  • With the Neuroi threat eliminated, the OVA draws to a close and reminds audiences that the narrative resumes in episode eight. This also coincides to the near-end of this post: I was not expecting to finish the Brave Witches OVA this quickly, but all the same, it’s nice to get this talk out of the gates. I am, however, surprised at the lack of discussion (or even reaction) from the folks who’ve been long waiting for a Sanya and Eila OVA since Operation Victory Arrow ended with Arnhem Bridge two years ago  – that we did end up getting a Sanya and Eila OVA through Brave Witches is most certainly welcome.

  • I’ll close this post off with a screenshot of Sanya smiling, and looking into the future, the next post on the horizon will deal with Kantai Collection: The Movie. With Battlefield 1‘s In The Name of The Tsar not releasing until after the long weekend is over, I will take advantage of this time to watch the movie and write about it. The alternative is forgetting about this film after the DLC releases, and quite truthfully, that would result in certain death for any Kantai Collection: The Movie discussion that I would have otherwise have planned; DICE was not joking around when they said the In The Name of The Tsar DLC would be the biggest Battlefield update of all time. Besides the new maps, weapons and game modes, DICE has also made sweeping changes to the way LMGs, SMGs and self-loading rifles handle, as well as to conquest ticket bleed. The end results, which can be experienced in CTE, make Battlefield 1 feel a lot more similar to Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 3 in handling.

Overall, the Brave Witches OVA ended up being a romp through the chaos at the 502nd headquarters that emphasised humour, bringing to mind the setup for Strike Witches‘ second season. Brave Witches ended up being a more focused, narrative-driven presentation of the Strike Witches universe that demonstrated the franchise could cover ground beyond gratuitous pantsu moments: the narrative was squarely centred around Hikari’s journey towards becoming a full-fledged member of the 502nd, showcasing Neuroi that were legitimate threats in their operation and firepower. The TV series proper succeeded in doing so, spinning a much more focused story that allowed the characters to grow and shine. Consequently, the decision to return back to the comedy and lighter-hearted tones in an OVA was a well-made one, allowing the characters to be seen behaving in entertaining ways without compromising the emotional tenour of the TV series proper. I’ve not seen or heard any news about a continuation of Brave Witches, or if there will be focus on a new group of Witches in any sequels. Even with three seasons in total in addition to a film, the world of Strike Witches remains one that is rife with opportunity for exploration, and as such, any continued exploration of this world would be most welcome in my books.

Shining with Light: Brave Witches Finale Impressions and Whole-Series Review

“We just blew up that fucking ultimate weapon of theirs. P.S. Invasion cancelled, sir.” —George Gordon Haggard Jr., Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Despite Takami’s efforts with her Absolute Eye, the Neuroi Hive manages to repel the 502nd’s attack long enough to regenerate its cloud cover, deflecting the last of the heavy penetrator shells in the process. Hikari manages to arrive as the others land, wondering whether or not the hive can be defeated. She thanks the others for looking after Takami, and after the 502nd discover the remains of the shell’s core, a new plan is concocted: Naoe is to punch out the core after Hikari locates it. It turns out that, while Takami’s magic allows her to locate cores faster, Hikari’s Contact Eye is much more precise, and so, the 502nd take to the skies once more to deliver their payload. Gundula makes use of a magical shard to dissipate some of the clouds en route to the center, and once clear of the Neuroi fire, Hikari locates the core. Naoe is able to deal damage, but her magic is depleted in the process, leaving Hikari to kill the Hive with the Liberator. In the aftermath, Hikari is made a full member of the 502nd, parting ways with Takami on a high note. This is the ending that Brave Witches delivers, an expected and welcome one for its viewers. Remaining much more character-driven than Strike Witches‘ gimmick-laden final battles, Brave Witches manages to succeed in continuing the new trends that Operation Victory Arrow initiated, and with the season now over, I no longer will have Brave Witches to look forwards to on my Wednesday evenings. However, before that can happen, there is still a whole season’s worth of material to look over, alongside a verdict for the latest instalment in the Strike Witches franchise.

Hikari’s persistence and ceaseless determination may initially appear to be the primary theme in Brave Witches, but upon closer inspection, the actual thematic elements are much more intricate than Brave Witches otherwise conveys: through Hikari’s experiences with the 502nd, Brave Witches demonstrates that success is not solely determined by effort alone, but rather, as the sum of one’s experiences, whether these be a willingness to learn and adapt, a resolute eye for seeking out new solutions to a problem or supporting one’s allies within one’s means. Hikari might not be the fastest, strongest or tactically-minded Witch, but in her missions, she uses the resources available to her to the best of her capability, giving her teammates the support they require to neutralise the Neuroi threat, as well as being mindful of what she’s learned from Edytha to remain operational. Thus, while Hikari has a minimal number of Neuroi kills to her name (whereas Yoshika scores a few kills during the course of Strike Witches), her support role cannot be underestimated. While Hikari’s personality is a very driven one, her success as a Witch of the 502nd ultimately comes from her demonstrating an exemplary understanding of her own abilities to help those around her, whether it be giving Waltrud the Liberator or motivating Naoe into supporting her plan to destroy a Neuroi before the 502nd’s supply lines are crippled: by the finale, she’s evidently matured, taking the initiative to defeat an overwhelming enemy even when all seems lost and ultimately, earns the most substantial kill of the season in taking out the Neuroi with a Liberator, of all weapons.

Entering Brave Witches, my main interest was to see whether or not the spin-off could take the concepts from Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow and apply them into a new group of Witches in a manner that would emphasise character growth and world-building over pantsu, making use of Neuroi battles to help characters mature. The Operation Victory Arrow OVAs had succeeded, and with the full season of Brave Witches complete, it is quite plain that Brave Witches has, as well: world-building is in abundance as characters explain the logistics of fighting Neuroi and delve into life as a Witch well beyond what was explored in the original Strike Witches. Moreover, whereas the Neuroi of the original Strike Witches were relatively lacking with respect to their intimidation factor, Operation Victory Arrow introduced new challenging aspects that made each battle a much more compelling one to behold. Brave Witches takes this one step further, allowing the Neuroi strategic capabilities, whether it be making use of a spotter-gunner pair to accurately target the 502nd’s provisions or manipulating the regional weather to facilitate easier movements. The Neuroi of Brave Witches represent a considerable threat to the Witches, but in keeping with the anime’s themes, a sufficient combination of teamwork, in conjunction with Hikari’s support, allows for the Neuroi to be repelled, leaving audiences with the impression that the 502nd has earned their victory over the Gregori Hive in spades.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As the finale post to Brave Witches, I’m keeping in line with the tradition of having thirty screenshots and figure captions for this post, which should supply ample opportunity to cover most of the areas that are noteworthy. While stymied by production issues, and therefore should have ended last week, Brave Witches nonetheless represents a solid journey that I enjoyed every Wednesday of this season; looking back, it’s amazing as to how quickly these past three months have flown by, and now, it’s very nearly 2017.

  • Takami flies towards the Neuroi Hive with the aim of taking it out. In a solid summarisation of what the entirety of Brave Witches is about, the finale reinforces ceaselessly the theme that teamwork is the key to success. Takami is probably used to shouldering a great deal of responsibility as a consequence of her own role as an older sister, and consequently, is quite accustomed to solving her problems independently.

  • While a virtue, being independent also has its shortcomings: Takami is very nearly shot down before she manages to locate the core, and this time, it is with the support of the remainder of the 502nd that she pushes forwards.  With her fellow Witches repelling laser fire with every picogram of their strength, Takami manages to find the true core and relays its true coordinates to ground fire control, who prepare their 800 mm cannon for firing. However, Takami is downed a second time: lacking the energy to raise a shield, she’s shot down, and Georgette promptly makes to limit the damage.

  • Despite Hikari’s concerns, it appears that the Absolute Eye’s true danger is in diverting the user’s magic entirely away from defense, leaving them totally exposed. Moreover, Takami fell into a coma because medical attention was delayed early in Brave Witches. Hence, when Georgette is on station to support Takami, her condition does not deteriorate, and avoids the same sort of complications that were seen during the second episode. Such a moment here also gives me an opening to capture Georgette’s backside, but as far as fanservice goes, Brave Witches is remarkably tame.

  • The 502nd watch as the reserve shell is fired. This post comes a mere three days after Christmas; Christmas 2016 proved to be a superbly enjoyable one. Owing to scheduling, I had Christmas dinner with extended family a week before Christmas itself; on the menu was prime rib au jus, roasted crayfish topped with garlic and herbs and a unique, homemade sticky rice-stuffed turkey. This past week was Christmas proper: I remained at home thanks to heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve, where I had a turkey-and-ham dinner with the family. The weather cleared by Christmas Day: and after spending the morning playing through Sim City 4, I had a delicious turkey congee (where, as per tradition, I spent a quarter-hour picking the meat off the turkey bones used in the congee itself). Subsequently, I took a hike under the blue winter skies.

  • On Boxing Day, I spent a majority of the day at a mall, capitalising on the ridiculously good sales to pick up a new three-piece suit, tie, sport jacket and informal pants. Unlike last year, no hardcover books caught my eye (and I had already received some books for Christmas, including Makoto Shinkai’s The Sky Longing For Memories), so I passed on that. Because yesterday was a bank holiday, my company had the day off, and I took advantage of that: after stopping for some fish and chips with one of my friends, we watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s been a while since I had fish and chips: this time, I rolled with Alaskan Pollock, and the fish itself was fried nicely. There’s a savouriness to the batter, while the fish itself was flakey and tender. I was also impressed with the fries: seasoned well and thick-cut, they remind me a little of the fries a pub near my old junior high used to sell.

  • Now that I’ve seen Rogue One, I can say that Brave Witches shares commonalities with the latest Star Wars story. In the case of Rogue One, the combination of a darker story that nonetheless exudes hope with fantastic visual elements and Donnie Yen’s skill in martial arts made it a fantastic movie that is worked exceptionally well into the Star Wars universe. With the right balance of humour and introspection, this movie was remarkably fun to watch. Brave Witches does something similar for the Strike Witches franchise, and that I find the fact that I can even draw comparisons between Brave Witches and Rogue One to be a solid indicator that I greatly enjoyed Brave Witches.

  • The regeneration of cloud cover surrounding the Neuroi results in the destruction of the reserve shell, and with Takami out of the game, it seems as through all is lost: command has ordered the 502nd to retreat, as their entire arsenal has now been disabled or depleted. The 502nd themselves are dejected, wondering what other options they have left. However, Hikari is immensely relieved that Takami’s suffered no lasting harm, and her spirits are sufficient to overcome the grim mood settling over the 502nd.

  • Hikari makes another gamble on her Contact Eye, reasoning that like the Neuroi seen in the tenth episode, if the true core can be destroyed, the hive will follow. It’s a one-two combo that she’s now confident in delivering, and hearing this, Naoe is regains her resolve, stating that she’s still ready to punch out the Neuroi. Soon after, Gundula begins feeling a tingling in her old wounds: she’s found the remnants of the magical core from the destroyed shell.

  • Thus, a plan is born: using some of the shards to infuse Naoe’s gloves with magic, the Witches transform Naoe’s right fist into an impromptu shell. The plan seems viable until Naoe realises she’d given her gloves to Hikari, but Hikari has them on hand, allowing the plan to proceed. It is these subtle elements that mark Hikari as an invaluable support member of the 502nd: she’s always ready to lend a hand in whatever manner possible.

  • Meanwhile, Gundula locates a fragment of the shell that had punched through the Neuroi’s clouds earlier and mounts it to her rifle’s underbarrel grenade launcher. The plan is now prepared: after punching an opening through the clouds, the 502nd is to enter the hive and provide Hikari with all the covering fire they can muster. Hikari is then to use her Contact Eye to locate the core, and Naoe can subsequently disable the Neuroi.

  • While the plan sounds far-fetched on paper, in execution, Brave Witches presents the 502nd’s final attempt to destroy the Gregori Hive as one of courageous daring and bold resolve. With no Neuroi assimilation of human technology, this final battle is a show that Witches can best even a Hive on virtue of their own resourcefulness and an unfaltering sense of camaraderie amongst the Witches.

  • As a result, the Brave Witches finale solidly shows just how far Strike Witches has come: gone are the days of using the Witches as a paper-thin justification for showing pantsu, and instead, writers have made a serious effort to create plausible characters in a world rich in lore as a consequence of its unique premise.

  • Georgette stays behind to look after Takami while the remainder of the 502nd take flight and once again, do battle with a challenging foe. The notion of regenerating Neuroi brings to mind the Cyberdemon of DOOM: an incredibly thrilling but difficult battle, players felling it for the first time will be shocked as the Cyberdemon regenerates its health during teleportation to Hell, requiring a second fight to defeat it.

  • I recall that last year, for the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? finale, I was out on Boxing Day shopping when the episode released; when I got home, I was exhausted and could not summon up the motivation to watch the episode, much less write about it. I published the post out three days later. This year, the Brave Witches finale falls on a Wednesday, and I’ve grown acclimatised towards writing out posts on Wednesday evenings now. While this season’s episodic blogging of Brave Witches has been enjoyable, and demonstrates that I can keep up with an anime in an episodic fashion even in spite of my new routine, I think that in the long run, I will not likely be doing episodic posts for a large number of series.

  • Because this blog was not around when Strike Witches‘ first and second seasons were airing (in fact, I was a first-year undergraduate student at the time, going into my second year), I’ve never actually shown the interior of a hive. Armed with flexible arms, the Gregori hive is no pushover, driving the Witches to utilise all of their magical abilities and cunning in order to push through to its main body.

  • Hikari provides excellent covering fire for Naoe, who openly remarks that Hikari has improved substantially. At last, they reach the surface, and upon coming into contact with the Neuroi, Hikari is able to pinpoint the true core’s location, slamming her machine gun into the surface to mark the coordinates for Naoe. Looking back on this season, I recall saying that I would try to push posts out on Saturdays, but as the season wore on, posts came out increasingly early until I managed to work out a schedule that allowed me to publish on the same day as the episode released.

  • For me, Brave Witches also ended up being an exercise to determine whether or not it was possible for me to blog about a series in the episodic format, in a timely fashion. I suppose that the answer now is a resounding “yes”, although whether or not I choose to do so in 2017 will remain largely up to how interested I am in a show and how much time I’ve got. Back in Brave Witches, Naoe is able to expose the core with her strike, causing fractures along the hive’s surface. However, this effort is insufficient: despite Hikari’s words of encouragement, Naoe’s magical power has been exhausted, and she begins falling.

  • Hikari makes to save Naoe even when faced with the prospect of the true core shifting again, and as she positions herself to acquire a solid grip on Naoe, a familiar article falls from her pockets. It’s the FP-45 Liberator pistol, a literal Chekov’s Gun. Because folks from Tango-Victor-Tango seem to have their own definitions for literary terms, I’ll quickly define it here to be a dramatic principle that, once shown on screen, must be necessary to the narrative in some way. In short, if something is there, it must serve a purpose, otherwise, an author should remove it.

  • The term comes from Anton Chekov, who stated: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there”. Brave Witches has executed this concept rather well: Hikari is given a Liberator pistol she becomes fond of, and counts as a good luck charm. In the original Strike Witches, the pistol would have likely been forgotten, never to be revisited. In Brave Witches, it returns twice to fulfil important roles in the story, in saving Waltrud from certain death, and giving Hikari the means to neutralise the hive.

  • Hikari humiliates the Neuroi by finishing it off with the Kolibri Liberator pistol. I do not believe there is an achievement in Battlefield 1 for killing an opponent with the Kolibri pistol, but there ought to be, since the weapon’s extremely low damage makes it seemingly a joke. However, as Matimi0 demonstrates, there is actually a way of making the Kolibri pistol work: used in conjunction with the Martini-Henri, it can be used to finish opponents, and the weapon’s high rate of fire can also be used to finish off camping snipers with well-placed headshots. I remarked in a comment somewhere that it would be hilarious if Hikari did wind up using the Liberator to finish the Neuroi, and with that prediction coming to pass, I am reasonably amused.

  • Takami and Georgette watch as the Neuroi hive collapses in a shower of sparkling ceramic. The end of the Neuroi hive is what prompts this page quote: sourced from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Haggard makes this quip after informing a higher-up that Bad Company had just destroyed the Russian Scalar weapon to avert a war, but in Bad Company 2, it turns out the Russians are invading through Alaska. There is no such surprise in Brave Witches: the Gregori hive is gone for good.

  • Takami and Hikari reconcile properly after Hikari comes back from the assault unharmed, putting an end to the cooler interactions between the two sisters. One aspect that continued to be a point of contention is whether or not Takami’s behaviours during the tenth episode were justified, and being wise like the Mithrandir, I chose not to participate. If and when I’m asked for my position for the matter, I oppose the viewpoint that Takami’s behaviour was “written out of character”. Kind people are not incapable of surprisingly cold acts, especially when they lack the means to properly express it. The actual flow of events was that Hikari was already assigned for the transfer following Takami’s recovery, but Gundula offered Hikari a chance to replace Takami. Had she succeeded, Gundula would have moved to retain Hikari in the 502nd and accept full responsibility for the outcome of the operation against the Neuroi hive.

  • As such, whether or not Takami’s actions are “correct” are irrelevant: folks seem to be fixated on the misconception that Takami herself is directly responsible for Hikari’s reassignment, and while yes, Takami does come across as being quite unfriendly, the call ultimately was never hers to make. Her cold reception of Hikari is merely a front, trying to distance herself from what would otherwise be a difficult farewell and focus on the impending operation with minimal distractions. Hence, the back-and-forth about whether or not Takami’s actions are correct or necessary is about a completely different matter, resulting from misunderstanding the dialogues amongst the characters.

  • Back on the ground, Nikka smothers Naoe in relief that she’d made it back safely, promoting Naoe to say that this hurts more than anything the Neuroi could deal. She calls out to Georgette to be healed, but Georgette smiles and replies that she’s out of magic, as well. Because we’re so close to the Winter 2017 anime season, I note offhand that there aren’t any shows that catch my eye, so for the present, I’ll keep an open mind and in the meantime, look forwards to a season where I can spend my evenings on different things

  • The soundtrack in Brave Witches is something that I’ve mentioned with some frequency in earlier posts, primarily for its excellent role in creating a very specific emotional tenour in the anime. It released last week, and my copy’s arrived now — being able to listen to the songs closely, it is very obvious that the different pieces are meant to evoke memories of the music from the original Strike Witches, while at the same time, show that Brave Witches is distinct, unique from Strike Witches.

  • Of the slice-of-life pieces, my favourite tracks include 佐世保の魔法少女 (The Magical Girls of Sasebo), 孝美への想い (Her thoughts of Takami), 別離 (Separation) and 絆 (Bonds), while the combat-oriented tracks, such as 訓練の日々 (Daily Training), 試験飛行 (Test Flight), 502の戦い (502nd’s Battle) and グリゴーリ出現 (Gregori Appears) are of a quality that would not sound out of place in something like Battlefield 1. My favourite tracks overall on the soundtrack are 出発 (Departure), which resembles “500 Overs” from Strike Witches‘ second season soundtrack, and 別離 for evoking an image of a vast grass field under an unending blue sky, similar to Strike Witches‘ 再会 (Reunion) in atmospherics.

  • Throughout my episodic reviews of Brave Witches, I’ve made callbacks to other works, including Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka??, Futurama, James Bond, Battlefield 1 and even Dark Water. In addition, I’ve brought up concepts, such as thermal shock and structural properties of ceramics, as well as the distribution of mushrooms and some of Les Stroud’s Survivorman techniques: this plethora of topics demonstrates that there is no shortage of conversations that can be had from something like Brave Witches.

  • With Hikari becoming a permanent member of the 502nd, I think that Takami is transferred into the 508th, which also happens to be the course number of my undergraduate honours thesis course, MDSC 508. An official announcement accompanying the episode was that, in 2017, with the release of the Blu-Ray volumes, there will be a thirteenth episode included. The special edition is set to come out on August 25, 2017, which is a long ways into the future, and the artwork for the episode suggests that it will be about Eila and Sanya, which will be quite welcome (especially amongst the fans who felt shafted after Operation Victory Arrow did not depict their stories to any great detail). Naturally, I will be watching and writing about the OVA when the time comes. I would definitely love to see a continuation of Brave Witches, or a series following the (mis)adventures of another Joint Fighter Wing, such as the Africa or Karlsland Witches. With this being said, the next Strike Witches will be the forth instalment, and while I would be both enthralled and disappointed if Strike Witches 4: Modern Warfare becomes a thing, more Strike Witches is always welcome in my book.

  • The short verdict for Brave Witches is that the anime earns an A- (8.5 on a 10-point scale, as per my old Health Science grading rubric). Despite its rough production and derivative story, Brave Witches successfully applies the best concepts of Strike Witches and focuses them into a cohesive story about Hikari and the Strike Witches world, counting on Hikari’s development and interactions with the 502nd to maintain interest in the series, showing that Strike Witches can definitely be a series that stands solidly on its merits (especially in world-building) well beyond pantsu shots alone. This brings my Brave Witches discussions to an end for the present, and it’s been one hell of a ride — I greatly enjoyed watching and writing about Brave Witches, and will miss writing about it.

The ultimate question that remains for Brave Witches is a simple one: is it worth watching? This is not a particularly easy one to answer straight off the bat, even for a self-professed fan of the War on Pants. The primary reason for this is because audiences are a diverse clientele, each with their own preferences and interests, so the answer I can decisively offer is that “it depends”. Brave Witches takes many of the elements from Strike Witches and hones them, creating a set of new characters that add flair to the universe without being derivatives of the 501st Witches. By choosing to focus on the character interactions and presenting the Neuroi as a more credible threat, their world becomes much more intricate, illustrating just how much of an impact the Neuroi have on the world’s inhabitants, as well as the lengths humanity is willing to go to defend its survival. The cumulative effect is that Brave Witches‘ thematic aspect becomes much stronger than in previous Strike Witches, demonstrating that despite the seemingly-ludicrous notion of watching girls flying around the skies sans pants, the universe offers more than enough to tell a noteworthy story about humanity’s quest for survival. Technically, Brave Witches is mid-tier: the artwork is solid for the most part, but production shortcomings were visible in some episodes. Although somewhat distracting in places, overt CG does not detract too substantially from the overall experience. The soundtrack is of a generally high quality, combining the motifs and moods of classic Strike Witches songs with new melodies to emphasise that Brave Witches is simultaneously similar to and different than Strike Witches. The sum of all these points allows for a clearer conclusion to be reached — Brave Witches earns a strong recommendation for existing Strike Witches fans who have appreciated the direction that the Operation Victory Arrow OVAs were heading (and perhaps, doubly so for those who were dissatisfied with Yoshika’s vast latent magical powers). Despite its predictability, there are enough surprises to keep the veteran viewers guessing. For general audiences, Brave Witches earns a recommendation; Brave Witches might prima facie be about girls flying around with their pantsu for the entire world to check out, but notions of teamwork, persistence and adaptability, coupled with a well-developed alternate universe means that there is much more to the anime than is initially apparent.

We Won’t Know Until We Try!: Brave Witches Eleventh Episode Impressions and Review

“Without vision you don’t see, and without practicality the bills don’t get paid.” —Paul Engle

Hikari sets off from the 502nd’s Petersburg base in fine spirits, after sharing a conversation with Naoe about how she’s glad to have had the opportunity to help everyone out to the best of her ability and giving the others a farewell. She meets Sanya and Eila at the train station, and they head off towards Sumous. Meanwhile, the 502nd are briefed on their assignment: they are to defend a pair of Schwerer Gustav 800 mm railway guns that have been equipped with special-purpose ammunition dedicated to take out the Neuroi hive. The operation proceeds nominally after the Witches fend off Neuroi waves, allowing the first gun to fire a HE round that strips away the clouds surrounding the hive. However, the hive responds with a fierce counter-attack, destroying the second gun. Takami tries to remove the shell from the damaged cannon and deliver it, but it is with the 502nd’s full efforts that the second shell is airlifted and dropped over the Neuroi hive. Despite seemingly succeeding, the Hive begins to regenerate; Takami learns that there is a second core that manages to elude her magic. Back on the ground, Hikari leaves the train with the goal of stopping Takami from executing her ability again. While previous battles against Neuroi hives in Strike Witches have always pushed the bounds for plausibility, Brave Witches‘ hive battle has proceeded in the absence of moments that defy known logic, and everything that has been seen this episode has been established firmly as being possible. With the mind no longer wandering about trying to make sense of everything, it leaves audiences free to enjoy the start of Brave Witches‘ final battle.

While the events the of penultimate episode of Brave Witches were predictable, the path taken to reach a particular outcome remain distinct from those seen in Strike Witches; Brave Witches continues to differentiate itself from its predecessor by making use of new tricks in a familiar environment, all the while striving to maintain a fine balance between continuity and viewer engagement. The magic-assisted Schwerer Gustav 800 mm railway guns utilised strategically to assault the Neuroi are indicative of the lessons learnt from the 501st’s misadventures with the Warlock, an artificial weapon using a Neuroi core to power its weapons. In spite of its overwhelming power, its operators lost control of it and were on the cusp of precipitating an even larger crisis. Hence, other military forces have learnt not to make extensive use of Neuroi technology, instead, falling back in weapons that have been tested to work. Practicality notwithstanding, conventional weapons nonetheless remain ineffective against a Neuroi with a mobile core, and in keeping with this episode’s title, it would appear that the eleventh episode is suggesting that in the face of extraordinary circumstances, innovation (in the form of trying something different) is a necessity to overcome challenging odds.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Hikari seems to be in high spirits even after the events of the previous episode: she bids farewell to the 502nd, receiving some food and drink from the others, as well as the damaged liberator back from Waltrud. Today’s post comes a bit slower than usual because WordPress decided it was a good idea to change up the user interface, conveniently discarding features I’ve grown used to for pushing a post out.

  • The experience is akin to being switched off a bolt-action rifle I’ve been using for five years, with optics that must be manually zeroed but work between 0 and 1000 meters. The replacement rifle would be a semi-automatic weapon with self-zeroing optics that I have no control over, and can only be zeroed between 0 and 500 meters. There are features that I plainly miss from the old WordPress editor, namely, the ability to copy and paste tags from old posts, the ability to edit posts in bulk and the ability to copy images from my hosts without waiting for an upload, then center them in the page. Back in Brave Witches, once Hikari sets off, and Nikka tearfully waves her goodbye, the 502nd return to their briefing room and are given their assignment.

  • These new “updates” to WordPress impede my speed, and is doubly frustrating because of a long day at work spent trying to figure out Apple’s nonexistent Swift 3.0 documentation. As it stands, seeing Eila and Sanya back in Brave Witches was precisely what I needed to relax this evening; they await Hikari at the train station and are set to accompany her to Kuahava via train.

  • After Eila offers Hikari some salmiakki, the intense flavours in what is essentially salted liquorice overwhelm her, resulting in another “funny face” moment that I’m almost certain resulted in my prompt punishment through the new WordPress interface. The salt is not common table salt (sodium chloride), but the more potent ammonium chloride that can numb the tongue or even induce a stinging sensation. Like stinky tofu, durians and lutefisk, the description of salmiakki means that it is an acquired taste.

  • Back in the air with a skilful partner, Naoe and Takami resolve to blow the Neuroi hive out of the skies as they fly towards their objective. Naoe has plainly grown to care for Hikari, but she remains most familiar with Takami; once the battle begins in earnest, the two take on a forward role in dealing with any Neuroi posing a threat to their escorts. Lacking any of the banter she and Hikari shared, it’s all business for Naoe.

  • Large number of anti-air cannons and tanks participate in the battle, alongside conventional aircraft. Although capable of putting out a large volume of sustained fire, the Neuroi begin their own counter-attack, driving friendly casualties up to thirty percent in a matter of moments. However, in keeping the Neuroi occupied, this reduces the amount of fire directed against the railway artillery cannons.

  • Large number of particles fill the sky as projectiles begin punching through Neuroi. Fantastic for depicting transient objects, such as smoke, flame and ice crystals, particles are graphic objects used in rendering fuzzy phenomenon. They are used to great effect in contemporary games, and in my thesis, were used to fill biomolecular spaces with moving objects to give a sense of activity. Even though modern GPUs can render millions of particles in each frame, biomolecular spaces are yet more complex, being filled with billions of moving proteins and molecules.

  • Having recovered from the saltiness of Eila’s liquorice, Hikari listens to radio transmissions from a receiver that Eila’s brought with them. Throughout the battle, Sanya uses her magic to listen in on her surroundings. Listening to the combat dialogue on a radio can be quite harrowing, since one can’t readily see what’s going on, and I suddenly recall that I’ve not listened to a Flames game on the FAN 960 AM radio channel for quite some time — it was quite difficult to follow a game. Typically, the only actions really easy to visualise were goals and saves.

  • The first shell is fired as per the battle plan: here, Witches of the 502nd defend it from Neuroi attack, harmlessly deflecting the attack. The Schwerer Gustav guns were capable of putting 7.1 tonne shells 38 kilometers downrange and originally planned to be utilised to punch through heavily fortified positions on the Maginot Line, although the weapons were not used with any frequency — the Gustav saw combat use in a few battles, while the Dora was used in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 but is thought to have never been fired. Towards the end of World War II, Germany destroyed the weapons to prevent the advancing Red Army from capturing them.

  • The first HE round is successful: after leaving the barrel, it imparts a large shock wave that jostles nearby Witches around and dispels the clouds surrounding the hive. However, heavy fire penetrates a shield that Nikka and Georgette have projecting, destroying the barrel on one of the Schwerer Gustav cannons and rendering it inoperational. Ground command immediately orders their remaining Gustav cannons to chamber the anti-Neuroi shell, but the twenty minute wait becomes unacceptable owing to how quickly the battle is moving.

  • This is the first time that I’ve seen a Neuroi Hive without its clouds, and the structure  of the Gregori hive resembles a large shipyard similar to the Tharsis Shipyard from in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: it’s a large pillar with two large rings surrounding it, and Edytha discovers that it is impervious to conventional weaponry, necessitating the rounds from the Schwerer Gustav to destroy properly. The hive offers one additional challenge: flexible appendages that can independently target fast-moving targets such as the Witches.

  • Determination and a refusal to give up is a trait the Karibuchi sisters share; Takami tries to single-handedly lift the anti-Neuroi shell to its destination. Alexsandra mentions that the shell’s mass is around one ton, but even assuming it is one metric ton (1000 kilograms) as opposed to one US ton (roughly 907.18474 kilograms), the shell would still be much lighter than the Schwerer Gustav’s high-explosive round, which was the lighter of the two shells the weapon could fire and had a mass of 4.8 metric tons.

  • In a titanic effort from all of the 502nd’s Witches, the shell is finally moved and airlifted to its destination, where gravity is counted on to do the rest, allowing the shell to punch through the Neuroi’s core and destroy it. In its original specifications, the shell is stated to have the equivalent of a hundred Witches’ worth of magic, in turn leading me to wonder where the magical energy is extracted from.

  • Going purely from aesthetics alone, Georgette and Nikka probably remain my favourite Witches of the 502nd, although I could be swayed to be more receptive of Takami after this screenshot. The reason why this image was included in lieu of a moment featuring the 502nd in combat was primarily because Brave Witches proved to be very disciplined with respect to the number of infamous pantsu moments that appeared throughout much of its run. However, there are some moments such as these, and so, I include Takami’s assets to accentuate the fact that crotch-shots are rare in Brave Witches, if they only appear once every two to four posts.

  • The Neuroi hive shatters immediately after impact, and the 502nd believe their operation has completed successfully, but given that it is only the eleventh episode, it was not surprising to see the Neuroi begin reassembling itself, with the Witches learning that it had a second movable core. Ordinarily, this would be counted as a contrived means of extending the battle, but because Brave Witches has made it clear that Neuroi are capable of such a feat, I chalk things up to clever writing that plainly establish what is and is not possible within the Brave Witches universe.

  • I’ve read that some viewers were looking for a bit of time spent giving Gundula some background (namely, how she came about her injury and what her story was) in animated form, but this penultimate episode offers none of that; apparently, the story was covered in supplementary material. She is a phenomenal Witch who suffered a serious back injury after having her sight obstructed by Neuroi debris, and while usually choosing desk work, she will fly into battle if the need is great. I found that Gundula resembles Shuumatsu no Izetta‘s Elisabeth in appearances alone.

  • A break in Neuroi jamming allows Hikari to learn that the Neuroi has regenerated, and that Takami is planning to utilise her trump card to stop it. In light of Takami’s falling into a coma the last time this ability was used, Hikari feels that it’s up to her to stop Takami. She leaps off the train to Eila and Sanya’s surprise and begins making her way to her Striker unit, and one wonders if Eila and Sanya may also participate in next week’s showdown with the Neuroi hive.

  • Now that things have cooled off a bit, I conclude that, if I can just figure out how to copy tags between posts and determine what’s needed to properly format images so there is not a large gap between the image and figure caption, I could probably grow accustomed to the new interface. Similarly, there might be a means, albeit a roundabout one, of solving the Swift 3.0 problem I’ve got at work. I won’t know until I try for either, and with that being said, this week’s post comes to a full end.

Hikari’s concern for her sister is what leads her to jump train and make her way back to an operational Striker Unit: having solidly established that Hikari cares deeply for Takami, it is quite fitting that it is this concern that prompts her to come back. With Hikari looking to join the battle against the Hive, the upcoming finale is shaping up to be a climatic sequence that will likely see the two sisters see eye-to-eye about Hikari’s desire to fight alongside the 502nd as a Witch. There’s only one episode to Brave Witches left by this point, and it should be quite apparent that Brave Witches has done a fantastic job this season in both standing out from Strike Witches while simultaneously incorporating the best elements from its predecessor. It will be quite exciting to see how Brave Witches chooses to send the audiences off in its finale. In keeping with how I handle finales for episodic reviews, next week’s post on the last episode will be a bit larger than the average post, detailing my thoughts on the series as a whole, and unless Brave Witches manages to do something completely outrageous (equivalent to an NHL team blowing a 6-0 lead with five minutes left in the third period), I am reasonably confident that my assessment of Brave Witches will be a predominantly positive one.

Big Sister and Little Sister: Brave Witches Tenth Episode Impressions and Review

“I’m forty percent back, baby!” —Bender, Futurama

Takami sets off for Petersburg after her recovery as Hikari continues to aid the 502nd in their operations. When a senior officier announces that Takami is to participate in Operation Freyja, with the aim of taking out the Neuroi hive, the 502nd misinterpret the request and assume it’s Hikari. However, when Takami arrives, her reception with Hikari proves to be a cold one; she openly disapproves of Hikari’s presence in the front lines and has arranged for her to be transferred to her original assignment in Kauhava. Gundula notices that both sisters seem unable to properly enunciate their true thoughts — Hikari is determined to prove that she’s ready to fly and fight alongside Takami, while Takami worries about Hikari’s safety. When a Neuroi previously thought to be destroyed reappears, Gundula proposes a challenge: whoever locates the core first will remain with the 502nd, while the vanquished will be reassigned to Kauhava. In a tense battle, the Witches learn that the Neuroi was able to regenerate because it had a nested core, and Takami’s experience allows her to edge out Hikari, leaving Hikari in tears at the prospect of having to leave her friends and allies. Although it may be strange to compare Brave Witches vis-à-vis Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka??, this tenth episode seems to have been ready-made to depict an alternative, but plausible dynamic that might have existed between Cocoa and Mocha.

Much as how Cocoa constantly strives to achieve what Mocha can accomplish, the skill gap between Hikari and Takami become quite apparent in this episode. In both cases, the younger sibling falls behind in their capabilities, make up for it with pure spirit, and find that their friends are much more at ease when the older sibling is around. Similarly, much like how Mocha cares deeply for Cocoa and will be moved to tears if Cocoa rejects her companionship, Takami worries for Hikari’s well being, fearing that Hikari might be injured in combat. This ultimately forms the crux of the episode — Takami feels that Hikari’s resolve will override her own concern; a conventional conversation would be unlikely to yield results, she reasons. This approach merely serves to drive Hikari to push harder and show Takami she’s ready to fly with her, and in the episode’s battle, Hikari’s improvement becomes visible when she manages to find the core mere moments after Takami did. While insufficient on terms of the agreement, this does show the distance that Hikari’s come since arriving in Petersburg.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • To kick things off, I am trying to fight off a growing cold right now that comes as a consequence of temperature extremities (it’s been an average of around -20°C for the daytime high where I am, but my office, being in an older building, is blazing hot thanks to an overactive centralised heater and the fact that I sit beside a window), so today, I’ve been coughing even as I continue debugging my app and considering how to implement the remaining features.

  • For now, I’ve not been coughing too much, so I’m still able to watch and write about the latest episode of Brave Witches without too much difficulty. Hikari’s growing capabilities as a Witch means she’s now able to use her Contact Eye in conjunction with plenty of teamwork from the 502nd; they destroy yet another Neuroi, and even Naoe has begun accepting Hikari as being useful for the team.

  • Shortly after their sortie, Field Marshal Manstein appears. The most senior rank in old armies, the United States military has not historically used this rank, instead creating the rank General Of the Army (a five-star General): in December 1944, George Marshall was promoted to a five-star General and so, could have been addressed as Marshal Marshall by subordinates. Back in Brave Witches, Manstein provides the briefing to the Witches’ next operation: their mission to neutralise the large Neuroi hive has been pushed forward in response to the hazard it poses to the supply lines.

  • It turns out the fleet Waltrud and the others were defending in episode eight was carrying a railway gun, probably the Schwerer Gustav. An 80 cm piece of siege artillery, it was constructed with the intent of smashing through the Maginot line during trench warfare, being one of the largest gun firing the heaviest shells ever build. Some translations yield this artillery piece as a “railgun”, but that is incorrect, since a railgun is strictly a device that consists of two parallel rails that accelerate a projectile to high speeds by means of high potential differences (contrast a coil-gun, or Gauss gun, which uses magnetic coils to accelerate a kinetic impactor). Such technology is very unlikely to be utilised in Strike Witches by conventional forces and would remain confined to the realm of magic if it existed.

  • While Hikari is delighted to see Takami once more, Takami does not return these feelings; she coldly dismisses Hikari and wonders why she’s been in Petersberg contrary to her assignment, before ordering her to return to her original post. Her response to Hikari leaves the latter in a bit of surprise, and their interactions for the remainder of the episode are not particularly cordial. The page quote is sourced from Futurama, meant to be my rather irreverent outlook on the episode’s main themes 😛

  • Despite nearly four months of inactivity, Takami’s combat skills do not appear to have deteriorated, and she fights Waltrud to a standstill during an exercise. The mock weapons in Strike Witches have always been denoted with an orange hue to indicate that they’re strictly for exercise, firing paint pellets.

  • I suddenly realise that I’ve not used a sauna for the longest time, and wish that I could spend a quarter-hour in one to help me overcome my cold; the warmth of a sauna would completely remove my body’s energy expenditure on keeping warm, and while much of the mechanisms behind how a sauna helps out remain speculation, it has been known to help in lessening cold-like symptoms. Since I don’t happen to have access to a sauna, I usually drink copious amounts of water and sleep more with the aim of recovering.

  • This moment speaks rather strongly about the gap in Takami and Hikari’s magical abilities: whereas Hikari must climb the monolith on all fours with her fullest concentration to reach the top, Takami can simply walk to the top. While it may come across as unusual that I bring Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? into this week’s Brave Witches discussion, I figured that the two episodes seemed to have quite a bit in common with its underlying portrayal of an older and younger sibling.

  • Gundula is very astute and picks up immediately the rationale behind Takami’s actions: it is only natural to be concerned about a younger sibling’s well-being and safety. As an older sibling myself, I know that feeling quite well, although I see myself as being more open-minded and trusting; I usually ask “are you sure” or equivalent, and if I get an affirmative, that’s good enough for me.

  • In stark contrast with GochiUsa‘s duel of the bakers, the stakes are much higher as both Takami and Hikari agree to a showdown: the first to locate the core leading to a kill will remain with the 502nd, while the defeated will be shipped off to Kauhava (a Finnish town with around 16000 people). Hikari’s resilience is remarkable, and even knowing how greatly Takami eclipses her, refuses to stand down. Both the Karibuchi sisters share this trait, being quite unmoving from their stances once their hearts are set on something.

  • Gundula smiles even as the emotional tenour of the room escalates: she knows that both the Karibuchi sisters will be giving it their all to demonstrate to the other the strength of their resolve and as such, also stand a better chance of besting a Neuroi that eluded even Waltrud. In light of this fact, Gundula finally steps out onto the battlefield for herself, donning a special brace to prevent her old injuries from manifesting.

  • I recall in my discussion of the first episode that time would requireed in order for me to recall the names of each Witch in the 502nd from memory, but as early as episode seven, I’ve learnt everyone’s names fully. Permit me a demonstration: besides Hikari and Takami up front, we have from left to right Edytha, Sadako, Nikka, Naoe, Gundula, Waltrud, Alexsandra and Georgette. This moment also allows me a chance to capture a screenshot of all the 502nd’s members, both fully-qualified and temporary, in a single frame.

  • Whereas the CG effects in the previous episode were particularly egregious, this tenth episode manages to improve on the quality overall: Hikari dodging laser fire from the Neuroi here is rendered in CG, and the flat geometric surfaces seen in earlier episodes appear to be smoothed out. She weaves through the fire and smoothly re-appears in a hand-drawn form.

  • The swarms of Neuroi make a return in Brave Witches, and this opponent is a tough one for the 502nd even with Takami back in combat. While Takami seemingly ends combat within the first thirty seconds, it turns out there’s a nested core inside the larger core, accounting for why the Neuroi was able to regenerate: the Neuroi seen in Brave Witches have been inventive, imaginative and provide interesting opponents for the Witches to fight each week, in contrast to the duller ones seen in Strike Witches.

  • Takami plainly is the superior Witch, as evidenced by her providing covering fire and carefully computing her next course of action to complete her objective, while Hikari seems uses a much less disciplined approach and rushes the objective. While Battlefield 1 as of late has promoted the PTFO (“Play the fucking objective”, for those unfamiliar with the acronym), playing the object means assessing whether or not an objective is safe, and moving in to secure it if an enemy presence is eliminated. It does not mean rushing blindly to a capture point and dying, costing one’s team a ticket.

  • Takami’s magic lets her locate the secondary core with a high precision, and I’ve noticed that in a great number of military-themed anime (even Gundam), none of the anime ever use the military grid reference system to refer to refer to points on Earth. This is perfectly fine, since devising a proper system would require proper knowledge of how the MGRS works, and then properly translating it to space or other environs. In Brave Witches, Takami shouts the coordinates out to Gundula of the Neuroi’s true core once she spots it.
  • While Takami is locating the core, Hikari tries to close the distance between her and the Neuroi. Naoe and Nikka shout words of encouragement, and Hikari manages to touch the Neuroi’s hull, discovering the core only seconds after Takami did. In contrast with my previous Brave Witches post, this one was done entirely on my MacBook Pro, including the preparation of screenshots. Without a mouse handy, it was trickier, but I think the results worked out nicely enough.

  • I might be sick, and I might’ve only had around ten to twelve frames’ worth of time (around 0.4167 to 0.5 seconds) to have captured this moment on a MacBook Pro (whose trackpad, spacebar and screenshot mechanism aren’t well-suited for capturing screenshots), but I managed to get the frame right before Gundula takes the shot and eliminates the Neuroi. These are not bad reflexes for someone with a cold, if I may say so myself.

  • Like Waltrud, Hikari is hit with a stray Neuroi drone after its destruction, and Takami saves her, smiling warmly for the first time in the episode. The outcome of this battle is that Takami wins our by a very narrow margin, and in fact, is reminiscent of a scene from Red Cliff, where Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang agreed that if the other failed their task (respectively, collecting a hundred thousand arrows and deceive Cao Cao into disposing of his top admirals), they would be executed under military law. Both manage to complete their tasks successfully, but were ready to accept death had they failed, and while more dramatic than what happens in Brave Witches, is a curious parallel: Hikari is set to head for Kauhava.

  • I admit that it was a little painful to watch Hikari bawl her eyes out in response to the outcome: the 502nd is where she’d learnt to be a Witch and where she bonded with people who once doubted her, contributing to their operations in whatever manner she could. However, because this is Hikari’s story, I doubt things will end so soon — Strike Witches‘ first season seemed grim in its final hours after the 501st was disbanded, but they managed to come back together and defeat the Neuroi. With this week’s episode, and post, now in the books, I’m going to head off and get some proper sleep.

Consequently, while Hikari is set to pack her bags and leave the 502nd, Hikari’s progressed, coupled with her own role as Brave Witches‘ protagonist and how things generally turn out in Strike Witches, means that in the upcoming final battle between the 502nd and the Neuroi hive will doubtlessly play out with Hikari contributing alongside everyone else. This prediction should be quite easy to reach given that Brave Witches has followed the methodologies of Strike Witches to some extent, although how the aforementioned outcomes are reached differ between the two series. As such, while it’s not difficult to surmise that Hikari will be participating in the final battle in some way, what will be worth keeping an eye for is how this particular outcome is reached, as well as how the journey impacts the different characters. With only two episodes of Brave Witches left on the table, I’m looking forwards to seeing what events await in the final episodes and differentiate itself from Strike Witches, especially given how Strike Witches pushed the boundaries for what stunts the 501st could accomplish against Neuroi hives.