The Infinite Zenith

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World Witches: Take Off!- Whole Series Review and Reflection

“We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.” –Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Hikari reluctantly agrees to ice swimming with Nikka and the others, but subsequently develops a cold from the temperature extremities, becoming bed-ridden while she recovers. Hikari later accompanies Edytha on a trip to pick up supplies, but the group get arrested for attempted to purchase alcohol as minors, and Gundula’s efforts to get them out of trouble fail. Meanwhile, Gertrude’s efforts in filming appear to show some results: after Charlotte and Francesca tag along, the group also manages to convince Sanya to appear in the movie – they suggest that Sanya might be able to find her parents more readily if she appears in a film and spreads the word. Charlotte and Francesca’s antics do create a compelling movie, although Eila begins falling ill in Sanya’s absence. Eila arrives in St. Trond just as Minna manages to convince the higher-ups to re-establish the 501st. They celebrate their reunion with a party – fearing Minna’s deadly cooking, Charlotte, Erica and Francesca whip up a wonderful range of party foods for everyone. However, a Neuroi arrives, forcing the girls to drop everything and sortie. Back in St. Petersburg, the 502nd prepare for Takami’s arrival: after Yoshika gives her a clean bill of health, she flies back out, eager to reunite with Hikari. Naoe is unable to hide her excitement and embarasses herself in front of the other Witches. Hikari is overjoyed to see Takami again, and the two promise to take to the skies and defend what’s dear to them. This is World Witches: Take Off!, a continuation to 2019’s 501st Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off! series. Continuing on in its predecessor’s footsteps, World Witches: Take Off! retains a joyful spirit and provides plenty of laughs. However, unlike 501st Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off!, World Witches: Take Off! is split down the middle and follows two separate, overarching stories – one of the 501st putting a movie together in a bid to reunite and reactivate their group, and the other of the 502nd’s time spent getting Hikari up to speed on everything. World Witches: Take Off! thus ends up being quite serviceable in terms of its story, standing in sharp contrast with 501st Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off!, which had no story, and where episodes consisted of standalone gags. Despite having two separate stories running concurrently, however, World Witches: Take Off! nonetheless manages to retain its predecessor’s humour.

On paper, World Witches: Take Off! is a straight upgrade to the style seen in 501st Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off!, but in practise, the series is stymied by the fact that despite being about the World Witches, there is no actual encounter between the 501st and 502nd. The disappointment here stems from the fact that the opening sequence shows all of the Witches together, and it does not take much imagination to suppose what would happen had both the 501st and 502nd met one another. Such a large group of varied Witches would create opportunity for new jokes and new experiences that have hitherto been unseen in the Strike Witches universe as the different characters bounce off one another: Charlotte could fall victim to Waltrude, while both Gertrude and Naoe might go after Erica for her sloppiness. Hikari and Yoshika would get along very well with one another, while Eila would continue to be troubled by Nikka. The skies here are the limit for what is possible, and Strike Witches had always shown the importance of the moments the Witches spend together off the battlefield, so it was certainly conceivable that World Witches: Take Off! could’ve dared to go big and show something that had never been seen before. This was the impression that World Witches: Take Off! seemed to give off with its opening sequence, so I had been anticipating a meet-up between the 501st and 502nd. This was never realised – the closest it gets is when Yoshika clears Takami to return to Europe. Otherwise, it’s two separate stories in which the characters never do meet one another, and this was a shame, because it would’ve marked the first time the Witches have a chance to meet. I appreciate that the writers might’ve deliberately avoided this route because to do so would also be to introduce chaos into the Strike Witches universe of a sort that we’ve not seen before, and moreover, the series proper seems to keep the different groups apart, so this decision might also be to respect the writers’ choices.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • If memory serves, Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off! aired during the spring 2019 season, and similarly to World Witches: Take Off!, was a series of 13-minute long episodes. Those episodes were quite unrelated, and it was very easy to watch an episode, have a few laughs and then continue. World Witches: Take Off!, however, does have an overarching story: the 501st are putting a movie together, while the 502nd do their best to welcome Hikari amidst the chaos of Takami’s actions. While alternating between the two groups made it a little tricky to follow what was happening at times, I remained happy with how both stories retain their humour.

  • Being able to see the 502nd again reminds me of how much fun I had watching Brave Witches – it is a little bewildering to note that Brave Witches aired four years ago. The Strike Witches works have spanned quite a long time: Strike Witches‘ first season aired in 2008, and after 2010’s Strike Witches 2, it was a relatively short two year wait to Strike Witches: The Movie in 2012. Subsequently, 2015 had Operation Victory Arrow, and Brave Witches aired a year later. It would then be a longer four year wait to Road to Berlin. The fact that the Strike Witches franchise has been going strong since 2008 speaks to its quality.

  • I found the characters and their experiences within a well-developed world to be the main appeal of Strike Witches as a whole, and it would’ve been about ten years ago that I first heard of Strike Witches. I can’t quite pin down how I came to learn about this series, except that it was through Tango-Victor-Tango. My classmates in data structures at the time, also anime fans, suggested that I skip over this series because it offered nothing substantial, but I ended up going against their recommendation and picked the series up. Since then, I’ve been a fan of the military moé genre: Strike Witches was the surest indicator to what can happen when one keeps an open mind, and indeed, I found the series to be much more than its premise initially suggested.

  • Winter swimming is indeed a thing in northern countries, and as its name describes, is the practise of swimming in water that is just above freezing (typically 5ºC) during the winter months. Nikka is fond of the practise and suggests doing this as a means of keeping warm during the coldest months in St. Petersburg. Nikka is from Suomous (Finland), and her approaches therefore are in keeping with Finnish traditions – she suggests that dipping in ice-cold water and then hopping into a sauna immediately after has health benefits.

  • The practise of dipping in cold water is said to have health benefits, helping to reduce stress and fatigue, as well as improving resilience against infectious diseases. This is something that Naoe and Hikari initially have a great deal of trouble believing: standing in the cold air, both are surprised that Nikka has no trouble with things. One particularly funny detail is the fact that Hikari’s ahoge changes shape to reflect her mood in World Witches: Take Off!, whereas in Brave Witches, it always retains a consistent shape. Further to this, on the matter of Hikari, I always thought that Hikari was a little less well-endowed: unless I’m mistaken, World Witches: Take Off! portrays her as being less flat than in Brave Witches.

  • As it turns out, the actual danger from dipping in cold water is not from hypothermia itself: it is estimated that the average person can survive in these water temperatures for around half an hour before the core temperature begins to lower. However, the danger lies from cold shock, which causes the individual to hyperventilate and potentially inhale water. Moreover, the cold will cause uncontrolled muscle contractions and eventually result in cardiac arrest. While individuals with heart conditions or respiratory problems shouldn’t participate in cold water swimming, the practise should be okay for healthy individuals. Waltrud demonstrates this, and spurred on, Naoe and HIkari join her shortly after.

  • The practise that Nikka suggests, dipping in cold water and hitting a sauna after, brings to mind the Nordic Cycle (which unsurprisingly, originates from Finland) that Ena suggested to Rin in Heya Camp△. Hikari is surprised that things no longer hurt quite as bad despite her initial expectations, and the Witches thus prepare to head into the sauna for the next step of their winter experience. The Nordic Cycle has numerous health benefits, although it goes without saying that proper safety measures should be used, and caution be observed if one has any underlying conditions.

  • Back with the 501st, the Witches have convinced Sanya to join them: the idea is that since Sanya’s still looking for her parents, perhaps appearing in a movie and speaking about her aspirations will get her message out to more viewers. Seeing the merits of this approach, Sanya agrees and flies out to St. Trond base, where Charlotte and Francesca are. World Witches: Take Off! found a clever way to bring back Charlotte and Francesca into the fold; during the events of Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off!, Charlotte and Erica were single-handedly responsible for more than half of the trouble that had happened, and consequently, most of the series’ humour came from them.

  • The old “ketchup as blood” routine definitely seems to be a recurring joke in World Witches: Take Off!, and here, Francesca uses it to create a scene where viewers are supposedly more likely to be moved by Sanya’s plight. The non sequitur train of thought in World Witches: Take Off! kept each episode unpredictable and hilarious in its own way, as the Witches seek to accomplish their aims through increasingly dubious means. After Francesca douses Sanya in ketchup, a Neuroi appears, and Sanya shoots it down.

  • While effective for the scene director Charlotte has envisioned, it also creates a misunderstanding amongst Gertrude and Yoshika, who feel that Sanya’s injured for real. Since we viewers know what’s happening, this creates the dramatic irony that makes the scene so hilarious; when comprehension dawns on Yoshika and Gertrude, they are mortified and immediately set about punishing Charlotte and Francesca for their stunt.

  • However, it turns out Sanya had actually agreed to the arrangements for the movie’s sake, so there was no harm done. Misunderstandings and their resulting chaos are a central part of World Witches: Take Off!, and while such things do happen in Strike Witches proper, the Take Off! series strips away the Neuroi threat so that episodes can focus entirely on the characters. It suddenly hits me that, as each Take Off! episode is half the length of a standard episode, one could say with conviction that in a standard Strike Witches episode, half the time is spent on slice-of-life elements around being a Witch, and the other is on proper combat, world-building and the like.

  • With Sanya’s inclusion in the movie, it would appear that there’s enough footage to work with, and the Witches subsequently wrap up the principle photography, moving onwards to editing and finalising the movie. Gertude consents to give Sanya a small tap on the head as a reprimand for having scared them, and both embrace Sanya, immensely happy that things are fine and that their movie’s on track to being finished.

  • Because Eila’s crush on Sanya is so pronounced, when her intuition tells her Sanya’s being taken from her, Eila immediately falls ill, prompting Mio to call Minna and explain what’s going on. While Eila’s feelings for Sanya are out in the open irrespective of whether it’s a TV anime or manga, spin-off works crank things up a further for the sake of comedy, with the inevitably result that I’ve begun feeling sorry for Eila whenever such things happen to her. Here, I note that ketchup works great in World Witches: Take Off! because without things like viscosity and transparency, it is very difficult to tell the two apart.

  • In Brave Witches proper, Edytha often punished Witches who broke the rules by having them wear a sign of shame. After Edytha accidentally reveals to Waltrud and Nikka that Hikari’s got a cold, Naoe makes her wear the sign and figures that they should check up on Hikari: now that they’re down a Witch, Gundulla and Alexsandra worries that headquarters will cut their funding on account of their reduced operational capacity.

  • It turns out that after the cold swim, Hikari fell ill, but things look relatively minor, and Hikari’s in good hands as Georgette is looking after her. Much as how the 501st side of the story focuses on Charlotte, Francesca, Gertrude, Erica, Sanya and Eila because their presence is rather more noticeable, the 502nd’s story has Naoe, Nikka, Waltrud and Edytha at the forefront of things: Sadako and Georgette don’t really have much shine time in World Witches: Take Off! because comparatively, they’re less rambuncious than the others.

  • Edytha’s decision to keep quiet about Hikari’s cold stems from her worry that Nikka’s accident-prone nature, and the potential of Waltrud taking advantage of Hikari’s state, could make Hikari’s recovery a lengthy one. While nothing of the sort happens, Nikka and Waltrud do get into an accident after deciding to mix up a little something to help Hikari recover, but Nikka accidentally spills boiling water on herself and Waltrud in the process. Only the Witches’ accelerated healing factor allows such an incident to be funny: when scalded with boiling water, the usual response is to apply cool runner water to the afflicted areas for at least twenty minutes (but not nice or cold water)

  • Later, the 502nd learn that provisions are low, and while Alexsandra attempts to lighten the mood up with a joke about how they at least have unlimited supplies for making snow cones, the Witches soon fall into self-pity since the front lines are so quiet. It typifies World Witches: Take Off!‘s ability to turn even the most mundane of tasks into something enjoyable to watch. After Georgette actually begins eating the snow in desperation, it is decided that Hikari, Sadako, Edytha and Georgette will go on a shopping trip into town.

  • Picking up the common supplies proves easy enough, but when Edytha attempts to pick up some alcohol, the clerk ends up calling the authorities, causing the Witches to be detained. Using Japanese law, Edytha, being 19, is an adult, but the legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so technically, Edytha isn’t able to purchase alcohol anyways. Gundula soon receives a call from the local station asking for the girls’ parents to retrieve them, but at the same time, also gets a call from Takami. The ensuing chaos is a riot, and its resolution is never presented.

  • The last bit of the 501st’s story has everyone gathering for a party: with the film now complete, everyone’s invited to swing by St. Trond base.  Even now, Minna hadn’t been successful in convincing the brass to reform the 501st. When Yoshika decides to thank the other Witch squadrons for having caused them trouble, and reveals that she has a very specific list of people to thank based on certain attributes, Erica seizes the photos and decides that Yoshika should be able to express her gratitude via letters, prompting Yoshika to beg Erica for the letters back. Mio arrives shortly after: Minna’s somehow managed to get her back, too.

  • However, worried about what could happen if Minna were allowed to cook, Charlotte, Francesca and Erica had decided to take on the task themselves while Yoshika and Sanya head off to spread the word. Charlotte, Erica and Francesca’s plan to cook ahead of time proves vital, saving everyone from certain death. While the movie’s now done, there remains the matter of editing: Mio notes that Fuso has a branch in the military to handle this, causing the girls to go ballistic; they were hoping to have a more final say in what the film actually entails.

  • While the 501st is still not formally reactivated, the girls decide to party anyways, but as things get under way, the Neuroi suddenly appear. Charlotte and Francesca had joked that having the Neuroi show up would be the fastest way to convince the brass to reassemble the 501st for combat operations, but it seems the Neuroi had been waiting for the worst moment to make a return. This prompts Minna to order everyone to sortie for combat.

  • In this post, only a third of the screenshots are of the 501st: I deliberately skewed the screenshots to favour the 502nd because it’s their first time appearing in the parody format. At the end of their story, it turns out Takami had shown up herself to make sure Hikari was doing okay. It turns out that after arriving home, Takami became guilt-ridden about what happened and, side-tracked by seeing merchandise of herself, wants to make some of Hikari, too. The chibi forms of the characters are adorable, and one of the interesting things about the Take Off! series was the shifts in art styles.

  • Whether or not Yoshika is actually qualified to examine Takami is questionable: she expresses an interest in giving Takami her physical with indecent enthusiasm, and Takami misinterprets this as Yoshika being a noble physician. Unfortunately for Yoshika (and fortunately for Takami), the latter receives a phone call from St. Petersburg and learns Hikari’s in trouble. She thus sets off immediately, and Yoshika reluctantly stands down, salty that she’s not able to grope Takami.

  • It’s a tearful reunion in St. Petersberg, but as Gundula and Alexsandra can attest, since we viewers know precisely what led up to this point, this moment is less heartwarming than it is funny. The flow of events in World Witches: Take Off! loosely parallels those of Brave Witches, similarly to how Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off! The Movie had been a re-telling of Strike Witches: The Movie‘s events in a parody format, and now, I’m interested to re-watch Brave Witches again. Having watched the televised run during the fall of 2016, I ended up with the broadcast version’s defects, which the home release subsequently rectified.

  • While Hikari anticipates fighting alongside Takami, and her ahoge takes on a heart-shape in response, it turns out that to facilitate this detour, Takami owes the military. Hikari decides to accompany her, just happy to be with her sister again, although the other Witches are inevitably disappointed. In particular, Nikka had become fond of Hikari, while Alexsandra laments the loss of their supplementary funding should the two actually leave. Upon further consideration, Hikari decides to stay, and Gundula manages to convince the brass to at least let Takami stay over the winter.

  • As far as I can tell, no one else is writing about World Witches: Take Off!, and it’s really hard to fault folks for not writing about this series of shorts. World Witches: Take Off! offers nothing substantial to talk about in the way of character growth or world building, instead, being just a hilarious collection of tales about the mishaps that accompany the Witches in a world where the most notable aspects of their personalities are allowed to clash. Of course, the humour might be a little off-putting for some folks: this isn’t to be too surprising, since World Witches: Take Off! isn’t exactly a conventional anime.

  • With this in mind, I’ve still managed to find things to talk about in this unconventional series, even where the series doesn’t offer much to work with. There’s a reason why my Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off! reviews dominate search engines: I aim to share my experiences in a fair and comprehensive manner. Admittedly, shorts like these can be tricky to write for, and while I did have fun watching the Take Off! series, I’m not going to say that World Witches: Take Off! or Joint Fighter Wing: Take Off! are masterpieces that change the anime landscape, but the series represent light-hearted fun that gives viewers something to check out while waiting for more Strike Witches.

  • Upon catching wind that Hikari and Takami are leaving, Naoe ties Alexsandra up with the aim of forcing a straight answer out of her as to what’s happening, only to learn that she’d been acting on outdated information. Alexsandra had never actually withheld any information from Naoe, and so, when the others find out about it, it’s the surprise of the century: Naoe acts and talks tough, but behind this façade is someone who genuinely cares about those around her.

  • In embarrassment, Naoe first tries to commit suicide, and then tries to kill Nikka (which fails because Nikka’s self-healing outpaces whatever damage Naoe can do). Before things go out of hand, Neuroi appear, and Hikari is excited to finally be able to fly alongside Takami. This brings World Witches: Take Off! to a close; the ending comes abruptly, and we never do see the 501st and 502nd meet, but altogether, World Witches: Take Off! remains an enjoyable romp for those looking to scratch the Strike Witches itch that Road to Berlin left behind.

  • With my talk on World Witches: Take Off! done, I’ve now wrapped up all of the anime I had been actively watching for the winter season. The spring season is upon us now: Yakunara Mug Cup MoSuper Cub, and Yūki Yūna is a Hero Churutto! have my attention. I am likely to write about these series in a regular fashion. In addition, I plan to give 86 EIGHTY-SIX, Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. and Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui a go for the new season. Finally, I’m going to resume my Kamisama ni Hatta hi and Gundam SEED adventures on short order here, having put the brakes on so I could tend to everything else that’s been going on.

Altogether, World Witches: Take Off! is a fun series – while it does not bring anything particularly new to the table, nor does it help build the Strike Witches world further, World Witches: Take Off! continues on as its predecessor did, introducing a considerable amount of humour into the Strike Witches universe and acting as a parody of what’s happened. With this in mind, I’ve recently heard folks complain that “fun” is not a valid metric for assessing one’s enjoyment of entertainment on the basis that it’s too subjective a measure. I find this a narrow-minded way of thinking: World Witches: Take Off!, for instance, creates humour in its story that accentuates the worst traits in each character, and in the knowledge of the contrast the Take Off! series’ characters have with their usual counterparts, the dichotomy creates irony that is hard to reconcile, and hence, funny. This is where the enjoyment comes from, and for the lack of a better word, World Witches: Take Off! is a fun series, even if it doesn’t do anything world-changing or novel. The format continues to work for this series of shorts, acting as a pleasant intermediary series between now and when Luminous Witches is set to air. Ever since it was known that Strike Witches would be returning after VividRed Operation, the series has indeed returned in a big way. This is not unwelcome, since I’ve come to greatly love the Strike Witches universe and its characters: the greatest joys have always been seeing what sorts of scenarios unfold with the characters, and Luminous Witches intends to take viewers to a different side of this world. I’m rather excited to see what’s coming, and while series like World Witches: Take Off! might not necessarily advance Strike Witches as a whole, the fact we’re getting anything at all is a great sign that there’s more to come.

World Witches: Take Off!- Review and Reflection At the Halfway Point

“If you can’t laugh at your life, then your life is a punch line in a bad joke.” –Andrew Barger

After their successful destruction of the Neuroi in the Rhineland, the 501st part ways, with Yoshika staying behind with Minna, Gertrude and Erica at St. Trond base. Public relations forces them to shoot a movie about the 501st’s heroics, although with everyone gone, Gertrude decides to do a film around Yoshika’s exploits. Circumstance soon puts Minna in touch with the other members of the 501st, although things don’t go as smoothly as they’d like for Gertrude’s film: Perrine and Lynette are still hard at work restoring Gallia, while Charlotte and Francesca have gotten into a spot of trouble in Venezia after claiming to have blown away a Neuroi. Meanwhile, in Fuso, Hikari prepares to head over to Orussia with Takami, but when Takami accidentally spills ketchup on herself, is flown back to Fuso, leaving Hikari to join the 502nd. While the 502nd are initially hesitant, Alexsandra and Gundula conclude that having an extra Fuso Witch around could be good for publicity and help their group out with funds, which is always a problem on account of how Nikka, Naoe and Waltrud conduct themselves. Upon joining, Edytha sets about training Hikari, noting that those three are probably the most dangerous people around the base, second to only Alexsandra, who is lecturing Naoe about her actions. World Witches: Take Off! is a continuation of 2019’s Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, being a light-hearted parody of the Strike Witches series and stripping out the Human-Neuroi War in favour of what happens when the Witches are allowed to purely bounce off one another. Like its predecessor, World Witches: Take Off! episodes run for thirteen minutes at a time, and are loosely connected by a story, but otherwise, emphasises crude comedy above all else.

Insofar, World Witches: Take Off! has chosen to portray the 501st and 502nd quite separately. Every week, the focus alternates between the two Joint Fighter Wing groups; with the 501st, their antics are now well-established, and a familiar sight for anyone who’s seen Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!. The inclusion of the 502nd is what’s new to World Witches: Take Off!, but rather than dropping viewers straight into things, this series of shorts has instead chosen to re-tell the story in a more humourous light to show the more comedic side of the 502nd. Here, World Witches: Take Off! demonstrates a knack for being able to recount stories with a hilarious twist to them. In particular, the misunderstanding that causes Takami to be sent back to Fuso results from Hikari misunderstanding Takami, and after an accident involving ketchup, things seemingly become too serious to ignore. The ensuing chaos transforms Hikari into a blubbering mess, which is simultaneously piteous and adorable. Moments like this typify the Take Off! series’ ability to convey both humour and that warm, fuzzy feeling associated with small animals during its run. Halfway into World Witches: Take Off!, familiar faces come back in an all-new setting to create comedy, and for fans of Strike Witches looking for a little something to tide them over while awaiting Luminous Witches, the next big project, World Witches: Take Off! fits the bill nicely enough.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I am a little surprised that it’s been almost a full two years since 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! began airing, and as a result of the time that’s passed, a part of me felt that the art style in World Witches: Take Off! was a little different than that of its predecessor. After revisiting the old episodes, it turns out such is not the case: both series have the same art style and visual tone, a consequence of acca effe and Giga Production being at the helm of production.

  • Unlike Strike Witches and Brave Witches proper, there are no major themes covered by the Take Off! series of shorts. These are purely meant for quick-and-easy entertainment, and consequently, does not need to stand up to the usual scrutiny or discussion of the typical series. The closest equivalent I can think of would be K-On!‘s Ura-On! miniseries, which similarly placed the characters in a surreal world of humour purely to elicit a few laughs. However, whereas Ura-On! is very crudely done (resembling little more than napkin sketches with voices), the Take Off! series have been surprisingly good with respect to production quality for a work of its type.

  • In the beginning, World Witches: Take Off! has the Karlsland Witches working on a film with Yoshika at its core. While Gertrude intends on making Yoshika to be a hero of sorts, Yoshika has a bit of difficulty embracing this role. Gertrude intends on having Yoshika be the subject, but when things break down, Yoshika decides to try filming Gertrude instead, Things rapidly devolve when, enraged with Erica, Gertrude decides to give her the ol’ beatdown.

  • After her awakening, Erica suggests doing the movie in a slightly different direction; having dealt with media before, Erica prefers putting on a very soppy manner to pull on the viewers’ heart strings. While Yoshika wonders if this could come across as being dishonest, Gertrude’s direction fares hardly better: World Witches: Take Off! continues in its predecessor’s manner in presenting Gertrude as being perhaps a little too doting on Yoshika. Once the film’s direction settles a little (Gertrude and Erica both figure it’s a good idea to highlight Yoshika’s healing magic), Erica begins to wonder where the rest of the 501st went.

  • After the stunt in the movie, the other members were forced to disband, and even with Minna’s station in the Army, it takes a bit of effort to bring everyone back. Even Yoshika is set to return home when her mother asks about things, threatening the 501st further. Minna has one last play, and asks Yoshika to lie. At the very least, Yoshika is allowed to stay, and she feels that the best way to meet everyone is to go visit them with gifts and a warm thank-you.

  • Back in Fuso, Hikari lives her daily life trying to be the best Witch that she can despite lacking a strong magical potential. It’s been some four years since Brave Witches aired, so I can understand why World Witches: Take Off! would wish to ease viewers back into things and properly do a parody of what had actually happened. It speaks volume to the writing in World Witches: Take Off! that almost every moment in the original Brave Witches could be made fun of while at the same time, preserving the original story.

  • As memory serves, the original Brave Witches had Hikari participate in a competition to see who would have the chance to go over to Orussia and work directly with a front-line group of Witches. A great many stories, both anime and in other media, feature a protagonist whose strength of resolve and heart allow them to rise to whatever occasion arises. It’s a very uplifting way of looking at things, and indeed, while some folks might not be the most skilled or talented in this moment, they may possess other traits that allow them to be immensely valuable down the line. As such, it can be worthwhile to invest some effort in mentoring these folks to see what they’re truly capable of accomplishing.

  • Brave Witches had Hikari selected for the position after she saves classmate Mia from drowning during their competition, which had been to determine who was the more competent flier. However, Hikari’s actions had demonstrated that, despite her weaker skill, her heart means that she’s a better team player. In World Witches: Take Off!, however, the prospect of the Karibuchi sisters being heroes sways the villagers and judge’s decisions somewhat.

  • I initially mentioned that I would be writing about both World Witches: Take Off! and Azur Lane: Slow Ahead this season. Slow Ahead does offer enough materials to write about, but because of my current schedule, I’ve found it immensely difficult to keep up with everything as they aired. At this point in time, I’m fully caught up with World Witches: Take Off!, Yuru Camp△ 2Non Non Biyori Nonstop and Higurashi: Gou. However, I’m still only on episode one of Slow Ahead, and I’ve fallen to being two episodes behind on The Quintessential Quintuplets‘ second season.

  • I’m not too sure how my schedule looks for the near future, but I should be able to remain up to date on Yuru Camp△ 2 and Non Non Biyori Nonstop. Since I’ve chosen to write about World Witches: Take Off! every six episodes, I do not foresee any troubles with writing about this series once it’s finished, and I still have plans to write about Slow Ahead once everything’s done. Thus, we return to World Witches: Take Off!, where it’s off to Orussia with Takami and Hikari. Knowing this series, one can safely assume that their journey will be anything but ordinary.

  • Erica suggests bringing a wooden panel of the Witches over to Gallia as a gift of sorts for Perrine and the others, but after Yoshika notices that everyone’s faces are still in, decides to rectify that by carving out holes on the board. However, since Gertrude and Erica are still discussing the logic of transporting it, they assume that Yoshika’s got something else planned out and make to stop her.

  • The page quote was chosen simply to mirror the humour that is present in World Witches: Take Off!: the series has very little in the way of themes, and instead, is purely focused on the comedic elements. Laughter is one of the more puzzling aspects about human evolution, being a core part of social interactions. In response to situations of irony and comedy, which results from ridiculous situations or situations that subvert expectations, as Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes best puts it, “if we couldn’t laugh at the things that don’t make sense, we couldn’t react to a lot of life”.

  • I’ve not featured any such screenshots for this post, but there are moments where the characters deform even more, usually while retorting to something outrageous. “Funny faces”, as I call them, are an integral part of World Witches: Take Off!, and coupled with the over-the-top voice acting, really conveys the sense that nothing happening here is meant to be taken seriously. A major part of the comedy in World Witches: Take Off! comes from the fact that since viewers have existing knowledge of the characters, watching them act in exaggerated ways (or ways that contradict their usual personalities) creates enough of a disconnect to render a situation ludicrous.

  • Upon arriving in Gallia, Lynette immediately denies Yoshika any opportunity to cop a feel, as it were. Gertrude is still intent on shooting footage for the film, but before they can ready the camera, Perrine notices the panel with Mio’s face cut out. Yoshika manages to stave off imminent disaster, and after explaining to Perrine what their goals were, the 501st decide to change focus and unload the supplies.

  • It becomes clear that whatever movie Gertrude had in mind is unlikely to be made in any sort of capacity: while Yoshika attempts to interview Lynette on screen, she becomes distracted when Lynette mentions one of her duties. The Yoshika of Strike Witches is less perverted than her Take Off! counterpart, and this is often employed as a joke. In turn, Lynette in Take Off! is more versed with dodging Yoshika and evading any attempts Yoshika may make.

  • Back in St. Petersburg, Alexsandra is despondent about how, thanks to Naoe and Nikka’s tendency to destroy gear during training and in combat, the costs of shipping in replacement parts and equipment have left the 502nd destitute. Nikka’s bad luck is something of a recurring joke in Brave Witches, and for better or worse, she continues to wreck everything she sets her hands on. Because Takami had been set to arrive, headquarters had given the 502nd a boost to their budget to accommodate a hero of Fuso and a junior Witch. The prospect of a budget boost excites Alexsandra, but it turns out she’d come to speak with Naoe and Nikka for another reason.

  • There’s a spare room on base, and Alexsandra indicates the time has come to properly clean the room out. It is striking that Nikka’s bad luck in World Witches: Take Off! is only somewhat worse than it was in Brave Witches, and if Naoe is to believed, Nikka can even fall through a perfectly safe and solid floor. In Brave Witches, the St. Petersberg base always came across as a little run-down compared to the facilities the 501st operated out of, but thanks to Georgette, things continue to run smoothly. In this first half of World Witches: Take Off!, we’ve not had a chance to see Georgette much as of yet.

  • Naoe had been somewhat of an unpleasant character at the beginning of Brave Witches, but as Hikari got to know her better, the two would get along on better terms. World Witches: Take Off! has Naoe at odds with everyone, especially Waltrud: during the course of Brave Witches, Waltrud was presented as a bit of a womaniser, but was otherwise a competent Witch in the air. Because World Witches: Take Off! exists to exaggerate certain traits about every Witch, Waltrud here becomes insufferable; she shocks Nikka, who shoves the window out of its frame.

  • Cleaning with these three turns out to be more of a disaster than expect ed, and ultimately, Naoe’s patience runs out. She’s able to render the room spotless. Unfortunately for her, Nikka and Waltrud have both spotted Naoe while she was in a good mood, and things quickly sour. Like Gertrude, Naoe is quick to resort to physical violence in World Witches: Take Off!, even more so than her counterpart in Brave Witches.

  • I don’t recall that Alexsandra was ever this quick to tears in the original Brave Witches, and it suddenly strikes me that, with the four years that have passed since Brave Witches, I’ve forgotten a lot of the details in that series. I do remember Brave Witches as having an immensely likeable set of characters and dialing back on the pantsu in favour of world-building. When the series ended, I was very happy with it. I get that Strike Witches originally built its reputation on a lack of pants, but over the years, the series has taken numerous strides to develop its story and characters further.

  • It turns out that Hikari had been worried about keeping up with Takami, and during lunch, Takami is deep in thought trying to work out something. She decides to test Hikari’s ability to handle the unexpected, using ketchup to mimic an old wound being opened. This completely backfires, and insofar, watching Hikari trying to blubber out an explanation of what’s happened to another Fuso Witch was adorable beyond words. No one believes that Takami is fine, and as a result of this, she’s sent back to Fuso to recover.

  • Hikari is understandably devastated as Takami is flown back to Fuso for a full checkup despite the “injury” being minor; as Takami explains things to Gundula and Alexsandra, the latter becomes gloomy about what will happen to their supplementary funding. Absolutely outrageous situations are par the course in World Witches: Take Off!, and admittedly, it is refreshing to see a series poke fun at itself. I believe Gundam 00 also did this briefly with a pair of trailers for its second season, and curiously enough, a handful of the predictions in this parody turned out true: aliens did end up attacking and Setsuna did end up becoming Gundam by the events of Awakening of the Trailblazer.

  • Once Yoshika visits Perrine and Lynette, next on the list is Charlotte and Francesca in Venezia, who appear to be in a spot of bother. It turns out they’re desperate to be extracted and reactivated, having told a fib about their achievements that snowballed into something out of control. With guilt getting the better of them, the pair attempt to worm their way out of an event of sorts, counting on the 501st’s arrival as an excuse to leave town.

  • Because of the lack of pants in Strike Witches, whenever the characters grovel on the ground in the dogeza position (土下座), viewers are treated to a bit of scenery. The act of dogeza is usually reserved for situations demanding higher deference than even a deep bow, and anime are especially fond of using this when characters are begging for forgiveness. The equivalent in Cantonese is 叩頭 (jyutping kau3 tau4), and originally, like in Japan, was used to show deep respect to someone. While rarely used today, it is still a common practise in martial arts circles. The word eventually made its way into English as “kowtow”, which presently means “to be overly submissive”. When I see people do this, however, thanks to my weak command of some aspects of Cantonese, I idiosyncratically call it 拜神 (jyutping baai3 san4, literally “worshipping a deity”).

  • Charlotte ends up being torn about leaving town, hoping to stay and enjoy the beer for another day, but now that they’ve found her, Gertrude is pretty gung-ho about getting Charlotte and Francesca back with the 501st – she offers to carry Charlotte and her motorcycle back single-handedly, but when this proves cumbersome, Yoshika steps in to help out. The real Yoshika is ever quick to help out, but World Witches: Take Off! supposes that Yoshika has ulterior motives beyond doing something altruistically.

  • With Charlotte, it’s easy to guess why Yoshika is so quick on the uptake – after being denied by Lynette earlier, one can see this as Yoshika’s perversions manifesting yet again in World Witches: Take Off!. While such mannerisms can become tiresome very quickly, this has never been a problem in the Take Off! series because viewers are well aware of the fact that this is a parody of Strike Witches, and as such, greatly exaggerated mannerisms are understood as poking fun at every characters’ worst traits in the name of a few good laughs.

  • When Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! finished airing, I recall reading somewhere that I had one of the few reviews around on the series shorts, and more unusually, of these few reviews, mine was the only one that was positive. The reason why I enjoyed Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! (and are currently enjoying World Witches: Take Off!) is simply because it is pure frivolity. There are no messages, no themes and no learnings; while I don’t have enough material to write my usual discussions for something like World Witches: Take Off!, the series still has enough materials to cover (e.g. what made it funny for me, and why the humour works).

  • One of the things that World Witches: Take Off! does well is bringing back elements from Brave Witches and turning them into things that viewers certainly thought of doing. When Edytha suggests that Hikari climb the obelisk to retrieve a hat as part of her exercise and demonstrates it, Waltrud shows up and tries to sneak a peek of Edytha’s pantsu, prompting Edytha to drop down on Waltrud. I imagine that a handful of viewers would camp the obelisk for the same reasons as Waltrud, hence the joke being amusing. Waltrud does indeed exhibit such tendencies in Brave Witches, and official artwork implies that the pair are involved in a romantic manner.

  • Later, Nikka falls to the ground after birds interrupt her climb, and while her face is initially too mangled to show to human eyes, her healing factor leaves her good to go moments later.  As it turns out, the real exercise was to help Hikari identify the troublesome members of the 502nd. Whether or not this holds true is irrelevant: what it does suggest is that Hikari is in for a bit of turbulence in St. Petersburg as she acclimatises to life with the 502nd, and unlike Brave Witches, which saw Hikari improve as a Witch owing to her field experience, days of watching the Witches clash with one another will likely leave Hikari wondering what on earth happens up here.

  • Alexsandra’s biggest gripe in Brave Witches had been broken resupply lines making it difficult to secure the materials needed to maintain and repair Striker Units. Her constant worry about the budget in World Witches: Take Off! is a callback to this, and here, she yells at Naoe for having wrecked more equipment. With this, we’re halfway through the second Strike Witches parody, and while there’s no sign of it happening yet, I remain hopeful that the 501st and 502nd could meet up properly for the first time; if the opening sequence is to be believed, Eila will get the short end of the stick should this happen.

The biggest element that’s been missing so far from World Witches: Take Off! is the actual meeting of the 501st and the 502nd. The opening sequence suggested that World Witches: Take Off! would be about the wild adventures and zany antics that could only come from such a large, varied cast coming together and bouncing off one another. Things like watching Eila suffer as Sanya speaks with more people, or Waltrud messing with members of the 501st presents an opportunity to create humour that is unparalleled. However, at the halfway point, World Witches: Take Off! shows no sign of having the 501st and 502nd meet. Time will tell as to whether or not a meet-up between the 501st and 502nd become a reality; I imagine that many viewers, myself included, would be quite keen to see this because it represents a chance to take the characters in a hitherto unseen direction and create new humour that is only possible with everyone and their unique characteristics. Having said this, World Witches: Take Off! has done a reasonable job of creating laughs insofar, and this series, while certainly not for anyone just entering the Strike Witches world (or have an aversion for bad jokes), is similar to Strike Witches: 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! in that it provides outrageous moments of hilarity for the viewer, while at the same time, providing a glimpse into what life is like for Witches when they’re not training or sortieing to deal with the Neuroi threat.

I Still Want to Protect- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Finale Impressions and Whole-Series Review

“I’m never going to tell you to stop thinking. But I will tell you when it is time to shut up and listen to orders. If everybody does what they think is right when the bullets are about to start flying, then we won’t operate as a cohesive unit. Sometimes you may not like the order you are given, sometimes it might not make sense to you, but you have to do as you’re told” –John Clark, Locked On

Because Shizuka’s Striker Unit sustained damage, she is ordered to remain outside while the remainder of the 501st make their way down into the Berlin subway system and search for an opening leading back to the surface. After navigating through the labyrinth, they encounter a vast underground city and deduce that Wolf’s core must be in a large building at the center. Meanwhile, Yoshika continues to heal the wounded: the Neuroi’s onslaught results in the Ratte’s destruction as well as serious damage to the flaktower. Yoshika pulls a soldier off the rooftops and brings him to safety before attempting to fire on the Neuroi, but the 501st’s efforts below pull all of the Neuroi downstairs, clearing the skies above. Shizuka encounters Mio in the skies, and after the B-17 unsuccessfully attempts to punch a hole in the dome, Shizuka decides to borrow the Shinden and manually detonate the bomb herself. This blows a hole in the dome, and against orders, Shizuka flies into the dome to engage the Neuroi in an attempt to save Yoshika. She is critically wounded, and in despair, Yoshika grieves for her. The intensity of her emotions returns her magic, and filled with a resolute determination, Yoshika resurrects Shizuka before engaging the Neuroi on her own. The sheer power Yoshika brings to the table prompts the Neuroi to surface, and the 501st follow in hot pursuit. Realising the Witches’ power, Wolf’s core returns to its bell form and reforms the massive city before attempting to escape, but Yoshika manages to stop the bell long enough for Minna, Gertrude and Erica to destroy it. With the core destroyed, Wolf collapses, and Berlin is liberated. The skies over Berlin clear out, and the Witches stick around to assist with the cleanup before taking off for their next mission. This brings Road to Berlin to a close, and with it, the time has come to look back on this third season of Strike Witches‘ place in the series.

While Yoshika remains the lead character in Road to Berlin, this third season’s biggest draw was Shizuka’s introduction into the 501st. Strike Witches (and Brave Witches) were both framed around a novice Witch joining an elite air group, and in the process, comes to learn a combination of both what the skies mean to one another, as well as how to work together as a cohesive unit against seemingly-insurmountable odds. Yoshika might’ve struggled all season to deal with her fluctuating magical power, but Shizuka’s own journey was perhaps the more important of the two: introduced during the movie to keep an eye on Yoshika as she travels to Europe, Shizuka has since replaced Mio. While possessing a modicum of skill from her own training, Shizuka constantly struggles to find a balance between following orders and her own heart. In this finale, it becomes evident that Yoshika’s influence has had a nontrivial impact on Shizuka: she only reluctantly follows Minna’s order to remain on the surface, and later, openly ignores an order, speeding into the opening to rescue Yoshika. Again, it is the decision to follow her heart, that directly results in her being wounded, setting off the process that restores Yoshika’s magic and allowing the 501st to stop Wolf. Through Road to Berlin, Shizuka learns that there is a gap between following orders and trusting her own judgement, and that things are not always so black and white. In reality, orders exist for a reason: officers and leaders have a clearer picture of what’s happening than the soldiers on the ground and will attempt to make decisions based on this information, in conjunction with their experience. The sorts of things seen in Strike Witches are, naturally, not how things should always be conducted in reality, but the resulting message is simple enough – for the soldiers on the ground, sometimes, the orders won’t make sense, especially in the heat of the moment. Of course, Road to Berlin chooses this approach because its message is about following one’s heart can have positive consequences, and that individuals should, where permissible, follow their own hearts.

The other element resulting from Road to Berlin‘s finale that will likely invite discussion is whether or not Yoshika was justified in getting her magic back just in time to carry out a pivotal play that results in Wolf’s destruction: the answer to this is a simple, and resounding yes. The constraints and extent of magic in Strike Witches have never really been vigorously defined within the series, and what’s possible or not depends precisely on what the story requires. While Strike Witches as a whole does make use of real-world hardware and feature historical figures, this cannot (and should not) be taken as a sign that Strike Witches was ever intended to be realistic. Stories are written to convey a specific idea, not adhere religiously to reality: that there are real-world elements in Strike Witches simply serves as a world-building exercise and make it clear what humanity has to work with. In the context of Road to Berlin, Yoshika’s magic disappearing and returning simply is a metaphor for her own feelings about the 501st, specifically, that she cares greatly for those around her, enough to create miracles on the strength of these feelings alone. This concept is certainly not new to anime: the psychoframe in Mobile Suit Gundam was written with a similar premise in mind. As such, there isn’t a particular need to begrudge Yoshika for being able to pull off such feats anymore than there is a need to try and find counterarguments against the execution in Road to Berlin. From a narrative and story perspective, Road to Berlin delivers the classic Strike Witches experience – featuring the 501st, Road to Berlin very much takes off after its predecessors in terms of structuring and themes. Messages of friendship, teamwork and trust are at the forefront of Road to Berlin, and while the series has never dealt with anything more complex, Strike Witches always excelled at putting things together for a visual spectacle. Unlike its predecessors, however, Road to Berlin is more open about its messages, having the characters precisely spell out their intentions, and a consequence of this communication, viewers are given a chance to enjoy classic 501st interactions with a modernised spin on things.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Road to Berlin‘s finale begins in a grim enough manner: the Neuroi have focused fire on the flak tower, causing it to yield. These massive fortifications were historically so notoriously durable that even the largest Soviet gun, the 203 mm howitzer, failed to do any appreciable damage to their surface walls. Conversely, the Neuroi’s sustained beams are able to collapse one of the walls. One of the soldiers hits the roof armed with an MP-40, feeling that even it is a pointless gesture, he’d rather go down fighting, and I believe it marks the first time I’ve ever seen an ordinary soldier defeating a Neuroi: his shots puncture one of the drone’s cores, destroying it.

  • Shizuka’s Striker Unit suffered from damage and is no longer able to make the tunnel flight: she’s ordered to stay behind while the remainder of the 501st head underground, entering the Berlin U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn, literally “underground rail”). The U-Bahn began construction in 1910, and in the 1930s, was given an expansion dubbed the Großprofil, which added north-south stations. Seeing their derelict state in Road to Berlin brought to mind the Geisterbahnhöfe of the Cold War: when Berlin was split into East and West, U-Bahn lines belonging to West Berlin were prohibited from stopping at stations underneath East Berlin, and these stations were subsequently sealed off, creating a surreal environment. Since the Cold War ended, most of these Ghost Stations were re-opened and put back into service.

  • Shizuka notices a lone B-17 headed into Berlin and is brought on board. Mio and Ursula are also present, and Ursula suggests using the B-17’s fuel-air explosives payload to probe the Neuroi’s shell, which has insofar resisted all damage. However, the bombs’ calibration are off, and so, they initially deal no damage to the shell, exploding too early to have an appreciable impact. Back underground, the 501st continue to navigate after a caved-in section of the tunnels forces them to divert. With Gertrude’s brute strength allowing them to open up new passages, and Minna using her magic to navigate, the 501st find themselves in a titanic underground cavern.

  • It turns out that Wolf had been constructing a vast city-like structure for itself: the city immediately brought to mind Albert Speer’s plans for Berlin: dubbed Germania, this was a part of Adolf Hitler’s plans to completely rebuild the German capital in his vision for a thousand-year Reich. At the heart of Germania would be the Volkshalle, a massive domed building Hitler intended to be the heart of his Third Reich, a place where citizens would pay deference to him. Such a city was only ever planned: when World War Two started, Hitler ordered all resources to be redirected towards the war effort, and while demolitions had begun in some areas, the project was stopped.

  • Gertrude remarks that Germania was the design of a Karlsland Emperor in-universe, suggesting that Karlsland might have once had ambitions to at least create a massive city rivalling those of ancient Greek or Roman cities. The parallels between Wolf’s interior city and Germania are immediately apparent: this callout was to suggest that Wolf’s grip on Karlsland is an analogue to Hitler’s grip on Germany during the time of the Third Reich, and in Strike Witches, the Neuroi’s presence is what prompted humanity to set aside their differences. Witches have mentioned it is possible, were it not for the Neuroi, humanity would’ve been entangled in its own bitter conflicts.

  • Because the Volkshalle was the centrepiece of Germania, it is therefore unsurprising that Wolf’s core must be concealed within the Neuroi’s impressions of Volkshalle. Minna immediately orders the Witches to concentrate all of their firepower on this large structure. As they begin dealing damage to the outer layers, Wolf realises what’s happening and sends all of the drones to the dome’s subterranean sections. The damage being dealt is also enough to thin the dome enough for communications signals to get through: Minna is able to get in touch with Mio and explain the situation using Sanya’s communication magic to amplify the signal.

  • It was hilarious that even during a fight against a hive, Eila still has time to worry about Minna getting too close to Sanya. Of course, Minna is doing this purely for practicality’s sake, but Eila has no way of knowing. This was a rather fun moment that lightened things up, and indeed, Road to Berlin‘s hive fight never had the same outrageous moments as seen in the first two seasons, being much more in line with the hive fight seen in Brave Witches.

  • Sustained fire from the Witches eventually causes the central Volkshalle to collapse, and the resulting damage thins the dome again. Despite being a hive, Wolf never did feel quite as intimidating as the previous hives did. This was largely a consequence of being familiar with Strike Witches and how the series unfolds: since I know precisely how things would end, there was never any question of what the outcomes would be. Thus, regardless of what the hive could pull off, the conclusion would always be the same, and so, I never once felt that the Witches were in any imminent mortal peril.

  • With only a single bomb left, Shizuka is given permission to sortie in the Shinden and manually detonate the bomb by firing on it once it gets within range. The Shinden was specifically designed for Yoshika’s use, having a much higher magic consumption rate and corresponding output because it had been specially designed for Yoshika. Despite struggling with its operation, Shizuka manages to keep up, following the bomb closely and setting it off at the required altitude. The resulting blast opens a hole in the Neuroi’s dome, and with no time to lose, Shizuka enters the hole against Mio’s orders.

  • When Yoshika notices a Witch flying towards the dome, she picks up the soldier’s discarded MP-40 and begins firing. Chambered for the 9 mm Parabellum round, the MP-40 submachine gun was a popular weapon amongst German soldiers, who found it a reliable weapon for the most part. Erica is seen using an MP-40 during Strike Witches: The Movie, switching over to it once her MG-42 ran dry. The MP-40’s only real shortcoming was the fact that its magazine design made it prone to jamming: it was only loosely connected to the weapon, and misalignments would result if care wasn’t taken.

  • Yoshika holds the MP-40 correctly, gripping the front at the magazine housing. Soldiers who used the magazine as a foregrip would inadvertently pull the magazine lip back from the feed, causing the weapon to fail, and soldiers were told to either hold the magazine housing or the handle underneath the barrel. In general, clutching the magazine while using a firearm is a bad idea: even if gripping the magazine doesn’t cause malfunctions, the magazine is housing what is essentially explosives. Magazines can explode if abused, and it does not take an active imagination to figure out what happens to one’s hand in this scenario.

  • When Yoshika runs dry on the MP-40, it seems she’s doomed to be deep-fried. However, intent on protecting Yoshika, Shizuka had managed to enter the dome before the Neuroi fully sealed the hole. She makes it just in time to shield Yoshika from certain death. Relieved that Yoshika is okay, Shizuka immediately takes off and begins to thin out the Neuroi drones in the skies above. It was rewarding to see Shizuka being able to fulfill her end of the promise to protect Yoshika, and by this point in Road to Berlin, it is clear that Yoshika’s blasé attitude surrounding orders have rubbed off on Shizuka.

  • While Shizuka is no longer the freshmen she once was, the ferocity and danger posed by the hives cannot be understated: despite managing to destroy almost all of the remaining drones in the sky on her own, Shizuka fails to dodge a beam from the remaining drone. Moments before her bullets destroy it, she takes a fatal hit from the beam and tumbles to the ground, grievously injured. In any other series, it’d be curtains for Shizuka: every detail about this instance would suggest that Shizuka is close to death.

  • Shizuka’s fortune lies in the fact that she’s in Strike Witches: I’ve never seen a Witch die on-screen before, and even in the worst of situations, Witches always seem to manage to escape by the seat of their pantsu. With Shizuka sustaining such an injury, Yoshika desperately tries to activate her healing magic; Shizuka is losing blood fast and is beyond the help of conventional medicine. However, nothing happens: Shizuka continues to bleed out, and her eyes begin closing.

  • With the thoughts of losing a dear friend on her mind, Yoshika succumbs to raw emotion, letting out a terrifying scream. The weight of her emotions reactivates her magic, flooding the area in a warm light. Shizuka’s wounds close, and she stablises. I imagine that this will be the subject of no small discussion for at least a few weeks to come, but for me, I will not be giving this too much thought. The reasoning behind this is that Strike Witches has never specified what constraints govern how magic in this universe works. Much as how J.R.R. Tolkien never explicitly defined what the Maiar and Valar‘s powers were, the precise nature of magic in Strike Witches is still very much a black box.

  • All that is known, for instance, is that Gandalf was never meant to confront Sauron in a one-on-one, and so, the scope of both his and Sauron’s magic simply didn’t need to be explored, because the theme of Lord of the Rings wasn’t about who had better magic. Similarly, in Road to Berlin, the presence of magic is only to drive the idea that there are different ways of helping people, and that camaraderie is an immeasurably powerful force. Understanding why a work was presented the way it was is key to enjoying its themes, and I’ve long found that plot holes can be dealt with more elegantly (by means of reasoning and an open mind) than incomplete or unsatisfactory themes (which are much harder to explain away).

  • With her powers online, Yoshika transforms into a one-Witch army, soloing more or less the entire swarm of drones Wolf has thrown at her. Throwing up massive shields, and multiple shields at once, there are points where Yoshika doesn’t even fire her weapon, using her magic to wreak havoc on an hitherto unseen scale. Realising the damage Yoshika stands to deal, Wolf sends all of its remaining drones upstairs, and Minna realises that following them will allow them to find a way out. Eila and Sanya finish off the Volkshalle before joining the others.

  • As Yoshika greets the 501st, who are relieved to find her okay, they look down to see Patton and Shizuka in fine spirits. I do wonder what the real George S. Patton would’ve thought of his likeness being used in a magical girl anime three-quarters of a century after his time. Historically, Patton was a very fiery character known for his vulgar tongue but generally effective mode of command. It is only through anime that such a sight is possible, and the pair signal to the 501st that they’re alright.

  • However, the fight to liberate Berlin is not over yet; Wolf clearly understands it is on the back foot, and it extracts all remaining drones from underground to form a massive floating city built in Germania’s image. In any other series, this floating city would be a foe of terrifying power, but again, with the 501st, there hardly seems to be an enemy that the Witches together can’t defeat. While Wolf is unique in its ability to assemble different structures, ranging from small drones to an entire city.

  • Bradley manages to reach Minna and informs her that with Wolf now in the open, Berlin’s as good as theirs once they destroy it. The Witches thus commence their final assault on Wolf: set to the ending theme, there was never any doubt as to what the outcome would be; in works of fiction, the use of certain songs typically indicates that a battle’s outcome is foregone. This isn’t always true, but with only a few minutes left in Road to Berlin‘s finale, it became evident that the Witches were not going to encounter any more surprises in their fight against Wolf.

  • While Wolf remains quite dangerous, the victory has never felt closer for the 501st, who tear into the Neuroi with everything they’ve got. Wolf’s physical appearance differs dramatically from that of Gregori, which was itself different from previous hives seen in Strike Witches: it would appear that Neuroi hives all differ in appearance, so no two hive battles would ever be the same. It is not lost on me that leadership elements in Strike Witches have changed considerably since the first season: Generals Patton and Bradley were helpful allies keen on helping the Witches out here in Road to Berlin, but I remember a time when military brass imagined it to be a good idea to place their faith in untested technologies that proved even more variable than the Neuroi during the first and second seasons.

  • When Wolf begins sustaining serious damage, its bell-shaped core attempts to escape yet again. It begins rising into the atmosphere at a prodigious speed, and even Charlotte says she’s unable to accelerate quickly enough to catch up. However, with her unnatural power, Yoshika manages to reach the bell-shaped core and projects a powerful shield to slow it down. Minna, Gertrude and Erica press forwards with their MG-42s, shredding the outer casing and exposing the core.

  • With the core now exposed, Minna fires the remaining bullets that crack the core open: credit for this kill thus goes to Minna, although to be sure, it was most definitely a team effort that allowed for this victory to result. With its core destroyed, Wolf is neutralised, and the grim clouds covering Berlin dissipate. The light of a warm afternoon bathes the land in a gentle light, and the Witches slowly take in the fact that they’ve now completed their mission in full.

  • As the darkness gives way to light, Berlin can be seen below. I imagine that for Road to Berlin, the city below was probably drawn as a static background, and then the Witches’ movements were overlaid on top to create a sense of scale. While more challenging than animating a battle over the ocean, the end result is much more impressive from a visual standpoint, all the more so when sunlight begins shining over the liberated Berlin.

  • With Road to Berlin‘s outcome, I imagine that a handful of viewers will complain that Yoshika’s power takes the fun out of Strike Witches, that her magic coming back is purely deus ex machina, that the 501st would be more enjoyable to watch without her, et cetera. However, I contend that Yoshika seems most similar to Donnie Yen’s Ip Man in that both characters were written to accommodate a particular idea. As Ip Man, Yen only ever draws fights at worst, and does not lose even when the odds were stacked against him; Ip Man pulls victories and second winds from nowhere as the story demands, and while certainly not plausible, much less realistic, it does emphasise the film’s themes.

  • Strike Witches does something similar with Yoshika: she’s precisely as powerful as the series needs her to be, and in having her magic (only somewhat) unexpectedly return in Road to Berlin, the series intended to really drive home the point that things like fellowship prevail over adversity, without fail. I’ve never really found arguments against Yoshika to be too convincing: the overt displays of power in the series have always been a visual metaphor for willpower, and accepting that this is core to Strike Witches is essential to finding enjoyment in this series.

  • Road to Berlin‘s soundtrack released earlier today, and having had a chance to listen to it in full, I found that the slice-of-life pieces to be my favourite pieces of incidental music. “Magical Girl Alps”, “Feelings of the Still Summer”, “Chasing Dreams”, “Time to Rest” and “Sadness of the Still Summer” capture a sense of wistfulness in Road to Berlin that the vast blue skies always seem to convey. While the training and combat pieces are enjoyable, I’ve always found that the best music in Strike Witches and Brave Witches were in the more relaxing-sounding songs, as these usually corresponded with slice-of-life moments.

  • For Erica, Gertrude and Minna, the victory over Wolf is still sinking in. As shards of the defeated hive fall from the skies, there is no immediate celebration, just relief that they were able to take back Berlin together. In the series’ aftermath, the Witches head down to Berlin and begin helping out with the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Even though there is a lot of work that remains, the Witches are all smiles. I’ve got no screenshots from these moments, since they overlap with the end credits. I imagine that in the future, a home release could see a creditless sequence.

  • With this Road to Berlin finale post in the books, I will note now that writing this series on the same day as the episodes aired was a tricky one, and it was only thanks to unique circumstances that I was able to keep up with things in a timely fashion. Under normal conditions, I certainly would not have been able to write for Road to Berlin and GochiUsa: BLOOM in a punctual manner. Having said this, this blog is only run by one individual, and this season had demonstrated that, while I am able to keep up with two series in an episodic manner, it is a very exhausting process. I do hope that readers enjoyed following my thoughts on Road to Berlin this season: consistently putting out posts means that I had to always find novel and interesting things to say, lest posts become dull very quickly.

  • Once the end credits finish rolling, the 501st head for their next assignment, leaving the future of Strike Witches free for a continuation. With Road to Berlin now in the books, I have no qualms giving this series an A- (3.7 of 4.0, or 8.5 of 10): Road to Berlin represents the third season of Strike Witches that I’ve been waiting for since it was announced that a new season featuring the 501st would be in the works after Vividred Operation concluded. With the right combination of classic Strike Witches elements and a new maturity stemming from successes seen in works like Brave Witches and Operation Victory ArrowRoad to Berlin takes the viewers on a familiar journey that nonetheless differentiates itself from its predecessors. Throughout the course of Road to Berlin, I became increasingly fond of Shizuka, as well: it was excellent to see her become a full-fledged member of the 501st after her adventure began in Strike Witches: The Movie.

With the epilogue in Road to Berlin, the path is cleared for future adventures – Road to Berlin leaves open the idea that the 501st could return in the future, but having now seen three seasons of the venerable 501st in combat and off duty, it would be a nice change of pace to see other Witch squadrons: Yoshika, Lynette, Perrine, Charlotte, Francesca, Minna, Gertrude, Erica, Sanya and Eila are all interesting characters in their own right, but since the Strike Witches universe has demonstrated the depth and breadth of its world, especially through something like Brave Witches, I find that it would be worthwhile to explore other squadrons, as well. It is evident that the Strike Witches franchise isn’t going anywhere anytime soon: even with the 501st’ tremendous victory in Berlin, sections of Karlsland remain under occupation from Neuroi forces, and as Yoshika puts it, there’s no rest for the weary. After overseeing repair efforts in Berlin and enjoying the triumph that puts the Karlsland capital back in Allied hands, it’s onwards to the next mission. Because Strike Witches is set in an alternate history, the story could be continued almost indefinitely: if the Human-Neuroi War is protracted, parallels between the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War might be explored as humanity advances Jet Strikers to a point where they become as effective as modern jet aircraft. Even if the Human-Neuroi war were to end, there are plenty of other squadrons to write about, and the World War One parallel similarly offers much material that can be presented. It becomes apparent that, 501st or not, the Strike Witches universe is vast, just waiting to be explored. However, in the meantime, with the eight year wait finally over, I can say that Road to Berlin delivers Strike Witches‘ third season in style, striking a fine balance between being faithful to elements seen in the originals, while at the same time, making use of lessons from the earlier seasons to build a more compelling and engaging universe. In this department, Road to Berlin has certainly succeeded: I have no qualms recommending this series to anyone who enjoy Strike Witches, although newcomers may find Road to Berlin to be a bit tricky to accept on account of the lack of pants, even if the series has dialed things back considerably from the earliest days of Strike Witches.

Road to Berlin- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Eleventh Episode Impressions and Review

“If we cannot pass over the mountain, let us go under it.” –Gimli, The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

Yoshika reawakens to learn that her magic will take around ten days to be replenished. She accompanies Minna to a meeting where Patton and Bradley attempt to persuade the other members of command to push things back ten days, but is meet with vehement resistance. Meanwhile, Shizuka is devastated that Yoshika’s unable to fight, and when she learns that a custom Shinden unit will have to be returned to storage as a result, she is told that the plan was classified. Unable to express how she feels about Yoshika, Shizuka dissolves in tears. Before the new operation begins, Minna explains that the plan to take back Berlin has changed in light of the Neuroi’s new deployment pattern: the military have procured a Ratte, and intend to use it to smash the walls that the Wolf hive has erected around Berlin. The Witches are to provide air cover and support for the Ratte. On the day of the operation, Yoshika makes a special request, and the 501st sortie. While the 501st keep the Neuroi drones busy in the skies above, the Ratte proves its worth during combat: besides shrugging off Neuroi beams, it is able to outright shatter the Neuroi walls, forcing the hive to continue moving them. Yoshika had been given permission to board the Ratte and act as a field medic, looking after injured soldiers. Soon, the Ratte has eliminated the Neuroi walls, and Patton orders the Ratte to fire on the core. However, when it appears that the battle is won, the hive constructs a giant dome encasing the area, blocking the 501st’s access to and communications with the Ratte. Shizuka realises that she’d heard Yoshika calling out to her. The 501st realise that inside the dome, the Ratte and Yoshika don’t stand a chance, but Patton decides to make use of a heavily fortified flak tower and its telegram as a site to regroup. He informs the others they’re alright, and while Gertrude suggests using the Berlin tunnels to reach the others, Mio orders her aircraft, carrying Yoshika’s Shinden, to head for Berlin. Just like that, we’ve now hit the penultimate episode for Road to Berlin, a thrilling setup for the final fight against the Berlin hive. In this week’s episode, the highlights in combat were dominated by the Ratte, a tank of German design that in reality, never made it past the conceptual stage: the Ratte was intended to carry a pair of 28 cm SK C/34 naval guns and act as a mobile fortress gun. Of course, such a tank was never built (the designs were discarded in 1943): its immense size would have made it a lumbering vehicle vulnerable to aerial bombardment despite its armour. However, Road to Berlin has this conceptual weapon brought to life as an effectual weapon against the Neuroi, and did so in a colourful manner, by having Patton himself command it.

Penultimate episodes of Strike Witches always ended on a grim note: the Witches would make some initial gains against the hives and dealt damage to it, but they would inevitably unveil an even deadlier form. The original Strike Witches had the Warlock destroying the hive trivially before turning against its controllers and assimilating the Akagi, leaving Yoshika to take to the skies on her own. Strike Witches 2 saw the Yamato, upgraded with Neuroi technology, attempt to attack the Venezia hive unsuccessfully, forcing Mio to try and save the mission herself using what was left of her magical power. Similarly, Brave Witches‘ eleventh episode ended with Hikari rushing off to help the fight despite no longer being a formal member of the 502nd, after the Witches learnt that Grigori has a mobile core that Takami’s magic cannot detect. By comparison, Road to Berlin‘s opted to go with the grim ending during the tenth episode, and episode eleven concludes on a most confident note: Patton and Yoshika have managed to reach safety inside Wolf’s dome, Mio feels that there is something she can do to help out, and Gertrude suggests using the underground tunnels to bypass the impenetrable dome. This is a first in Strike Witches – while Wolf is presumably tougher than the Venezia hive (otherwise, other Witches would’ve dealt with it already), the 501st leave Road to Berlin‘s penultimate episode with a plan to save Yoshika and the Ratte’s crews. There isn’t any panic, consternation or fear, just resolute determination to get the job done. This change in tenour indicates that the Witches of the 501st have seen considerable improvement over the earlier seasons, and so, even something as diabolical as Wolf is merely just another ugly opponent to prevail over. As such, with this confidence and resolve, it is evident that the finale is going to see Wolf defeated; for viewers, then, the only question that remains is how the Witches go about doing so, and similarly, what bit of sorcery will be involved in helping Yoshika to recover her magic just in time for her to play the central role in Wolf’s defeat.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As it turns out, Yoshika is fine: aside from being unable to use her magic, she’s still in one piece. Shizuka is similarly just exhausted. I had been entering this penultimate episode with some apprehension – had Road to Berlin gone too dark with its progression, recovery would’ve seemed a little ridiculous, even venturing into the realm of deus ex machina. Fortunately, as episode eleven continued, it was clear that no such thing would happen: the moody lighting and rain had given the impression that Yoshika and Shizuka’s conditions to be much worse than they were.

  • Road to Berlin‘s biggest difference from its predecessor was the increased presence of commanding officiers; Patton and Bradley both show up much more often than leadership had done in previous seasons, and moreover, they’re both competent, capable individuals intent on seeing the Human-Neuroi War through to the end. While Patton may be a boisterous, brash character, he is by no means incompetent. Conversely, the meeting with the other commanding officers proved to be a bit of a fool’s errand, devolving into a shouting match about who had better troops.

  • It was such an unexpected surprise to see Gundula and Hikari make a brief appearance in Road to Berlin: I’d forgotten how much I liked Hikari’s character since the events of Brave Witches, and while the two never share a conversation directly in Road to Berlin, much less fly together, a second season of 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! is set to come out next season, mashing the 501st and 502nd together for laughs. While 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! might be a joke compared to the real series, I actually found the characterisations and interactions to be surprisingly faithful to how the Witches actually are. Consequently, whatever happens in 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!‘s second season can be considered as a legitimate representation of what would happen in a proper Strike WitchesBrave Witches meetup.

  • Shizuka forgets herself for the first time during a conversation with Mio: it is clear that flying with the 501st and Yoshika’s own blasé attitude towards the chain of command has rubbed off on Shizuka, to the point where she attempts to persuade Mio to postpone the operation against Wolf. The decision, as Mio says, is made by those above her, and as a soldier, she has no power in influencing any of this. As it turns out, Shizuka also walked in on something that was supposed to be classified: Yoshika’s upgraded Shinden Striker Unit is to be returned home to prevent her from doing anything rash during the operation to take back Berlin.

  • Believing that she architected Yoshika’s current situation, and unable to tell her about anything, Shizuka bursts into tears, which cover the camera. In traditional filmmaking, camera crews were always told to clean their lenses and keep their cameras as free of foreign matter as possible to create clean shots. However, survival expert and filmmaker Les Stroud has stated during his Director’s Commentaries that allowing the cameras to get dirty or wet during inclement weather was a deliberate choice: watching water droplets appear on the lens during rainfall was supposed to emphasise the setting in a more visceral manner. Anime is not subject to the same realities as filming, but here, the choice to have Shizuka’s tears pool on the “lens” was done to show the extent of her pain.

  • While Yoshika is resting up in Kiel, the other Witches return to Fort Erfprins, where Minna explains the revised plans for the assault on Wolf: the 501st will provide air support while the ground forces hammer the Neuroi into oblivion. Erica is surprised by this bit of news, but as it turns out, the Allied forces have an ace-in-the-hole: a Landkreuzer P. 1000, more commonly known as the Ratte. The last episode had only shown its distinct two-barreled turret, and viewers correctly speculated that a Ratte would be present.

  • The original designs were submitted in 1942, and while Adolf Hitler expressed interest in such a tank, Albert Speer cancelled the project. The tank is therefore relegated to the realm of fiction: its twin 280 mm guns would’ve allowed it to destroy any tank around and act as a powerful mobile vehicle for bombardment, while its 250 mm armour would have shrugged off any fire from contemporary tank guns. However, despite its size and firepower, the Ratte would’ve been pitifully slow, crawling along at around 40 km/h, and despite its design calling for eight 20 mm FlaK 30/38 anti-air cannons, the vehicle would’ve been vulnerable to attack from the air. Against such a tank, the Allies would’ve likely called upon the Lancaster and their Grand Slam bombs, well before it could even fire its first shot.

  • In Strike Witches, the Ratte is an Allied tool, and likely given considerable improvements over the designs Edward Grotte proposed. On the morning of the operation, the 501st spot the 506th in the air, headed for a target over Cologne’s hive. While it would’ve been nice to see different squadrons in the air to engage Wolf together in a titanic joint operation, the reason why Road to Berlin does not have command going this route is because the other groups are involved in their own battles on the same day: the operation to take back Berlin is one part of several simultaneous operations to liberate the whole of Karlsland.

  • Erica, Francesca and Charlotte look on while the Ratte lumbers on below, accompanied by a group of Tiger I escorts. The Tigers were amongst the largest tanks deployed in World War Two, but here, they are dwarfed by the Ratte. Until now, I believe Girls und Panzer held the title for portraying the largest German tank (real or conceptual) on screen with its Maus, but as of Road to Berlin‘s eleventh episode, Strike Witches now holds this title. The Ratte’s presence in a Panzerfahren match would be impermissible: only vehicles dating before August 15, 1945 are allowed, and must have at least been constructed with period materials, and since the Ratte only existed as drawings, even if a school produced a functional Ratte, it would step outside the bounds for what is allowed.

  • Against modern tanks, a Ratte would be devastating should the 280 mm shells find their target, but in practise, modern armour are highly mobile and would simply flank the Ratte before pounding it to oblivion with their guns: the Ratte’s armour is inadequate for dealing with modern tank shells. The Witches begin carrying out their mission: drawing fire away from the Ratte and keeping the skies clear. As it turns out, the Ratte is also equipped with an anti-beam coating, which allows it to take direct hits from the hive without suffering from catastrophic failure.

  • While Strike Witches has always been about Yoshika, Road to Berlin has placed a greater emphasis on Shizuka’s growth as a Witch. The Shizuka entering the 501st likely would’ve been wiped out, but spending time training and sortieing alongside Yoshika and the others have also helped her to improve, as well. By this point, viewers are confident that, contrary to how she views herself, Shizuka is capable of holding her own against the Neuroi and fighting alongside the 501st as an asset, rather than a burden.

  • Previous Strike Witches seasons chose to have the final battles over the ocean and rural fields, while in Brave Witches, the final fight was set over the taiga in Russia. Strike Witches began its life as a thinly-veiled excuse for pantsu shots, and so, did not have a particularly impressive animation budget: oceans, being big expanses of blue, were comparatively easier to animate. By Road to Berlin, the fight is set over the city of Berlin itself, and in the skies, buildings and avenues can be seen clearly.

  • The firepower conferred by the Ratte comes partially from the size of its cannons, but also from specially-designed shells that are designed to maximise damage against the Neuroi. After the Ratte reaches the designated point, Patton orders the gunners to open up, and in a single salvo, destroys one of the walls in one shot. However, the Neuroi respond by rebuilding the wall. While this seems unfair, an aerial view shows the Neuroi as drawing materials from another wall section. Armed with plenty of ammunition and determination, Patton continues to fire at the walls, smashing them one at a time until all of them are destroyed.

  • In the skies above, the 501st tirelessly engage the smaller drones to keep them away from the Ratte: between the Witches’ efforts and the Ratte’s own armour, Patton is able to succeed with the first phase of the operation. Here, I note that writing about Road to Berlin on an episodic basis in conjunction with GochiUsa: BLOOM had been very exhausting. While it’s been fun to really push my mind in finding interesting things to say about each episode, the fact is that such posts take time to write, and doing episodic posts for anime that air on weeknights is particularly rough. In the next season, Yuru Camp△ will be airing on Wednesdays starting January 6, and while Yuru Camp△ is one of those shows where each episode offers much to discuss, same-day reviews will be tough. Conversely, Non Non Biyori Nonstop airs on Sundays, starting January 10, but the show is a bit slower paced and would be trickier to do episodic reviews for.

  • While the Ratte’s armour is tough, it can still yield when hit in the same area repeatedly. Yoshika had made a request earlier: to help out in whatever way was possible for her, she was allowed to board the Ratte and act as a medic, helping injured operators using conventional methods. Sustained fire from the Neuroi means even Patton sustains an injury, but Yoshika manages to patch him up. With the Neuroi walls eliminated, Patton prepares to use the Ratte’s cannons to fire on Wolf’s main body, but Wolf manages to form a massive dome covering the area. Undeterred, Patton proceeds anyways, knowing the battle is won once the core is destroyed.

  • Patton and Yoshika both react in surprise to Wolf’s new devilry; this is a scene I’m sure that historians would roll their eyes at, as Patton never shared the copula of a conceptual tank with an anime girl, but at the opposite end of the spectrum, it is only through anime where such fanciful scenes can occur. The Neuroi puts up a few walls in a bid to stave off total destruction, absorbing the Ratte’s 300 kilogram shells to prevent them from reaching the main body; readers have pointed out Wolf’s resemblance to Die Glocke, a mythical Nazi weapon of unknown function and whose existence is dubious. With the situation rapidly deteriorating, and cut off from the 501st, Patton orders a tactical withdrawal after Yoshika spots a flak tower and asks if it is a safe spot to regroup.

  • Shizuka narrowly misses getting hit with a stray segment of the Neuroi, and Lynette rescues her just in time. Meanwhile, the Witches outside unload on the barrier, only to find their weapons ineffectual. Bradley wonders if the operation is lost, but is shocked to learn of a message being sent in Morse code from Patton. It suddenly strikes me that Road to Berlin has not done anything too outrageous in its final battle yet: even Wolf constructing a massive dome isn’t particularly egregious, especially when compared to what the first two seasons had pulled off. Of course, I could find myself eating my words next week, so we’ll have to wait and see pertaining which direction Road to Berlin takes in its finale.

  • Germany did build three massive flak towers in Berlin with the intent of providing heavily fortified positions from which to mount anti-aircraft guns, including the 12.8 cm FlaK 40, which could hit Allied bombers at high altitudes. These flak towers were successful in their purpose, and Berlin never suffered the same level of devastation as did other cities during Allied strategic bombings. As World War Two progressed, the flak towers were used to house national treasures, and eventually became a bomb shelter. The towers had been so heavily constructed that they resisted demolitions after the war, and in particular, the Zoo Tower is famous amongst the flak towers for being demolished in a controlled manner in 1947. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen flak towers in an anime before, and the last time one was in fiction, it would’ve been in Sniper Elite V2.

  • Ursula catches Patton’s message and learn that there’s a Witch inside the dome: this surprises all of the 501st, who had assumed Yoshika remained behind in Kiel. However, Yoshika’s decision here speaks volumes about her personality; while she may not be able to fight, she still finds a way to help out in her own manner. Mio, upon realising the gravity of the situation, orders the aircraft to turn around and head for Berlin. There’s only one way this is going, and that’s to deliver the Shinden to Yoshika. It is likely the case that during next week’s finale, viewers will have to live with the fact that Yoshika’s magic will return unexpectedly, otherwise, there’d be no point in bringing the Shinden.

  • What I do know of the next episode is that we’ll be getting an Ace Combat style tunnel run, which is what motivates the page quote, sourced from The Fellowship of The Ring. It is a surprise to see that we are almost at the doorsteps of Road to Berlin‘s finale, especially when it only feels like yesterday that I’d finished writing about the first episode and remarking that I’ll never write about a series after its pre-airing. Next week, the soundtrack for Road to Berlin will release alongside the finale, and because it is the finale, I have plans to make the post a little larger than usual so that I can cover off everything that happens leading up to, during and following the 501st’s successful defeat of the Wolf hive.

The outcomes and themes of Road to Berlin are no different than those of its predecessors, speaking to notions of trust, camaraderie and teamwork as being sufficient to overcome almost any challenge, in conjunction with a healthy side of doing what one believes to be right, as opposed to following orders. By this point in time, it becomes clear that the Strike Witches franchise has definitely hit its stride, and that a 501st story using lessons learnt both from Operation Victory Arrow and Brave Witches can be told in an effective manner. Road to Berlin has definitely managed to showcase more of the Strike Witches universe, incorporating Patton and Bradley and an increased presence of conventional forces, to show that while the Witches are powerful, ultimately, it is the combination of leveraging the Witches’ unique talents and experience that will allow humanity to prevail over this alien monstrosity. By Road to Berlin, conventional forces are given a chance to shine and appear more efficacious than they had previously: whereas Strike Witches and Strike Witches 2 both utilised unstable Neuroi technology, Brave Witches and Road to Berlin use vastly upgraded technology that is purely human in origin. It is unsurprising that the human weapons are more dependable than anything derived off the Neuroi, and this suggests that, as Strike Witches matured into the series it is today, the series is becoming clearer on the idea that defeating the Neuroi entails entrusting faith to the Witches and armed forces to work together, rather than counting on untried technology reverse-engineered from an enemy that still remains as enigmatic as it did when it was first introduced some twelve years ago. Road to Berlin, then, is on an especially exciting course as it enters its finale, and I’m rather looking forwards to seeing how this third season of Strike Witches chooses to wrap everything up.

Shizuka, Come In!- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Tenth Episode Impressions and Review

“Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence.” –Robert Andrews Millikan

Operation South Winds begins. The 501st are loaded onto a B-17 and flown out to Berlin as a part of a larger strike force, whose objective is to first neutralise the massive cloud surrounding Wolf using thermobaric explosives. Once the bombs are dropped, the 501st deploy into the battlefield and are surprised to see their foe’s appearance: a seemingly-simple Neuroi with its core exposed. However, when wall-like pieces begin dropping from the skies, the Witches are shocked to see the Neuroi land on Pariser Platz near the Brandenberg Gate. Wolf begins to manufacture smaller drones that assemble into bomber type aircraft, overwhelming the Allied B-17 bombers. Command orders a retreat, and the Witches are tasked with escorting the surviving bombers to safety. Yoshika is ordered to immediately return to base, and Shizuka manages to convince her to do so, before destroying a bomber-type Neuroi on her own. The operation is thus unsuccessful, but the media reports that things are “just getting started”. In order to keep her as their ace-in-the-hole against Wolf, Yoshika is grounded for operations. When a large bomber-type appears, the 501st sortie to engage it, but Shizuka is injured during combat, and the Neuroi itself prepares to ram the Kiel facilities. Against her orders, Yoshika deploys a massive shield that prevents the Neuroi from hitting the ground, depleting her magic in the process. Charlotte manages to rescue Shizuka, and Sanya destroys the Neuroi, but in the aftermath, Yoshika has fainted, and Shizuka is devastated, before succumbing to exhaustion herself. Breaking tradition from earlier Strike Witches episodes, Road to Berlin opens the throttle with a preliminary attack on the Neuroi hive over Berlin, and unsurprisingly, the Witches’ first attempts are unsuccessful – they allow themselves to let their guard down, and consequently, are met with failure as Wolf reveals that it has a few tricks of its own.

All of the themes come together from earlier episodes as the Witches take on this overwhelming foe in the episode’s first half, and even as they are caught off-guard by Wolf’s power, they manage to withdraw safely; by now, Yoshika’s seen Shizuka grow enough to trust her; however reluctantly she is, she accepts her orders and returns to base ahead of the others, and Shizuka proves herself after defeating a powerful bomber-type Neuroi on her own. The episode’s second half is more sobering: Yoshika’s magic is counted as a bit of a secret weapon, to be held in reserve for the next attempt at stopping Wolf, but when a Neuroi threatens the entire operation by attempting to crash into Kiel, Yoshika sacrifies her power to save the base and the others. This particular action forms the crux of this week’s discussion – it is inevitable that some viewers, with a different approach that my own to military-moé anime, will remark that Yoshika’s actions are selfish and will cost the 501st severely on their next run. I counter-argue that Yoshika’s actions at Kiel are not only appropriate, but necessary. Had Yoshika followed her orders not to deploy, the 501st would have lost Kiel entirely, along with its matériel and two of the theatre’s top brass. The damage done here would have set Operation South Winds back so severely, the 501st would have been unlikely to have the resources to mount a second attack before Minna and Gertrude’s ability to fight disappeared. Yoshika’s decision came at a great cost, but in the end, this decision was a necessary evil: by defying orders and using her magic to prevent the Neuroi from hitting the ground, Yoshika has single-handedly saved the other European forces and the 501st’s resources, allowing them to fight another day. Even if she cannot immediately participate in the next counterattack, history has shown that the 501st are resourceful and determined: Patton has also indicated they have access to secret weapons of their own to assist, creating a situation where the 501st will only need to hold out in the next episode long enough for Yoshika to rejoin them and contribute to the team effort which sees the 501st triumphant over the skies of Berlin.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The tenth episode opens with Minna and Gertrude briefing the 501st on their assignment: they are to accompany a B-17 group and will be air-dropped into battle after the B-17s clear the clouds surrounding Wolf by means of thermobaric explosives. Alternatively known as fuel-air explosives, these bombs work by dispersing droplets of a highly combustible substance in the air and then igniting it, creating a massive explosion. Mario Zippermayr is credited with having created the earliest fuel-air explosives and in 1944, the Nazis had such weapons at the ready in Calais, but Allied bombing disabled the weapons, and so, these explosives were never used.

  • When the first of the Road to Berlin trailers appeared in July 2018, they portrayed the final strike at Wolf under sunny skies. The Witches were loaded into a B-17 with modified internal bays, designed to launch Witches rather than ordinance. This trailer offered very little about the new Strike Witches project, except for the fact that the series was going to be bolder and larger in scale than previous instalments in Strike Witches. It is striking that the footage of the Witches being air-dropped into combat over Berlin, then, was shown just a shade of being two-and-a-half years ago. Back in July 2018, I remember spending most of that month writing Harukana Receive posts.

  • Road to Berlin thus fell to the back of my mind, and for the next 629 days, no more information about Road to Berlin was known. In March this year, a new trailer showcasing more moments from the series, was released. I’ve been watching Strike Witches since 2011, after stumbling across the series while browsing Tango-Victor-Tango: back then, I still regarded the site as somewhat noteworthy and so, credit them with my interest in Strike Witches. While some anime fans in my data structures II class felt the series to be beneath them, I decided to watch it anyways, having had some quarrel with the folks who spent all of their free time on campus gaming or watching anime, rather than studying or working on assignments, and the rest is history.

  • The cloud cover generated by the hive shrouds Berlin in a grim light, perfectly matching the tone that Road to Berlin‘s earliest key visuals had set. This is a grim-looking mission, and it is with determination in their hearts that the 501st fly towards their target. For this mission, Minna’s broken the team into two groups: the strike team (Yoshika, Minna, Gertrude, Erica, Charlotte and Lynette) will punch a hole to the target and attack the core, while the cover team (Shizuka, Perrine, Francesca, Eila and Sanya) stay out of attack range to prevent any smaller Neuroi from hassling the strike team.

  • Unlike the Hive from Brave Witches, Wolf is an exceedingly simple-looking Neuroi, lacking any tentacles and being of an unimpressive size. Its core is exposed, as well, and the Witches begin to wonder if things are too easy. Per Les Stroud, there are telltale signs of a trap at work in nature: anything that’s bumbling or slow-moving likely has one heck of a defensive mechanism, and here in Road to Berlin, this ends up being true. As the strike team moves towards the core, massive wall-like Neuroi descend from the clouds, and Wolf itself drops to the ground, conceals its core and begins mass producing drones. The skies are now filled with Neuroi, and any hopes of swiftly ending the battle are dashed.

  • The fact that the 501st had been expecting a quick battle suggests that Hives might have been defeated more easily previously, but if not, it can be chalked up to overconfidence. The wall-like Neuroi might be a callback to the sections of the Berlin Wall, which was erected in 1961 to stop East Germans from easily entering the West (and therefore, leaving the Soviet Bloc). The Neuroi encircle the Witches and begin hammering them, while new drones fill the skies and begin assembling themselves into bomber-like craft that resemble the Japanese Nakajima G10N, a planned ultra-long range heavy bomber designed to strike at the heart of North America that was never built.

  • Shizuka ends up convincing Yoshika she’ll be fine, and Yoshika reluctantly boards an aircraft headed back for base, but not before smiling and expressing her faith in Shizuka. Trust plays a core part of this episode, much as it had for Eila and Sanya’s episode, whose teamwork just needed a bit of a nudge for the battle ahead.  However, Shizuka gets separated from the others in the process, and so, her own combat skills are finally put to the test. Shizuka may not have had many moments to shine from a combat standpoint, and all of her accomplishments have been in the realm of support thus far.

  • The use of CG means that Road to Berlin is able to render swarms of things on screen in real time, and at this point in the season, the visuals have become very consistent, with scenes switching seamlessly between hand-drawn and CG witches as the moment calls for it. Brave Witches suffered from production issues during its televised run, with some characters resembling the models from RWBY, but the BD release fixes this. I imagine that for Road to Berlin‘s BD release, minor improvements to visual quality will be made, along with the usual suite of updates.

  • In episode ten, however, Shizuka has evidently improved: flying alongside the 501st, Shizuka’s picked up a few tricks for combat, and together with her own training, she manages to not only hold out, but defeat the G10N-like Neuroi engaging her. The basis for supposing that this Neuroi is a G10N is simple enough: the Convair B-36 was originally the first aircraft that came to mind, being a successor of sorts to the B-29 Super Fortress, but its six engines had a pusher configuration (rather than the tractor configuration seen on the Neuroi). Moreover, the B-36’s wings have a more distinct delta shape to them compared to those of the G10N.

  • After the battle, Shizuka’s magic is depleted; Charlotte manages to catch her just in time. The operation is an abject failure: besides sustaining losses to the B-17s on the mission, no appreciable damage was done against the Hive. The only consolation is that the Witches themselves escaped unharmed, and considering the severity of what the 501st was up against, it speaks volumes to their experience, to be able to safely retreat from an opponent of this magnitude.

  • While the newspaper marks the retreat as a “successful start to operations”, this was likely done as a morale booster for the civilians. Gertrude and the others know precisely what the failed attempt had cost them, although for Shizuka, this marks the first time she’d gotten a kill in Europe. She even makes the news, being hailed as a hero of sorts. This achievement was done to indicate that at this point in time, while perhaps not an ace of the same calibre as Erica and Gertrude, or with unique talents like Eila and Charlotte, Shizuka’s biggest asset is going to be teamwork; she’s now skilled enough to keep up with the others, and the right gun in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.

  • Mio herself returns to the frontlines to help out with the operation, meeting with Generals Bradley and Patton. In preparation for the next attempt, Patton’s brought in an upgraded Striker Unit for Yoshika and smiles at the thought of being able to utilise a fancy new weapon, as well. However, because Yoshika’s magic is having trouble recharging, she is ordered to reserve it for the coming operation, and is effectively grounded. This brings back memories of Strike Witches‘ first season, where Minna confines Yoshika to her quarters after the latter made contact with a human-shaped Neuroi.

  • While fan speculation has suggested that the Neuroi might have had larger scale plans with the Witch-types, given their absence, I imagine that that particular Neuroi had been trying to warn Yoshika of a plot to use the Neuroi cores in the Warlock Program, which might’ve obliterated man and Neuroi alike. It is unlikely that anything more will come out of the Witch-type Neuroi, since this would require a bit of a paradigm shift to the franchise. Back in Road to Berlin, when an alarm goes off, signifying the arrival of a large Neuroi, Yoshika itches to take off and help the others, but Minna manages to convince her to stand down. Instead, Yoshika listens in to the combat with Mio, feeling that Shizuka can now make a difference.

  • When a group of T34 Calliope tanks fire their 114 mm rockets at the Neuroi, the Neuroi responds with a single blast from its lasers, destroying the entire column in a massive fireball. The Calliope was named for its resemblance to circus organs, and make an appearance in Battlefield V as a reinforcement for the Americans. I’ve found the Calliope to be an immensely fun vehicle: a single volley of rockets will turn even heavy tanks into Swiss Cheese, and the Calliope is equipped with the Sherman’s 75 mm cannon and 30 calibre co-axial machine gun, making it extremely versatile. In reality, the Calliope’s high centre of gravity made it difficult to transport, so it did not see too much usage in combat, but the rocket’s firing sounds were said to be terrifying to enemies.

  • In the air, the Witches find that they are dealing next to no damage to the Neuroi, a larger version of the one that Shizuka had defeated earlier. However, it is accompanied by a swarm of drones, and moreover, the core is nowhere in sight. As combat drags on, a group of drones close in on Shizuka and self-destruct, injuring her. Shizuka crash lands on the Neuroi’s wing, unconcious, and attempts to get close enough to make a rescue fails as the Neuroi form a sort of physical barrier with their numbers.

  • From a visual perspective, Road to Berlin has outdone itself with the combat sequences in this episode: the last time such a level of activity was seen on screen would’ve been Strike Witches: The Movie. Since 2012, computer hardware and software have both improved beyond recognition, and the sorts of things that only movies had the budgets to do eight years earlier are now doable for TV series, as well. The end result is being able to create eye-popping visuals for twenty minute episodes.

  • Mio can only look on as the Neuroi prepares to ram the base. Here, shields from Minna, Gertrude and Erica are visible: with no options left to the Witches, the three attempt to push the Neuroi’s trajectory such that it misses the base in a move reminiscent of what happened in Char’s Counterattack. While there’s no psycommu technology to create psycho-fields in Strike Witches, this universe does have Yoshika, who defies orders and dumps her entire magical capacity into a massive shield that does what Erica, Gertrude and Minna’s shields combined could not. The Neuroi is pushed off course, and Charlotte takes advantage of the opening to save Shizuka. After Perrine uses her Tonnerre to crack the Neuroi’s hull, Eila and Sanya spot the core, allowing Sanya to finish the Neuroi off.

  • The effort proves too much for Yoshika to handle, and a doctor later suggests that Yoshika’s magic has been completely spent. In shock and anguish, Shizuka faints from exhaustion as well as the skies begin pouring. I concede that things look pretty grim for the 501st and Operation South Wind at this point in time, but I reiterate again that, having been around for Strike Witches, I am confident that this series will remain true to its themes of adversity pushing people to rise to the occasion.

  • The episode preview is certainly spirited as Minna announces their intent to succeed at all costs. I do find it curious that the next episode is going to be named after the series itself: traditionally, this move is reserved for finales, and if previous seasons of Strike Witches and Brave Witches are anything to go by, the penultimate episode will see the 501st face one final set-back before teamwork and the usual narrative magic returns, allowing the Witches to win the day.

  • Thus, while I may leave with an image of Shizuka lying in the rain, I am confident that Road to Berlin will have the Witches earn their happy ending yet again. Understanding the theme to a work means that outcomes are going to be inevitably predictable, but I’ve never been one to assess a work based on how predictable its progression was; for me, the journey matters much more than the destination, and so, as long as the path taken to the conclusion is a satisfying one, I will have no trouble enjoying a work.

This tenth episode of Road to Berlin marks a considerable departure from the other Road to Berlin episodes, being much more serious in nature and lining up with the sort of atmosphere that the earlier promotional materials suggested that this season would take. However, the series’ themes have always been very open, and outcomes have always been in such a way as to align with these themes. Consequently, although Strike Witches has always tended to be predictable, the series’ strengths lie in its execution. With this in mind, along with Yoshika’s actions this episode, I will openly (and uncharacteristically) state that any arguments against Yoshika’s choice in this episode are invalid. I’ve been around the block long enough to know understand and accept how Strike Witches presents its themes. However, for as long as I’ve been watching Strike Witches, I’ve seen some who feel compelled to critique and challenge Yoshika every step of the way. This grows wearisome and comes across as highly immature. A few names from AnimeSuki immediately come to mind, and while I have no idea what results in this behaviour, whether it be because these individuals feel the need to show they’re cleverer than the writers or are better-versed in good storytelling than other viewers, one thing is apparent: complaining about Yoshika’s decisions as though one knows better is not going to change the themes in Strike Witches, nor will it alter the outcome in Road to Berlin. Simply, claiming Yoshika did the wrong thing this episode would be an untenable position: it is pointless to argue against Yoshika’s choices, since the alternative is seeing Kiel wiped out, sending the 501st back to square one. While I normally am very open to alternate opinions and perspectives, for Road to Berlin, the combination of the series’ reputation and past performances, coupled with the fact that those who usually argue against Yoshika have been very vocal, but otherwise unconvincing means that here, I will make an exception; such opinions aren’t worth paying attention to. Road to Berlin‘s tenth episode makes this explicitly clear: from what has been shown up until now, Kiel was a critical asset, and Yoshika acting in any other way would invalidate everything that Road to Berlin has been working towards all season.