The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Tag Archives: Francesca Lucchini

Minna’s Sky- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Review and Reflection at the ¾ mark

“Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.” –Sheryl Sandberg

En route to Kiel from Hamberg, Minna’s waves off Gertrude’s concerns after the latter asks if she’s having difficulties flying. When they land in Kiel, Erica, Minna and Gertrude meet with General Patton, who is eager to lead his armoured division out to confront the hive in Berlin, dubbed “Wolf”. Ursula is also present, and while she is demonstrating some experimental concepts, the group notices a rocket impacting a nearby area. Although General Patton is okay, the Witches realise that the Neuroi Hive’s now launching long-range ballistic missiles, and if any of those impact Kiel, it would undo all of their progress. Ursula has the perfect countermeasure: a specialised Striker Unit with a modified engine that allows for superior acceleration and top speed, capable of intercepting the Neuroi’s rockets. Minna decides to fly the unit, knowing that her unique detection magic will allow her to make use of the new Striker Unit. While she is successful, use of the unit leaves her exhausted. Gertrude confronts Minna about the latter’s dwindling magic, and while Minna appreciate her concern, she resolves to do whatever it takes to recover Berlin before her time as a Witch ends. When another rocket strikes a kilometre from Kiel, the 501st decide to clandestinely move closer to the hive in an attempt to intercept the next rocket, using the Karlsland Autobahn. En route, Minna promises to take the two to her favourite Berlin café once they recover the city after Erica complains about the dandelion coffee Ursula is sharing. When they arrive at the designated launch point, Ursula immediately begins fuelling the Striker Unit up, while Erica and Gertrude square off against the Su-47 type Neuroi dispatched to handle them. The Neuroi, being altered to their presence, launches earlier than expected, although Minna is able to take to the skies and destroy the rocket. When the Neuroi prepares a barrage in retaliation, Minna pushes herself to the limit, eliminating all of the rockets before succumbing to exhaustion. Gertrude manages to rescue her before Minna can fall into the Neuroi hive, and the three head rejoin Ursula, who, in her haste to greet them, trips on the fuel cable, showering all four of the Witches in the highly corrosive fuel, destroying their clothes.

It seems only a long time ago that Mio’s age was causing her magic to rapidly atrophy and deplete: back when this was an issue, Minna had even resorted to drawing her sidearm when confronting Mio in the hopes of getting her to stand down, but ultimately, Mio was able to fly alongside and lead the 501st for another full season before use of her custom katana fully drained her magic. Mio ahd since accepted that she’s no longer a Witch, but continues to help out where she could. For Minna, experiencing this weighs heavily on her mind; although she attempts to put on a brave face for her subordinates, it’s evident that Minna’s biggest wish is to see her promise through, avenging her country and lover by taking back Berlin before her magic is exhausted. While Minna intended to go things alone, this ninth episode of Road to Berlin shows that even as her powers dwindle, Minna still has a group of dedicated Witches in her corner, absolutely intent on keeping their word and liberating Berlin from the Neuroi hive: demonstrating the extent of their faith and trust in one another, Gertrude declares that Minna’s safety is the one time where she will disobey a direct order, and even Erica notes that Minna’s actions in trying to shoulder everything herself isn’t appropriate. With this, it becomes clear to Minna that in the 501st, the Witches are fighting for one another’s sakes, on top of everything else, and as such, victory is only meaningful if everyone is around to see the results of their effort. With this optimistic message, Road to Berlin establishes that no matter how challenging the final confrontation with “Wolf” will be, everyone will survive the battle and find a way to succeed – it would be contradictory to Strike Witches‘ messages, then, to see any deaths, as these would fundamentally go against what Strike Witches had set to indicate about friendship and teamwork during its run.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Right off the bat, I’ll start by stating that I ended up biasing the screenshot distribution so that the episode’s ending is featured more prominently, for reasons that will be apparent. As the Witches fly to Kiel, Minna is visibly tired, only smiling for Gertrude and Erica’s sake. Minna’s smile is dazzling, and she’s voiced by Rie Tanaka, whom I know best for her role as Gundam SEED‘s Lacus Clyne and Chii in Chobits. It was her song, Token of Water, that changed my world forever – not only did Tanaka’s singing introduce me to J-pop, but it also opened me up to vocal music as a whole. I had actually come across Token of Water by mistake, while looking for a pair of songs one of my friends had sent me (Seigi to Jiyuu, and Strike Shutsugeki).

  • After arriving in Kiel and marvelling at the sheer amount of materiel amassed, Gertrude, Minna and Erica meet briefly with Patton before he heads off to kick off the initial offensives against the hive “Wolf”. Meanwhile, Ursula has also arrived with some new toys in tow. Erica’s younger sister greatly resembles her in appearance, but in manner, the two are opposites: Ursula is not a capable fighter, and instead, excels in mechanical engineering. Her own inventions are fanciful, lacking the sort of practicality of the gadgets from Q branch, but she’s highly capable of maintaining new gear, as well. Here, she introduces the helmet gun, which appears to be a knockoff of Albert Bacon Pratt’s Helmet Gun (Patent No. 1183492) and was drafted in 1916, allowing a user to fire a helmet gun by blowing into a tube. Besides the helmet gun and a custom listening implement, Ursula also brings out a prototype Panzerfäust 250, which appears to be an upgrade on the German anti-tank weapon, featuring a pistol grip and faster projectile velocity.

  • Mid-conversation, the Witches are interrupted by an explosion, which came from a Neuroi rocket. The rocket barely misses Patton, leaving him rattled but no less motivated, and upon returning to base, Minna explains the situation. As it turns out, the Neuroi are using ballistic missiles similar to the V-2 rockets Nazi Germany had developed: by using a rocket engine to push the missile up to a predetermined altitude, and then allowing gravity to do the rest, resulting in a projectile that becomes difficult to intercept owing to their speed. As Minna correctly explains, the missiles the Neuroi are launching are best intercepted while it is launched, when it is still accelerating. It turns out Ursula has just the tool for the job: a Striker Unit modelled on the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet.

  • The Striker Me 163 resembles its real-world counterpart in form and functionality, being a very speedy interceptor limited to point-defense roles on account of how quickly it burnt through fuel. The Komet could reach speeds of 1130 km/h, but proved very difficult to fly, and furthermore, its fuel was highly corrosive: in one particularly gruesome incident, a test pilot was dissolved by the fuel when a line ruptured. Road to Berlin chooses to represent this by having the fuel only dissolving fabrics in clothing – Francesca finds this out the hard way when she plays with the fuel pump.

  • Ursula notes that any pilot must be able to shoot down a test rocket if they are to stand any chance against the Neuroi’s ballistic missiles, and Minna volunteers for the job, confident that her tracking magic and experience makes her uniquely suited for the role. After taking off and marvelling at the Komet’s power, she closes the distance on the rocket and successfully shoots it down. However, when disembarking, Minna is visibly tired. Altogether, the Komet was never counted as a success – while credited with sixteen kills, the aircraft was very fickle to fly and dangerous on account of its fuel’s methanol and hydrazine constituents: methanol is incredibly toxic because it is metabolised into formic acid, while hydrazine causes burns and acts as a neurotoxin, on top of having carcinogenic properties.

  • Ursula notes that the Komet is unlike a Jet Striker in that its only difference from a standard Striker Unit is that it uses a different fuel, and therefore, should not expend a Witch’s magic reserves with the same ferocity as a Jet Striker might. Gertrude and Erica are understandably worried: Ursula’s inventions and the projects she works on, being a parody of the German Wunderwaffer, have a track record of being particularly unsafe, and this was a topic that both Strike Witches 2 and Operation Victory Arrow covered. That the Witches are being forced to increasingly rely on these prototypes hints at the desperation seen in the Human-Neuroi War.

  • Whereas Minna confronted Mio at gunpoint in Strike Witches‘ first season, Gertrude takes a much more level-headed approach here in Road to Berlin, as she attempts to reason with Minna instead. The placement of camera shots and facial expressions clearly express the conundrum that Minna is facing, and she does not feel comfortable in sharing a meal with the others. While Minna is considerably more mature and experienced than the other Witches in the 501st, at the age of nineteen, she’s still quite young by neurological standards: the frontal lobe doesn’t reach full development until roughly the age of 25, so Minna’s desire to see things through to the end is a consequence of emotion overruling her logic. This is something that is often forgotten in anime, especially where adolescents are involved.

  • This is why I’m much more forgiving of rash, impulsive decisions in anime with younger characters: at that age, I do remember making decisions on the basis of instinct and emotion often. A part of me wonders if anime uses this age range to allow for ideals and whatnot to be portrayed. Back in Road to Berlin, after another rocket strike indicates that Kiel is in immediate danger, Minna decides to bring a small contingent of Witches to help her out. To avoid detection, they set off under the cover of night, using the Karlsland Autobahn to move around swiftly. The Autobahn was originally conceived in the 1920s and construction was greatly accelerated in the 1930s, being intended to link parts of Germany together by high speed road. Today, the Autobahn is famous for having no mandated speed limit in some areas, and also inspired the American Interstate system, which President Eisenhower authorised in 1956.

  • When Erica begins griping about the poor food (dry rye bread and dandelion coffee), Minna promises to treat her to some proper coffee once the mission is done, and then is reminded of a Berlin café that she was particularly fond of. Gertrude immediately asks Minna to can it for fear of bad luck – in fiction, making promises for actions post-mission is often seen as foreshadowing death. After their break is over, the Witches reach their target point under an overpass and immediately begin preparing for launch. However, a reconnaissance-type Neuroi has spotted them and radios ahead.

  • As such, when Ursula begins fuelling up the Komet, the hive immediately begins preparing a rocket for launch. Further compounding things, the Hive also sends out a single Neuroi to deal with the Witches; the Su-47 type Neuroi makes another appearance here. Recalling the trouble these Neuroi gave Erica and Gertrude three episodes earlier, this was meant to immediately remind viewers that the Neuroi threat is not a trivial one. The Neuroi have also become more dangerous and cunning as Strike Witches wore on: by Road to Berlin, they know how to priorise targets and appear to have an inkling of what the Witches are up to.

  • This Neuroi skips past Erika and Gertude, making to destroy the Komet, and when Ursula shields it, the Neuroi destroys the nearby trucks instead. Ursula is unharmed, sustaining only a few scratches, and the Neuroi returns its attention to Erica and Gertrude. Thanks to her quick thinking, Ursula has prevented the Komet from being destroyed. With Komet finally fuelled up. Minna immediately takes to the skies. Highway takeoffs are common in fiction, and my favourite example stems from Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, and in reality, European highways like the Autobahn were designed to double as emergency runways in some areas, where the median disappears and the highway straightens out: such sections were designed to allow for air power to be launched if airfields were ever destroyed. However, the idea that the American Interstate was designed with a similar goal in mind is untrue. The US Air Force has their own procedures for handling situations should viable airfields be damaged, and the Interstate Laws never mention runways explicitly, so I’m going to have to call this one busted.

  • The Komet’s performance and Minna’s skill means that she has no trouble lining up a shot – she destroys the rocket on short order, and breathes a sigh of relief before preparing to head back to the others. However, the Neuroi’s next response is nothing short of human: in a clear display of anger, the hive prepares dozens of rockets and points them all at Kiel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Neuroi act so human-like before, as though a human commander had seen the Witches’ actions and ordered a massive retaliatory strike in return.

  • Meanwhile, with support from Gertrude, Erica destroys the Neuroi in the skies and indirectly secures her revenge against the Su-47 type. The initial Neuroi only appears tougher because it was their first time fighting it, but now that Erica and Gertrude know what they’re up against, they are mentally prepared to deal with it in a composed, calculated manner. This reminds me of a moment in The Division, where I had been unprepared to deal with Glass, a named elite at the end of the Rooftop Comm Relay mission. The first time I played that mission, I was annihilated and felt as though I couldn’t do anything to Glass – I’d even wondered if this was as far as my solo journey would get. However, I would return later with a different loadout and the anticipation of a tough fight: that fight turned out in my favour, and as I hit the endgame, this mission became trivially easy to finish on hard difficulty.

  • As the Neuroi hive activates dozens of ballistic missiles, Minna can only look on in horror. Gertrude and Erica implore Minna to stand down, since she’s at the end of the Komet’s operational time. However, the prospect of seeing Kiel flattened creates a newfound resolve in Minna; she discards her radio and prepares to engage all of the rocket batteries on her own, fully prepared to die here. As Minna engages the rockets, an inset song begins playing, and it really gives the sense that Minna is on a suicide mission, making the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the other Witches have a shot at liberating Berlin. I believe it’s sung by Rie Tanaka, as it sounds very similar to her performance of Lili Marleen during the first season.

  • As the fuel on her Komet drops, Minna pushes herself to the brink: as a veteran Witch, Minna’s experience means that viewers are never in doubt of her ability to get things done. As she circles the hive’s surface and blasts the rocket emplacements, we’re treated to a view of her posterior. Road to Berlin has been very restrained on this front, and pantsu in this third season is nowhere near as overt as it was in earlier seasons. With this in mind, as far as pantsu goes, my top picks are Minna, Lynette, Gertrude and Charlotte, if and when I’m asked.

  • With the fuel in her Striker unit spent, Minna does indeed plummet into the heart of the hive, which is no place for Witches. Even though it is apparent that death and losing Witches in the line of enemy fire is completely against Strike Witches‘ core principles (over the space of three TV series and a movie, no Witches were shown as KIA) Road to Berlin does appear to toe that line. Inevitably, Gertrude manages to save Minna at the last second, before delivering a heartfelt lecture on how the whole point of fighting is for one another’s sakes, and how they’d promised to win together.

  • With the immediate threat to Kiel sorted out, Minna, Gertrude and Erica can finally leave the area. It typifies Road to Berlin, and indeed, Strike Witches‘ optimism and faith in humanity is one of the series’ strongest points. Even when certain death is imminent, the Witches find a way, and this makes Strike Witches an uplifting anime to watch. Series that take the grim-dark route for no reason do not necessarily reinforce their themes by killing off named characters; Warlords of Sigrdrifa has begun trending in this direction of late, and at present, it’s Azuzu and Miyako’s actions alone continue to remind viewers that things aren’t over yet, and that hope remains despite the devastating losses allied forces suffered after entering the Fuji Pillar.

  • In a moment that seems almost certainly shoehorned into Road to Berlin, after Ursula trips on a fuel line and sprays fuel in all directions, her clothing disintegrates right alongside Erica’s, Gertrude’s and Minna’s. Ursula had not exhibited such a clumsy side to her previously, so this was a bit of a surprise. However, she did mention that the fuel was composed of magic and ether: we will have to suppose that the ether here does not refer to the organic compound diethyl ether, a volatile organic compound composed of two ethyl groups bound to an oxygen atom. In reality, ether is occasionally used as a starting fluid and is a component in other fuels, as well. I would suppose that the unique magic properties is responsible for the exotic fuel’s ability to dissolve clothing without causing harm to the Witches themselves.

  • Typically, acids and bases are usually powerful agents for dissolving clothing: hydrogen ions reacting with polymers in clothing cause the molecular bonds to weaken and dissociate, although strong acids and bases also can cause chemical burns. So, for the purposes of Road to Berlin, I will accept that whatever this fuel’s composition is, it was intended to create unique effects for the sake of humour and has no analogue in reality. Minna, Gertrude and Erica end up embarrassed beyond all measure after they are doused in the fuel, and they realise no one’s brought a change of clothes. Coupled with the fact that their trucks were destroyed, there is no modest way to return to base either, and even if they did, the other Witches would likely have some questions to ask after seeing everyone sans clothing.

  • The icing on the cake in this Road to Berlin was Ursula’s reaction to seeing everyone without their clothes: I certainly wasn’t expecting this side of her at all. With the ninth episode done, we are now entering the final quarter of Road to Berlin, and looking back, this third season was aptly named, speaking of the metaphoric path the 501st take before squaring off against another hive. This was a bit of a fun episode that firmly cements the idea that Strike Witches has become a very optimistic and positive series, which works in its favour: even though Minna’s magic is fading, I expect that she will continue to play an integral role in combat with the 501st throughout the final battle and end her career on a very strong note.

Road to Berlin will very likely follow in the footsteps of its predecessors – next week’s episode deals predominantly with Yoshika and Miyafuji, whom, after getting the limelight in the first few episodes, were given background roles while the other Witches’ stories were explored. For better or worse, the Fuso Witches are at the heart of the Strike Witches series, and so, the time has come to give Yoshika and Shizuka the spotlight again as Operation Southwind kicks into high gear. Strike Witches has typically left the tenth episodes as a bit of a wildcard: season one had Yoshika struggle to understand the Neuroi’s intent when they deployed Witch-sized Neuroi with an enigmatic intent, and season two was a fun episode that introduced Hanna-Justina Marseille to help with an operation that sets the stage for the liberation of Venezia. In Brave Witches, Hikari had to prove her worth as a member of the 502nd against Takami, her older sister. Without much precedence, Road to Berlin‘s tenth episode simply looks to be an exciting one, and from what the preview shows, Road to Berlin might actually break tradition and see the Witches deploy a full episode early ahead of preparations to take back Berlin: all previous instalments of Strike Witches (and Brave Witches) spent their final two episodes wholly dedicated towards the fight against their series’ respective hives, with the eleventh episode always pushing Witches to the brink before spirit arising from teamwork, commitment and a bit of luck allow the Witches to find a way to victory. There is no reason to suspect that Road to Berlin will deviate from the route its predecessors have established, and as such, the journey that awaits viewers as we enter Road to Berlin‘s final quarter will certainly be a familiar, but enjoyable one.

The Fog- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Eighth Episode Impressions and Review

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” –Charles M. Schulz

While on patrol, Eila and Sanya encounter a Neuroi capable of producing a copious amount of fog. They decide to turn back and report to base, and Eila begins making himmeli ahead of the Saturnus Festival. As it turns out, the same Neuroi had been responsible for blanketing the entire Kiel area, preventing reconnaissance aircraft from obtaining aerial photographs of the Neuroi’s placement. The original plan had been to use these photos and perform precision airstrikes on these targets to capture Kiel, but with the fog, the higher ups feel that a strategic bombing operation will be required. Gertrude confronts Minna after the briefing and expresses her displeasure: as she and Minna grow older, their capabilities as Witches will begin dropping off, and Gertrude had wanted to at least see Karlsland liberated before they retired. The two reluctantly agree to escort Allied bombers to Kiel for a strategic bombing operation. Upon overhearing this, Sanya decides to draft out her own plan – Orussia had similarly been occupied by the Neuroi, and she empathises with both Gertrude and Minna. Because the fog severely reduces visibility, she has Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka drill in low visibility exercises, and despite initial setbacks, the four are ready to go. When they encounter the Neuroi, Sanya orders the others to hold fire until they are close enough to the Neuroi. However, Eila senses something is off, and after feeling Sanya is in danger, opens fire. With the element of surprise lost, the four are forced to retreat. Sanya and Eila argue on which course of action was correct, and Sanya decides to attempt the operation again without Eila. Without anything else to do, Eila continues working on her Saturnus ornaments, sharing a conversation with Minna before learning why Sanya had failed to detect the Neuroi. In the skies over Kiel, Sanya, Yoshika and Shizuka are overwhelmed by the Neuroi: its main body is largely hollow, explaining why Sanya could not detect it. Eila arrives just in time to save them, and uses her precognition magic to determine where the Neuroi’s core is located, allowing Sanya to destroy the Neuroi. With the Neuroi eliminated, the fog begins clearing, and the bombers, now with a clear line of sight, are able to destroy Neuroi anti-air emplacements with pinpoint precision. Kiel is swiftly captured, and as the 501st celebrate Saturnus, Eila receives a surprise gift from Sanya, leaving her overjoyed. Road to Berlin is back on track – with Kiel in Allied hands, we’re now a stone’s throw away from Strike Witches‘ feature presentation.

Generally speaking, the Sanya-Eila episodes are a fan favourite, and Road to Berlin demonstrates that it is for good reason – second to the Karlsland Witches, Sanya and Eila’s stories are a touching story of closeness between the soft-spoken night Witch and an energetic Seer who is all too happy to look after her. Sanya’s quiet and stoic mannerisms means that it is rare to see her express any emotions, especially since as a night Witch, Sanya is often sent on night missions and sleeps during the day. As such, episodes like this week’s Road to Berlin offer a fantastic chance to see more of Sanya – beyond her reserved, taciturn personality, she is as determined and resolute as Gertrude and Minna are about taking back their homelands from the Neuroi, and even goes to the lengths of clashing with Eila when their initial operation fails. For her part, Eila’s anger stems from Sanya not trusting her: it would have come as a shock for Eila, as the two have been flying together for a long time. The episode is therefore a demonstration that in combat, the Witches must have enough faith in one another to trust one another’s judgements; Eila had counted fully on Sanya’s detection magic to help them navigate, and in the heat of a situation, the precognition magic Eila has is reliable enough to help her keep teammates out of harm’s way and locate a Neuroi’s core. When separated, the Witches fare poorly against Neuroi because individually, their powers are highly specialised; it is together that creative and adaptive use of everyone’s skill set that things get done, and this week, through Sanya and Eila, viewers are reminded again that the 501st’s greatest strength lies in their teamwork, and a core part of this teamwork is both following orders where appropriate, as well as having faith in the judgement of the other Witches once combat begins.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • After the previous episode, which I barely got through, this week’s episode was a thrill to watch, being of the same quality as what I’ve come to expect from Road to Berlin. Things open with a mysterious fog-generating Neuroi blanketing the area in an unearthly mist, and this season continues on with an idea that Brave Witches first established: that the Neuroi are becoming more strategic opponents, rather than relying on their mobility and firepower. By being able to deny the Allies of intelligence, they potentially could create enough delays to endanger planned operations.

  • After overhearing a conversation between Gertrude and Minna, Sanya decides to assemble a plan for taking out the Neuroi. Eila, on the other hand, seems quite nonchalant about things. Throughout the episode, she’s seen making himmeli, a type of Christmas ornament with Finnish origins that takes the form of a wireframe. They take a bit of effort to make, and can be highly intricate. Curiously enough, the root word of himmeli is himmel, which is Germanic in origin.

  • Previous seasons of Strike Witches had Sanya as being quite passive, but in Road to Berlin, she takes the initiative of planning out a strike against the fog-generating Neuroi: Sanya reasons that if the fog can be eliminated, then there will be no need to resort to a strategic bombing run. Such runs in World War Two were devastating, employing carpet bombing to damage as much ground by carpeting the area with explosives, and since 1977, carpet bombing on any populated is counted as a war crime by the Geneva Convention. While the Allied forces are reluctant to do so, they feel there is no other means of dislodging the Neuroi at Kiel.

  • Gertrude, Erica, Charlotte, Francesca, Perrine and Lynette are selected to escort Allied bombers for this operation, leaving Minna, Sanya, Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka to stay behind. Sanya decides to have her fellow Witches drill in low visibility conditions by using their sense of hearing to judge where friendlies are. For Eila, this is old hat – she’s been flying with Sanya before Strike Witches began. However, for Yoshika and Shizuka, the training represents new territory for them, and while things start out smoothly, they soon begin running into minor mishaps.

  • Over the course of Road to Berlin, I’ve become increasingly fond of Shizuka: while she’s nowhere near as experienced as the other Witches, she serves an important role in supporting Yoshika. She may not have too many kills to her name, but her actions in Road to Berlin have been instrumental in helping defeat Neuroi. Since this episode’s number of pantsu moments are fewer in number, I’ve decided to showcase this here mid-air collision instead to compensate.

  • On the day of the operation, Sanya uses her magic to lock onto the Neuroi’s signal. She supposes that in the dense fog, the Neuroi will likely have difficulties in detecting their approach. To help with this, Sanya asks the others to hold their fire until the Neuroi is in visual range. In combat, Sanya wields a custom Fliegerfaust that resembles the M202 FLASH; the former was a German shoulder-fired anti-air weapon, and the latter is an American rocket launcher designed to fire incendiary rockets. Both weapons proved to be ineffectual: the Fliegerfaust had a very short range and suffered from projectile dispersion, while the M202’s special 66mm rockets were unreliable. Sanya’s custom Fliegerfaust suffers no such problem, being a multiple rocket launcher with a solid all-around performance.

  • When Eila senses that Sanya’s in danger, she immediately breaks the order to hold fire and begins shooting. Alerted to their presence, the Neuroi begins returning fire. Eila’s precognition magic has made her a formidable Witch, and during the second season, she prided herself on never having to depend on a shield because she could foresee a Neuroi’s attacks and therefore, could simply evade them. However, her desire to support Sanya won the day: in a special operation to destroy a tower-type Neuroi, Eila projects her first shield of the series to protect Sanya and herself from the extreme conditions at the edge of the atmosphere.

  • With their element of surprise gone, Sanya, Eila, Yoshika and Shizuka have no choice but to retreat. In the aftermath, Sanya is frustrated that Eila acted against her orders: she is certain that her ability to detect the Neuroi was spot on, and so, clashes with Eila, who is confident in her own magic’s reliability. Eila’s affinity with precognition means she’s also fond of fortune telling with Tarot cards, but despite being a little less adept with Tarot, Eila’s long established that her magic is reliable. For the viewer, then, this leads to the question of what exactly they were facing in the fog.

  • I believe this is the first time in the whole of Strike Witches where viewers see an angry Sanya. These details are critical in a series that is strongly driven by character growth, and form the basis for what I look for in the military-moé genre. For me, the learnings and growth matter considerably more than technical details such as the performance of certain weapons and the series’ ability to be consistent with certain things. With Road to Berlin, the biggest complaint at present deals with how Yoshika’s magic is presented: it seems to vary depending on what the episode calls for, but as far as I’m concerned, the series has done a well enough job justifying why it’s so variable that it doesn’t warrant further discussion.

  • As Eila, Shizuka and Yoshika unwind in the sauna, which has been repaired since Gertrude’s towering temper put holes in the walls, Shizuka sides with Sanya: despite having relaxed a little since joining the 501st, she believes that orders are absolute and must be followed, whereas Yoshika feels that Eila’s in the right, having seen her magic previously. The conflict Eila and Sanya have mirror a bit of the conflict between Yoshika and Shizuka. These similarities are accentuated when in anger, Eila gropes Shizuka: Brave Witches and The Sky That Connects Us shows Eila as being fond of groping people, although it is suggested that Sanya is the one person Eila never messes with.

  • Sanya is determined to shoot down the fog-generating Neuroi and manages to convince Minna to have another go at it. Worrying that Eila will defy orders, she decides to sortie without Eila. Relegated to hanging out at the base with Minna, Eila continues making himmeli, and when Sanya enters the room, she quickly makes to hide them. Eila noises are surprisingly endearing, but because few episodes are focused on Eila, it’s rare to be able to hear them. On the topic of sound in Road to Berlin, the soundtrack will be coming out on December 23, and retail for 2970 Yen (about 37 CAD). There’s no tracklist as of yet, but there are some strong incidental songs that I’d definitely love to hear.

  • After she mounts her himmeli on the tree in front of the base, Eila runs into Minna, who explains everything that’s been going on. Minna has been a bit more open about the Witches where she makes an appearance: as the commander of the 501st, Minna is a bit of a motherly figure for the others, doing her best to look after everyone under her command. In the first season, Minna found it difficult to be forward to Mio about the latter’s weakening magic, but by Strike Witches 2, Minna’s able to be open about difficult topics: for her and Gertrude, as the older Witches in the 501st, their declining magic is becoming an increasing concern. Here, after their conversation, Eila is struck with a moment of inspiration after seeing the himmeli.

  • Sanya, Yoshika and Shizuka manage to destroy a Neuroi, but it immediately begins regenerating. Seemingly out of the blue, a second Neuroi appears. Its lattice-like structure conceals the core, and the three suddenly realise the extent of their foe. I’ve seen questions about why Sanya’s magic was unable to spot the Neuroi’s main body, and I propose a simple enough explanation that should address what’s happening. Sanya’s detection magic works like radar, in which the resulting signal is dependent on how much of an outgoing signal is reflected and detected. In the case of this Neuroi, enough of the signal passes through so that whatever reflects off the Neuroi’s structure is not enough for Sanya to pick it up.

  • I appreciate that this is a bit of a difficult case to explain, and the best means of demonstrating that Road to Berlin gets things correct to a satisfactory extent would be empirically, but that would be well outside the scope of discussion. The three Witches are taken aback by the Neuroi’s second body, and Sanya begins to feel that she’s failed outright. The Neuroi takes advantage of this gap and opens fire on the Witches. Fortunately, before anyone is blasted to kingdom come, Eila appears and deflects the beam with her shield. Since Eila rarely uses her shields, that she raises one usually indicates the gravity of a situation.

  • With Eila on station, Yoshika and Shizuka head off to distract the drone Neuroi, whose solid body was what Sanya had picked up earlier. Eila is able to sense that the Neuroi’s core is moving, and puts her detection magic to good use here: she quickly identifies the spot that the core will pass through and marks it for Sanya, asking Sanya to open fire on her location. Although Sanya is reluctant to risk harming a friend, she ends up trusting Eila, firing a single rocket that impacts the spot right as the core moves by. With the core destroyed, the Neuroi disintigrates, and the fog begins fading.

  • The Allied air group are surprised that the fog’s begun to clear up, and immediately return to their primary plan of conducting a precision airstrike. A massive group of B-17G Flying Fortresses can be seen along with the 501st’s Witches, preparing to drop their ordinance on the Neuroi below. In World War Two, precision bombing was accomplished by flying at lower altitudes: at higher altitudes, winds could blow the bombs off-target. Modern bombs can be outfitted with a guidance system that manoeuvres the bomb to its target, either making use of GPS as a JDAM might or else adjust its flight path to fly towards a point designated by a laser. For the Witches and Allies, without the fog, they’re able to complete their mission successfully, as well.

  • Sanya and Eila make up on the spot and fly home together holding hands. Eila is elated, and the news only improves as the girls receive word that the Allied forces were able to take back Kiel without damaging the critical port facilities. It’s a turning point for the Witches: having spent most of Road to Berlin waiting for the higher-ups to sort out battle plans and logistics, the path to destroying the Berlin Neuroi hive seems to be clear now. This is the little extra that is done in this Road to Berlin episode: Sanya’s determination and Eila’s choice to help Sanya out made a massive difference, and for Gertrude, Erica and Minna, they’ve been given a superb gift: the chance to strike at the Neuroi hive and take back Berlin.

  • After their successful operations, the 501st shares a Saturnus Festival dinner together with other soldiers. Charlotte and Francesca can be seen with turkey legs: I associate whole turkey legs with the Stampede, where they use a curing brine and seasoning on turkey legs before smoking them. They’re very expensive, for how much meat one gets, and I’ve never had one before, preferring to try other things instead. Ordinarily, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are when I have turkey. This year, I think we’re opting away from turkey and doing a much smaller Christmas to keep it simple, but at the heart of Christmas isn’t the traditions, gifts or dinners, it’s the fact we get to be with those closest to us.

  • The unusual conditions this year means that we’ll have to be creative and mindful of those around us, but I feel that even if traditions aren’t observed, the spirit of Christmas can still be preserved. Because of the global health crisis, I did all of my Christmas shopping back in late October. As things are now, I am ready for the Christmas season: while the typical Christmas dinners are off the table this year, I am looking forwards to a quiet day with the immediate family. That is, however, a month away, and in the meantime, there’s still a full month before Christmas Day itself.

  • After seeing Eila get shafted for so long, it’s great to see her walk away with a win on screen. This was a fun Road to Berlin episode, and with this one in the books, I’m glad that the series has not lost any of its momentum after last week’s episode. With this post done, and the fact that it’s a month to Christmas, it means that we’re nearing the end of November. I have a few more posts planned out before the end of this month: GochiUsa BLOOM will be receiving a post this Saturday, as will my final talk for Controversed. I also wish to write about Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear before November is out; I’ve crossed the halfway point, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why people are taking the series so seriously. Finally, I will need to focus on finishing the third manhunt for The Division 2; I just need to take out Bardon Schaeffer to finish this one off, and then I’d expect to have a chunk of December to go back to World of Warcraft.

Today is one month before Christmas Day: it is especially fitting that in Road to Berlin, the episode was framed around the Saturnus Festival, which is functionally equivalent to Christmas. In my talk for Brave Witches‘ seventh episode, I touched on what the original Saturnus Festival entailed: it is Roman in origin, being a time of celebration and cheer. In the Strike Witches universe, Saturnus diverged from its Roman background and became more similar to the Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, as well as various European winter festivals. Being a time of togetherness, the Saturnus Festival acts as a fantastic opportunity to bring Eila and Sanya together; traditionally, Strike Witches had always been fond of ruining any quiet moments the two had for comedy’s sake, but Road to Berlin chooses to go with a different route, and in doing so, it creates a very satisfying moment towards the episode’s end. For Eila, there is no greater gift than seeing Sanya happy, and since she typically gets shafted by circumstance or bad luck where Sanya is concerned, it was especially rewarding to see the two share a Saturnus moment together. While things are quite rosy in Road to Berlin on their equivalent of Christmas (Minna, Gertrude and Erica are pleased to learn that things are progressing according to plans), the fact remains is that there will be an uphill battle leading up to the liberation of Berlin. Next week’s episode will deal with Minna: being the oldest of the Witches, her ability in combat was brought up this episode, and recalling how determined she’d been to keep Mio safe during the events of season one, it will be interesting to see if the next episode follows how she handles the inevitability of time.

They Go Boing-Boing- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Seventh Episode Impressions and Review

If pla-ket-ket – that pla-ket-ket
When I shoot you in your neck
The noise go pla-ket-ket-ket
And you know I will shoot you in your eye
Just so I can hear the pla-ket
Pla-ket-ket-ket-ket-ket!
Pla-ket-ket-ket-ket-ket!

– “100 Miles”, Skinbone

After Yoshika’s magic fails during a routine sortie, Lynette sets off to search for herbs in the nearby woods in the hope that something might help Yoshika. Instead, she stumbles upon an artefact of some sort, containing an ancient figurine that augments a Witch’s bust. The figurine also possesses Francesca and begins cursing the other Witches on the base. It turns out this figurine was used by earlier Witches as a means of praying for a successful harvest. After Eila and Sanya fall under the curse’s influence, Yoshika and the others attempt to destroy the figurine. Eventually, Yoshika herself is taken as a sacrifice for the ancient ritual, leaving Lynette to save her. With a well-placed round from her Boys AT Rifle, Lynette destroys the statue, returning everyone to normal. In the debriefing, Yoshika decides to ask Lynette for another shot to feel her up, as they’d been interrupted earlier: it appears that groping someone is inexplicably related to Yoshika’s ability to recharge her magic. Standing in sharp contrast with the sixth episode, Road to Berlin‘s seventh episode is an entirely light-hearted, almost meaningless romp that ventures into the realm of the supernatural: the only reason that an ancient figurine can plausibly cause a curse and possess Witches without drawing much ire is because the entire Strike Witches universe is built on the premise of magic, so it stands to reason that rogue magic could potentially manifest in an object and take on a life of its own. As it stands, the seventh episode offers crude laughs at the expense of advancing the story in Road to Berlin, perhaps even more uncivilised manner than its predecessors had done during earlier seasons.

While unremarkable on its own, Road to Berlin‘s seventh episode does offer one curious parallel to modelling the spread of infectious agents in a closed environment – for Lynette, after the figurine’s effects are known, the Witches aware of what’s going on are sent into a desperate attempt to escape those who become cursed, and those unaware (such as Minna) simply succumb without resistance. In a matter of hours, almost all of the Witches fall under the curse’s influence: while this curse is not self-limiting, it does have clear adverse effects on the Witches and a mode of transmission, allowing it to be seen as being similar to an infectious agent. The seventh episode thus suggests at the Witches’ vulnerability to things like curses (we suppose that normal bacterial and viral infections can be trivially dealt with using healing magic) because of their general lact of exposure and familiarity with magical curses. At a more general level, this episode can indicate how once an infectious agent is introduced to a relatively closed environment, its spread is bewilderingly quick. As such, while viewers may share a laugh at what happens in Road to Berlin‘s fanservice episode as a result of the curse unearthed, the events of said episode might also be a reminder to be careful in dealing with the current health crisis: unlike the Witches, who can simply end the figurine’s curse with a .55 round, we must continue to be diligent and do what’s necessary to avoid unnecessary exposure until such a time when a vaccine becomes available.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Lynette has not been getting anywhere nearly enough love in Road to Berlin, and this seventh episode has her as the only beacon of light in an otherwise hectic, chaotic frenzy. Soft-spoken and shy, Lynette has been counted as one of the most unremarkable of the 501st: she lacks any distinct traits and prefers to help out on base with the everyday housework over taking to the skies. Yoshika helped Lynette to gain confidence ever since they’d met, and for the most part, the two are inseparable. With Shizuka’s arrival in the 501st, however, Lynette’s gotten less screen-time.

  • When Lynette finds a mysterious vase and returns it to base, an accident results in the vase being opened, revealing a mysterious figurine inside. My knowledge of archeology is extremely limited: the dogū here is an earthen statue that is likely ancient. Such statues date back to the Jōmon period, and the Shakōki-dogū (goggle-eyed dogū) are well known for their distinct appearance. The closest parallel that I can think of are the “Venus” figurines, Palaeolithic sculptures that are found in Europe. Anthropologists suggest that their consistent portrayal of a full-figured woman indicates they represent a deity of sorts, perhaps signifying fertility. However, without any written records from that era, the actual meaning that these sculptures have is lost to time, and we can only infer their meaning at present. It is very curious that separate civilisations in geographically separate regions ended up creating similar figurines, and I’m sure archeologists would find this a very curious topic to delve into. However, as I am neither an archeologist by trade, and this is a Road to Berlin post, I should return the focus back to the Witches’ antics.

  • After Francesca picks up the figurine and begins playing with it to annoy Perrine, she undergoes an unexpected change in her figure and begins speaking in a strange manner before running off. After groping her, Yoshika’s magic appears to return momentarily: the episode did explain that a Witch can be thought of as a reservoir for magic, using their powers to control it for work (such as flight, shield projection, healing, etc.). Yoshika’s appeared to have resolved her ability to channel her magic when she has sufficient reserves of it, and the problem seems to be being able to regenerate her reserves efficiently now. The anime uses an excellent visual to represent how Witches work at a high level, which indicates that Witches can be seen as analogous to a battery. However, back in the day, AnimeSuki’s Sumeragi described a Witch’s raw output as “voltage”, but this is false, since voltage refers to potential difference. A Witch’s output correctly described as as the current, specifically, how much magic a Witch can channel. I’ve already covered this in my post about 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! The Movie, so I won’t revisit that in two much detail.

  • While Sanya and Eila are sharing a quiet moment together, tending to the base’s flowers, the possessed Francesca gropes Sanya, breaking the peace. Sanya is one of the last characters one would expect something like this would happen to, and her look of embarrassment here is a rare sight. For this week’s post, I’ve reverted back to the twenty screenshot format: brevity is a virtue, and shorter posts are generally easier to write for when it comes to TV series: films usually offer a lot more to consider, whereas episodic reviews only require that I consider what that particular episode contributes to the story overall.

  • After Sanya becomes cursed, she begins speaking in tongues, gropes Eila and curses her in the process, as well. The strange speech patterns is what motivates the page quote: they’re lyrics from a parody of Vanessa Carlton’s 1000 Miles, completely redone in a hilarious manner in a remix called 100 Miles. When speaking, the speech is rendered in a Madoka Magica-like font at the bottom of the screen, but all viewers will hear from anyone who isn’t Francesca is Pla-ket-ket-ket-ket-ket-ket. I first heard the 100 Miles parody at a raclette party two years ago, and spent the entire evening laughing along with friends as we listened to various bad music on YouTube whilst roasting sausages and shrimps.

  • Lynette, Shizuka, Perrine, Yoshika and Charlotte react in horror after Eila succumbs to the curse. The seventh episode, for all its ludicrousness, did remind me of some of the work I studied during my time in graduate school, where I used NetLogo to mimic transmission of infectious diseases in a population. Despite its low skill ceiling, NetLogo is immensely powerful and allows for curious models to be developed based upon multi-agent interactions, reducing the need for complex mathematical systems to be implemented.

  • Multi-agent systems excel in modelling highly stochastic systems where interactions can be thought of as rules rather than relationships, and consequently, agent-based models have the advantage in being able to describe immensely complex interactions. However, I’ve found them to be computationally expensive at large scales: they are ineffective for modelling things at a coarse granularity. Of course, neither mathematical or agent-based modelling can describe what happens in Road to Berlin: the precise mechanism of a figurine able to utilise magic and possess a Witch to impose its will while simultaneously floating in the air unsupported is unknown, and one can only imagine that the figurine must have enough magic in it to sustain its actions.

  • After Charlotte scarifies herself to allow Yoshika a chance to destroy the figurine, Yoshika quickly learns that the figurine seems impervious to damage: she destroys a frying pan in the process of trying to break the figurine. Of all the Witches, Charlotte’s bust is the most substantial, so when she succumbs to the curse’s effects, her shirt’s buttons suffer a structural failure (whereas everyone else’s clothing seem to accommodate the new volume without too much trouble). The effects appear quite uncomfortable on those affected, and if I had to guess, I would imagine the magic involved here accelerates mammary growth. Considering that healing magic can accelerate repair of tissues, it is not inconceivable that misapplications of magic could have such effects on the Witches’ bust.

  • When considering the effects (and limitations) of magic, my mind inevitably wanders over to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration, a set of laws that are supposed limit what is possible with magic, otherwise, in the words of the Other Minister, wizards and witches would be able to sort out anything. That magic has its limitations is a bit of a reassurance in this episode, otherwise, the effects on the Witches would be devastating. When Perrine finds herself chased by the possessed Eila and Sanya, she rams them in frustration after recalling a conversation she had with Lynette.

  • Coming into contact with the two means that Perrine gets cursed, and Shizuka stays behind to keep Perrine distracted. This is all for naught, however. During the episode, a part of me wondered if there was an alternate measure towards ending the curse that didn’t involve destroying the statue: in Hai-Furi, for instance, exposure to salt water inactivated the Totalitarian virus by an unknown mechanism, and for a brief moment, I wondered if touching a potato might cure Perrine. There’s no such luck here, and in moments, Shizuka herself is also cursed.

  • Meanwhile, Minna is taken out after Charlotte and Eila find her while she’s showering. It suddenly strikes me that, despite ostensibly being a light-hearted fanservice episode, Road to Berlin makes extensive use of dark lighting, yellow and violet hues during the course of the episode, creating a distinctly horror-like atmosphere. Viewers only can laugh as the Witches succumb to the curse one-by-one, but the choice of palette manages to subtly convey the abject terror that the Witches face when confronted with this unknown.

  • While Gertrude and Erica sit around waiting for dinner, they’re unaware of what’s gone down until Minna shows up. Erica is promptly taken out, and Gertrude escapes. She manages to find Yoshika and Lynette, and it isn’t until she tries punching the figurine out that viewers are made aware of the gravity of the situation: at this point, it becomes clear that the only way to do any appreciable damage to the figurine would probably be with a firearm of some sort.

  • The figurine’s magic clearly has not impeded the other Witches’ judgement: Gertrude decides to seek help by radioing a nearby base, and for a moment, my spirits soared at the thought of seeing new Witches, but it turns out the communication lines have been cut. Against my will, I am reminded of an old classic: the SpongeBob SquarePants episode “Pranks a Lot”, where ahead of messing with Mr. Krabs, Patrick and SpongeBob glue the door shut, replace the glass with rubber and clog the toilers to the Krusty Krab in order to keep Mr. Krabs from escaping. While I have a distaste for SpongeBob memes when they’re taken out of the context, the old show did have its merits and moments where it genuinely shined: the first three seasons were excellent and innovative.

  • Gertrude decides to fly out herself in search of help, but the others are a step ahead of her: they completely disable her Striker Unit, and Gertrude succumbs to the curse, leaving Lynette and Yoshika to wonder on the best course of action. Yoshika feels that if the curse is anything like magic, then she might be able to use her healing magic to dispel the curse. However, her magic power has degraded. Recalling that her magic briefly came back after groping Francesca earlier, Yoshika asks Lynette if it is possible for her to recover her magic in this manner. It is not lost on me that 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! did something precisely like this: being pressed against Lynette’s chest allowed Yoshika to channel enough magic for her to safely heal Erica and Charlotte.

  • It was rather surprising to see elements from 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! make their way into Road to Berlin, and suddenly, I’m glad to have checked out that spin-off. Back in Road to Berlin, in the absence of any context, this screenshot would almost certainly raise alarms amongst readers, since my modus operandi is precisely not to showcase such moments if I can help it. With this being said, while Lynette is shy, her friends’ needs outweighs her sense of modesty, and she reluctantly allows Yoshika to grope her if it may give Yoshika the magic needed to save her friends.

  • Before anything can happen, the others arrive and whisk Yoshika away for some ancient ceremony. At this point in the episode, I was conflicted: on one hand, stopping the ceremony makes the most sense from a thematic perspective, but on the other, I was curious to see what would happen had the ceremony actually succeeded. Strike Witches is only as serious as it needs to be, and there are some outrageous moments in the series that only serve to embarrass the characters at worst. However, Lynette has no intention of finding out; considering how much trouble the figurine and its powers have caused, she’s intent on destroying it.

  • Having grabbed her Boys AT Rifle, Lynette’s followed the others to the shrine where she’d found the figurine and manages to snipe the rope holding Yoshika in place. Yoshika subsequently escapes and attempts to use her magic in an attempt to stop the others, but is unsuccessful. It boils down to Lynette and her sharp-shooting to save the day: she puts a round that passes precisely through a gap in the Witches’ shields and destroys the figurine, bringing this nightmare to an end. Here, I will note that the episode has absolutely nothing to do with the online magazine of the same name, which has a history of writing falsified articles and backing people on the wrong side of history for views.

  • The seventh episode of Road to Berlin marks the first episode of the season where no Neuroi is present, and as tempting as it might be to suggest that the figurine is a Neuroi (it would be, after all, an unexpected twist were it the case that Neuroi could manipulate magic in this manner), the lack of a core when Lynette shoots down the figurine is enough for me to conclude that the figurine, however evil it might be, is not of Neuroi origin. In the aftermath, Minna explains what the figurine was about, wrapping up any loose ends.

  • I’ll admit that it was nice to have an episode dedicated to Lynette: although it might’ve been her fault that she’d retrieve the figurine to begin with, she also finishes the fight and cleans up after her own mess. As the sun rises, the other Witches come to, recalling the night’s unusual experiences and save Francesca, are pleased that things are normal once more. Francesca, on the other hand, wishes she was able to keep her augmented bust the curse provided.

  • Yoshika feels shafted that she never got to grope Lynette and asks for another go at things as the episode draws to a close. I don’t mind admitting that this week’s episode was a bit tricky to write for, since fanservice hardly is conducive for interesting discussions, and I instead, opted to voice some thoughts on current events as they tied in with the episode. With the seventh episode in the books, I’m much more confident about next week’s episode, and in the meantime, I’m glad this post is now in the books.

Fanservice episodes have been a staple of Strike Witches since the first season, and while Brave Witches opted for a more meaningful story that contributed to world-building in place of lowbrow jokes, Road to Berlin appears to have returned to the serie’s roots – simultaneously being more faithful to the originals and being a step down from the direction introduced in Brave Witches, Road to Berlin likely aims to suggest to viewers that, while the series has advanced from its origins, it remains respectful to what had originally made the series stand apart from its contemporaries. In this episode, Yoshika’s old traits returned in full force: her fascination with her peers’ mammaries had been absent from the film, leading me to wonder if Yoshika had moved away from that stage of her life, but it appears this tendency is retrained, only to be overshadowed by her desire to protect and fight for those important to her. I suppose this serves to humanise Yoshika’s character and show that she does have her eccentricities outside of her reputation in the armed forces. Outside of this seventh episode, Road to Berlin has been a thrill, so I imagine that this episode’s events are not an indicator of what Road to Berlin is about; while there was a possibility of spending twenty minutes to world-build further here, fanservice romps in Strike Witches will continue to offer some amusement, and this is the route the writers have taken. Next week’s episode should see a return to the norm: the focus is on Sanya and Eila as Christmas rolls in, and as long as Road to Berlin continues to stay focused with its other episodes, I won’t hold this outlier against the series in any way.

The Hounds of Vengeance- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Review and Reflections At The Halfway Point

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” –George Bernard Shaw

General Patton arrives at the Witches’ base with General Bradley and Mio, with the announcement that the port in Kiel has been determined to be a suitable point for resupplying Allied forces. The site is operational, but occupied by Neuroi. Minna sends Gertrude and Erica to carry out reconnaissance to see what they’re up against, but en route to Kiel, Erica is shot down by an extraordinarily fast Neuroi. Yoshika and Shizuka manage to bring Gertrude back, and Minna begins to work on the details for a rescue operation, but Gertrude falls into a depression, blaming herself for not making a faster decision sooner regarding their drop tanks during combat. She fears that Erica’s odds of survival are not particularly good. The next day, Minna sends Charlotte out to engage the Neuroi and help retrieve Erica, but this is unsuccessful; the Neuroi’s ability to turn on a dime overwhelms even her. Upon seeing this, Gertrude turns to Charlotte for help: she’d been training aggressively over the past two days in an attempt to lose weight without sacrificing performance, and with Charlotte’s mechanical skill, is able to modify her Striker unit to maximise performance while reducing its weight. Minna approves the rescue operation, and to ensure Gertrude is in top shape when she reaches the danger zone, Yoshika and Shizuka carry her there. Gertrude overpowers the Neuroi and destroys it, but spots Erica’s remains on the ground. She loses hope and declares that the any victory would be pointless in a world without Erica. As a second Neuroi enters the skies, Gertrude learns that this “corpse” had been a decoy Erica had laid out to deceive the Neuroi. After she spots a signal from Erica, she immediately meets up with her, physically stopping the second Neuroi, allowing Erica to damage its exterior and expose the core. With the revolver she’d received from Charlotte, Gertrude destroys the second Neuroi and heads home with the others, ecstatic that Erica is okay. We’ve now reached the halfway point of Road to Berlin, and in this sixth episode, expectations were defied time and time again as the focus turns towards the Karlsland Witches, whose stories have, historically, been among the most engaging within the Strike Witches series.

Here in episode six, Road to Berlin begins to suggest at the sort of foes that the 501st will be facing as they prepare for a massive offensive at Berlin: the Neuroi in the sixth episode far surpass foes seen previously and manage to accomplish a feat that few Neuroi have, in shooting down Erica, disabling Gertrude and even forcing Charlotte to retreat. Whereas the previous episode had seen a weaker Neuroi be destroyed with a combination of lightning and a common gardening hoe, this episode indicates to viewers that as Road to Berlin pushes closer to the operation, things will only get tougher for the Witches. Beyond accentuating the gravity of the situation, the sixth episode also gives Gertrude time to shine. Long frustrated at Erica’s slovenly lifestyle, which encompasses a lack of discipline and concern for her living quarters, Gertrude traditionally finds herself fighting a losing battle in an attempt to better Erica’s personal life. However, when the chips are down, Gertrude regards Erica as close as family; she feels personally responsible for Erica’s being shot down and is willing to go to any lengths to bring her back, cooperating with Charlotte (whom she only nominally gets along with on a day-to-day basis) to devise a strategy to best the Neuroi. Similarly, when she spots the decoy Erica face-down on the forest floor, Gertrude loses all composure and admits that a part of why she’s fighting so hard is precisely because it’s for Erica, as well: Erica had been by her side throughout the entire war and made it feel that victory would be possible as long as they had one another to count on. Through this episode, it becomes clear that despite her strict mannerisms, Gertrude genuinely cares for those around her, and fights not for the sake of fighting, but like Yoshika, to protect what is most dear to her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve always had a fondness for the Karlsland Witches, and so, this Road to Berlin post will uncharacteristically be fifty percent larger than the typical episodic post. Having an extra ten screenshots will allow me to more thoroughly explore the events of this episode, which opens with Gertrude attempting to wake Erica up. As with the seasons before, Gertrude’s established a Siegfried Line of sorts to keep her side of the room from being a disaster. This does nothing to dissuade Erica from being a nightmare to room with: her side of the room is a disaster.

  • In The Sky That Connects Us, a manga set between the first and second season, it was established that Erica sleeps commando style, and occasionally wanders the base without any pantsu, to the embarrassment of those around her. It appears that this trait returns in Road to Berlin, and for her troubles, Gertrude beats up Erica. These small details typify the usual antics between the pair, but unlike 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!, which employed the characters’ worst traits for the sake of comedy, Road to Berlin presents these less-serious conflicts amongst the characters to accentuate the fact that at heart, everyone cares for one another.

  • Patton is pleased to communicate the news that the offensive on Berlin can continue sooner than expected thanks to Kiel proving to be a viable alternative: repairs at Antwerpen are still ongoing, and having a port means the preparations for Berlin can begin. In reality, Kiel was a major naval city in Germany, being home to shipyards and U-boat pens alike. The Allies would bomb the city into rubble during their strategic air campaigns owing to its importance, levelling over eighty percent of the city over the course of almost a hundred air raids over a four year period.

  • The Nazis were well aware that Kiel would be a high-priority target for the Allies, and deployed barrage balloons along with anti-air guns to dissuade Allied bombers. Since Road to Berlin has not shown viewers of what’s going on in Kiel beyond explaining it is under Neuroi occupation, one can surmise that a campaign for Kiel would be similarly tricky. Erica and Gertrude are sent to recon the area ahead of any actual attack, and in the beginning, find nothing of note; in a scene reminiscent of Strike Witches: The Movie, Erica becomes hungry, and Gertrude hands her some chocolate. By this point in time, it is safe to assume that despite her complaints about Erica’s sloppiness, she does care for her and knows her well enough to always have some chocolate on hand.

  • While the skies seem fairly quiet, save for weaker Neuroi, the 501st’s two top Witches find themselves under fire from a Neuroi whose performance far exceeds anything seen previously. Besides acceleration and mobility that renders it nearly impossible to keep up with, the Neuroi also boasts exceptional firepower. Even with their skill and experience, Erica and Gertrude are unable to keep up with the Neuroi and deal meaningful damage; the two are only just able to defend against its attacks, but by the time they get a bead on it, the Neuroi’s already evaded their bullets.

  • The Neuroi’s manoeuvrability means that combat sequences in this episode surpass those of the earlier Road to Berlin episodes, being more fluid, high paced and thrilling. Unlike Brave Witches, whose televised run was characterised by low-polygon models being visibly seen during dogfights, Road to Berlin has done a better job of smoothing things out wherever 3D models of the characters are used. While a keen eye can still discern when CG is used over hand-drawn characters, it is nowhere nearly as jarring or disruptive, creating a smoother, more consistent experience.

  • The Neuroi that Erica and Gertrude are fighting resembles the Sukhoi Su-47 Berkut in appearance, with its distinct swept wings, front wings and twin engines. This experimental aircraft was intended to test the viability of forward-swept wings, and had exceptional manoeuvrability even at supersonic speeds as a result of the forward-swept wings. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, funding towards the Su-47 programme disappeared, and as such, only one Su-47 was ever built. While the Su-47 programme was cancelled, technologies developed for the Su-47 would make their way into the Su-35 and Su-57. The unusual forward-swept wings on the Neuroi accounts for its overwhelming combat performance: Erica is shot down, and Gertrude’s Striker Unit is damaged.

  • Despite Gertrude’s protests, Yoshika and Shizuka forces a tactical withdrawal, leaving Erica behind. This marks the first time I’ve seen Erica shot down, and as one of Karlsland’s super-aces, with over three hundred kills to her name, this moment really served to reinforce just how challenging the Neuroi have become. Previous Neuroi typically employed overwhelming firepower and superior defense to shrug off attacks, so by switching strategies and producing faster, more agile Neuroi that can outmanoeuvre Witches, even veterans like Erica and Gertrude are taken by surprise.

  • Gertrude’s lost all sense of space and time in the aftermath of Erica being shot down, taking to spending long periods in the base’s sauna while commiserating. Gertrude’s weakness is a fixation on her mistakes: she rarely fails during combat, and holds herself to a very high standard, so when things fail, she’s mentally unprepared to handle it. Minna reminds Gertrude that the way to take responsibility for one’s actions isn’t to ruminate endlessly over what went wrong, but rather, to act in a way to rectify or mitigate whatever the mistake had cost. However, pushing forwards now would only worsen Gertrude’s sense of guilt, and so, Minna decides to assemble a small team to go and recover Erica for the next day.

  • While it is clear that the Neuroi are no joke and have managed to develop units that are more than a match for individual Witches, one cannot help but wonder if the battle would have gone differently with more experienced Witches around to help out: Witches are quite powerful individually and an immense asset in the Human-Neuroi War, but it is when an entire squadron is working together that everyone’s at their best. For the time being, however, Gertrude is preoccupied and even stops eating against her usual stance that eating well is an essential part of being a good soldier.

  • To work off excess energy, and also foreshadowing her preparations, Gertrude begins training with vigour for her eventual rematch with the Neuroi, pushing her body to its limits with one-armed pull-ups. However, at this point in time, Minna’s decided that Gertrude’s mental state is such that she is in no condition to fight: for the rescue operation, Charlotte is sent in on the assumption that having a speedier Witch in the air would allow for the Neuroi to be shot down.

  • Shot down and behind enemy lines, Erica turns to her SERE training to survive and evade the Neuroi: with her Striker unit out of commission, she cleverly creates a decoy of herself pinned down under a fallen tree, and when the Neuroi senses this, it leaves, satisfied it’s done its job. Erica might not be a model soldier with her lazy mannerisms, but when the moment calls for it, she is resourceful and astute. After the Neuroi leaves, she sets about trying to repair her Striker Unit and rations the chocolate she’d received from Gertrude earlier.

  • While the assignment had been ostensibly a test of speed, even Charlotte and her P-51H is completely unprepared to handle the Neuroi. Charlotte excels in situations where she is able to build up a head of steam and catch up to (or overtake) Neuroi over long distances, but the Su-47-like Neuroi doesn’t just have speed going for it. By being able to turn on a dime and get behind Witches quickly, its biggest strength is its mobility, being able to start and stop instantly for surprise attacks. Gertrude had predicted Charlotte would be unsuccessful for this reason, and although it is never explained directly to viewers what Gertrude’s rationale was, things are clear enough for one to put two and two together.

  • Gertrude’s frustration at the Neuroi’s capabilities and what she feels to be her own inability manifests physically as damage to the sauna’s wooden paneling: she punches out sections of the wall in anger. Although Gertrude’s magic enhances her physical strength, I imagine that since she’s not using any magic here, Gertrude is intrinsically strong even without use of her magic. This further suggests to me that Gertrude is the model for GochiUsa‘s Rize, but I note that since GochiUsa is all about fluffiness, it is unlikely viewers will see Rize in a towering temper.

  • Gertrude and Charlotte have never really been exactly best mates: Charlotte finds Gertrude to be too uptight, and Gertrude sees Charlotte as being excessively lax. However, when unified by a mutual hatred of the Neuroi, the two get along well enough to create a custom solution for the fight at hand. Charlotte bears no small grudge against the Neuroi whose speed surpasses hers, and so, she’s more than willing to help Gertrude modify her Striker Unit to produce a setup that allows Gertrude the greatest amount of speed and mobility possible while still fighting to her strengths.

  • I imagine that some viewers will be crapping bricks after seeing how jacked Gertrude is. While Charlotte’s been tuning her Striker Unit, she’d been aggressively pushing herself towards a physique that allows her to get the most out of her Striker Unit while in the air. Owing to level of detail constraints, Gertrude’s impressive build is only visible when the artists deliberately choose to render it, and here, as the camera pulls back, the results of Gertrude’s training are no longer obvious. To help Gertrude out, Charlotte also lends her a revolver.

  • While the others are fearing the worst for Erica, it turns out that, aside from a lack of food, she’s doing fine. Besides being unharmed after the crash, Erica is also in great spirits; fixing up her Striker Unit in the hopes of getting it to be able to fly again, has kept her mind busy. Being focused on something, whether it be building a shelter or finding food, is critical in a survival situation. Les Stroud has noted that the act of working towards something keeps the mind from wandering towards thinking of potential worst-case situations, allowing one to maintain their morale. From what Road to Berlin presents, Erica’s actually been having a better time than Gertrude has after she was shot down.

  • In the director’s commentary of Survivorman, Stroud also mentions that in a survival situation, fresh water is high on the list of priorities. Erica’s got a clean stream running nearby, so she’s covered for water, and while a lot of folks worry about developing Giardiasis as a result of ingesting the parasite Giardia duodenalis. While it is true that water sources near populated areas are probably not safe to consume, fresh water sources in remote areas are better, and moreover, Stroud also feels that risking Giardiasis to stay hydrated is actually an acceptable risk to take, since nitroimidazole medications can be used to handle infections (if they do not resolve on their own); the alternate to not being hydrated is death.

  • Yoshika begins to suffer from fatigue as a result of helping to carry Gertrude, but once they arrive at the combat area, Gertrude lights her engines and begins her rematch with the Neuroi. Unencumbered by any extra weight, Gertrude manages to keep up with the Neuroi: while Shizuka has trouble getting a fix on the Neuroi, Gertrude’s able to properly manoeuvre now, and begin dealing some damage. The second season and Operation Victory Arrow had presented Jet Strikers as being a replacement for the piston-powered Striker Units Witches currently wield: the increased output of a Jet Striker mirrors the earlier jet fighters and would’ve allowed an individual Witch to carry increasingly powerful loadouts into the air.

  • While early jet fighters (and their corresponding Jet Strikers) did not have the best agility, advances made to jets during the Cold War, especially through the F86 Sabre and MiG-17 meant that within two decades, jets had largely superseded propeller-powered aircraft in most roles. Depending on the scope and scale of Strike Witches, it would not be surprising as Jet Strikers reach limited production at some point in the future. For this episode of Road to Berlin, however, the question is not a matter of technology, but resolve, so the series has elected to keep Gertrude on a propeller Striker Unit with the aim of showing what Erica means to her.

  • After an intense dogfight, Gertrude cracks the Neuroi’s casing and annihilates the core. However, her moment of triumph soon fades when she spots Erica, seemingly face-down on the ground. Joy turns to sorrow, and to compound things, a second Neuroi appears. While Yoshika and Shizuka keeps the beams from the second Neuroi fighter at bay, Gertrude laments at having failed, and she voices that Erica is someone very precious to her. What this is precisely, viewers don’t get to hear, but given the precedence that other Witches have set (e.g. Eila and Sanya), it’s relatively easy to guess what this is.

  • Gertrude, however, has spoken too soon: Erica notices the combat above, and using the candy wrapper as a mirror, sends a signal which Gertrude receives. Reinvigorated upon realising Erica is alive and well, Gertrude discards her weapons and prepares to fight the Neuroi with her bare hands after it purges additional layers in a move reminiscent of the ADF-11. Viewers get a closeup of the Neuroi’s engines, which resemble the conic engines seen in Gundam 00‘s Ptolemaios.

  • In the end, Gertrude manages to grab ahold of the Neuroi and keep it in place while Erica uses her Sturm, punching a hole in its hull. It appears that Neuroi cores are relatively resistant to melee attacks, but vulnerable to firearms and magic. While Gertrude may have discarded her MG-42s earlier, she still has one ace-in-the-hole: Charlotte had given her a revolver earlier. Strike Witches has been particularly good with conforming with Chekhov’s Gun, a principle which states that anything introduced in a story should be there for a reason. In this episode, the revolver that Charlotte gives to Gertrude fulfills the role of being a Chekhov’s Gun.

  • Like Dirty Harry, Gertrude offers a badass one-liner before firing on the Neuroi’s core, destroying the second of the two Su-47-type Neuroi. I can’t readily identify the revolver that Gertrude is using, but if I had to guess, it looks like a Colt Single-Action Army first generation (chambered for the .45 ACP round), owing to the sight post and barrel’s shape. It’s one of the most famous of American revolvers, and seems like an appropriate weapon for Charlotte to have on her person. Folks who’ve used the Colt SAA report it to be a reliable sidearm that packs a kick, and while its accuracy is not the best in the world, it remains a solid choice for its stopping power.

  • With the Neuroi finally defeated, and Erica safe, the sixth episode of Road to Berlin can begin winding down. As noted earlier, this post is a bit of a larger one, and besides the Karlsland Witches usually offering me more to discuss, today is also Remembrance Day: besides paying respects to the soldiers who gave their lives in the line of duty to fight for freedom and liberty, it also meant a day off, which conferred additional time to write. The return to standard time means that for me, Road to Berlin episodes come out early, and I finished today’s episode before sitting down to a piping hot bowl of homemade ramen topped with spam, fried egg and Romaine lettuce: the high today was a brisk -8ºC, and it looks like whether I like it or not, winter is setting in.

  • It speaks to Erica’s skill that she’s able to get airborne with only a single Striker Unit equipped, although being hastily (and inexpertly) repaired, it fails soon after. Fortunately, Gertrude is around to catch her, and with this, Gertrude is finally at peace. Granted, Erica might come across as someone who seems quite unable to look after themselves, hence Gertrude’s worry, but a large part of this episode was showing how different Witches handle adversity. In this regard, Erica looks to be okay even in tougher situations because of her easygoing attitude, while during a crisis, Gertrude needs people in her corner.

  • The episode ultimately does live up to its title, “Hounds of Vengeance” – while revenge usually is presented as a negative trait, the drive to get even with the Neuroi and save Erica is what propels Gertrude to new heights in this episode. It is conceivable that Gertrude could’ve done something foolish earlier on, but with Charlotte’s help, and support from Yoshika, Shizuka and Minna, Gertrude appears to have regrouped: rather than being blinded by rage and anger, Gertrude returns to face the Neuroi with a desire to save Erica in her heart.

  • It turns out that besides carrying a revolver, Gertrude had also been carrying some chocolate with her, indicating that she had been quite prepared to find Erica. Viewers had previously seen Gertrude consoling Francesca and offer her some advice, and when she’s not consumed with thoughts of regret and anger, Gertrude is a fantastic Witch to have in one’s corner, both on the ground and in the air.

  • As the girls fly back home, Yoshika wonders if Erica’s radio had been working earlier: Gertrude had said some things that were rather uncharacteristic of her, and while dramatic irony exists because the viewers are aware that Erica’s radio could receive, Erica chooses to preserve Gertrude’s dignity by saying her radio was completely busted. Embarrassed Gertrude brings to mind embarrassed Rize, and it is a rather heart-warming moment that the two share en route back to base.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with the Witches flying into the sunset. This post was uncharacteristically long, and with next week’s episode, I will be returning to the shorter format. Over the next few days, I’ve got a few more posts on the horizon: tomorrow marks the eighth anniversary to the day that I saw Skyfall in theatres, and having recently re-watched the movie, I feel that there are a few points worth revisiting. As well, I’ve crossed the finish line for Hai-Furi: The Movie and will be aiming to get a post out for that on short order.

At the halfway point in Road to Berlin, we’ve now been reminded of what drives most of the Witches’ will to fight, and the fact that the Neuroi are very much a clear and present danger; even though the Witches are constantly improving as a team and individually, the Neuroi continue to adapt to the Witches, forming increasingly deadly constructs as they strive for (presumably) world domination. However, assuming Road to Berlin to retain its predecessor’s themes, this means that as the Witches close in on the operation to liberate Berlin, viewers can be assured of a thrilling final fight, as the Neuroi does its worst against the Witches, and more importantly, how teamwork amongst the Witches will carry the day. Besides driving the thematic elements, Yoshika’s magic remains a point of discussion at the six episode mark; although she’s now managed to fly again, it appears that extended operations will cause her to tire easily, and thus, Yoshika must still be mindful of her magic reserves during combat. Similarly, Shizuka’s becoming a more integral part of the 501st, and while she’s yet to get any kills of her own, her support has proven instrumental during these secondary operations. I expect that towards the end of the series, Shizuka will come to improve as a Witch because of her support for Yoshika, while Yoshika will continue spurring Shizuka along. With this being said, character growth and world-building appears to be taking a back seat in the next episode: previous Strike Witches seasons deliberately set the seventh episode aside for a light-hearted fan-service driven romp, and Road to Berlin appears to be no different. Between the preview and the episode title, I suspect that next week’s episode could prove to be more challenging to write for.

The Queen of Nederland- Strike Witches: Road to Berlin Fifth Episode Impressions and Review

“Flowers grow back, even after they are stepped on. So will I.” –Unknown

After making little progress in stablising her magic, Yoshika takes a short break with Shizuka. While showering, Perrine deliberately lowers the water temperature to a much cooler 20°C, shocking Yoshika into the main bath and drawing her attention: it turns out that Perrine had been assigned to visit the Queen of Nederland to help with morale in the country, with the hope of bolstering the citizen’s spirits and spurring them to contribute to the effort needed to liberate Berlin. Perrine had agreed to the assignment and specifically request that Yoshika be allowed to accompany her. Shortly after arriving, Perrine, Yoshika and Shizuka meets the Queen of Nederland, who answers a comment that Perrine had about the blue tulips in a painting being an uncommon sight: it turns out that these flowers had not bloomed in Nederland since the Human-Neuroi war started, despite her gardeners’ best efforts to revive the flower. After visiting the greenhouses, Perrine gets into a bit of a disagreement with the one of the gardeners about the blue tulips and hears about an earlier Witch had been present to help out. The next day, after Yoshika jumps head-first into helping the gardeners out, Perrine learns that they had an old M4 Sherman lying around. That evening, the girls visit the greenhouses, which are being warmed by an old boiler to maintain a temperature of precisely 20°C to keep the tulips happy. When the boiler explodes and fails, the gardeners hook up a backup power source: an old Striker Unit. Yoshika offers to power it, and in the process, begins to stablise her own magic. Perrine and Shizuka continue helping in the fields while Yoshika rests during the day, and when night falls, Yoshika resumes her duties. When Shizuka fetches water, she comes across a Neuroi, which subsequently destroys the greenhouse and most of the tulips. Yoshika takes to the skies with a hoe and embeds it in the Neuroi, allowing Perrine to finish it off. In the aftermath, it turns out that Perrine’s Tonnerre was the catalyst, and the previous Witch had been, in fact, her grandmother. Having been able to witness the blue tuplips blossom again, the Queen of Nederland feels that morale will be restored to their country and thanks Perrine.

Perrine represents one of Strike Witches‘ most interesting characters: she began her journey openly hostile towards Yoshika, dropping insults whenever they’d crossed paths, and even sabotaging Yoshika’s Striker Unit at one point. However, over time, Perrine was revealed to be purely dedicated on Gallia’s recovery, and she believes that an efficient group of Witches is the fastest way to accomplish this. As Perrine spent more time fighting alongside Yoshika, hostility would be displaced by a begrudging respect, and eventually, respect became friendship. By the events of Strike Witches: The Movie and Operation Victory Arrow, Perrine’s become a much more sympathetic character: she represents how character growth can be so critical towards making a series compelling. Road to Berlin shows precisely how far Perrine’s come since those early days; she is concerned for Yoshika’s well-being, respects her choices and also openly trusts her (as demonstrated when she asks Minna to allow Yoshika to come with her to Nederland). However, this gradual set of change has not impacted Perrine’s overall personality: hailing from nobility, Perrine is disciplined, well-mannered and conducts herself with grace. This is evident in her speech, which has a more formal tone than that of other characters. Furthermore, Perrine still retains her pride, as seen when she challenges the gardeners and declares she’ll out-do any Witch that had previously made the blue tulips bloom. By playing both of Perrine’s traits this episode, viewers are reminded of how far Perrine has come since the earliest episodes, and how despite the trouble Yoshika’s caused her previously, Perrine’s come to deeply appreciate everyone, including Yoshika, who is able to help in the Human-Neuroi War. However, she still retains her noblesse oblige mannerisms, and when the moment calls for it, Perrine is more than capable of getting things done, especially when she accepts help from those around her.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Yoshika’s inconsistent magical output had become a secondary issue, but Road to Berlin continues to keep this on viewer’s minds. Yoshika is someone who gives everything her all, and even when she is unable to fight, trains tirelessly. Optimism is also one of Yoshika’s strong suits; she always attempts to do what she can, and so, while she may not be the most skillful of the 501st Witches, she certainly can be seen as being the most dangerous owing to the lengths she will go in order to accomplish her goals and protect those around her.

  • While 20°C might be a comfortable air temperature, water at 20°C feels downright cold owing to its higher thermal conductivity and density compared to air: it pulls heat away from the body at a much higher rate, and while Yoshika initially feels that Perrine is screwing with her, it turns out that Perrine’s shown up to remind Yoshika to not overdo things, as well as explain that there’s a special assignment for them to handle. Thus, Perrine’s act of lowering the shower temperature down to 20°C is not an act of malice, but a more entertaining way to get Yoshika’s attention: Perrine’s clearly succeeded, and Yoshika does resemble her nickname, Mamefuji, as she sulks in the heated bath in the aftermath.

  • Perrine explains to Shizuka and Yoshika the details of this excursion: Yoshika briefly loses control of her Striker Unit for a moment, but support from Shizuka allows her to stablise on short order. This is why Shizuka was also summoned to help out: this is a relatively low-risk assignment that will allow Shizuka to practise flying with other Witches, and also look after Yoshika while she’s in the air. Mid-flight, Yoshika begins to wonder if she’ll be able to pick herbs from the flower gardens below for medicinal uses.

  • Perrine, Yoshika and Shizuka travel to the Kasteel de Haar (de Haar Castle), located near Utrecht. The site’s been home to structures of some sort since the 13th century, but the castle occupying the site today began construction in 1892: Etienne Gustave Frédéric Baron van Zuylen van Nyevelt van de Haar had inherited the ruins from his grandfather and set about transforming the castle into a proper home. It took some fifteen years to build it, and the castle was furnished with modern conveniences, such as electric lights and centralised heating. Today, the castle is open to the public. de Haar Castle is located some 94 kilometres from Fort Erfprins, a relatively short flight for Perrine, Yoshika and Shizuka.

  • True to its real-world counterpart, de Haar Castle is shown with ornate woodcrafting that was inspired by designs from the church. While Perrine is undoubtedly accustomed to ornately-furnished accommodations and palatial countryside homes, such a site is rarer for Yoshika and Shizuka, who are in awe at how beautiful everything is. At the centre of the room is a massive painting, portraying a full field of blue tulips blooming just outside in the gardens.

  • One of the interesting points in this episode is that the Queen of Nederland can refer to the monarch ruling the country, as well as the blue tulips that the Dutch are fond of. The Netherlands did indeed have a monarch: from 1890 to 1948, Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria was the Queen of the Netherlands. After World War Two began, she reluctantly accepted the British help and set up a government-in-exile after the Nazis invaded, speaking frequently on the radio to motivate her countrymen, and returned to the Netherlands after the Allies liberated it with new ideas about how to run the Netherlands. Owing to poor health, she abdicated and turned the throne over to her daughter, Julianna.

  • After learning of the blue tulips, the Witches visit the greenhouses, who are tended to by scruffy-looking gardeners with kind hearts and a love for things that grow. Perrine’s initial magic does nothing to help the tulips blossom, and her pride bent, Perrine gets into a shouting match with the gardeners, promising that she’ll do anything to make the tulips bloom. The tulips’ natural range is in Europe, and technically, tulips bloom in all colours except blue: “blue” tulips are technically a very deep shade of violet that can appear blue under certain lighting conditions. For Strike Witches, such tulips are exceedingly rare, and require a bit of magic to grow.

  • Throughout my previous Strike Witches posts, I’ve featured pantsu from virtually every other Witch, so to round things out for Road to Berlin, I’ve decided the time is appropriate to showcase Perrine’s derrière as she works in the fields. At this point in time, I believe only Eila and Sanya are left, and truth be told, given the community’s stance on those two characters, I feel like I’d be overstepping certain boundaries if I choose to go in that direction. On the other hand, because I am covering Road to Berlin in an episodic fashion, and it is my blog, I both have the space to occasionally feature such screenshots and in the end, I have the final say in what screenshots I feature.

  • The next morning, after Yoshika goes on a run, sees the gardeners preparing a field and decides to help out, Shizuka joins, and Perrine is roped into helping. Despite being no stranger to manual labour, Perrine is still quite unaccustomed to things – whereas Yoshika grew up on a farm and has used a hoe before to help grab yams, Perrine’s technique is less than stellar, prompting some laughs from the gardeners. Never one to be outdone, Perrine asks if they have any machinery, and quickly repairs an old M4 Sherman back to operating condition so that she can do more for less.

  • One of the gardeners is especially distant towards the Witches, bringing to mind the young boy that was seen in Operation Victory Arrow in Perrine and Lynette’s episode. While Yoshika’s made a delicious dinner that the others enjoy, this gardener quickly finishes his meal and heads back out to the greenhouses. It turns out that the tulips need an ambient temperature of 20ºC to grow in, and to this end, the gardeners take turns stoking the boiler’s fires to maintain this temperature during the night. However, the old boiler has reached the end of its operational lifespan and explodes. With the tulips under threat, the gardeners quickly hook up a makeshift boiler using a Striker Unit as the power source.

  • Perrine initially offers to power the Striker Unit, but Yoshika insists that she be the one to do it – if she’s not capable of fighting alongside the Neuroi, then she should be lending her power to a different scenario. This sentiment is admirable: in an older time, Perrine would’ve likely said no outright, but having come to understand Yoshika’s way of thinking, Perrine agrees to allow Yoshika to power the old Striker Unit, which is modelled after the French Nieuport 10 biplane. The original Nieuport 10 fulfilled a variety of roles: the base version was a reconnaissance aircraft, but once a Vickers Machine Gun or Lewis Gun was bolted onto it, it became a fighter.

  • The old Nieuport 10 Striker Unit even resembles the old biplane, having a flimsier-looking construction compared to the sleeker, contemporary Striker Units. The Unit’s lower output is less demanding on Yoshika than her Shinden Kai: despite having some initial trouble controlling her output, causing the room temperature to drop and then rise uncontrollably, after Yoshika remembers the ideal temperature as being the same feeling as when Perrine changed the water temperature back at base, she takes a deep breath, calms herself and focuses. Hours of sustaining this concentration allows Yoshika to feel more confident in channeling her magic.

  • With the Witches helping out, things for the gardeners progress very smoothly: through sheer force of will and determination, Yoshika manages to keep the Striker Unit going for an entire night, earning herself the respect of the Gardeners, even the fellow who had been hostile towards the Witches earlier. Here, Shizuka and Perrine work in the fields with the gardeners while Yoshika sleeps: the M4 has drawn some attention amongst viewers, and admittedly, while perhaps not as sharp as the M4s seen in Girls und Panzer, still looks authentic and powerful despite being relegated to an agricultural role. It suddenly hits me that a Strike Witches-Girls und Panzer crossover could be quite nice: despite being produced by different studios, the character designs in both are similar enough so seeing Miho and her Panzer IV alongside Yoshika and the 501st would not be too jarring.

  • The Neuroi that Shizuka unearths is a smaller one, but it still goes on a small rampage: Perrine, Shizuka and Yoshika completely lack the weapons to stop it, and resort to making do with what they’ve got: Shizuka attempts to slow it down using the shield, and Perrine intervenes with the M4: despite lacking any weaponry, the armoured vehicle still offers some resistance against the Neuroi. The Neuroi ends up flipping the tank and destroys the greenhouse after Perrine hits it with her Tonnerre, seemingly with no effect on target. Only a single tulip survives the onslaught, and Yoshika ends up joining the fray herself after asking Shizuka to look after the gardeners. While she looks like she’s about to fail yet again, Yoshika successfully Yoshika stablises her Striker Unit and takes off, hoe in hand.

  • With the practise she’s had in concentration, Yoshika appears to be able to fly again. However, on her own, Yoshika would have had no chance in defeating the Neuroi without weapons, but Strike Witches constantly reminds viewers that the Witches are so powerful because their teamwork, in conjunction with a bit of magic, is what allows them to deal with an enemy that has survived conventional weapons. She draws fire off Perrine and embeds the hoe’s head into the Neuroi’s body without doing any real damage. However, despite losing her weapon, it’s not over yet: Perrine intends on using her Tonnerre to finish it off, and the hoe’s metal head makes it the perfect conductor.

  • Perrine’s Tonnerre tears into the Neuroi and destroys the core, eliminating the threat just in time for sunrise. Amidst the rubble and what’s left of the greenhouse, a faint blue glow is seen. As it turns out, the surviving blue tulip had indeed blossomed, and here, it is revealed that it was precisely the lightning magic of a Clostermann Witch that had allowed the blue tulips to bloom previously. That Perrine happened to take this assignment can be thought of as fate, and acts as a nice reminder to viewers that, at least in Strike Witches, the world is in good hands, and the current generation of Witches are both capable of defending and rebuilding civilisation .

  • While Perrine is smug about having done precisely what she’d set out to do with magic unique to her family, the realisation that it had been, in fact, her grandmother who first stopped in this side of Nederland and created a small miracle humbles her: the Witch she’d so boldly proclaimed to surpass was family, and now, for the Nederland citizens, knowing that the Clostermann’s magic will allow the elusive blue tulip to bloom is a rather clever bit of a metaphor for the fact that, as long as there are Witches, things like miracles are indeed possible.

  • When the Queen of Nederland thanks Perrine for her work and how the blue tulip’s return will kindle hope, Perrine returns the gratitude: this assignment has allowed her to connect with her family in a very unusual, but heartwarming fashion. For their efforts, the Nederland gardeners give the Witches herbs for their trouble, and it appears that Yoshika is able to fly again without difficulty: Shizuka’s remarks all but clear things up, and Yoshika thanks Perrine: it turns out something as simple as a move to grab her attention ultimately led her to discover how to best control her magic anew.

  • With this no longer a concern, I imagine that once the next several episodes finish depicting the remainder of the 501st and give them some screen-time, all attention can be directed towards dealing with the matter of liberating Berlin. With this post in the books, I am looking to wrap up a post on Warlords of Sigrdrifa after three episodes: I am caught up with the series, but I did not decide to write about it until recently. For this one, I have two posts planned for it in total, and besides the “after three” post, I’ll also be returning to do a whole-series review. Finally, the Halo 4 flighting is drawing to a close this Friday. I have no plans to write about it: the campaign was excellent, but the multiplayer remains quite unplayable on account of how unbalanced controller aim-assist is. Until input-based matchmaking allows me to play exclusively with other mouse-and-keyboard players, I imagine that anything related to the Halo multiplayer experience could be quite frustrating.

This episode’s focus on tulips is seemingly trivial, but it also gives Perrine a chance to interact with common folks and understand their situation: the small things Witches do on the ground might not be as visceral as destroying Neuroi, but even these simpler actions can help a population to regroup. While Perrine might be of a privileged background, she shows concern for the well-being of people in all stations, indicating to viewers that despite her rough start with Yoshika, she’s a kind person at heart and an integral part of the 501st. These slice-of-life episodes, with their emphasis on everyday life in the Strike Witches universe and reduced combat, serve an important function in the series despite appearing to be frivolous: understanding how people conduct themselves out of combat also can give insight into how they conduct themselves when under stress or while carrying out their duties. For Shizuka, seeing the 501st in moments outside of fighting Neuroi will help her to appreciate how each of the Witches prefers to fight, and complement their fighting style accordingly. Moreover, for the viewer, seeing common, everyday moments and how the Witches handle conflict, adversity and disagreement gives the confidence that, when the chips are down, the Witches can be counted upon to work together as as team and achieve a shared goal, no matter how challenging it may be. With the fifth episode in the books, we are rapidly approaching Road to Berlin‘s halfway point, and the sixth episode appears to be centred around the Karlsland Witches. While the delays in repairs to Antwerpen’s port frustrate the Witches to no end, and even viewers are beginning to wonder when the 501st will have a chance to head for Berlin, I imagine that we’ll likely have a few more character-oriented episodes before the Battle of Berlin can begin; until then, besides the Karlsland Witches, I feel that Eila and Sanya will have an episode to themselves, and hopefully, Lynette (who has been shafted from a screen time perspective) will also get an episode of her own.