The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Heidemarie W. Schnaufer

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshots and Commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.