“We just blew up that fucking ultimate weapon of theirs. P.S. Invasion cancelled, sir.” —George Gordon Haggard Jr., Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Despite Takami’s efforts with her Absolute Eye, the Neuroi Hive manages to repel the 502nd’s attack long enough to regenerate its cloud cover, deflecting the last of the heavy penetrator shells in the process. Hikari manages to arrive as the others land, wondering whether or not the hive can be defeated. She thanks the others for looking after Takami, and after the 502nd discover the remains of the shell’s core, a new plan is concocted: Naoe is to punch out the core after Hikari locates it. It turns out that, while Takami’s magic allows her to locate cores faster, Hikari’s Contact Eye is much more precise, and so, the 502nd take to the skies once more to deliver their payload. Gundula makes use of a magical shard to dissipate some of the clouds en route to the center, and once clear of the Neuroi fire, Hikari locates the core. Naoe is able to deal damage, but her magic is depleted in the process, leaving Hikari to kill the Hive with the Liberator. In the aftermath, Hikari is made a full member of the 502nd, parting ways with Takami on a high note. This is the ending that Brave Witches delivers, an expected and welcome one for its viewers. Remaining much more character-driven than Strike Witches‘ gimmick-laden final battles, Brave Witches manages to succeed in continuing the new trends that Operation Victory Arrow initiated, and with the season now over, I no longer will have Brave Witches to look forwards to on my Wednesday evenings. However, before that can happen, there is still a whole season’s worth of material to look over, alongside a verdict for the latest instalment in the Strike Witches franchise.
Hikari’s persistence and ceaseless determination may initially appear to be the primary theme in Brave Witches, but upon closer inspection, the actual thematic elements are much more intricate than Brave Witches otherwise conveys: through Hikari’s experiences with the 502nd, Brave Witches demonstrates that success is not solely determined by effort alone, but rather, as the sum of one’s experiences, whether these be a willingness to learn and adapt, a resolute eye for seeking out new solutions to a problem or supporting one’s allies within one’s means. Hikari might not be the fastest, strongest or tactically-minded Witch, but in her missions, she uses the resources available to her to the best of her capability, giving her teammates the support they require to neutralise the Neuroi threat, as well as being mindful of what she’s learned from Edytha to remain operational. Thus, while Hikari has a minimal number of Neuroi kills to her name (whereas Yoshika scores a few kills during the course of Strike Witches), her support role cannot be underestimated. While Hikari’s personality is a very driven one, her success as a Witch of the 502nd ultimately comes from her demonstrating an exemplary understanding of her own abilities to help those around her, whether it be giving Waltrud the Liberator or motivating Naoe into supporting her plan to destroy a Neuroi before the 502nd’s supply lines are crippled: by the finale, she’s evidently matured, taking the initiative to defeat an overwhelming enemy even when all seems lost and ultimately, earns the most substantial kill of the season in taking out the Neuroi with a Liberator, of all weapons.
Entering Brave Witches, my main interest was to see whether or not the spin-off could take the concepts from Strike Witches: Operation Victory Arrow and apply them into a new group of Witches in a manner that would emphasise character growth and world-building over pantsu, making use of Neuroi battles to help characters mature. The Operation Victory Arrow OVAs had succeeded, and with the full season of Brave Witches complete, it is quite plain that Brave Witches has, as well: world-building is in abundance as characters explain the logistics of fighting Neuroi and delve into life as a Witch well beyond what was explored in the original Strike Witches. Moreover, whereas the Neuroi of the original Strike Witches were relatively lacking with respect to their intimidation factor, Operation Victory Arrow introduced new challenging aspects that made each battle a much more compelling one to behold. Brave Witches takes this one step further, allowing the Neuroi strategic capabilities, whether it be making use of a spotter-gunner pair to accurately target the 502nd’s provisions or manipulating the regional weather to facilitate easier movements. The Neuroi of Brave Witches represent a considerable threat to the Witches, but in keeping with the anime’s themes, a sufficient combination of teamwork, in conjunction with Hikari’s support, allows for the Neuroi to be repelled, leaving audiences with the impression that the 502nd has earned their victory over the Gregori Hive in spades.
Screenshots and Commentary
- As the finale post to Brave Witches, I’m keeping in line with the tradition of having thirty screenshots and figure captions for this post, which should supply ample opportunity to cover most of the areas that are noteworthy. While stymied by production issues, and therefore should have ended last week, Brave Witches nonetheless represents a solid journey that I enjoyed every Wednesday of this season; looking back, it’s amazing as to how quickly these past three months have flown by, and now, it’s very nearly 2017.
- Takami flies towards the Neuroi Hive with the aim of taking it out. In a solid summarisation of what the entirety of Brave Witches is about, the finale reinforces ceaselessly the theme that teamwork is the key to success. Takami is probably used to shouldering a great deal of responsibility as a consequence of her own role as an older sister, and consequently, is quite accustomed to solving her problems independently.
- While a virtue, being independent also has its shortcomings: Takami is very nearly shot down before she manages to locate the core, and this time, it is with the support of the remainder of the 502nd that she pushes forwards. With her fellow Witches repelling laser fire with every picogram of their strength, Takami manages to find the true core and relays its true coordinates to ground fire control, who prepare their 800 mm cannon for firing. However, Takami is downed a second time: lacking the energy to raise a shield, she’s shot down, and Georgette promptly makes to limit the damage.
- Despite Hikari’s concerns, it appears that the Absolute Eye’s true danger is in diverting the user’s magic entirely away from defense, leaving them totally exposed. Moreover, Takami fell into a coma because medical attention was delayed early in Brave Witches. Hence, when Georgette is on station to support Takami, her condition does not deteriorate, and avoids the same sort of complications that were seen during the second episode. Such a moment here also gives me an opening to capture Georgette’s backside, but as far as fanservice goes, Brave Witches is remarkably tame.
- The 502nd watch as the reserve shell is fired. This post comes a mere three days after Christmas; Christmas 2016 proved to be a superbly enjoyable one. Owing to scheduling, I had Christmas dinner with extended family a week before Christmas itself; on the menu was prime rib au jus, roasted crayfish topped with garlic and herbs and a unique, homemade sticky rice-stuffed turkey. This past week was Christmas proper: I remained at home thanks to heavy snowfall on Christmas Eve, where I had a turkey-and-ham dinner with the family. The weather cleared by Christmas Day: and after spending the morning playing through Sim City 4, I had a delicious turkey congee (where, as per tradition, I spent a quarter-hour picking the meat off the turkey bones used in the congee itself). Subsequently, I took a hike under the blue winter skies.
- On Boxing Day, I spent a majority of the day at a mall, capitalising on the ridiculously good sales to pick up a new three-piece suit, tie, sport jacket and informal pants. Unlike last year, no hardcover books caught my eye (and I had already received some books for Christmas, including Makoto Shinkai’s The Sky Longing For Memories), so I passed on that. Because yesterday was a bank holiday, my company had the day off, and I took advantage of that: after stopping for some fish and chips with one of my friends, we watched Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s been a while since I had fish and chips: this time, I rolled with Alaskan Pollock, and the fish itself was fried nicely. There’s a savouriness to the batter, while the fish itself was flakey and tender. I was also impressed with the fries: seasoned well and thick-cut, they remind me a little of the fries a pub near my old junior high used to sell.
- Now that I’ve seen Rogue One, I can say that Brave Witches shares commonalities with the latest Star Wars story. In the case of Rogue One, the combination of a darker story that nonetheless exudes hope with fantastic visual elements and Donnie Yen’s skill in martial arts made it a fantastic movie that is worked exceptionally well into the Star Wars universe. With the right balance of humour and introspection, this movie was remarkably fun to watch. Brave Witches does something similar for the Strike Witches franchise, and that I find the fact that I can even draw comparisons between Brave Witches and Rogue One to be a solid indicator that I greatly enjoyed Brave Witches.
- The regeneration of cloud cover surrounding the Neuroi results in the destruction of the reserve shell, and with Takami out of the game, it seems as through all is lost: command has ordered the 502nd to retreat, as their entire arsenal has now been disabled or depleted. The 502nd themselves are dejected, wondering what other options they have left. However, Hikari is immensely relieved that Takami’s suffered no lasting harm, and her spirits are sufficient to overcome the grim mood settling over the 502nd.
- Hikari makes another gamble on her Contact Eye, reasoning that like the Neuroi seen in the tenth episode, if the true core can be destroyed, the hive will follow. It’s a one-two combo that she’s now confident in delivering, and hearing this, Naoe is regains her resolve, stating that she’s still ready to punch out the Neuroi. Soon after, Gundula begins feeling a tingling in her old wounds: she’s found the remnants of the magical core from the destroyed shell.
- Thus, a plan is born: using some of the shards to infuse Naoe’s gloves with magic, the Witches transform Naoe’s right fist into an impromptu shell. The plan seems viable until Naoe realises she’d given her gloves to Hikari, but Hikari has them on hand, allowing the plan to proceed. It is these subtle elements that mark Hikari as an invaluable support member of the 502nd: she’s always ready to lend a hand in whatever manner possible.
- Meanwhile, Gundula locates a fragment of the shell that had punched through the Neuroi’s clouds earlier and mounts it to her rifle’s underbarrel grenade launcher. The plan is now prepared: after punching an opening through the clouds, the 502nd is to enter the hive and provide Hikari with all the covering fire they can muster. Hikari is then to use her Contact Eye to locate the core, and Naoe can subsequently disable the Neuroi.
- While the plan sounds far-fetched on paper, in execution, Brave Witches presents the 502nd’s final attempt to destroy the Gregori Hive as one of courageous daring and bold resolve. With no Neuroi assimilation of human technology, this final battle is a show that Witches can best even a Hive on virtue of their own resourcefulness and an unfaltering sense of camaraderie amongst the Witches.
- As a result, the Brave Witches finale solidly shows just how far Strike Witches has come: gone are the days of using the Witches as a paper-thin justification for showing pantsu, and instead, writers have made a serious effort to create plausible characters in a world rich in lore as a consequence of its unique premise.
- Georgette stays behind to look after Takami while the remainder of the 502nd take flight and once again, do battle with a challenging foe. The notion of regenerating Neuroi brings to mind the Cyberdemon of DOOM: an incredibly thrilling but difficult battle, players felling it for the first time will be shocked as the Cyberdemon regenerates its health during teleportation to Hell, requiring a second fight to defeat it.
- I recall that last year, for the Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? finale, I was out on Boxing Day shopping when the episode released; when I got home, I was exhausted and could not summon up the motivation to watch the episode, much less write about it. I published the post out three days later. This year, the Brave Witches finale falls on a Wednesday, and I’ve grown acclimatised towards writing out posts on Wednesday evenings now. While this season’s episodic blogging of Brave Witches has been enjoyable, and demonstrates that I can keep up with an anime in an episodic fashion even in spite of my new routine, I think that in the long run, I will not likely be doing episodic posts for a large number of series.
- Because this blog was not around when Strike Witches‘ first and second seasons were airing (in fact, I was a first-year undergraduate student at the time, going into my second year), I’ve never actually shown the interior of a hive. Armed with flexible arms, the Gregori hive is no pushover, driving the Witches to utilise all of their magical abilities and cunning in order to push through to its main body.
- Hikari provides excellent covering fire for Naoe, who openly remarks that Hikari has improved substantially. At last, they reach the surface, and upon coming into contact with the Neuroi, Hikari is able to pinpoint the true core’s location, slamming her machine gun into the surface to mark the coordinates for Naoe. Looking back on this season, I recall saying that I would try to push posts out on Saturdays, but as the season wore on, posts came out increasingly early until I managed to work out a schedule that allowed me to publish on the same day as the episode released.
- For me, Brave Witches also ended up being an exercise to determine whether or not it was possible for me to blog about a series in the episodic format, in a timely fashion. I suppose that the answer now is a resounding “yes”, although whether or not I choose to do so in 2017 will remain largely up to how interested I am in a show and how much time I’ve got. Back in Brave Witches, Naoe is able to expose the core with her strike, causing fractures along the hive’s surface. However, this effort is insufficient: despite Hikari’s words of encouragement, Naoe’s magical power has been exhausted, and she begins falling.
- Hikari makes to save Naoe even when faced with the prospect of the true core shifting again, and as she positions herself to acquire a solid grip on Naoe, a familiar article falls from her pockets. It’s the FP-45 Liberator pistol, a literal Chekov’s Gun. Because folks from Tango-Victor-Tango seem to have their own definitions for literary terms, I’ll quickly define it here to be a dramatic principle that, once shown on screen, must be necessary to the narrative in some way. In short, if something is there, it must serve a purpose, otherwise, an author should remove it.
- The term comes from Anton Chekov, who stated: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there”. Brave Witches has executed this concept rather well: Hikari is given a Liberator pistol she becomes fond of, and counts as a good luck charm. In the original Strike Witches, the pistol would have likely been forgotten, never to be revisited. In Brave Witches, it returns twice to fulfil important roles in the story, in saving Waltrud from certain death, and giving Hikari the means to neutralise the hive.
- Hikari humiliates the Neuroi by finishing it off with the
Kolibri Liberator pistol. I do not believe there is an achievement in Battlefield 1 for killing an opponent with the Kolibri pistol, but there ought to be, since the weapon’s extremely low damage makes it seemingly a joke. However, as Matimi0 demonstrates, there is actually a way of making the Kolibri pistol work: used in conjunction with the Martini-Henri, it can be used to finish opponents, and the weapon’s high rate of fire can also be used to finish off camping snipers with well-placed headshots. I remarked in a comment somewhere that it would be hilarious if Hikari did wind up using the Liberator to finish the Neuroi, and with that prediction coming to pass, I am reasonably amused.
- Takami and Georgette watch as the Neuroi hive collapses in a shower of sparkling ceramic. The end of the Neuroi hive is what prompts this page quote: sourced from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Haggard makes this quip after informing a higher-up that Bad Company had just destroyed the Russian Scalar weapon to avert a war, but in Bad Company 2, it turns out the Russians are invading through Alaska. There is no such surprise in Brave Witches: the Gregori hive is gone for good.
- Takami and Hikari reconcile properly after Hikari comes back from the assault unharmed, putting an end to the cooler interactions between the two sisters. One aspect that continued to be a point of contention is whether or not Takami’s behaviours during the tenth episode were justified, and being wise like the Mithrandir, I chose not to participate. If and when I’m asked for my position for the matter, I oppose the viewpoint that Takami’s behaviour was “written out of character”. Kind people are not incapable of surprisingly cold acts, especially when they lack the means to properly express it. The actual flow of events was that Hikari was already assigned for the transfer following Takami’s recovery, but Gundula offered Hikari a chance to replace Takami. Had she succeeded, Gundula would have moved to retain Hikari in the 502nd and accept full responsibility for the outcome of the operation against the Neuroi hive.
- As such, whether or not Takami’s actions are “correct” are irrelevant: folks seem to be fixated on the misconception that Takami herself is directly responsible for Hikari’s reassignment, and while yes, Takami does come across as being quite unfriendly, the call ultimately was never hers to make. Her cold reception of Hikari is merely a front, trying to distance herself from what would otherwise be a difficult farewell and focus on the impending operation with minimal distractions. Hence, the back-and-forth about whether or not Takami’s actions are correct or necessary is about a completely different matter, resulting from misunderstanding the dialogues amongst the characters.
- Back on the ground, Nikka smothers Naoe in relief that she’d made it back safely, promoting Naoe to say that this hurts more than anything the Neuroi could deal. She calls out to Georgette to be healed, but Georgette smiles and replies that she’s out of magic, as well. Because we’re so close to the Winter 2017 anime season, I note offhand that there aren’t any shows that catch my eye, so for the present, I’ll keep an open mind and in the meantime, look forwards to a season where I can spend my evenings on different things
- The soundtrack in Brave Witches is something that I’ve mentioned with some frequency in earlier posts, primarily for its excellent role in creating a very specific emotional tenour in the anime. It released last week, and my copy’s arrived now — being able to listen to the songs closely, it is very obvious that the different pieces are meant to evoke memories of the music from the original Strike Witches, while at the same time, show that Brave Witches is distinct, unique from Strike Witches.
- Of the slice-of-life pieces, my favourite tracks include 佐世保の魔法少女 (The Magical Girls of Sasebo), 孝美への想い (Her thoughts of Takami), 別離 (Separation) and 絆 (Bonds), while the combat-oriented tracks, such as 訓練の日々 (Daily Training), 試験飛行 (Test Flight), 502の戦い (502nd’s Battle) and グリゴーリ出現 (Gregori Appears) are of a quality that would not sound out of place in something like Battlefield 1. My favourite tracks overall on the soundtrack are 出発 (Departure), which resembles “500 Overs” from Strike Witches‘ second season soundtrack, and 別離 for evoking an image of a vast grass field under an unending blue sky, similar to Strike Witches‘ 再会 (Reunion) in atmospherics.
- Throughout my episodic reviews of Brave Witches, I’ve made callbacks to other works, including Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka??, Futurama, James Bond, Battlefield 1 and even Dark Water. In addition, I’ve brought up concepts, such as thermal shock and structural properties of ceramics, as well as the distribution of mushrooms and some of Les Stroud’s Survivorman techniques: this plethora of topics demonstrates that there is no shortage of conversations that can be had from something like Brave Witches.
- With Hikari becoming a permanent member of the 502nd, I think that Takami is transferred into the 508th, which also happens to be the course number of my undergraduate honours thesis course, MDSC 508. An official announcement accompanying the episode was that, in 2017, with the release of the Blu-Ray volumes, there will be a thirteenth episode included. The special edition is set to come out on August 25, 2017, which is a long ways into the future, and the artwork for the episode suggests that it will be about Eila and Sanya, which will be quite welcome (especially amongst the fans who felt shafted after Operation Victory Arrow did not depict their stories to any great detail). Naturally, I will be watching and writing about the OVA when the time comes. I would definitely love to see a continuation of Brave Witches, or a series following the (mis)adventures of another Joint Fighter Wing, such as the Africa or Karlsland Witches. With this being said, the next Strike Witches will be the forth instalment, and while I would be both enthralled and disappointed if Strike Witches 4: Modern Warfare becomes a thing, more Strike Witches is always welcome in my book.
- The short verdict for Brave Witches is that the anime earns an A- (8.5 on a 10-point scale, as per my old Health Science grading rubric). Despite its rough production and derivative story, Brave Witches successfully applies the best concepts of Strike Witches and focuses them into a cohesive story about Hikari and the Strike Witches world, counting on Hikari’s development and interactions with the 502nd to maintain interest in the series, showing that Strike Witches can definitely be a series that stands solidly on its merits (especially in world-building) well beyond pantsu shots alone. This brings my Brave Witches discussions to an end for the present, and it’s been one hell of a ride — I greatly enjoyed watching and writing about Brave Witches, and will miss writing about it.
The ultimate question that remains for Brave Witches is a simple one: is it worth watching? This is not a particularly easy one to answer straight off the bat, even for a self-professed fan of the War on Pants. The primary reason for this is because audiences are a diverse clientele, each with their own preferences and interests, so the answer I can decisively offer is that “it depends”. Brave Witches takes many of the elements from Strike Witches and hones them, creating a set of new characters that add flair to the universe without being derivatives of the 501st Witches. By choosing to focus on the character interactions and presenting the Neuroi as a more credible threat, their world becomes much more intricate, illustrating just how much of an impact the Neuroi have on the world’s inhabitants, as well as the lengths humanity is willing to go to defend its survival. The cumulative effect is that Brave Witches‘ thematic aspect becomes much stronger than in previous Strike Witches, demonstrating that despite the seemingly-ludicrous notion of watching girls flying around the skies sans pants, the universe offers more than enough to tell a noteworthy story about humanity’s quest for survival. Technically, Brave Witches is mid-tier: the artwork is solid for the most part, but production shortcomings were visible in some episodes. Although somewhat distracting in places, overt CG does not detract too substantially from the overall experience. The soundtrack is of a generally high quality, combining the motifs and moods of classic Strike Witches songs with new melodies to emphasise that Brave Witches is simultaneously similar to and different than Strike Witches. The sum of all these points allows for a clearer conclusion to be reached — Brave Witches earns a strong recommendation for existing Strike Witches fans who have appreciated the direction that the Operation Victory Arrow OVAs were heading (and perhaps, doubly so for those who were dissatisfied with Yoshika’s vast latent magical powers). Despite its predictability, there are enough surprises to keep the veteran viewers guessing. For general audiences, Brave Witches earns a recommendation; Brave Witches might prima facie be about girls flying around with their pantsu for the entire world to check out, but notions of teamwork, persistence and adaptability, coupled with a well-developed alternate universe means that there is much more to the anime than is initially apparent.