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Girls und Panzer is an anime that I thought would be rather boring. My goodness I was wrong! The TL:DR? Go watch it NOW! Stop what you are doing. Just watch it! If you read on, you will be subjecting yourself to spoilers. I will also not be covering Girls und Panzer Der Film as that really really deserves a separate review, however if anyone knows a cinema screening it, I really really want to know! I also will not be covering the recap episodes, as I find these somewhat irrelevant.
The anime is based around schools on old aircraft carriers. These have been re-done to host entire communities of people, mostly schoolgirls on them. They dock every so often. The main character, Miho Nishizumi, transfers from Kuromorimine Girls High School to Ooarai Girls High School after an incident during one of the Sensha-dō matches she was partaking in (62nd National Sensha-dō Tournament), thinking that she would be able to get away form Sensha-dō. Unfortunately for Miho, Ooarai restarts their Sensha-dō program after the school faced closure. It was agreed that the school would remain open if it won the next National Sensha-dō Tournament. Miho was forced into participating in the Ooarai Sensha-dō team. She quickly becomes the de-facto captain.
Match 1 – Exhibition with St Gloriana
Very quickly, an exhibition match is arranged with Ooarai Girls High School taking on 5 tanks from St Gloriana Girls High School (capt. Darjeeling). This was the match that introduced me to my favourite character of the series – Darjeeling. Throughout the series, the various schools represent different counties from around the world; St Gloriana represent Britain. Darjeeling is introduced standing atop her tank to The British Grenadiers with a cup of tea. This got me from multiple angles. Firstly, cool! A ‘British’ team! Secondly, the tank was a Churchill, and that’s a cool tank because it just is. And finally, the tea. Factually. this is 100% accurate. All British fighting vehicles have a boiling vessel on board for heating things, in this case water. Tom Scott explains it well here. Continuing on with the match, Ooarai Girls attempts to use several plans to annihilate St Gloriana. Needless to say, it fails badly. “Operation Sneaky“ was their initial plan involving using Anglerfish Team (known at this point as Team A) acting as bait, luring the St Gloriana tanks into a position where the 4 remaining Ooarai tanks could take them out. It fails spectacularly, with Darjeeling realising this and Momo panics, ordering fire and giving away the cover. This did not surprise me, however I thought it could have been written slightly better. For example, St Gloriana could have been lured mostly into the trap, but using their superior firepower and/or skill, evade it.
As a result of this failure, Ooarai retreat through the town and have two successful ambush attacks, immobilising two Matilda tanks (good job, it was all sneaky). I enjoyed this, mostly because the underdogs were starting to do reasonably well. This does not last. The third ambush results in failure with the gun on the Type 89B not being strong enough to puncture the fuel tank on another Matilda. Eventually, all of St Gloriana’s Matildas and Ooarai’s Teams B through E are knocked out. Team A and the St Gloriana Churchill remain to battle it out. Miho orders Mako to skid their Panzer around in front of the Churchill and the pair exchange fire, with Ooarai losing the match after being immobilised. Here I was split. I really really dug for Ooarai, being the underdogs, however it was clear that St Gloriana would win with their greater skill and firepower, not to mention that there was only about a weeks notice and training for the Ooarai teams for the match.
Overall, Match 1 was quite entertaining. Did I mention that the animation looks amazing too? No? Well it is glorious. It’s an odd mix of 3D tanks and environments and 2D characters with some 2D environments, but it works incredibly well.
Match 2 – Ooarai vs Saunders University High School
First off, can I just say that Saunders University High School confused me at first due to the inclusion of university and high school in the same name. These are separate levels of education, but after a while it makes sense. They are high school students. That’s all that matters in this context. To put Miho at ease (as she could be meeting her older sister Maho, who she is on bad terms with after the incident at Kuromorimine), Yukari infiltrates Saunders on a reconnaissance mission, gaining information about the enemy strategy. This is presented in one of the funniest ‘films’ I have ever seen, with the end credits basically saying Yukari, Yukari, Yukari for everything. Small things make me giggle.
When the match actually begins, the superior ability of Saunders forces Ooarai into a defensive position. Saunders have the edge here as they use a radio tap to listen in to the communications of Ooarai. Personally, I think this is cheating, however, it gives them a change to show another side to the Ooarai girls – their ingenuity and ability to think outside the box. Once Miho spots the radio tap, she quickly starts texting the teams so as to prevent use of the radio, pushing out false information over it, confusing Saunders and giving themselves the edge in the battle. I personally really really liked this. It gives a bit more depth to the characters, making them a bit more interesting than just a group of people fighting in tanks. Their devices also show a bit about them, mostly their interests etc.
[Insert a recap episode here]
We resume with Miho using the radio tap to break off a significant chunk of the Saunders tanks, allowing them to locate the Saunders Flag Tank. Meanwhile, on Saunders side, Commander Kay leans about the tapping being done by her teammate, decides to reduce the number of tanks in battle, re-levelling the playing field in her eyes. However, she quickly threatens to end the Ooarai advantage after surrounding them from behind. This is where the match could have gone either way as Miho decides to take a risk by driving up and having Hana (the gunner) takes out the Saunders Flag Tank, with moments to spare before their tank (the Panzer IV, also the flag tank) is eliminated, wining the match for Ooarai. In the seconds this occurs, it actually is pretty difficult to tell who wins. I like this. The evil bit of me really wanted Ooarai to have lost, but I knew they had to win, as otherwise they would be unable to continue. After all, they are the main school of the series.
Rather unfortunately, Mako Reizei (the driver, also my second favourite character) learns her mother has been rushed to hospital. Maho (Miho’s sister) issues instructions for Mako and Saorai to be flown to the hospital immediately. We get to meet her grandmother in the next episode. I felt rather sorry for Mako at this point. Mako suffers from low blood sugar, resulting in her having difficult getting up on time (see one of the videos linked at the end of the article) and almost constantly is falling asleep.
Match 3 – Ooarai vs Pravda
For me, this was when the series started to ‘get good’. Pravda is the analogue of the Soviet Union, complete with the KV series of tanks. Their team captain is Katyusha. Before the match, Miho identifies the strong ambush attacks leveraged by Katyusha to overpower their opponents, and recommends a cautious approach. Sensible. Prior to the game, Katyusha finds Miho and intimidates her atop Nonna. I found this rather entertaining, mostly due to her arriving in a Katyusha Rocket Launcher and getting out. Her height forced her to look up at Miho. It’s becomes a classic when she calls for Nonna and (off camera) climbs onto her shoulders, ending with a proud smirk. Obviously I laughed at this, its just stupid (and also a classic). The battle takes place in a snowy landscape, I presume Russia (I mean come on, you have the russians here, right?)
The match begins and soon we come to the Pravda battle song – Katyusha. In the view more, there is a video of this, and I personally find it one of the most entertaining parts. The whole song is in Russian, (after all Pravda is the Russian themed school) and a quick google search for lyrics, we find that the song is all about a character called Katyusha anyway, essentially meaning they are singing about their commander. I like the rather egotistical and very arrogant nature of Katyusha. It evidently was going to be important later in the show. I was right. The arrogance and ego leads to some short sighted decisions, ultimately causing Pravda to loose the battle against Ooarai. Katyusha also is very dependant on Nonna to remain in power, possibly indicating that she is a weak leader; there appears to be no challenges to her though.
The larger firepower of Pravda quickly corners Ooarai into a derelict church in a small abandoned village. Nonna approaches with a white flag (not for surrender, but for please don’t attack me) and offers a deal to the Ooarai side.
Surrender. I will let you go if you kneel before me.
-Katyusha ~ Terms for Ooarai Surrender
She gives them three hours to accept the terms or retaliate. Personally, I would have done something similar. Capturing the entirety of your opponents and then giving the the choice to either freeze and lose or come out and be obliterated is something I would do, mostly to show that my side has a greater skill level. The Ooarai side refuse to step down. This was unsurprising really. However, Miho becomes very unhappy with this. This is when the tactical side of Miho comes out (possibly from her previous experience at Kurtomine). I like this bit very much. She quickly sends out two scout teams consisting of Mako and Sodoko for team 1 and Erwin and Akiyama for team 2. This in itself is rather entertaining as Sodoko and Mako have a history (Sodoko tracks lateness to the school, and Mako’s constant sleepy state means she’s almost always late) and theres some tension between them. After they are done, they return with a lot of knowledge. This finally shows Miho’s intelligence, deliberately ignoring the Pravda ‘weak point’ that Katyusha deliberately put in. Instead Miho deliberately attacks the Vanguard, taking Katyusha by surprise (completely ruining her plan), allowing them to break through the rather strong Pravda lines. Yet again, I find this quite entertaining. Breaking down Katyusha’s ego and ruining her plan was quite funny, mostly as it ruins her confidence in the match. She makes a rather rash decision, sending Nonna to take out the Ooarai flag tank, rather than focusing on her own flag tank. Her character comes out here, making me like her a bit, mostly as she acted as I would have if I didn’t think about it .
At this point, Miho’s style differs greatly from that of her family. Her family are known for being very proud and overrunning enemies with power. Miho’s approach is vastly more reserved. She takes large amounts of time to plan out various attacks and is often very cautious about anything the enemy does, expecting traps. She also is very good at allocating her limited resources effectively. This care and caution gives her a great tactical advantage over her enemies, especially ones like Pravda, most of whom go in with large amounts of force and/or large numbers, overrunning enemies not through skill but through pure chance alone.
Miho sends her largest tank to go and take out the KV-1 Flag Tank, after receiving intelligence. This eventually secures victory for Ooarai (but through a fine margin, as always). This battle was rather tense and I personally enjoyed it (its just over 40 mins of pure tense amazing-ness). Also, hop to the ‘more’ section and look for the Katyusha video (its grey and snowy). That’s a clip from this battle.
Battle 4 – Ooarai vs Kuromorimine High School
Wew. This was intense. This battle is between the two Nishizumi sisters, Miho and Maho. Maho is the older of the pair and has a vastly more well seasoned team, as well as much more experience and expertise than her younger sister. Here, their vastly different philosophies (mentioned above) become very apparent, especially with the introduction of the experimental Maus heavy tank and almost immediate fire from Kuromorimine. The two sides could not be more different, especially in firepower. Kuromorimine bring 19 tanks to the battle (one of the largest that Miho has faced off) versus the full force of 8 tanks belonging Ooarai, making this matc appear even more one sided. Do note however, the Maus that Kuromorimine bring, while being the largest, is not the most destructive tank in the Girls und Panzer universe. That honour goes to the KV-2 and it’s 152mm Howitzer (impressive). Maho has also had a much greater advantage over Miho, having observed every match she had participated in, allowing her to try and plan around Miho’s (rather erratic) strategy.
Immediately, Maho tries to crush the Ooarai side. Makes perfect sense. Show your power, crush the side. Easy victory. She sends tanks straight for the Ooarai side, and they quickly single out the Panzer IV (Mihos) – the flag tank. Miho immediately begins to retreat (obviously, who wouldn’t?) as the Tiger 2 takes aim at her tank. The match was about to be decided then. This was one of the most cliché moments in the entire series, however it is solved in possibly my favourite ways. Prior to the match, Miho manages to recruit the Anteater Team, who are her saving grace in this match. They had had next to no time to get to grips with their Type 3 Chi-Nu tank and the driver (Momoga) accidentally puts the thing into reverse, backing directly between the Panzer IV and the Tiger 2, taking the shot that was aimed at the Panzer IV, keeping the flag tank alive and preventing a victory for Kuromorimine High School. However, this does give Kuromorimine the first knockout, so it’s swings and roundabouts really. Also, it would be disappointing if the match was decided in under five minutes, and the producers had to fill two episodes, so this was logical, I guess.
To reduce the number of casualties, Ooarai regroup and retreat under the cover of a smokescreen. As always, they come up with their wonderful names (I don’t know why, but their operation names always tickle me) – Operation Smokey and they escape to a hill for a defensive position. This makes sense and is something I would have done. The standard wisdom is be higher than the enemy, giving you a height advantage and also a much easier ambush (should you choose to use this style of attack). Considering that the best armies on the face of the planet all use altitude to their advantage (come on, they all have some form of air force), you can probably see why this was a smart move on the Ooarai part. One small issue for Ooarai was the pathetic engine in their Tiger, forcing them to tow it up the hill however, they do take the tracks off a Jagdpanther and Panther, slowing the Kuromorimine attack long enough to get to the hill.
Maho becomes rather angered at this (I presume) and orders the direct attack on the Ooarai positions. Black Forest (Kuromorimine) are able to do this due to their large arsenal of heavy tanks, meaning they can take the full force of Ooarai with little damage to their own tanks. They also start using HE shells as the Ooarai team keep deploying smokescreens, allowing for a much larger radius of damage. At this point, I was wondering where Turtle Team and their Hetzer had got too. They had disappeared earlier and hid for an ambush at the foot of the hill. From here, they take out two tanks. I say take out. They merely damage them as Black Forest mostly have a lot of heavy tanks (Maho had predicted that Pravda would crush the Ooarai tanks). The tanks they hit merely had broken tracks and had to under go repairs before they could be useful again. This finally brought some much needed contrast, as before this, most tanks would be taken out in 1-2 hits and were not repaired (spoiler alert, the Ooarai motor club pull some sweet tactics to not bog the team down).
With Ooarai stuck in defensive positions, Maho orders her team to surround them – logical as it gives Ooarai no escape (especially with a huge crater in the hill preventing them from reversing). She then pulls forwards the Jagdtiger partly to use its heavy gun to attack, but also as a shield for the rest of her forces (considering that it is one of the more heavily armoured tanks she has access too). Tactically, this is a good move. The Jagdtiger has particularly thick armour and enables the protection of the all important flag tank. It also (finally) provides a very heavy opponent for Ooarai. However, this is where (the wonderfully named) Operation Baiter comes in. Turtle Team have been observing the siege from a distance and are commanded to drive straight through enemy lines, mostly to cause mass panic. They essentially were used as bait by Miho (yet they were keen to do it, so is that a bad thing?), rather entertaining considering she worries for the safety of her teammates.
Before Turtle could get to the Black Forest lines, they first meet the Jagdpanther they had immobilised earlier, again blowing off its tracks. I found this to be quite entertaining, mostly for the next few lines of the Jadgpanters commander.
I just fixed that! Damn you! Those tracks are heavy!
– Jagdpanther Commander
Turtle team then proceed to enter the enemy lines, throwing them into disarray. I like the style here. They took advantage of Kuromorimine’s biggest weakness, their poor training for odd situations (like this one). Turtle team also throw them into further panic as they are unable to respond to them, as if they take a shot, they risk hitting their own team, reducing the number of tanks available. Tank 17 had been sitting on the outskirts and was about to respond before Ooarai’s Stug 3 (captained by Erwin) permanently knocks them out the competition (good on them, they don’t get enough credit, and Erwin is a pretty funny character), opening up a gap for Ooarai to charge through and escape the encirclement. Quoting Katyusha (who is observing this match, like all the other captains, but atop Nonnas shoulders), “They keep on coming up with one cool trick after another!” They obviously put their tiger in front to use as a shield, a bit like what Maho did earlier. Mallard team follow this up with a smokescreen. This was perfectly co-ordinated and was quite applaudable, considering that they appeared to be doomed. Also, Mako slips in the best line of the entire series, in a very sarcastic tone.
God this is so thrilling.
– Mako Reizei ~ Driving Anglerfish out of the Black Forest encirclement
Obviously, this angers the vice-captain of the Kuromorimine team.
As a result of this high speed escape, the Leopon team’s tank (the Tiger) starts to growl after its engine is put under the stress. Being driven by the motor club, this was only going to result in the best repair job. Nakajima (their radio op and commander) hops out on top of the Tiger and starts doing running repairs. While this seems like it is implausible to do in real life, I could not care less as its actually quite entertaining and fits perfectly with the Ooarai style.
For what appears to be the third time, Kuromorimine take aim at the Ooarai Panzer IV (flag tank remember) and are just about to fire and end the battle, when their tank fails and the left tracks fall apart (guess what tank. If you guessed the Jagdtiger, you are right), giving yet another repair job for that poor team. Rather funny although it is becoming a bit of an old joke at this point. Darjeeling sheds some light as to why this occurs. Maho had predicted that they (Black Forest) would be up against Katyusha and Pravda (and their KV-2), so had prepared heavy tanks. However, this had the bad side affect of them constantly breaking down over the match, leaving them exposed to enemy fire, one of Kuromorimine’s biggest weaknesses. Also heavy tanks consume lots of fuel, meaning they can’t drive around forever (whereas Miho and Ooarai can).
Some good tension is up next. Not from any battles or another attack by Kuromorimine, but rather a battle against the elements. Their path is blocked by a river that flows directly through the battle ground and are forced to cross. Naturally, Miho goes to protect her teammates by having the medium and heavy tanks drive either side of the light ones so as to prevent the current from sweeping them downriver. Logical. However, Rabbit team’s engine cuts out and they start to be flipped by the current. This is where the anime becomes really really dark. Before Miho transitioned, she was responsible for Black Forest being defeated by Pravda when she went to protect her teammates from drowning. Immediately, Rabbits situation brings back flashbacks and makes the next few minutes particularly tough to watch. However, this also shows how closely knit the Ooarai team are (nice, considering other commanders treat their teammates as disposable), with Saorai breaking Mihos flashback and instructing her to go and help Rabbit team. Brace for some crazy stuff to happen now. Miho uses the row of tanks as a bridge to Rabbit and provides a rope to pull them to shore.
Time for some comedy. Turtle team have been noticeably absent from the river; they have been flanking the enemy and were about to pull the ambush trick a third time. Maho decides otherwise. They are forced to retreat. Back over with Miho, Rabbits engine comes back to life (clearly flooded but whatever, I guess the motor club had something to do with it and we never hear about it) and they start heading presumably for ‘Downtown’ (at least that’s what Maho says). On the way there, they take out a bridge but not with a shell. Instead (and I love this for the sheer mentality of it and also I can’t believe that physics would allow for it), Leopon team pull a wheelie in a 60 ton tank, causing the bridge to collapse behind them. I cannot see how physics would allow for a 60 ton tank to do a wheelie, especially with the huge great turret on the front, but whatever, it’s some good comedy and it angers the Black Forest forces as they are forced to go the long way to the town. Mihos face as Leopon team speed past her also cracked me up.
They reach the town without any resistance, if you are wondering. When they reach the town, the fun begins. What do I mean by fun? You may have noticed that Kuromorimine operate 100% German tanks and they operate one very particular, very large tank. They operate a Maus – the largest tank in the Girls und Panzer universe. It’s initially mistook for a gate (to be honest, that’s not particularly difficult to do, it is a big gate like thing when going across an intersection). Anyway, all the spectating commanders are amazed by the appearance of the Maus (I guess they had never seen it in action?). This is an impressive tank. Two were produced and it was really just an experiment. Either way, they have one. Miho orders an immediate withdrawal (Mallard team do not survive this, and are instead flipped over and fly the surrender flag) but for some reason was surprised by the Maus. Surely, she would have known they would have it; she went to Black Forest before Ooarai! Bit of a logical mishap there on the writers part, but whatever. Also, team Hippo are taken out (poor Erwin…).
(The battle is long enough it covers two episodes, but also puts some good suspense in because of that Maus. Anyway, let’s continue. This is getting to be good. Quick recap, 16 Black Forest tanks to 5 Ooarai tanks.)
Miho realises they have to take out that Maus. In some ways, Black Forest is cheating by having it. It was an experimental tank, however the rules do allow for it (an they allow for artillery in the film version oops SPOILERS!!!!). They isolate the Maus and take it out in the most entertaining way. Team Turtle run under it, forcing it up at an angle, preventing it from moving. Duck team then drive up on top and prevent the turret from spinning (as Rabbit and Leopon team had been used as bait to turn the turret towards the ground). Miho then drives up a ridge (crazy speeds by the way, I’m pretty sure physics was not a consideration in this series) and she has Hana aim for the venting now exposed by the turret. Taking out the engine takes out the tank. This works perfectly and the Maus is taken out. It’s rather impressive team work and also just a spectical to watch. Part of me wants someone to build a Maus and the remaining Ooarai tanks just to see if this is even possible. Either that or someone could simulate it in a computer. Scientists, it’s on you. Also, Turtle team’s tank was ruined by the Maus. They are taken out of the running.
Operation ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ next. Miho wants to end up in a position where it’s just flag tank on flag tank (logical) so she requests that everyone try their best to make this happen. Rabbit team end up being chased by the Elefant tank (yes, that is its name). This does not have a rotating turret, allowing them to circle round the block behind them and attack them from a position where they cannot retaliate. Rabbits initial attempt to take them out was a failure; the armour was too thick. I’m surprised they didn’t work that out before. Either way, they figure out to hit the case door, allowing them to destroy their main gun and take out the Elefant tank with an M3 (well done! That’s a tiny tank!) The next bit is just a bit of provocation and just disperses the Black Forest forces, so I’ll skip over it.
Finally, Anglerfish and Leopon meet up at a flat complex with a single road entrance. Miho coaxes in her sister (who’s in the Black Forest flag tank) and Leopon follow shortly, blocking the entrance to the flat complex, as well as taking out several tanks too. I like the motor club. They have this crazy ability to just be so useful and inventive. They destroy a bridge with a wheelie, fix an engine while on the move and now take the full grunt of the Kuromorimine attack, protecting Miho’s tank from the rest of the Kuromorimine tanks.
The final battle is fought here. Sister vs Sister. Miho vs Maho. To be honest, this was obviously what was going to happen. It was evident from the first episode. Either way, it’s impressive and has some crazy tank physics. Maho challenges Miho to a duel (she accepts, obviously) and their attack commences. Miho switches into an evasive mode, taking strange paths to escape the Tiger (however Black Forest do use some HE shells, that I call cheating but whatever, to demolish buildings to get a better shot). Black Forest score some hits on the Ooarai tank, but only take off the side skirting that had been attached before the match to provide extra armour for the flag tank. They end up facing each other off in a courtyard. Neither takes a shot, but Hana takes the chance to realise what she has to do and prepares herself. Miho advances her tank directly towards Maho’s, but swerves away and enters a drift, bits of her tank flying off with her right track breaking up from the stress. At this point, I was on the edge of my seat. It was tense. Both had the chance to make the perfect shot and decide the battle.
Miho orders a shot directly at the Tiger’s engine, having drifted directly behind them. It appears both fire, however, by some miracle, the Tiger flies the surrender flag, meaning that Ooarai win the battle. Maho could not believe herself. I could and couldn’t believe what had happened. Against all odds, the underdog team won, however this also seemed to be rather obvious it would happen. Either way, I was impressed. Ooarai used some rather unconventional techniques to outsmart her competition, even if they did seem a little questionable at times (however YouTube informs me that you can drift tanks in the snow. Next Pravda match?). There’s also an end sequence, with some victory stuff and the second best scene ever to grace my scene. Mako’s reaction was amazing (it’s in the videos under Bonus Items, I won’t spoil it).
Did I enjoy Girls und Panzer? Yes! This was one of the most entertaining and tense series I have seen for ages, and currently ranks as my favourite bit of television (it is a TV series after all). There were some questionable parts, like how tanks seem to be able to defy the laws of physics and how schools can exist on aircraft carriers, yet over all it gets a solid recommendation from me. If you enjoy action type shows, it is well worth the watch, however some will find it rather boring. Also, unless you are willing to put up with adverts or are willing to buy the DVD\Blu-Ray set, there are a fair few adverts over on the Crunchy Roll stream.
To view some videos and music/marches from the anime, click the more link. They contain super spoilers so I really had to hide it.