Ai KakumaMisato FukuenYumi HaraAyuru Ohashi
Brave Witches
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: B
Also known as: World Witches Series: 502nd Joint Fighter Wing Brave Witches
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Director: Kazuhiro Takamura
Original creator: Humikane Shimada
Actor: Ai Kakuma, Haruka Terui, Hiromi Igarashi, Kayo Ishida, Marin Mizutani, Natsumi Takamori, Rie Murakawa, Rie Suegara, Rina Satou, Yumi Hara, Ayuru Ohashi, Kouki Harasawa, Mai Kadowaki, Misato Fukuen
Keywords: anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes, plus a 13th OVA episode that's actually episode seven-and-a-half
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 8 May 2017
I quite liked it. It's well done. It's fairly disposable and I don't know if I'd necessarily keep the episodes, but it's quite good at what it does. The characters are likeable and the fluffy wartime drama is enough to carry twelve episodes, at least.
It's the latest in the Strike Witches franchise. The anime started with a 2008 season by Gonzo, so I won't be watching that. It then continued with a 2010 sequel by a different studio... and that was that, mostly, until this 2016 spin-off came along. It's set between the 2008 and 2010 seasons and it stars a different team of witches. I hadn't seen the original and I was fine.
The premise is that aliens invaded Earth in 1939! They're called the Neuroi and they appear to have unintentionally brought harmony to mankind. Instead of fighting among ourselves, the world has united to repel the Neuroi. (Is Hitler is in charge of this universe's Germany, or did the parallel universes split earlier than that? Well, I don't think we're meant to be asking such questions.) What's more, our best anti-Neuroi weapon is magic! The world's front-line warriors are schoolgirls wearing fighter planes on their legs and nothing but underwear from the waist down. There are one or two characters who own a skirt, but basically this is an entire universe of girls going around half-dressed, even into battle. Apparently the original Strike Witches was quite into fanservice.
Oh, and they also grow animal tails and ears when they're flying. Don't ask me why. Magic. This is of no significance and never means anything.
So it looks silly. It's also a dubious reinterpretation of history, letting the anime industry tell another a World War Two story where Japan is heroic. It's represented by schoolgirls! Cute can't be wrong. However it's better than Kantai Collection, which turns Japan into the heroes and America into the invading alien villains. At least here it's international. I was worried after ep.1, but I think technically all sides and most of the major nations are represented. Admittedly as it happens the Brave Witches main cast all come from countries that at some point had either signed treaties with Germany or helped fight alongside it (France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Finland), but that's a very one-eyed view of Russia's contribution in particular and we also see a significant British involvement. (Strike Witches also had an American witch, while apparently all the main cast are named after real WW2 aces of all nationalities.)
Leaving all that aside, though, this particular show is being fairly sensible about the silliness it's inherited.
It's not the kind of war story where you expect heroes to die, but the Neuroi are powerful enemies who have the entire human race on the back foot. Our heroines have to take their battles seriously and will get shot a lot. (They have magical shields, but those have limits and they can still get injured.) The characterisation is lively and I liked the way Hikari Karibuchi has to work to earn her place in the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. Not everyone accepts her. Kanno is particularly unforgiving. Hikari's a lesser replacement for her sister, who has much more experience and talent. Even her magical ability, Contact Eye, is powerful but dangerous to use, in a way that feels natural and real.
The story's pretty decent. It's a war story with camaraderie and charm, while the last few episodes give Hikari a meaningful brick wall to run into. (It's a familiar kind of plot development, but it's liable to be done more tokenistically than this.) That worked well, although I could understand some viewers being annoyed by the business between Hikari and another character. Even I felt the latter got away undeservedly scot free for what had been a bad decision made for bad reasons. The whole operation nearly fails and, frankly, that's what it deserved. We don't even get an apology from her for unnecessarily weakening the 502nd.
I even ended up almost approving of the skirtless outfits. They seemed sensible, not sexualised. They're wearing swimsuits underneath, I think, which seems practical since if you're fighting out at sea. If nothing else, it's less counter-intuitive than flying in a skirt (e.g. Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue).
The CGI modelling can be a bit unfortunate, though. There are some obvious CGI witches that show up occasionally in aerial battle scenes and take you out of the moment.
This isn't a great show. It's a decent one, at most, which at first I wasn't even sure if I could be bothered continuing with. I soon decided that I liked it, but I don't know if I'll necessarily keep the episodes. The Neuroi are faceless enemies. The plot is ostensibly just "fight the enemy", although of course the real story is Hikari working to make herself a place in the 502nd and winning the acceptance from all these witches who are faster, stronger and more experienced than her. I admire the way they take "Break Witches" as a badge of pride. I like Hikari. I like the friends she eventually makes. This is a understated, surprisingly watchable show.