It's pretty much what you'd expect. More Strike Witches. I enjoyed it and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who's been watching the franchise, but it didn't really surprise me. Once again, it's the adventures of our magic-wielding schoolgirl heroines in an alt-universe World War Two, fighting aliens called Neuroi and never, ever wearing skirts or trousers.
Significant features of this season include:
1. SHIZUKA HATTORI
They've brought back Hattori from the 2012 movie. She even gets recruited into the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, because Sakamoto's now too old to be able to use magic. She's a kind-hearted, heroic, serious-minded girl who gets lots of Earnest Protagonist story beats and we're clearly expected to like her and cheer for her.
For quite a long time, I wasn't happy about this.
You see, I remember Hattori from the movie. She never apologised. She still doesn't here. I'd have been completely okay with her if she'd apologised for her attitude towards someone with far more experience and good sense, but she never, ever does. (She'll apologise for other things, though, with the most obvious one being a straightforward, zero-blame combat misjudgement near the season finale. Come off it, girl. You did nothing wrong there. You tried to defeat the enemy, using the information you'd earned in previous encounters. On the contrary, you'd have been at fault if you HADN'T acted on that.)
She doesn't think she's got anything to apologise for. She turns into a scold again at the end of ep.3. The show was expecting me to like her, but I didn't. I'd have approved if she'd died.
In time, though, it became clear that this Road to Berlin season had no intention of letting Hattori learn from the movie, but had instead deliberately kept her "ORDERS UBER ALLES!!!!" characterisation for the sake of more character development in the final episodes. She repeatedly gets given orders. Eventually, in the final episode, she breaks them. This improved the character enormously, since personality flaws in drama are downright desirable if they're part of the story (or the comedy). What makes them annoying is when the story's unaware of the problems and is expecting us to love someone who's actually some level of arsehole.
2. YOSHIKA MIYAFUJI
Still the heroine, still lovable. She is, though, the object of tortuous magic-babble. She lost her magic at the end of Season 2, then got it all back in the movie. Sort of, ish, don't ask about the details. Now, she's still got her magic (i.e. she can fly in the 501st) except when she hasn't (i.e. the show can ground her whenever it's plot-convenient). Sometimes she doesn't have the power, or the control, or the magical pressure. (Yes, pressure. They draw a diagram and everything.) She can emit off-the-charts power levels and she might be the most powerful witch in the world, but she has reservoir problems.
Or something. I stopped trying to keep track. I'm not convinced it all holds together, but it makes an intuitive sort of sense, so never mind. There is, though, an obvious idiocy in ep.11. It's been established in earlier episodes that Miyafuji's magic power can be recharged by letting her grope big breasts, or at least that that's a strong possibility. With the final assault on Berlin at stake, why don't they try letting Miyafuji fondle some boobs? Seriously.
Gross panty shots aren't a problem any more, thank goodness. The show's graduated beyond those. You can watch it in public.
It does, though, go through a Nipple Phase. Episodes 1-4 and 10-12 are comparatively serious war stories with action scenes and the fight against the Neuroi. Episodes 5-9 have baths, showers and censor steam (in the original TV episodes) that disappears to reveal nipples on the Blu-rays. It's not that bad, really, but ep.7 is a magic pseudo-zombie story where being infected gives you big boobs and makes you want to molest your teammates. (No blood or biting, obviously. It's a harmless parody of horror, not the real thing.) Then, after that, ep.9 has experimental Striker fuel that melts clothing, although in fairness its only victims are in one brief shot at the end.
Incidentally, I recently saw a fan theory about all those knickers. When using magic, witches grow animal ears and tails. The latter would be uncomfortable in trousers and would look embarrassing if they kept lifting your skirt, so surely it's more sensible not to wear anything like that at all? (This is a clever theory, but unfortunately the tails poke magically through the knickers without needing a tail-hole, so they'd have probably done the same with trousers too.)
4. OTHER STUFF
I still miss the abandoned humanoid Neuroi plot thread. It's still by far the most interesting thing in the show, but it got hurled aside violently after Season 1.
After the 2014 OVAs gave us Erwin Rommel, here we have the actual General Patton. No, not a witch with his name. The real guy, leading the operation to retake Berlin. He's quite fun, although his Japanese voice actor's attempt at "goddamn" is amusing. "GYUUTTEMU!"
The Neuroi build Hitler's World Capital Germania.
They've toned down the cliches slightly in their third rerun of basically the same season finale they've done three times now. Yes, the military brass are still morons who make unconvincingly dumb decisions because the plot needs obstacles for our witch heroines! This time, though, the show demonstrates awareness of this by having them argue like three-year-olds and throw things at each other. On one level, this works. I can now believe that these people are indeed idiots. What I can't believe is that they haven't been replaced, e.g. by anyone with a double-digit mental age. Why would you keep these toddlers in charge? (Although, that said... World War One. Enough said. Also, Patton is a military high-up who's also sensible and useful.)
There's a cameo in ep.11 for Hikari Karibuchi and Gundula Rall from Brave Witches.
It's Lynne who catches Miyafuji at the end when she's falling from the sky, which pleased me. (This show tends to pair up its girls, sometimes in openly lesbian ways but usually not. Season 1 had Sakamoto-Perrine and Miyafuji-Lynne, but Sakamoto later left the 501st and this gradually evolved into Perrine-Lynne and, sigh, Miyafuji-Hattori. Arguably, there also used to be Sakamoto-Minna. Other pairings include Barkhorn-Hartmann, Sanya-Eila and Shirley-Lucchini.)
Our heroines win in the end, of course. Berlin is liberated. World War Two is over... except that it's not, because even in 1946, there are still other Neuroi nests in Karlsland and Ostmark. The 501st will continue their war. A profitable anime franchise cannot die! If they make more Strike Witches seasons, though, I'll happily watch them.